Brass in the blood: UK coal miner brass bands, and bands world-wide
March 10, 2013 1:19 PM   Subscribe

In the United Kingdom, many brass bands were started by colliery owners, and funded in part by the coal miners themselves. Some of those bands live on, after the coal pits have been closed for years. These bands are facing hard times, with limited funding and waning interest in the music, but some youth join bands to continue family traditions, and the government provides some funding to numerous bands. If you'd like to know more about brass bands in the UK and around the world, Internet Bandsman's Everything Within (IBEW) has tons of material, links to bands in the UK and elsewhere as well as a list of extinct bands and vintage brass band pictures, local events and radio shows, recordings, and plenty more.
posted by filthy light thief (22 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Brings to mind the 1996 film: 'Brassed Off' (mentioned in the NPR link).
posted by ericb at 1:37 PM on March 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ha! I contemplated a brass band post recently. I am also compelled to point out that one of the bands from my, uh, namesake town in fact had a conductor whose surname was Hoyland.

Brings to mind the 1996 film: 'Brassed Off' (mentioned in the NPR link).

As I must say every time Brassed Off is mentioned, North America, be warned: Some marketing genius decided to market it as a romantic comedy. It's, er, not. It's a really depressing movie.
posted by hoyland at 1:48 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great post.

Have always meant to post something about Jeremy Deller's work mixing acid house anthems with the traditional brass William Fairey Band Acid Brass
posted by brilliantmistake at 2:33 PM on March 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


The "bands world-wide" had me excited, but they missed Fanfare Cioc─ârlia somehow. I guess they don't spend much time in the mines, though...
posted by blacksmithtb at 2:44 PM on March 10, 2013


I noticed when we moved down to the West Country that they have silver bands there instead, which I see wiki claims is basically the same thing though the repertoire seemed a bit different as I recall and not so likely to be based at the one workplace.
posted by Abiezer at 2:46 PM on March 10, 2013


Philip Wilby's 'Brass' with poet Ian McMillan, cartoonist Tony Husband and the Black Dyke Band 1, 2

I remember McMillan being interviewed on the radio and him saying that standing next to a brass band at full bore is like being next to a jet engine.

Re Acid Brass... the Williams Fairey version of What Time Is Love? is probably one of fav things ever

Oh and Brassed Off... whenever I feel my hatred for the Tories diminishing slightly I've just to watch Danny's final speech on youtube and it's incandescent again.

Not just pit villages and the like, the Midlands town I spent my late teens in had its own town/concert band, my next door neighbour used to manage it.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:52 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's, er, not. It's a really depressing movie.

One of the few DVDs to be relegated to the Never Watching Again black folder cause it makes everyone in the household cry to damn much.
posted by The Whelk at 2:55 PM on March 10, 2013


Mildly ironic that brass instruments require a lot of what you might expect coal miners to be lacking: breath, because of black lung disease.

Is it too cynical of me to wonder whether these bands might not originally have been a PR move by mine owners designed to send a message of 'Hear that? their lungs are fine!', and thereby help avoid expensive compensation and regulation?
posted by jamjam at 3:25 PM on March 10, 2013


Brings to mind the 1996 film: 'Brassed Off'

"The truth is, I thought it mattered - I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter."
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:36 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just in case anyone needs to hate Tories and/or cry mightily: Danny's Speech from Brassed Off.
posted by marylynn at 3:39 PM on March 10, 2013


Is it too cynical of me to wonder whether these bands might not originally have been a PR move by mine owners designed to send a message of 'Hear that? their lungs are fine!', and thereby help avoid expensive compensation and regulation?

I think the brass bands are largely too old for that.

Wikipedia suggests sponsoring bands was a way for mines (and factories and so on) to try and stop workers from organising--they'd be too busy playing in the band to unionise. Plus the companies had money, meaning they were a source of financing for any activity requiring resources. (See also PSV and Bayer Leverkusen.)
posted by hoyland at 3:42 PM on March 10, 2013


There are some awesome new brass bands coming up as agents of community bonding and all-around awesomeness. Scotland's newest, youngest, awesomest brass band is Gorbals Youth Brass Band. They're so inspiring. It's just something about young women in leadership roles making a difference to the Glasgow community, and making good music, that gives me the warm fuzzies.
posted by jujulalia at 4:01 PM on March 10, 2013


Brings to mind the 1996 film: 'Brassed Off'

Great little flick, highly recommended. This looks to be a great post, too! Thanks, flf!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:02 PM on March 10, 2013


Just in case anyone needs to hate Tories and/or cry mightily: Danny's Speech from Brassed Off.

I loved that scene. Pete Postlethwaite was amazing. In just about everything he did.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:02 PM on March 10, 2013


I think the brass bands are largely too old for that.

I'm surprised you could believe even for one minute that miners and their families could possibly have been unaware what was happening to them from the very beginning.
The term miner's asthma was first used in 1822. The cause of the spitting, coughing, and breathlessness in coal miners was unknown, so doctors used the word asthma to identify the condition.
And clearly coincidentally:
Meanwhile, one of the country's oldest bands is the Royal Buckley Town Band which is thought to have been formed in 1822.
posted by jamjam at 4:10 PM on March 10, 2013


Today I learned the word 'colliery'.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:29 PM on March 10, 2013


I'm surprised you could believe even for one minute that miners and their families could possibly have been unaware what was happening to them from the very beginning.

No, but I can believe they lacked the political power for compensation to be a major concern for mining companies.

See here. They established pretty early that breathing dust was bad for you, but by the time the notion of compensation came around (and by the time workers had won compensation for exposure rather than accidents, which was later), the assumption was that other industries were of greater concern than coal mining. They don't look at miners again until the 1930s.
posted by hoyland at 5:04 PM on March 10, 2013


Also, if the bands were a propaganda tool to avoid taking responsibility for the health of miners, why on earth would miners participate?
posted by hoyland at 5:09 PM on March 10, 2013


I saw 'Brassed Off' on a date, and when my date said "They're coal miners, why do they need a band?", I decided there would be no next date.
posted by variella at 5:44 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, if the bands were a propaganda tool to avoid taking responsibility for the health of miners, why on earth would miners participate?

Because it got them out of the mines, you, you...... person of remarkable obtuseness!

And dead obviously it's not simply responsibility or compensation that they would have sought to avoid-- they had to confront the fear and burgeoning awareness in the minds of the public and among workers that mining would rot your lungs, and somehow allay that to avoid all kinds of unfavorable consequences, including lawsuits and loss of workforce, child labor restrictions, and etc., just as mine owners do today over this and other problems, and I was merely wondering whether these bands could have been one of the ways they developed to do that, and I think I answered your objection-- that the bands are too old--decisively, though you apparently lack the integrity to admit that.

In fact, I think you have too little grasp of the lives and times of these miners-- and too little historical imagination in general-- to make you worth arguing about these matters with at this time. Read Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier for a sense of what coal miners had to deal with even in comparatively recent times and get back to me.
posted by jamjam at 6:05 PM on March 10, 2013


I like brass bands as much as the next person, and the colliery bands were some of the best, but let's not over romanticize coal mining. It's an industry that needed (still needs to elsewhere in the world) fade, though it's always sad when the culture that surrounds a way of life ends. Luckily brass bands don't need coal mines to do what they do best.

Maggie Thatcher was horror, but NUM president for life Arthur Scargill was no prize either; luckily for this discussion I don't think either of them played a brass instrument.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 7:08 PM on March 10, 2013


The truth is, I thought it mattered - I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter.
posted by kcds at 6:50 AM on March 11, 2013


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