The Old Rope String Band

Joe's Day

Eric Challoner writes:

I have been to many funerals but never to a funeral like this.

I have been amongst many groups of people but never mixed with such a cosmopolitan group, all bound together by their love of one man and one group The Old Rope String Band.

At 9 o'clock in the morning we assembled outside Joe's house where the white cardboard coffin was brought on a hand cart.

At 9.30 the long procession began led by one of Joe's brothers, followed by 30 or more fiddlers playing a haunting repetitive melody.

We walked about a mile to Nunsmoor Park. This is an open park surrounded by trees and in the centre was a bandstand. People continue to come and several hundred assembled there.

The crowd in Nuns Moor Park

There was no formal service but different people took part. Many people were silently weeping as they played some of his tunes and sang songs composed by him. There were tears and there was laughter. One high moment came when Rianne asked us all to be silent as we listened to the birds sing for Joe — and they did!

At 11 o'clock the family moved off to St Nicholas's cemetery about 300 metres away where Joe was buried. The rest of us stayed in the park talking quietly to one another and sharing our experiences.

At 1 o'clock over 1000 assembled in the Opera House in Newcastle. The stage was beautifully set out with two pictures of Joe, one each side - and then on the backcloth of the stage there was another of him looking down.

On the stage at the Opera House: Pete Challenor, Tim Dalling, Ian Carr

A full programme had been planned with many taking part, including Joes brothers and his sister Georgie and her daughter Danielle who had flown in from Nebraska. They told of their memories of Joe. Harry said that from a very early age he had shown some of his many talents, for he was not only a gifted fiddler but a mandolin player, a tap dancer, a fire eater, a juggler as he rode a unicycle, also a linguist, able to speak in five languages.

However it was his love of people his humour and modesty that people remembered. It was a very emotional moment when Rianne spoke of their love for each other and of his deep love and compassion for Mariza her daughter, who was on the stage in a wheelchair. The celebration ended when Tim asked everyone to give Joe the round of applause that he deserved. The standing ovation for Joe went on and on.

What a fantastic finale.

In the evening there was yet another celebration at the Cumberland Arms, Byker, where Joe had so often played. The place was crowded by young and old and the celebration went on beyond midnight.

The wake at the Cumberland Arms

I am sure all who attended 'Joe's Day' would never forget it, or the remarkable man whose life we celebrated.

Eric Challoner is the father of the Old Ropes' Pete Challoner.

Photographs © 2005 Rik Walton, to whom our thanks for permission to reproduce here.

last updated 27th June 2005