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IT began with dutiful motherly support and has ended in Kate Lock putting together York’s new festival of brass band music in only four months.
Southerner Kate, green campaigner, writer, Press columnist, burgeoning trombone player and now festival director, has created Brassed On!: a celebration of the musical nectar of God’s own country spread over this May Bank Holiday weekend… and all because she took her daughter, Isis, to a music lesson three years ago.
“It was seeing a flyer for free music lessons with the Ebor Brass Band that caught my eye when Isis was nine,” Kate recalls. “We went along and they gave her a cornet and then said, ‘What are you going to do?’, and I said, ‘I’m going to read the paper in the corner’. ‘No, you’re not,’ they said, as they gave me another cornet.
“I sounded like a straining heifer at first, but after three weeks I was hooked.”
So, too, was Isis, so much so that, having switched to drums and euphonium, she now has aspirations to become a professional drummer. “She plays in two brass bands, three school bands and Yorchestra, so that’s where it’s taken her already,” says her delighted mum.
Kate, meanwhile, settled on the trombone as her instrument of choice and now plays in three bands.
“I didn’t get on with the cornet, not everyone does, but playing brass band music has changed my life in a really good way,” she says. “I love going out and performing; it has totally sucked me in – and I’m a southerner! I don’t think I ever saw a brass band when I lived in Oxford, but now I’m a complete convert.”
She hopes Brassed On! will lead to similar conversions with its emphasis on encouraging young people to take up brass instruments through a festival programme that includes a brass showcase tomorrow and massed bands’ performance on Sunday in Museum Gardens and a public masterclass and young person’s guide to the brass band on Monday at the National Centre for Early Music.
Young musicians from all five York brass bands will be performing under the baton of Mike Pratt, conductor of the Shepherd Group Concert Band in Monday afternoon’s concert.
“They’ll have done four rehearsals before the day and one more on the day, and we’ve just mixed it all up so they’ve all got a chance to shine, and they really seem to be enjoying it,” says Kate.
Brass bands also offer a musical experience like no other for young players, she suggests.
“There are instruments in a brass band you don’t find anywhere else, like the tenor horn and the baritone horn, and sadly instruments like the tuba – the bass as we call it – are an endangered species,” she says.
“In York schools, the number of pupils learning the trumpet is 50-odd, but for the euphonium, the number is one, my daughter; the tenor horn, one, and the tuba, none. So we need to get young people playing these instruments. The bands have this store of instruments that will last forever, so we want to keep them going – and what better incentive than free tuition?”
Brassed On! fact file: brass band music in York
The start: Brass bands have performed at public concerts and social and political events in and around York for more than 180 years. In 1839, Walker’s Brass Band, led by former military bandsman James Walker, performed a concert in Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s Museum Gardens. Fittingly, 2010 Brassed On! Massed Bands concert will take place there on Sunday afternoon.
Earliest brass band in Yorkshire:In 1833, competent brass and wind players Joseph Bean, Daniel Hardman and James Walker assembled with other players in York to perform hand-written arrangements of popular tunes at “elections and other riotous occasions where noise alone is required”.
Filling a vacuum: Brass bands emerged in York after disbandment of York Waites, the official city band, under Municipal Corporation Act of 1835. Hardman, a now redundant Waites musician, co-founded Orange (Whig) band with military bandsman Walker; Bean formed Blue (Tory) band. Both performed at 1833 elections, when York hosted county hustings. Bean’s Brass Band played at Lord Mayor’s Banquet in 1846; city band played at Lord Mayor’s first public banquet in 1850.
Band contests: York and Hull were beacons of such contests. At Burton Constable and Zoological Gardens in Hull in 1857, prizes of £40 were being offered. Soon, York joined in, holding contests at annual flower show. By 1897, 229 contests were held in UK, 26 of them in Yorkshire, including Hawes, Pickering, Bridlington and Sheffield. By turn of 20th century, British Isles had 40,000 brass bands; by 1950, down to fewer than 4,000.
York’s early bands: Between 1880 and 1914, several non-conformist bands formed, such as Chaucer Street Mission Band; Layerthorpe Mission Band; York Tramways Band; several Quaker Adult School bands; and bands at Acomb, Clifton and Naburn.
Brass needs brass: Instruments and uniforms were expensive necessities, so brass bands became commercialised. Subsidised Rowntree’s York Cocoa Works Brass Band bought entire set of Besson instruments for £169.4s. Bandsmen had to provide music stands, diaries etc; benefit concerts, river trips and work as theatre musicians helped to fund such items. By 1913, York Corporation was underwriting 33 Wednesday and Sunday concerts and granted £200 towards improvements to Knavesmire bandstand.
Bands in York: York Railway Institute Band, founded by Noah Bruce, its leader for 31 years; originally named Chaucer Street Mission Band and later known as York and District Mission and Temperance Band; York Excelsior Brass Band; York Home Guard Band; and Ebor Excelsior Silver Band. Took on name of York Railway Institute Band after allying itself to York Railway Institute; the majority of members being railwaymen by now. Never disbanded in its 117-year history, even in wartime.
York St Paul’s Band, later Subscription Silver Band, founded in railway works area of Holgate.
Rowntree’s York Cocoa Work Brass Band, formed in 1903 when Groves Wesleyan Band took on new life, going on to perform in London at National Brass Band Championships.
Since 2004, sponsorship has moved from chocolate to bricks as the renamed Shepherd Group Brass Band, whose Senior Band is York’s premier brass band, contesting in the first section under musical director Richard Wilton. Players of intermediate level play in Shepherd Group Concert Band under Mike Pratt.
Ebor Brass Band, non-contesting, non-graded band, founded in 1980 by Brian Henderson, who used to teach York Railway Institute learners. Strong tradition for teaching absolute beginners of all ages, with family ethos for parents and children to learn together, at Westfield School, Acomb.
Fresh impetus: 1996 film Brassed Off, directed by York writer-director Mark Herman, brought new audience to brass band music. Tara Fitzgerald playing cornet solo in Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez certainly helped.
Brassed Off in York: York Theatre Royal staged Paul Allen’s stage adaptation of Brassed Off in September 2004 to mark 20th anniversary of 1984 Miners’ Strike. Fine Time Fontayne, from a South Yorkshire mining family, Andrina Carroll, from a North East mining family, and Andrew Dunn starred; Shepherd Group Brass Band and Harrogate Band played.
• Brassed On! From tomorrow until Monday; on Sunday, members of all five of York’s bands will play together for the first time on one stage.