“We’ve become part of everybody’s Christmas routine,” said Peak Cavern director John Harrison, pondering on the strong appeal of the annual carol concerts at the cave in Castleton.
“It’s so established that most people start ringing up in February asking what the dates are for this year.”
To remind those without the details in their diaries, this year’s concerts begin this Saturday and Sunday, continuing over the following two weekends. The Castleton and Hathersage Brass Bands will accompany the singing on the first two nights, followed by the Dronfield, Tintwistle, Cressbrook and Ireland Colliery Chesterfield bands in the weeks to come.
Christmas concerts are all held in the vast chamber within Peak Cavern - or The Devil’s Arse, to use its local name.
John said preparations were ‘going well’.
Two weeks ago the ‘Brass Band Winter Wonderland’, a television special for Sky Arts due to be transmitted on December 16, was filmed in the cave. It featured opera singer Russell Watson, comedian Jason Manford and former Britain’s Got Talent winners Collabro, along with brass bands from Manchester and London.
“It got us off to a good start,” he said. “Logistically it gets easier every year because we have more of our own kit.”
The Harrison family have owned the nearby Speedwell Cavern since 1939, but took Peak Cavern on in 1997. They began hosting concerts soon after - carols had been sung in the cave previously, but the events were smaller fundraising affairs put on by local cavers and scouts.
Each concert attracts up to 600 people, meaning as many as 3,000 visit the cavern over the three weekends. The final 2015 concert, on December 20, is sold out. Brass bands are clamouring to play, too.
“We have a regular roster, but we also have bands contacting us saying ‘If anybody drops out we’re happy to come and do it’,” said John. “All we can say is ‘As soon as anything comes up, you’ve got a space’.
“It’s great for the village too. People can make a day of it.”
The concerts are a ‘very important’ part of trade during winter, when the number of tours per day is reduced during the week, but diversification is key, added John.
In August there are concerts every Saturday, ghost tours take place for Halloween and 400 people attended a Bonfire Night event last month. Doc/Fest film screenings were a success, while Richard Hawley and The Vaccines have brought guitar music to the cavern.
“We’re looking at growing the concerts,” said John. “The bands that come are fantastic, but we’d like some more nationally-acclaimed bands - people would come from further afield to see them.”
n Carol concerts, compered by actor Wayne Russell, start at 6pm. Gates open 5.15pm. Mulled wine and mince pies served on arrival. Visit www.devilsarse.com or the cavern ticket office to book.