2002-2004: The Early Years
Drummed Up was formed in the summer of 2002 with the help of two community development workers – Bob Malpiedi who worked for Activities For Health, a scheme that encouraged people in Cruddas Park and Arthur’s Hill in Newcastle to live healthier lives, and Simon Wood who worked for the West City Community Project run by Newcastle City Council. The group was initially set up using funding from Newcastle New Deal for Communities which was used to buy drums and pay for the first 18 months rent. After this the group became completely self-financing by generating income from members’ contributions and performances. Drummed Up was formally launched as an independent community group at an inaugural General Meeting on Thursday 27th May 2004, when the group’s constitution was signed.
Drummed Up was originally based at The Hub at Westgate Baptist Church, Westgate Road in Newcastle. Sessions began at 5pm: there was an improvised drum circle for the first hour involving percussion, rhythm games and singing, followed by learning specific African drumming rhythms and performance rehearsal. The sessions quickly became very popular, with around 25 to 30 people regularly attending each week. Participants brought food to share during the break and a sense of community was created virtually from the beginning.
The group’s main teachers were Alec Fox and Sue Amey, who together ran the 12 week West African Drumming for Beginners and the 40 week Progressed West African Rhythm Playing courses at Newcastle College. Alec and Sue taught over a dozen different West African rhythms at Drummed Up, including Burkinabe, Carabali, Kassa, Kuku, Lonanba, Moribayassa and Yankadi-Macru, in a fun and patient style.
In summer 2003 several members of Drummed Up travelled to the Big Green Gathering in Somerset and performed there.
2004 saw the start of the group’s regular residential weekends away as several members went to Alnmouth to plan the future of Drummed Up and share ideas. In August, members of the group travelled to Glenisla in Scotland to attend and perform at the first African Drum Village festival.
In September 2004 Alec and Sue were joined by guest teacher Moctar ‘Mockoulo’ Sawane from Senegal, an opportunity for the group to work with an outstanding djembé soloist.
By the end of its first two years, Drummed Up had also performed at St James’ Park for Show Racism the Red Card, Sunderland Minster, Newcastle Community Green Festival and L’Afrique à Newcastle Festival, as well as over 50 other venues in Newcastle and across the north east.
2005-2011: The Jesmond Vale Years
In January 2005 Alec and Sue left to study and travel in West Africa for three months. A group of Drummed Up members who felt confident enough took over teaching the Thursday evening sessions, including Dave Green and the then current Chairman, Mark Barfoot.
In March 2005 Drummed Up moved to the Newcastle Music Service building at Jesmond Vale in Newcastle – also known as the ‘Northern Sinfonia building’ as this had been the old rehearsal space of the Northern Sinfonia orchestra until they moved to The Sage Gateshead in November 2004. The free use of a spacious and acoustically excellent hall in a building totally dedicated to music provided a fantastic location for Drummed Up and the group flourished.
Although the new venue meant that Thursday evening sessions changed to a 6.30pm start time, attendance continued to average around 30 people per week. The first hour’s improvised drum circle was dropped in favour of a beginners African drumming session between 6.30 and 7.30pm, concentrating on technique and introducing Drummed Up’s rhythms to new members. This was followed by a session involving more challenging African rhythms for more experienced drummers and then gig rehearsal concentrating on performance skills. The Blue Bell pub next door also provided a welcome venue afterwards for thirsty drummers.
The group’s African drumming performance skills were demonstrated shortly after moving to Jesmond Vale, as on 5th April 2005 Drummed Up performed in the prestigious Hall One of The Sage. This was followed in May 2005 with a performance on the main stage at the Ceilidh Gall Gallowa’ festival (now known as the Knockengorroch festival) in Galloway, Scotland.
In November 2005 Drummed Up was visted again by guest teacher Moctar ‘Mockoulo’ Sawane for a session, which was another great experience for all those present.
In January 2006 several members financed their own trip to Abéne in the southern Casamance region of Senegal and also to Gunjur in Gambia to study with dance and drum teachers including Nansady Keita, who later moved to the north east of England and taught a number of workshops over the next few years. Later in 2006 traditional West African dance was introduced as part of Drummed Up’s Thursday evening sessions and performances, adding a whole new dimension to the group. As a result of the trip to Gambia connections were made with Bristol based charity the Kombo Sillah Association and for every paid performance Drummed Up gave, £50 was donated to support their health and education projects in Gunjur.
When he returned from Senegal and Gambia, Mark Barfoot became the group’s main drumming teacher and began teaching a number of new West African rhythms. In September the group welcomed back Sue Amey as a guest teacher, together with Modou Mané from Senegal.
Drummed Up was immensely proud to be asked for the first time to perform at the Great North Run, which has since become an annual feature of the Drummed Up calendar. Among the other performances of 2006, highlights included the Chopwell Forest Festival (which was one of England’s biggest woodland events), the Sunderland International Kite Festival, a performance at Newcastle University in support of World Aids Day and opening the L’Afrique Festival concert at Grey’s monument.
In the autumn of 2006 attendance at the group reached a peak of 58 people at one Thursday evening session – some travelling from Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hexham, Consett and Durham – making Drummed Up, for a short time, the biggest African drumming group not only in the north east of England but the whole of the UK! The group consistently had around 30 people attending each week.
2007 was undoubtedly the busiest year so far in Drummed Up’s history and the group was in great demand for many events across the north east. The group drummed, danced and sang their way almost to the brink of exhaustion, performing just about every weekend from April to September, sometimes doing up to four gigs a day!
Highlights this year were many: drumming and African dance at The Star and Shadow cinema in Newcastle for their screening of the 1973 Senegalese film Touki Bouki;
there was a return to what was sadly to be the final ever Chopwell Forest Festival; a performance and drum circle at the Middlesbrough Mela; Redefest; Blackhall Mill summer fair with spontaneous African song afterwards at Sam’s housewarming; opening the Newcastle Mela, the largest free Asian festival in the north east of England; and a weekend trip away to the Barrowburn camping barn in the beautiful Coquet Valley in Northumberland.
Deserving special mention was the Freedom performance at Dance City in Newcastle in May 2007, which marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.
As well as the recording of the Freedom performance, a documentary was made which followed the journey of Tyne & Wear Museums outreach team and the many community groups they worked with who were involved in the Freedom project and performance. Drummed Up drumming teacher Mark Barfoot and dance teacher Bekki French were interviewed for the documentary and it contains footage of the group’s rehearsals in preparation for the performance.
Drummed Up also made an appearance at Leeds Carnival, performing in conjunction with the North East of England African Community Association (NEEACA) and playing to what was probably our biggest audience ever.
The taught sessions at Jesmond Vale continued under the instruction of Mark Barfoot and a regular flow of beginners of all ages and backgrounds discovered West African drumming and dance.
2008 was a less frenetic year than 2007 in terms of number of performances and the group settled down to a new drum and dance teaching programme. Guest teachers included Modou Mané teaching djembé and bass drums plus Ruth Willis and Sens Sagna teaching West African dance.
In October 2008 Bekki French took over the dance tuition and ran a well-attended beginners African dance class.
Although there were fewer performances than 2007, things were by no means quiet on the gig front as the group performed again at Redefest and also at the Amnesty International Winter Solstice Ball in Wallsend, as well as the usual performances at the Newcastle Green Festival and the Great North Run.
From its start in 2002 Drummed Up was a ‘drop in’ African drumming workshop taught on a voluntary basis. By 2008 it became clear it simply wasn’t sustainable for Mark to continue to teach the group on this basis, and to ensure the group’s future he approached the WEA (Workers Educational Association) to ask if we could run Drummed Up as one of their courses. They said yes, and in the autumn Mark began teaching the first WEA ‘Drummed Up’ course. The WEA courses ran from 6.30pm to 8.30pm and after 8.30pm Drummed Up continued until 9.30pm as a ‘drop in’ session for performance rehearsals, ran voluntarily by Mark and Alec. In the WEA classes Mark introduced several new African drumming rhythms and songs to refresh the group’s performance set list, which had not changed a great deal since the group first began performing in 2003.
In January 2009 Mark returned to Guinea to study again with Nansady Keita and he brought back more new African drumming rhythms to teach the group, including Nyagalimba, Kebendo and Seneti. The WEA classes with Mark continued, followed by Bekki’s dance classes with Alec leading the drummers. In March the group was visited by a BBC journalist, who used the group’s drum and dance session as the subject of a project for his Masters degree in Journalism.
Drummed Up played at the Newcastle Mela again – both on the main stage and running some African drum circles in the main arena. The group also played at Byker Fest and even did a couple of alfresco rehearsals in Jesmond Dene, although the animals at Pets’ Corner didn’t seem that impressed with the African rhythms!
In October several members of the group got together to see world-class djembé and kora player Seckou Keita at The Sage Gateshead, which was an entertaining and memorable evening.
In 2010 Drummed Up performed as usual at the Newcastle Green Festival, which along with the Great North Run was probably our favourite gig.
Over the summer Mark ran two workshops with djembé master Nansady Keita which were attended by over 30 people from across the north east, travelling from as far as Hartlepool, Darlington, Middlesbrough and Stockton.
In September dundun master Zal Sagna from Senegal joined Drummed Up to teach the story of the Zenefoli using rhythm, dance and song. Drummed Up played at Newcastle Racecourse‘s Halloween Fireworks Spectacular and in November performed to possibly the most appreciative and enthusiastic audience we’ve ever had, at Dilston College‘s Dragon Festival.
Later in November Drummed Up took part in an event in aid of the charity Development Direct at World Headquarters in Newcastle to raise money for anti-malaria nets.
2011 saw Drummed Up performing African rhythms in some of the classiest venues we have probably ever played! In May the group performed at Dissington Hall, again in aid of Development Direct, and in August ran several African drumming workshops for the National Trust in the South Portico at Seaton Delaval Hall. Organised as one of a series of activities for children over the summer holidays, the workshops were a great success with visitors – we even managed to get more parents than children drumming!
In October 2011 Drummed Up was very sad to have to leave the old Northern Sinfonia building at Jesmond Vale, the group’s home for over 6 years, as it was being closed by Newcastle City Council due to government funding cuts, leaving Drummed Up and many other community music groups in Newcastle homeless. The building stood derelict for another 8 years until 2019 when it was finally redeveloped into flats.
Drummed Up’s old teacher Sue Amey rescued us, and at the end of October we temporarily moved into her yoga studio in The Tower in Uptin House, the old Polestar Rehearsal Studios on Stepney Road in Ouseburn. Alec and Mark taught the group voluntarily for a couple of months until a permanent site could be found to run the next WEA course.
2012-2021: From Central Newcastle to Gateshead High Street
At the end January 2012 Drummed Up relocated to the sixth floor of Commercial Union House in Pilgrim Street in the centre of Newcastle, an empty office building that offered affordable space for local artists and community groups and so was transformed into a creative hub. Mark continued his WEA drumming classes followed by an hour’s extra ‘drop in’ rehearsal session.
In July Mark’s students from his Newcastle and Durham City WEA drumming class plus drummers from North Yorkshire’s lively Ee By Drum drumming group participated in a weekend African drumming workshop with the world-class Nansady Keita in Newcastle.
Yet again Drummed Up played at the Great North Run, performing to 50,000 people – but only for around 10 seconds each! In October we were the opening act for Newcastle’s World Mental Health Day events on a lovely sunny Saturday morning at Grey’s Monument in the city centre.
January 2013 kicked off with a new drumming event based in Newcastle – a community drum circle run by Simon Wood, who helped to start Drummed Up in 2002. Many of Drummed Up’s regulars attended and had a great time.
In March, in between WEA courses, Mark ran three intensive bass drum courses exploring the challenging rhythm Soli M’barina which were really well attended by new and experienced drummers alike.
In April Drummed Up played at the Heel & Toe Children’s Easter Walk and Fun Day at Chester le Street. In June we played again at one of our very favourite events, the Newcastle Community Green Festival in Leazes Park, where we had a ‘wall of sound’ of TEN bass drums!
June also saw the return of Simon Wood to Drummed Up as he ran a drum circle for us when Mark was away, which was a great chance for those who enjoy a bit of jamming and freestyling to have a play.
For the seventh consecutive year Drummed Up played for runners at the Great North Run and at the beginning of October we played for Newcastle Mental Health day again. On 31st October we got our spooky glad rags on for the Where the Wild Things Are Glow in the Dark Halloween Party supporting Hannabiell & Midnight Blue, a band that Mark plays in, in Newcastle and had a fantastic time.
Drummed Up eventually proved to be a little bit too noisy for the folks who ran Commercial Union House, who had started to host a series of lectures there on Thursday nights, so in October we moved across the road to Bamburgh House on Market Street, another empty office building offering non profit-making social action, third sector and arts organisations affordable space in the city centre. We had some great sessions there with Mark encouraging the exploration of free soloing techniques in a really supportive atmosphere.
In January 2014 Drummed Up moved from Bamburgh House due the ending of the Northern Creative Solutions 8 week experimental pilot project there. While they were getting Broadacre House next door ready, we moved temporarily into St James United Reformed Church Hall, right on the edge of the Northumbria University Campus. The acoustics of the hall were a bit of a challenge for drumming but proved to be excellent for singing, much to the consternation of our regular member Lord John! In May Broadacre House was finally ready and we moved into a room there.
At the beginning of June Drummed Up played a very wet Newcastle Community Green Festival, which was sadly to be the last ever due to increasing costs and funding cuts. The festival had always been one of the highlights of the year for Drummed Up and is very much missed. We were impressed that some of our friends from the North Yorkshire drumming group Ee By Drum made the long trip from Saltburn to come up and see us in such awful weather.
Later on in June we travelled a bit further afield to Darlington College to play at their Open Door Festival, where thankfully the weather was much kinder.
Drummed Up kicked off 2015 with Leila’s birthday bash on 24th Jan at The Head of Steam in Newcastle.
On 5th June 2015 Drummed Up took part in Hadrian’s Wall of Sound, part of the first BBC Music Day. We were located in the Swirle Pavilion, near the Millennium Bridge on Newcastle Quayside. The BBC cameraman complained about us being too noisy!
We carried on being noisy in Look North!
Sadly in January 2016 some of the other tenants of Broadacre House also found us a bit too noisy, so we moved on from there, but left on good terms with Northern Creative Solutions, the artists collective which manged the building. We had a break until February while Mark was away in Bangladesh. When he returned he ran the Drummed Up WEA course at Byker Community Centre. We stayed there until 2017 and then moved to Gateway Studio in Gateshead High Street. As a dedicated arts and dance centre, it was a relief we could be as noisy there as we wanted! We stayed there until early 2020, and we all know what happened then …
Mark did some great Zoom classes from his studio at The Bunker in Sunderland, which kept everyone connected through the lockdowns and enabled people from all around the country to join in with his drumming workshops. In September 2021 we could finally play together again and had a brilliant time entertaining the runners on the Great North Run once more.
2022: Twenty Years of Drummed Up!
Drummed Up has its 20th anniversary this year. Who would have thought it? Drummed Up transformed from its beginnings as a publicly-funded project to tackle deprivation in the West End of Newcastle into a thriving self-funded community group (although with the continued support of Newcastle Council allowing us free use of the old Northern Sinfonia building and the goodwill of the largely volunteer regular teachers Alec Fox and Mark Barfoot) and then into a WEA course which was run by Mark Barfoot for over 12 years. Despite all the changes, running through the last 20 years have been the threads of community, performance and fun.
So where are we now? Things have got a lot quieter since the heady days of summer 2007 when the group was playing at least one gig every weekend. Mark now works as a fully self-employed professional musician and drumming teacher and has relocated his weekly drumming classes and monthly drumming workshops to the Eagle Building in Sunderland. Drummed Up is still here as a community performance group and will be playing our regular gig with Mark this September as one of the ten ‘Bands on the Run’ at the Great North Run. We may be open to doing other gigs in the Sunderland, Newcastle or Durham City areas that might come our way in the future too. If you have ever been along to one of Mark’s drumming workshops or are thinking about coming along to one and having a go, we’d love you to join us!