'˜Most successful year ever' for sell-out carol concerts in Peak District cavern

It has been a bumper year at Peak Cavern. More than 3,500 tickets have been sold for the annual carol concerts at the cave in Castleton, with all six events completely selling out '“ making 2017 the most successful series ever.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 19th December 2017, 2:42 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th December 2017, 2:45 pm
20 Dec 2015.....More than 600 people attended the final (of 6 ) Christmas Carol Concert inside the Peak Cavern in Castleton in the Peak District. Music was supplied by the Ireland Colliery Chesterfield Brass Band. Picture Scott Merrylees

A different brass band has performed at each concert, and the programme concludes this weekend with singing backed by the Cressbrook and Ireland Colliery players.

Festive concerts are all held in the vast chamber within Peak Cavern – or The Devil’s Arse, to use its local name – and the place is festooned with lights, decorations and real Christmas trees for the occasion.

“It’s been the most popular year ever,” says cavern director John Harrison.

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“They’ve just been growing year on year. We have a lot of repeat visitors, it’s become part of their Christmas traditions. We get newcomers but many are people who come every year. When new people come it just adds up.”

The Harrison family has owned the nearby Speedwell Cavern since 1939, but took Peak Cavern on in 1997. They began hosting concerts soon after – carols had been sung in the cave previously, but the events were smaller fundraising affairs put on by local cavers and scouts.

“When we first started we did four over two weekends and then grew it to six,” says John. “We’ve always sold out the last two.”

He said the team was ‘really pleased’ with this year’s strong response.

“It’s a good format and the venue makes it very unique. The entrance to the cave makes a fabulous auditorium and we really go to town decorating it. We do something different every year, brass bands play and people get totally involved, standing up and singing in different groups. It makes for a fantastic atmosphere.”

In winter the number of cave tours per day is reduced during the week, making concerts an important part of seasonal trade. There has also been a push to hold bigger events more generally across the calendar.

In May, singer and guitarist Richard Hawley sold out two nights in the 600-capacity cavern, and in July a 100-piece symphony orchestra performed there, the result of a partnership between Nottingham’s Robin Hood Orchestra and its counterpart from Karlsruhe in Germany.

Doc/Fest film screenings, a Bonfire Night celebration and Halloween ghost tours have also attracted crowds in recent years.

“We put ourselves out there as a venue for bigger acts to come and hire and put concerts on,” says John.

“Lucy Spraggan put a concert on last Friday and sold that out in 48 hours. She’s talking about coming back and maybe doing two concerts next year.”

Cabaret Voltaire, Richard H Kirk’s pioneering electronic group that formed in Sheffield, had planned to perform in the cave on the same May weekend as Hawley, but the gig was quickly cancelled.

“To be quite honest I wasn’t that familiar with Cabaret Voltaire, I wasn’t sure what type of music it was,” says John.

“It’s a funny one. We know from experience that we can get a certain audience demographic. Castleton is fairly remote and you do really need to be able to drive to come out here. You can’t rely on getting here from Sheffield and Manchester on public transport and getting back in the same time frame. A lot of people are quite happy to stay in a B&B and make a weekend of it.”

He promises ‘more of the same’ on the carols front in 2018 - there may even be the addition of a seventh concert. “Christmas Day falls on a Tuesday in 2018, so we might put on an extra one on Christmas Eve, on the Monday night.”

n Visit www.peakcavern.co.uk for further details.