An old church bought by accident has become an award-winning B&B but also a place to hear musicians of the highest calibre.
Latest attraction at St Cuthbert’s House in Seahouses is Yvonne Lyon, a young Scottish singer-songwriter who sent BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris into raptures.
“Listening to Yvonne is a life-affirming experience,” he purred. “She is the bees’ knees.”
She was also – although Bob probably won’t have known this – the first ‘house concert’ attraction at St Cuthbert’s in March last year.
On Saturday she is back at the Seahouses venue to promote a new album, These Small Rebellions, and with stories to share of performing with Beth Nielsen Chapman at Celtic Connections and touring with Eddi Reader.
The new album features songs co-written with luminaries such as Boo Hewerdine and Andrew Howie and a host of guest appearances from the likes of Emily Smith, Cara Luft and Steph Macleod.
You can bet she will go down a storm on Saturday in front of an audience of 55 and in circumstances best decribed as intimate.
Just ask Jeff Sutheran, who owns St Cuthbert’s House with wife Jill.
“We first heard Yvonne supporting a big name in a large arena and she captivated that huge audience with a beautiful performance,” he says.
“We’re delighted that she’s coming back following the amazingly successful year she’s having.”
The story of how a crumbling old church on the coast came to mix it with the professional venues of Tyneside and Edinburgh is an appealing one – and it begins with Jeff and Jill and their deep love of Northumberland.
Jeff, who was born in Hartlepool, says both of them had been coming to Northumberland all their lives for recreation and relaxation.
Later, as a married couple with four young children, they decided to put family first. Jeff waved goodbye to a demanding corporate job on Teesside and they looked for a family home further north.
Their eyes alighted on the old manse in Seahouses. “It was perfect for us. We had four kids so needed plenty of space. We offered the asking price there and then.
“It was only when the paperwork arrived that we realised the price included the church as well. It was in a terrible condition and we wondered what on earth we’d taken on. We did nothing with it for six years while we renovated the house.”
But given the coastal location, the couple decided there might be a gap in the market for a high quality B&B.
They have since been proved right. St Cuthbert’s House has won several tourism awards and is more often full than not – but it is the house concerts that make it unique.
Jeff explains: “We’re musicians ourselves and we love music so we decided, in March 2013, to take a punt and have a house concert.
“Our first thought was that if we had a music workshop on a Saturday followed by a concert we’d give people a good reason to come and stay at a time when the season hadn’t got underway.
“But they proved so successful that we decided to keep doing them throughout the summer.”
Some 15 concerts down the line, St Cuthbert’s House is starting to enjoy a reputation as an intimate but comfortable live music venue in a beautiful location.
In the performance space, which doubles as the dining room and lounge, the B&B customers get to sit on the sofas at the front.
Jeff says that so far no unsuspecting B&B guest – having booked up, perhaps, for a bit of peace and quiet – has objected to the sudden transformation of their weekend getaway into a concert venue.
“Some of our musician friends who have come say we’re doing ourselves a disservice calling these house concerts because we’ve got a stage, a professional PA system and an intimate venue where people can get really close to some amazing musicians,” he says.
“We took the view from the start that it was best to bring in professional, really top quality musicians, the kind who appear on Radio 2 or in Edinburgh or at the Sage. It has been fabulous and we’ve built up a good local following.
“People now know that they can enjoy top quality music without having to travel to Newcastle or Edinburgh.
“We enjoy it because we have the privilege of being entertained by brilliant musicians in our own living room.”
You can understand the musicians enjoying performing in such a place. Jeff says some who came from America made a long weekend of it, staying on after their concert to enjoy the local scenery.
Another reason for musicians enjoying the St Cuthbert’s House experience is that they get all the ticket money.
This, apparently, is part of the house concert tradition but Jeff says it was always part of the plan. “We very much believe in sustainable tourism and wanted our business to make a positive impact on the community we are now part of.”
Next up at St Cuthbert’s House after Yvonne Lyon’s concert on Saturday is multi-instrumentalist Jennifer Crook who will perform on October 24 as part of the launch tour of her new album, Carnforth Station.
For concert tickets call 01665 720456. For more about St Cuthbert’s House visit www.stcuthbertshouse.com