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Food and music make for an appetizing mix at Brinkburn Music Festival

Brinkburn Music Festival isn’t just a weekend of music classics – it’s also a celebration of Northumbrian food. Jane Hall reports

Brinkburn Music Festival
Brinkburn Music Festival

You don’t have to like classical compositions – or opera, folk or contemporary for that matter - to enjoy a music festival.

Such events have come a long way from the days when the music was all that the crowds went for.

Some festivals, like Glyndebourne, have now become as well known for their fine dining opportunities as listening to opera, jazz or classical pieces performed by world famous singers and musicians.

And it’s not all about picnicking on the grass, although there’s nothing wrong with throwing down your blanket and feasting on sandwiches and sausage rolls (all homemade, of course).

Purists may baulk at the idea of quaffing wine and munching on seafood salad or game pate while the music plays.

But food and music have had a long love affair; there are hundreds of pop songs, for example, with food in the title.

Picnicking at Brinkburn Music Festival
Picnicking at Brinkburn Music Festival

The Carpenters sang about Jambalaya (On the Bayou), Labelle about Lady Marmalade and Frank Zappa about Watermelon in Easter Hay.

Long before Booker T and the MG’s came up with their catchy instrumental R&B hit Green Onions in 1962 or Julie Andrews trilled about how a Spoonful of Sugar helped the medicine go down in Mary Poppins, composers had been celebrating the link between music and our taste buds.

Puccini’s Tosca, Offenbach’s La Pericole and Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, all rely heavily on eating and drinking to advance their operatic plots.

And then there’s Schubert’s The Trout, Handel’s Alexander’s Feast and Tchaikovsky’s the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Food and music make for an appetizing mix in many ways.

It’s a recipe for success that the Brinkburn Music Festival near Rothbury has capitalised successfully on during its 21 year run.

Held in the beautiful surroundings of the 12th century Brinkburn Priory set picturesquely in a bend in the River Coquet, spectators to the annual event have long been encouraged to dine al fresco and even on occasions sit down to a full silver service menu – this despite there being no fresh running water and problems with the electric supply!

Food will again be very much part of the revelries this weekend [JULY 4-6] as the Brinkburn Music Festival makes a triumphant return, with a top-class line-up including the Queen’s Six, Mahan Esfahani, father and daughter duo Jeremy and Jennifer Pike, the Royal Northern Sinfonia and the Hilliard Ensemble, performing a programme of pieces from the early 20th century that 100 years on from the start of the First World War remembers the men who left behind their homes to fight for King and country.

For Northumberland fare will be keeping going the army of spectators expected to descend on the priory.

The festival has long supported local in all its guises, from directing visitors to the area’s hotels and bed and breakfasts to using marquee and sound equipment companies based in Northumberland and, of course, championing the area’s quality food producers.

But the heat is being turned up a notch this year on the food front.

Emma Whittingham of Outdoor Cookery School
Emma Whittingham of Outdoor Cookery School

Organisers have teamed up with well-known Northumberland foodie and cookery book author Emma Whittingham to ensure the festival’s culinary offering is among the best the region has to offer.

The former manager of Alnwick Farmers’ Market turned private chef whose Game on Northumberland recipe book exploring dishes incorporating pheasant, venison, partridge, rabbit and grouse, has won national plaudits, will this weekend be bringing together a host of the area’s best produce suppliers in what will be a first for the Brinkburn Music Festival – a ‘pop-up’ dining experience in the site’s elegant and abandoned grade II listed manor house converted from part of the monastic buildings.

Here festival-goers will be able to indulge in a selection of dining experiences from the Brinkburn Bites at £36 for a shared platter in three parts to picnic options starting at £27 per couple, afternoon tea at £18 for two (made and served by the ladies of the Rothbury parish) and bar snacks.

The one common denominator in all the menus, however, will be that they will feature food produced within a 50 mile radius of Brinkburn.

Among the names featured will be Swallow Fish of Seahouses, Lindisfarne Oysters, butchers Turnbull’s of Alnwick and R Green and Son of Longframlington, Julian’s Veg, Fenton Fine Foods of Wooler, Fentiman’s of Hexham, Doddington and the Northumberland Cheese Company cheeses (the latter produces Brinkburn, a goats’ variety originally developed in 2000 to celebrate the music festival), free range eggs from R Ord of Chatton, and artisan breads from the Running Fox bakery and café at Felton.

Butcher Chris Green of R Green & Son in Longframlington, Northumberland
Butcher Chris Green of R Green & Son in Longframlington, Northumberland

Susan Green of the multi-award winning Alnwick-based Proof of the Pudding has made individual bespoke summer puddings for the event.

And there will be a pop-up bar too provided by the VIP Brewery, a micro operation connected to the Village Inn in Longframlington, which will be serving its own ales alongside a selection of wines, bubbly, spirits and soft drinks.

Picnics will be coming from Grannies of Alnwick supplied in a special Brinkburn jute bag.

Emma – a born and bred Northumbrian who grew-up stalking and eating game and whose taste for supporting local was developed further following three years living in France where produce markets are still an important part of everyday life – says top quality food and music are a natural fit.

“If you are listening to the best music and watching distinguished performers then you want great food to go along with it.

“People who are passionate about music aren’t going to be content with dining on food served from a sandwich box.

“We have some superb producers in this area and it’s nice to be able to showcase them alongside the music - and in beautiful surroundings too. The manor house is a lovely building. It was used as the green room in previous years, but this year it’s being given over to food.”

The 50 year old believes the festival’s new catering experience will be a success. “People are becoming faddier about their food. They are much more clued up than they were five years ago and they expect if they are going to a fabulous venue to have equally fabulous food.

Emma Whittingham of Outdoor Cookery School
Emma Whittingham of Outdoor Cookery School

“You can’t get anything better than the local produce we have here in Northumberland. Turnbull’s, for example, is preparing the best Limousin beef for me. It is so local that I know which farm it is coming from.

“Green’s is making us special pies and Susan Green’s summer puddings will be a one-off.”

Dining at the Brinkburn Music Festival won’t be as formal as the French do it, who sometimes wheel out dining tables and chairs at such occasions with the cutlery and glass to match.

This will be an altogether more rustic affair given the fact the manor house has no running fresh water, there are problems with the electric supply and the impressive building is an empty shell.

Diners will sit down at communal trestle tables and most of the food will have been pre-prepared by Emma at the newly launched Outcook Cookery School at Bondgate Without in Alnwick, where she is the resident chef.

As an example, the Brinkburn Bites sharing platter features three options, with the Seafarer including fresh and seasonal delicacies from the Northumberland coast like smoked salmon, dill herring, kipper pate and much more served with newly baked bread and a summer salad.

“Every course we are serving is going to be for sharing and it is all going to be very relaxed,” Emma says. “There aren’t going to be any starchy waiting staff and everything will be served in a very rustic fashion.

“But it will be fresh and local; you won’t get any better. And I think it is going to be enormous fun.”

Food and music certainly didn’t go together in the early years of the Brinkburn Music Festival. Initially it was all about the music.

But to arrive at Brinkburn is to leave behind your normal, busy life. Instead you enter a world of tranquillity and harmony that is complemented, for this one weekend, by music.

“The natural accompaniment to all that is good food,” Emma states. “The type of people who come to Brinkburn are the sort who will put extra effort into finding local food and finding the very best. This is our chance to show people how good our local Northumbrian produce is.”

The Brinkburn Music Festival has always been about bringing the best of the world of music to rural Northumberland. Now the best of Northumberland can be brought to the rest of the world.

For the full range of food and drink options and further details on the music festival go to www.brinkburnmusic.org or call 01665 798 007.


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