Friday, 9 March 2007

Welcome to my world


This Sunday, 11th March 2007, brass bands from across the North West of England will congregate at Blackpool's Winter Gardens for heats of the National Championships. Why do I tell you this? Because it is an important event in our part of the world.

The sound of a brass band playing is quintessential to the Northern shires; redolent of summer afternoons in the park or crisp winter days anticipating Christmas. But who are the people who make this music; who still goes to village halls or band clubs twice a week to rehearse; and for what purpose?

We each live in individual worlds that overlap others'; it is the overlapping of these worlds and the way in which that takes place, that defines how we live together. My sons play in brass bands, consequently the world of brass bands is significant to me. It was brought home to me, however, how far removed this world is from others' worlds when queuing to get into the Winter Gardens one year. Our turn came to pay the man at the entrance desk, looking like a throwback from a former age, with slicked back hair and a cigarette dangling from his mouth that tipped ash as he spoke; he asked:
"Are you chess, brass or George Formbys?";
and I realised in that moment that he didn't care which world we were in; indeed he lumped us together with other minority interests at the Winter Gardens the same day. Some of some of whose participants looked like they were short of daylight and fresh air; others dressed in 1940s clothing carrying ukulele cases...how could he rank brass bands with them?


But why would he know that brass bands matter, how they are inextricably linked with Britain's industrial heritage. The names of bands still echo that tradition: Grimethorpe Colliery Band or Fairey Engineering for example; of course if you Google Grimethorpe Colliery now you only get the band, not one sackful of coal. Players in today's bands are as likely to be nurses, electricians or call-centre workers as hard bitten manual workers from the pit face, but they continue the tradition, the shift in Britains industry is reflecting in the make up of the bands.

Yet, having queued to listen to the heats I wondered about the extent to which the brass band movement helps itself. The process of many brass band contests involves each band playing a test piece of music; they all play the same piece; sometimes the piece of music is dreadful and there may be twenty bands to listen to. It does take a particular type of madness to sit through twenty versions of the same tune trying to divine which is better than another; perhaps George Formby doesn't sound so bad after all.

This idea of dipping into different worlds is one of the reasons I like blogging and reading blogs; it gives me an insight into vastly varying lifestyles - but not, incidentally, so many different cultures, or am I not looking hard enough.

Away from the acutely competitive side of brass bands we should be grateful that the traditions persist, I for one say you can't beat a march contest on a summers day in a Yorkshire village with a glass of beer; hope to see you there.

1 comment:

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Your description of the brass bands brought to mind childhood memories of the Durham Miners' Gala (gay-la, as they prounounce it up there). It always seems to have been a glorious summer's day, and the sound of competing bands playing as they marched from different directions to pass in front of the visiting dignatories (usually including Tony Benn and / or a Soviet ambassador) - the sound drifting in the warm summer's air was magical.

I, too, might have felt differently if I'd had to sit through rehearsals!

Thanks for inviting us into your world! And an especial thanks for inviting Harry McFry, too!

Kind Regards

THJnr