The Gateshead Garden Festival

Take a tip mate, and take a trip mate
to Gateshead on the Tyne,
For twenty two weeks, you’ll see more than leeks,
let’s hope the weather’s fine

CHORUS : The Gateshead Garden Festival
Is more than a great day out
An experience beyond compare
Of that there is no doubt

There’s more than flowers to pass the hours
There’s entertainment and fun
The clown convention will keep the attention
Of all the very young


For culture vultures, a trail of sculptures
And music from Bach to the Blues
With Chinese boats on the river afloat
And even Hawaiian canoes


There’s Mardi Gras, bands with guitars
At the riverside wooden staithes
There’s competitions, jugglers, magicians
Along the leafy walkways


There’s cafes and pubs, and two million shrubs
On a two hundred acre site
A large Ferris wheel, and gourmet meals
To wet your appetite

Words & music by Wilf Mitford

From The Mitford Family album ‘Geordie and Northumbrian’ (MM07)
Credits: Wilf Mitford, Vocals, Guitar & Mandolin; Pamela Mitford, Fiddle, Northumbrian Pipes & Penny Whistle; Julia Mitford, Vocals & Flute.  “Thanks to Maggie Mitford & Tony Corcoran…..1991”
Original album cover / insert for ‘Geordie and Northumbrian’

Wow, it’s been 6 months since I last posted to the blog!  Where has the time gone.  I must diary this as a regular post otherwise we’ll never get through Dad’s huge catalogue of songs!  My inspiration for this post came after I heard about the Great Exhibition of the North.   This huge event will be a 3 month celebration of innovation & design from Newcastle & Gateshead.    I’ve been lucky in my music related careers to have been involved in a number of exciting events celebrating the North.

I was working for Sage Gateshead as the campaign to become the European Capital of Culture 2008 was in full force.  Much like the Great Exhibition of the North, it involved different cities putting forward a bid to host the event which would in turn draw down funding.  Local councils, arts organisations and business networks in the North have been a force to be reckoned with in these bids, and after the disappointment of European Capital of Culture going to Liverpool in the end, it’s great to see the North attract this major event in 2018.  But I digress….. Before the ECC and the GNE there was the Gateshead National Garden Festival in 1990.  I was 12 at the time.

National Garden Festival Gateshead 1990 18th May - 21st October 'The North's never looked so good!' Image from Evening Chronicle 25 Year Anniversary Gallery

According to the Chronicle, the key newspaper for the North, the National Garden Festival also involved a bidding process where cities fought it out for the event, and of course the funding.  For many years Gateshead has been led by an ambitious council who have often had their eye on events like this as a way to improve the local area.  With major events come jobs, tourism, business investment and of course pride for the area.   This particular funding had a strong focus on regeneration, which was much needed at the time, and the Chronicle article outlines more of the background to which areas were regenerated and the challenges involved.  The event certainly fast tracked a huge amount of redevelopment of key parts of the town.

Dad by this stage was in full swing when it came to documenting life in the North through his songs.  He generally used news reports or pamphlets for events as the basis for the information in his songs and this was no exception.  Much like the monorail, the song takes us on a journey through an elaborate overview of the sights, sounds, & activities of the Gateshead National Garden Festival.

This song was made all the more special when we were able to perform it live at the festival on the Folkworks stage at the festival itself.  We were heavily involved in Folkworks for many years in our youth (and in later years), attending their amazing summer schools and ceilidhs, and they programmed a wonderful range of music & dance at the festival.  I remember we performed on a range of dates with Folkworks, our Irish Dance troup The Curran School of Dance, and with the Mitford Family.

Pamela & I performing with our folk friends on the Folkworks stage at the Garden Festival

By this point our family band had gone from a 5 piece band called Concordia (made up of Dad – Wilf Mitford, cousin – Helen Robson, granny – Marie Robson, myself and my Sister Pamela Mitford), to a 3 piece band (me, Dad & Sis) now The Mitford Family.  Dad thought it would be a wonderful idea to have a uniformed ‘look’ for the band and so invested in some rather brightly coloured ‘The Mitford Family’ t-shirts which we wore with white trousers.  Whilst the t-shirts were certainly eye catching we quickly discovered the downside at a garden festival was attracting bees and other insects!  You can see the t-shirts in full 3D on the Great North Run video which was filmed at the Garden Festival.  Aside from the wildlife, we enterained hundreds of passers by with our music.  An amazing experience for children our age.

Wilf in his official Mitford Family shirt with his mum Peggy & Aunty May

The Gateshead Garden Festival by Wilf Mitford is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

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