Today’s Blogging101 task is to build on one of the comments I left during yesterday’s task.
The comment I left was on the blog of pianolearner and his post about “Mount The Air” by The Unthanks. It’s inevitable I’ll be posting about them at some point, but that’s not where this post is going. It wasn’t just pianolearner’s positive comments on one of my favourite bands, and a stunningly beautiful track, but his comments on the sound of brass bands.
Like him, I grew up in the North of England, which is traditional brass band territory. The names of the great bands of Lancashire and Yorkshire – Black Dyke Mills, Grimethorpe Colliery, Besses o’ th’ Barn, Wingate’s Temperance, Fairey Engineering, and so many more – were legendary. There were televised brass band tournaments, and the band was a critical touchstone for many a community. If you’ve ever seen the film Brassed Off, that gives a real sense of what a band meant to a town, village or workplace.
A lot of the traditional links have been broken. The engineering works and pits that generated the players for the bands, or provided the core reason for their existence, are closed. But the bands continue.
The annual Oldham & Saddleworth competition that pianolearner references apparently goes from strength to strength, with over 100 bands taking part on Whit Friday. And competitive brass band playing is organised into a league structure with promotion and relegation. The bands have always drawn on a variety of sources – classical, popular, traditional, military marches – as a way to showcase their talent and versatility.
A British brass band has a distinctive sound, thanks to the prescribed combination of instruments (such as the use of cornet rather than trumpet at the top of the sound). And it’s a sound that immediately takes me back to my Northern roots: even though top bands have come from all parts of the UK or even overseas over the years, for me it’s quintessentially Northern.
Here’s a sample – Fairey Band playing Gershwin’s Bess, You Is My Woman Now. Just let yourself luxuriate in that rich sound.