As many of my friends and followers are aware, I’ve been a tuba player all my life. Right from the age of 14 when I was given some battered and dented instrument at the back of the schools music cupboard as ‘I was a big lad’. It became my career after my education & I then spent an amazing 20 years in the British Army with the Band of the Grenadier Guards Band playing that big, heavy, shiny quite comedic but cumbersome instrument.
I originally come from up t’north and as you can expect I played in several Midlands brass bands.
Many years ago, every northern mining town had its own brass band. It was a huge tradition that the local pits had their own band and the towns and villages were proud of the tradition of brass banding. Every local northern village summer fete had a brass band playing in those days.
Sadly over the years as many pits and mines were shut so the brass bands representing them also vanished. The 1980’s were dark days for a lot of northern mining towns and communities and the brass bands became a shadow of what they were originally were.
Luckily, musicians being musicians were passionate enough to continue in many cases and the bands found a way to survive, through sponsorship and donations from local communities and in recent years Arts council & lottery grants have meant that brass bands continue to thrive.
One fun aspect of brass banding is contesting. The first brass band contest was held in Manchester in 1853 and has continued to this day.
Brass banding is highly competitive, with bands organized into five sections much like a football league –A Championship section, 1st,2nd,3rd & 4th sections plus an under 18s youth section. Competitions are held throughout the year at local, regional, and national levels, and at the end of each year there are promotions and relegations. The bands are made up of 25 players and have supporters & fans just as loyal as football fans at times.
I was invited to play tuba with Staines Brass; a championship band competing in the London & Southern Counties regional finals at Stevenage.
I had previously contested with Staines Brass back in 2006 & had also been ‘borrowed’ for a few concerts in the interim years.
The Championship section had 13 bands in total and were to play a modern piece of music called ‘The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea’ by Derek Bourgeois. A piece that is around 17 minutes long. The order in which bands are to play are drawn out of a hat around 1.30 pm and the contest begins.
We all wanted an early ‘draw’ to get the piece over and done with, calm the nerves and get to the bar for a few refreshing beverages. Early numbered draws are affectionately known as the ‘beer draw’ for obvious reasons.
Where were we drawn?
This meant that we had to wait around all afternoon and eventually got on stage to perform at 7.30 pm.
Staines Brass had rehearsed the piece well & had worked on it for many weeks before hand as it is a very challenging and technical piece.
I sat in the concert hall and listened to several bands before we went on and the playing standard was very high for the afternoon.
Eventually we went on & did our very best. There were a few ‘moments’ in our rendition but all together we were very happy that we had done the best that we could and our conductor Melvin White seemed very pleased with our performance under the hot lights on stage at Stevenage arts & leisure centre.
All the days competing bands and supporters crowded into the hall and the nail biting wait for the results began.
The results were announced & the band were ecstatic to hear that we had been placed 2nd winning the Coleman Challenge Cup along with an invitation to the National Finals of Great Britain at the Royal Albert Hall in October.
If any of you have seen the film ‘Brassed Off’ you will know that every brass band aspires to reach The National Brass Band Finals of Great Britain which is held at The Royal Albert Hall in London.
( and it isn’t just playing simple pieces such as the William Tell overture! )
Brass band test pieces are very technical & challenging pieces of music that take months of preparation to get to the required standard.
In October, Staines Brass will be competing against several famous brass bands including Black Dyke Band & The Brighouse & Rastrick Band.
We have a huge mountain to climb to compete against these fantastic bands and Staines Brass are looking forward to the challenge.
Thank you to Staines Brass & Jason Pickin for the Results Quote & use of the Staines Brass Photograph