A talented singer from the North-East explains how her love of music has helped her to cope with nightmare memories of being caught up in the Manchester Arena terrorist attack. PETER BARRON reports

BLESSED with an effortlessly beautiful singing voice, Maria Winter has found strength and happiness in music for as long as she can remember.

But it has special significance for her on May 22 each year.

It was on that date, in 2017, when she went with her dad, Jeff, and a friend to see one of her favourite artists, Ariana Grande, in concert at the Manchester Arena.

And, in the four years that have followed, she has marked the anniversary by putting out a different song with her boyfriend and musical partner, James Hughes, to honour those who lost their lives or were injured.

“Music is so personal for everyone and what happened in Manchester has made me reflect on how it can play a big part in the healing process,” says Maria, whose family come from Crook, County Durham, but now live in York.

Maria was 16 when she went to the concert. The ticket had been a Christmas present and it should have been one of the best nights of her life.

Her dad and her friend’s step dad had waited in the foyer while the girls enjoyed the concert. Towards the end, they were walking back to the foyer to meet up when the bomb went off and panic ensued.

“Suddenly, thousands of people were running towards us and there were rumours that there was a man with a gun. We didn’t know what to believe,” Maria recalls.

She tried calling her dad but there was no response. What she didn’t know was that he'd also been trying to call her when he was caught in the blast and badly injured.

“Someone standing directly in front of him had taken the blast – otherwise, dad would probably have been killed,” she says.

Eventually, she got the news that he'd been taken to hospital with a broken leg and shrapnel wounds. He lost a little finger, required skin grafts, and took a long time to recover.

“After the explosion, there were two seconds of pure silence that haunted me, but music was always a way to break that silence – it was the only thing that helped me over the anxiety I felt,” she says.

Maria was brought up with music. Jeff is a guitarist and her mum, Karen, plays the piano and sings. Maria was writing songs from the age of six.

Four years on from the bombing, music continues to help heal the wounds. Jeff has even learned to play guitar without his little finger.

Meanwhile, Maria has just finished her final year studying contemporary and popular music at Newcastle University, where she met James.

Maria and James – the son of Darlington’s Mayor, Cyndi Hughes, and the former MEP  for Durham, Steve Hughes – now write music and perform together.

Highlights so far include the thrill of having drummer Keith Carlock – world famous for his work with Steely Dan, James Taylor, Sting, and Michael Buble – play on their song, Alice, which is part of an EP called Ex Animo.

Maria and James have also been working with The Forum music centre, in Darlington, recording a song called Lost Innocence as part of a lockdown project.

“It’s obviously been a difficult time for all musicians but we want to get back to playing live and put out an album at the end of the year,” says Maria.

And she believes her ordeal has had a positive impact on her performances.

“Before the attack, I would focus on every tiny detail of each song, trying to be perfect, but now I know that’s not the most important thing in a performance,” she explains.

“Someone in that audience could be there to escape the world for a while and music can be such a unifying force – that’s what’s important to remember.”

Wherever Maria has performed since May 22, 2017, her mum and dad have been there – in the front row, supporting her dreams.

“Our love of music has undoubtedly helped us as a family,” she says. “We value it more than ever.”

  • To hear their music, search Maria and James on Spotify, or find them on Facebook under the user-name MariaandJames 1. To book them for gigs, email mariawinter727@gmail.com. They come highly recommended.

IT was a real treat last Wednesday night to attend a particularly appetising fundraising event at Darlington College.

As part of their training, the catering students laid on a feast, at £20 a head, with all proceeds in aid of St Teresa’s Hospice.

Lovely food, impeccable service, and all in a great cause.

Well done and thanks to everyone involved.

The Northern Echo:

I’M not normally a fan of The Daily Star but the paper’s take on the story about Dominic Cummings revealing private messages from Boris Johnson may well have produced my favourite headline of the year.

According to the Government's short-sighted former chief adviser, the Prime Minister described Health Secretary Matt Hancock as ‘f****** hopeless’.

I thought the Star's front page summed it up perfectly: “Hopeless bloke said hopeless bloke is hopeless, says hopeless bloke.”


THIS page last week was largely devoted to paying a well-deserved tribute to 96-year-old John Gent (pictured bottom left) for his lifelong contribution to my home village of Hurworth-on-Tees.

A major part of that contribution was John's dedication, over seven decades, to Rockliffe Park Cricket Club, leading to him being made president in recent years.

Sadly, Covid-19 regulations prevented All Saints Church being full to overflowing for his funeral last Friday.

However, it was a lovely touch for club members, young and old, to form a guard of honour, with cricket bats raised in salute, as John’s coffin was brought through the church gates.

Well played everyone.

The Northern Echo:

FINALLY, while covering Redcar Races on Saturday, it was a nice to bump into fun-loving couple Nick and Lena Rhodes.

They were celebrating their horse, Flippin’ Eck – trained at Malton by Tim Easterby – winning the first race of the day.

In homage to their proud Yorkshire roots, Nick and Lena, have another horse in training, a multiple winner with the equally appealing name, Eeh Bah Gum.

And over a glass of champagne, they were telling me that they've already registered the name for their next horse. It's going to be called Buggerlugs.

Oh, I can’t wait for that commentary.

The Northern Echo: