The Great North Strum

Mark Davies of The Great Northern Strum with his familyA lot of readers were touched by the story of banjo teacher Patrick Costello regaining his hearing with an implant that transmits sound directly to the cochlea via bone conduction. After reading the story earlier this month, Mark Davies contacted us about his efforts to raise funds for hospice care and cancer research in Great Britain.

Davies is a social worker and long-time amateur rock musician who has undertaken a study of the banjo, and plans to walk the Great North Run on September 20 playing his 5 string. This half marathon is a very popular event which raises funds for a number of charities. Mark has dubbed his attempt as the Great North Strum and invites folks to sponsor him in his quest.

We think that our readers will enjoy his tale of taking up the banjo in mid life, and his quirky sense of humor. If you feel called to support Mark in his walk for charity, he can be reached by email.

“So this is how it is. I’m rapidly reaching Forty, and there’s a couple of things I want to be able to say that I’ve achieved by that milestone. One is to have completed a half marathon, and another is to learn to play the banjo (there are others, but I wont bore you with Playing the Albert Hall, with the Pixies as my back up band).

As Wham might have put it, last Christmas (08), my wife presented me with a lovely Godman 5 String Banjo, and away I went. By mid January I was informed that if I didn’t stop playing a dodgy version of (and I quote) ‘Duelling F*$!*&g Banjo’s’ that I would be acquiring a banjo shaped colonoscopy. But by then it was too late, I had heard Cripple Creek, Wildwood Flower, Wabash Cannonball, Foggy Mountain Breakdown and so much more that I’d previously been aware had existed, but never really listened to. I wanted to get into that place. I told my wife that there were other ways I could be having a mid-life crisis, she said she’d take them!

Around this time, my weight was also becoming a concern. So i started walking, which led to jogging, which led to some weight going (it’s not lost, I know exactly where it is, it’s in the off license and the fridge) which led to a 5K run in my hometown of Middlesbrough (So good they named it once). I clocked in just over thirty minutes, which I was pretty pleased with, and immediately set my sights on attempting the Great North Run. I was running for Butterwick Hospice. My Mother died of Brain cancer, which had spread from her bowel two years ago, so it’s a cause that`s close to my heart. All was going swimmingly, regular 8-10 mile jogs, interspersed with the odd 2-3 mile runs, when in May I felt something go pop in my knee. After seeking advice I was informed to rest it for a couple of months.

During this time a friend of mine was informed that he had late stage aggressive Lung Cancer. This man has in the past and continues to be an inspiration to me in so many ways, professionally, and personally. I wont bore you with how, but here’s an example of this guy. We were discussing in the office whether Jaffa Cakes were biscuits or cakes. People were mentioning tax duty, ingredients, but no definitive answer was forthcoming. When asked, your man just said ‘they’re cakes. Cakes go hard if you leave them out, biscuits go soft.’ Simple as that.

He knew that I’d been messing about with the banjo, and as he is getting a few things ready for when the train reaches the final station, he gave me a battered Windsor Whirle 5 String Junior, which he had bought a few years back meaning to restore. You can imagine what this beautiful instrument means to me. So I had it restored (Nigels guitar Workshop in Richmond North Yorkshire, amazing fella, with the best job in the world) and it sounds great.

So there I am, the knee’s not brilliant, but I reckon I can at least walk the Great North Run, but that’s not really good enough is it. I needed a way to be able to raise money for a couple of Hospices, and Cancer Research. I started training again, and whilst walking I had an epiphany. Carry that Banjo throughout the Great North Run!!!!! Play it at the start, stop (there’s only so often people can listen to the Ballad of Jesse James), and play it as I cross the finishing line! I laughed this off, but the idea stuck. It would be fitting to use the Windsor, and why stop at the great North Run? There’s countless places and events I could take part in with it. I mentioned it to the Wife, and a couple of people (Northern Banjo Boy being one, great blogsite incidentally), and was surprised to hear positive reactions.

I have a blogspot which has daily details posted of how I’m getting on, and have the support of Patrick Costello, and Dame Tanni Grey Thompson.  Thanks for taking the time to read this.”

Here are a couple of clever videos Mark created while he was training for the banjo walk.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.