FRANZ LISZT was the great pop star of his day. He had long lustrous hair, he smoked, he drank, he fell in love with glamorous women, and he wowed his audiences with the brilliance of his athletic piano-playing: its strength, its feeling, its energy, its brilliance.

For eight years he was on a continuous tour of Europe, playing three or four shows a week, including in January 1841 a madcap canter in a horsedrawn carriage across the North-East, arriving at most of his venues so late that the audience was in uproar.

However, they soon forgave him due to the magnificence of his show. Liszt had been performing since he was 11 and now aged 29 he was at the height of his powers, having mastered showmanship, making grand gestures and pulling extraordinary facial expressions as his played.

He is regarded as probably the greatest piano player who ever lived.

His touring party included two female vocalists, another pianist and a singer of comic songs, John Orlando Parry, who kept a diary of the North-East leg.

So we know that they arrived in Newcastle on January 25 from Berwick and then dashed over to Sunderland to play at the Assembly Rooms on January 26.

"Found we had left the whole of the music somewhere but no one could tell us where,” wrote Parry. “We went through the whole concert without a note of music. Audiences were very kind indeed, considering that we had kept them waiting for at least three-quarters of an hour."

As they left, the music was found "in its proper place in the sword cases".

They galloped back to Durham for an evening concert only to find their audience was "kicking a most terrific row” as they were more than half-an-hour late. However, Durham was so impressed by what it heard that Parry noted that “Liszt was encored”.

They stayed the night in Durham and the next day, January 27, Parry wrote: “Got up by ½ 8. At ½ 9 we started for Richmond (30 miles) – passed thro Darlington – changed horses there. Ordered beds and left. Went on & quarter past two (!!) arrived. The people at Richmond had been waiting nearly two hours! Half gone away! About 90 left.

“The room (which was at the hotel) was full of pictures which were exhibiting. The Countess of Zetland & suite remained – nice ladylike woman. No encores!

“We had dinner during the concert, being next room – one up & one down. I played for Lewis Rule Britannia. Twas very funny – all so busy eating and then suddenly rushing up and singing in public. It saved a good deal of time tho."

It is believed that Liszt played at the King’s Head Hotel in Richmond Market Place, and the “nice ladylike woman” was Sophia, the wife of Thomas Dundas, the second Earl of Zetland who lived at Aske Hall. She was the daughter of Sir Hedworth Williamson of Whitburn Hall, Sunderland, the Durham MP, and her husband was the MP for Richmond – Liszt clearly drew a classy audience.

On this tour, Liszt is known to have taken requests and then improvised upon them. Rule, Britannia!, as a popular anthem, was often requested and it is believed that Liszt regularly featured it in his act, often rolled into God Save the Queen.

Having played, eaten and sung simultaneously in Richmond, the touring party jumped into its carriage.

“Then started back (12 miles) to Darlington,” wrote Parry. “Great excitement in the carriage. Arrived at 7 at Darlington. Found Mrs Steele waiting with tea. Went & dressed directly. At 8 went over the way where the concert was held.”

Parry gives enough detail for us to surmise that the party stayed in the King’s Head Hotel, Darlington’s main coaching inn, and “went over the way” to the Sun Inn, which was Darlington’s premiere meeting place. Liszt presumably played in the first floor ballroom, with its giant windows looking down onto High Row.

Of the audience, Parry wrote: “Very genteel people – about 100. Elegant Ladies. The room smelt horribly of paint. A Drunken Man offered Liszt a sovereign to play Rule Britannia.

“The concert over about 11. Supper, related anecdotes. Excitement. Very very tired – two days hard work.”

They slept at the King’s Head, and the following day, January 28, they were waved off by a huge crowd, just as Jess Glynne would be waved off if people get to know where she is staying when she performs in the town this summer.

Parry said: “Left Darlington a ½ 11. Liszt was with Marchant outside the van – in his great Russian cloak!! Lovely day. Everybody staring at extraordinary turnout.”

Who Marchant was we don’t know, but after 35 miles they broke their journey at Boroughbridge for dinner before travelling on to Halifax for the last night of the tour. Liszt returned to mainland Europe and in 1847 fell so deeply in love with a Polish princess that he gave up on his life on the road.

We have to hope it was the Sun Inn in which Liszt performed because that is going to be one of the stops on the Art in Darlington guided walk, led by Chris Lloyd, who compiles Memories, on Saturday, May 18. The walk starts at 4.30pm at the Green Tree in Skinnergate, and is free as part of the Darlington Arts Festival. Please book a place by emailing