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Billie's Concert

St Wilfred's Catholic High School, Featherstone
Friday 18 March 2016

'Summat was brewing' in Featherstone tonight as mums and dads, children, families, people of all ages headed towards St Wilfred's Catholic School in the sleepy northern town of Featherstone. It was still very much early evening but the dark had already descended upon the town just as a long queue formed outside the school doors, with many of the younger people in school uniform, whilst others stuck to their civvies. In the queue, the TV personality Christine Talbot, a familiar face from the regional news programme Calendar, was happy to join the line of pushchairs, prams and buggies each of which had arrived from all directions. I'm sure that Christine could quite easily have made a much quicker entrance into the building, but she was more than happy to queue up with the rest, chatting to the locals who were no doubt pleased to see 'her off't telly'.

Billie Holiday Clayton was the star of the evening's concert despite not being able to attend in person. The feisty little nine year-old would be on everybody's mind as they queued along the side of the school to get into the main sports hall tonight. Everybody there knows perfectly well that little Billie will be forever nine, but that she would also be remembered for her infectious smile, her humanitarian outlook on life, her multi-culturalism and her appreciation of the sound of a solo violin; but I guess this is only the start of her many attributes.

For ten years now people have gathered at this school around this time of year for Billie's Concert, which sees local schools coming together in order to celebrate the life and legacy of a little girl who one day in the spring of 2006 lost her life in a tragic accident many miles from her home leaving shattered parents Ian and Heather and poignantly, her twin brother Edward, now a quiet, yet cool looking dude and gifted musician, who tonight performed a note perfect composition called Landscape No 2 midway through the concert, especially for his sister. I was lucky enough to hear a sneak preview of this piece back in January when I visited the family home in Featherstone. The sleepy-eyed nineteen-year old sat at the family upright piano, in a room surrounded by music, presenting me with a beautiful self-penned contemporary classical piece of music, which his proud dad later informed me would be performed for the first time in public at Billie's Concert in March.  

Christine Talbot opened the concert with a few words of encouragement, remarking on her disbelief that ten years have flown by so quickly, whilst pointing out that the concert tonight would in fact be the last in the series. Christine said that tonight's concert was about a very special little girl. "She really was special, for those of you who don't really know her, there was a magic about Billie Clayton, she would have gone on to do great things, we all know that and in some ways, she has".

Passing the microphone over to tonight's host Ian Clayton, the TV presenter left the stage to take her place in the audience for the start of the concert. Ian had already begun to explore the idea that this might not be the last concert after all, claiming that a thought had just come to him that 'friendship, kindness and music' was a very good way of moving on. "Let me think about it" he said as more thoughts crossed his busy mind. Ian has presided over all ten concerts that he pledged to stage in order to provide local children with musical instruments through the trust fund he set up. Over the last ten years many local children have benefitted from the trust fund, which has helped in no small way to fulfil their respective musical aspirations. Some of those children were present tonight, performing in Billie's Band, one of the many musical acts on the programme.

The first half of tonight's concert featured Saxophony Swing, who performed a couple of uplifting numbers from the Swing era, together with a rock and roll classic, Shake Rattle 'n' Roll. The Wakefield Youth Choir performed the Mamas and Papas hit California Dreaming and a gorgeous Somewhere Over the Rainbow, featuring Caitlin Cosismini. Traditional folk music was represented by Keltia - Wakefield Youth Folk Ensemble, who performed a couple of folk classics, Wild Mountain Thyme and Tam Lin. Other performances during the first half included the young Jordan Wright, performing the Shawn Phillips song The Little Tin Soldier, made popular by Donovan in the 1960s, Molly Wood appearing as a late addition to the bill, performing Vance Joy's Riptide, whilst Katelyn Taylor and Evie Hobson performed Amy McDonald's Fourth of July before Edward Clayton performed the aforementioned Landscape No 2, to much applause. Perhaps the most touching moment during the first half was when the littlies of Girnhill Infants Ocarina Group entertained everyone with their Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, London's Burning and Little Bird routine. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

After a short break, Billie's Band, directed by Caroline Billington and Kate Ghent, performed Reflections and Patrick Goes to Mairi's Wedding just before the main purpose of the concert. The presentation of the instruments to this year's winners, which included violins being awarded to Abiha Ali, Alex Duszynska and Evie Banham and guitars going to Isobel Hardaker, Leah Watson and Kiera Jenkins, gave the proud parents in the audience some fine memories to cherish as each of the young musicians stepped down to receive their gift from Ian Clayton.

In the past, a few prominent figures on the music scene have lent their support to Billie's Concert including Richard Hawley and Ian Matthews and tonight was no exception. One of the most familiar duos on the British music scene, Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow, were delighted to take time out of their busy schedule to appear at the concert in order to perform a couple of their widely requested songs, The Hum and the utterly gorgeous Two Mothers. The very sensitive nature of their songs found a place in tonight's proceedings, especially the delicate and moving Two Mothers.

For this year's finale, Many Voices and Wakefield Youth Choir directed by Geraldine Gault and Phil Needham brought the concert to a close with a selection of songs including Van Morrison's Moondance, Emily Barden's One in a Million and the old Barry Manilow song Could It be Magic before the grand finale of the moving Billie's Song written by her dad and Geraldine Gaunt, with Josh Ward providing the all-important violin solo. 

It's difficult to sum up an evening like tonight, which is mainly due to the inadequacy of simple words. I guess we don't really need to rely on words on these occasions; we just need to look at the faces of those young people, the proud smiles of their parents and grown-ups, and the standing ovation in that little northern school sports hall tonight. Friendship, kindness and music indeed.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky