CHRIS Lloyd joined the band and proud villagers from Trimdon as they took their newly recreated banner to the Big Meeting for a day of music, colour, liquid refreshment and emotion.

The Northern Echo: HOW TO GET THIS THING UP? In Trimdon Working Men's Club car park at 7am on gala day

A COCKEREL crows in the allotments of the Trimdon Colliery Homing Society and a trombone parrumps in the concert room of the neighbouring Working Men’s Club. Amid the long shadows of the early morning, in the club car park, four young men – heads freshly shaved, shirts crisply pressed, sunglasses nicely cleaned – struggle to get the new Trimdon Colliery banner upright.

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They battle with the leather cups, the fixing straps, the awkward poles, the tension ropes and the pesky breeze until finally, triumphantly, the banner fills the air overhead, proudly showing off its picture of an agent doing a deal with the miners beneath the pitwheel.

“Why,” says one of them, looking on the reverse, “I didn’t realise there was porn on the back.”

The banner boys – white shirts and black trousers – pick up their pints of Guinness – white heads, black bodies – and examine the Good Samaritan who is tending an injured, naked traveller who has fallen by the wayside, a strategically-placed loin cloth covering his modesty.

It is the banner’s big day at the Big Meeting. It was originally created in 1892 for the 23rd gala, but when its pit closed in 1925, it was torn up, the centrepiece lying in an attic for decades until last year, a committee was formed to raise £17,000, recreate the banner and provide the colliery community with something to walk behind at the 133rd gala.

The four banner boys – Lee Elliott, Gary Bowes, Robert McLean and Paul Bruce, with committee organiser Paul Trippett and Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson belaying the ropes – walk uncertainly to the front of club where the Trimdon Concert Band gleams in the sunshine.

Jake Elliott, 79, resplendent in his Sunday best suit, a buttonhole and large cane, will lead the parade. “Pride of Trimdon Colliery,” bellows the former guardsmen so loudly that even the cockerel turns tail, “let us show Durham City our mettle. Are you ready?”

No, no, no. The banner’s caught in the breeze, someone’s music has blown away, and a slide has slid from a trombone.

But soon they are off in a blast of brass – actually, the Trimdon band is quite posh, so it is a serenade of silver. The percussive thud of the bass drum and the warm sound of the instruments is magnified as it bounces off the tight terraces of the former pit village as they march. People come out of their homes, curious kids gather on corners, old women in nighties peer from windows – one on a doorstep wrapped up in a pink dressing gown has a tear in her eye as they pass.

“I worked in Deaf Hill pit but was 21 when I left the village for the army,” says Jake, who now lives in Brighton. “I come back every year for the gala. It is roots. My roots.”

“I remember my first gala on my father’s shoulders,” says the MP, the red and blue cord of the banner in his hand. “He pointed out Harold Wilson. It’s so long ago, even the memories are in black and white.”

“Hey, you are drooping,” shouts one of the banner boys at him. “He’s disappearing off over there, I thought he was gannin to the shop.” His journey was only down memory lane.

After successfully negotiating half-a-mile, near Tony Blair’s former house, band and banner pile onto a bus to take them onto the city. On the wings of the wind comes the sound of Deaf Hill setting off for a promenade through its streets – it’s not yet 8am, but in ex-pit places all over County Durham there are similar stirrings, identical dawn choruses.

The Northern Echo: OLD ELVET: Jake Elliott leads the Trimdon party towards the cathedral

TRIMDON regroups in Durham Market Place, beneath the statue of the man on the horse, the hated pit owner, the Marquess of Londonderry. Even at the early hour, there’s a good crowd and there are so many banner parties that the marshal is whirling her arms like a windmill to get them moving.

Jake’s military bearing means Trimdon is well regimented, and the party sets off sharply out of the Market Place to the junction of Saddler Street and Elvet Bridge, where a tightly-packed crowd spills down the steps in the sun. They greet Trimdon with wild acclaim as band leader Will Harrison starts an energetic version of YMCA, his mint-green tie bouncing on his chest as he conducts.

“We did it a few years ago and it went down well so we always do some fun ones now,” says Will Harrison, whose grandma handed out the pay at Fishburn colliery. The big bass beats of another band draw closer, signalling it’s time for Trimdon to move on. “It’s a friendly day’s banding,” says Will from behind his mirror shades. “One of the few of the year.”

Playing the Proclaimers’ 1,000 Miles, they march over the bridge and come to rest outside the County Hotel. The main guests are still enjoying breakfast, but the Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire and Aslef’s long-haired leader Tosh McDonald look down on Trimdon, while an interesting glance is exchanged between Mr Wilson, holding the cord, and Durham Miners’ Association secretary Alan Cummings on the balcony who had “disinvited” the MP from the official Labour party.

The Northern Echo: SEAHAM SCAMPERERS: A huge round of applause greeted the Seaham banner, fronted by cute children

Up the slight hill of Old Elvet moves Trimdon, armed police looking down from the green-domed roof of the former County Hall. Immediately behind the banner are three generations of the Atherton family who kept the 1892 fragment save for nearly a century.

“It brought tears to my eyes when I saw it for the first time,” says Andrew, whose great-grandfather Teddy O’Neil is believed to be the bearded figure on the banner.

The Racecourse is reached by ten o’clock, and the banner is tied up on a fence between banners from Tanfield Lea and Washington Glebe. Fringed in gold, it looks truly splendid, although Tanfield Lea out-does it in the slogan stakes. Tanfield’s centrepiece is four charging horses dragging a scantily-clad female allegorical figure through the clouds accompanied by the words: “Organisation the key to economic emancipation.” As a chant, it has yet to catch on.

The musicians pile their instruments behind their banner, and the banner boys begin their search for liquid refreshment in the knowledge that it is three hours before they are needed again for the central part of the day, to march Trimdon to the cathedral to be blessed.

The Northern Echo: ON THE BALCONY: Jeremy Corbyn at the County

BAND by band, banner by banner, an unseen conveyor belt rolls the gala parties over the Wear, up Old Elvet and disgorges them onto the Racecourse.

New Brancepeth marches in to a riotous version of I Predict A Riot. Spennymoor is so long – there can be no one left in the town – it takes many minutes to pass, the clinking from its burgeoning coolbags louder than the music of its blue-coated band. Seaham steals the hearts of all as it is preceded by five coaly-faced youngsters, scurrying impishly in bright orange boilersuits with smiles as bright as their miners’ lamps.

Down at the County, Jeremy Corbyn, in a Peases’ buff brick suit, is centre of attention on the crowded balcony. Practically every party which sees him serenades him with a football chorus of “Oh, Je-rem-ee-cor-bin” bellowed at the top of lungs. The Coxhoe tuba player turns the chant in a plodding bassline which his drummer picks up and speeds up until, with thousands clapping along, the trumpets tumble in on the top with virtuoso trills – a marvellous improvised magnificat for the party leader.

Mr Corbyn responds with a wide smile and thumbs-up, and when East Hetton strike up Greased Lightning, his out-stretched arm scans the horizon to show how Labour is burning up the quarter mile and coasting through the Tory trial.

Whether there are 200,000 there, it is impossible to say? Every seasoned observer agrees that it is busier than usual and the Racecourse is fuller than normal with more people than ever bagging early places on the grass in front of the platform, where Mr Corbyn’s warm-up act is Bert Draycott. He is the world champion spoon player from Fishburn who runs through the full repertoire of his rhythms: the Roker Ripple, the Blackhall Bounce, the Newcastle Knuckle Knock…

The free newspapers are ladling the left-wing propaganda on thick: there’s the Morning Star, the Militant, the Clarion, the Proletarian, the Socialist, the Socialist Worker, the Socialist Appeal, the Socialist Review, the Workers’ Weekly, the Workers’ Fight plus a blast against Theresa May on the front cover of Counterfire.

The Morning Star’s bookstall is selling the collected works of Marx, Lenin, Engels, Mao Tse-tung and Bob Crow, while a mining nostalgia stall is selling antique lamps for up to £620.

But really this is an immense concourse of happy humanity gathered on the grass in their tribes, surrounded by their slogans on badges, stickers, t-shirts, balloons, flags, fliers, banners and even the RMT giant red inflatable overhead.

They greet each other like long lost friends – “I didn’t recognise you without a beer tent behind you” – and admire each other’s banners. They bask in the sun, drink in the atmosphere, and drain their cans. When the spoon-player leaves the stage and the first speeches begin, the happy hubbub continues, with bands still arriving, shrieks of horror coming from the fairground rides, and the clacketty-clacking of the blue-and-white plastic clappers handed out by a teachers’ union.

And Trimdon is on the move once more…

The Northern Echo:

THE band gathers by the banner, as the speeches begin. Trimdon is one of three newcomers to be blessed in the cathedral at 2.30pm. It cannot be late. The banner carriers are the last to re-assemble – the word is six pints on top of the 7am Guinness – and they fall in with South Moor and Pelton Fell outside the courthouse where a couple of smoky barbecues fill the air with the smell of sizzling sausages.

The banner is applauded, both by human hands and NASUWT clacketty-clappers, down Old Elvet, over the bridge and up to the junction with Saddler Street, where the turn is a tight 90 degrees. Here, the banner slows, sways, stumbles, and one of the carriers, sweat pumping from his red shaven head, finds himself almost cut in two by the weight on his shoulders.

Some blame the six pints, others the MP for not keeping the tension on his rope right, but with Mr Wilson sent to the back, balance is restored and the party heads upwards to Palace Green.

Trimdon is to enter the cathedral behind Pelton Fell, which is draped in black in memory of the 26 men and boys who died there in 1866. It is said that when the colliery, near Chester-le-Street, shut in February 1965, there was such dismay locally that the banner was thrown in the Wear. Now, after eight years of effort, there is, like Trimdon, deep pride in the community being back on the banner map.

“It is the first time in more than half-a-century that we’ve been able to march,” says local councillor Simon Henig.

But, like Trimdon, there have been issues with the banner carriers. “No one has got any memory of how to do it,” he says. “That knowledge has all gone.”

The bands line up two abreast – it has been three abreast for the wide streets – and they play slow, sombre hymns as they parade out of the blazing, brilliant heat of the day into the hushed, cool stillness of the dark cathedral. Hundreds of people turn to watch as the banners, the standards of their communities, process up the aisle, and an immense swelling of pride fills the vast nave right up to the vaulted ceiling and the streaming Rose Window.

It is a moving, memorable service, full of popular hymns and lessons about the strength of community. The banners soberly, without a sway, are carried into the crossing as the miners’ hymn, Gresford, plays, and they receive the blessing from the bishop and the dean.

And then they are clapped out by the enormous congregation, back out into the bright sunlight of Palace Green where Trimdon launches into a euphoric version of Everyone’s A Fruit and Nutcase.

“Coming out, you could feel all that love, happiness and joy,” says Paul Trippett, who is not normally given to emotional flights of fancy. “A year ago, when we started this, we didn’t dare dream that we’d be in the cathedral with the dean talking about Trimdon. All those people smiling at us, all that emotion – it really gets hold of you.”

The band comes to halt at the Saddler Street junction: the flow from the cathedral tries to merge with the flow from the Racecourse. With bangs and crashes of other bands audible from all around, Will leads Trimdon into a magnificent rendition of Delilah and the crowd lustily joins in.

“Now that’s what you call a band,” says one singer approvingly, can lapping in his hand, as progress begins once more.

It comes to a halt in the Market Place, back where it had begun eight hours earlier, in the shadow of a council bin wagon which had been strategically parked across the entrance as a security measure. Will launches the band into a frenetic finale of Baggy Trousers, and, indeed, oh! what fun we’ve had. It’s been a colourful crush of nostalgia and politics, of music and alcohol, of slogans and sense, of community and identity, of joy and celebration, of love and pride.

“Thank-you,” bellows Jake as the last notes subside and the banner and its poles are rolled away. “Thank-you, Trimdon, for a wonderful day.”