Sunday, 24 January 2010

You Can't Beat a Brass Band!

Blowing up the Shaft at Dawdon Pit

Funny how listening to music can set you thinking and remembering. I heard the Grimethorpe Colliery Band playing today on the Alan Titchmarch Show and it started me thinking about what happened to that band and all those like it.

I've never thought of myself as a political person, well not the political with a capital P. Yet it's funny how events can change you.

My Dad, both my grandads, all my uncles and my brother were miners and we lived in a small mining town called Seaham in the North East of England. However I went to school in another town from the age of eleven and then later I went to work even further away. Eventually I got married and went to live in another town and apart from visiting my family I basically lost touch with the community.

In 1984 events were set to change those mining communities forever. I didn't really support the Miner's Strike, even though my Dad and brother did. I thought it had been badly handled by the National Union of Mineworkers but like a lot of others, I assumed it would eventually be settled, they would go back to work and life would go on. How wrong we were!

adly the Thatcher Conservative government saw fit to close the mines which not only destroyed the mining industry, it destroyed lives and whole communities in the process. Despite investment and European Regeneration funding many of these have never recovered.

That Government and successive ones have had to buy coal from South America and Europe. Daft or what when there's coal in this country?

From then on I changed when I saw how that Government operated to blight people's lives whilst at the same time creating a greedy generation of people who only cared about themselves, the ME, ME, ME society. I knew then I would always vote to keep out a Conservative government. It's no wonder we have such a horrendous greedy financial sector now, Margaret Thatcher set that in motion. You reap what you sow! End of my political comment, sorry if I've offended anyone but that's how it was.

I still see the damaged community that was the town where I was born and grew up. When you're young you think things will never change, but they do and some events are irreversible. I doubt the town will ever regain the life and community spirit it had in the days when the mines were the centre of everything. The heart was torn out of it. Drugs and crime seem to thrive when everything else seems to decline. No matter how much they spend on redevelopment, new shops, factory units and roads, it doesn't resolve the problem. There are still so many people unemployed and housing stock that's depreciating because it's temporarily housing people from outside the area who have no real interest in the place where they live.

One of the things that was evident in most mining communities when they thrived was a brass band. I remember the band from the town where I lived and the days when it marched alongside the miners and their families to go to the Miners' Big Meeting in Durham every year in July.

The music of brass bands can be haunting, inspirational and truly magnificent. Thankfully some of the brass bands from the mining communities not only survived, they thrived. The Grimethorpe Colliery Band is one of those bands and it was used to create the music for one of my favourite films, Brassed Off.

It was a superb film set in "Grimley", a thinly disguised version of the real South Yorkshire village of Grimethorpe. At the time it was criticised for being too political and critical of Thatcher’s Conservative Government. The thing is, it told the truth and told the story of folk whose jobs and lives were being taken away from them with the closure of the pit.

The film starred Pete Poslethwaite, Ewan McGregor, Tara Fitzgerald and Stephen Thompkinson and was heartwarming, charming funny and truly uplifting. The music of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band was fantastic!

Well here's a clip from the film. While they are arguing about closing the mine, the band is rehearsing Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. Now you usually hear someone like John Williams playing this on a classical guitar but just listen to it. Totally haunting and so, so sad.

No, it isn't Tara Fitgerald playing the flugelhorn, it's
Paul Hughes from the real Grimethorpe band!

It’s great to know that some of these bands which have survived including the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, have got a new CD out soon, The Music Lives on Now the Mines Have Gone. I’m off to order it!

Post 143


  1. you are right i remember when coal was king i used to deliver to and drive past all the big pits
    i still remember all the steelworks as well and most of them have gone too
    good film brassed off - has much more of a feeling than just what is on screen

  2. Yes the steelworks and the shipyards! I used to drive past a wonderful shipyard on the River Wear where I could see them building the ships as I went to the Polytechnic. It was partially covered and lit up at night so they could work late shifts. A wonderful sight. Yet another sad story!

    The fight is on to try to save the Corus steelworks in Teesside. I visited these once when it was British Steel. Sad!

  3. I too love the movie Brassed Off......can you still buy coal?

    I love the sound of a Colliery Bass band.

    Gill in Canada

  4. I have NEVER voted Conservative, and I never will. Thatcher really was part of the ME ME ME generation.

    Ok and I never talk politics either. :D

    I haven't seen the film, but it sounds like I should.

  5. Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez is hauntingly beautiful. I love John Williams rendition.

    Paul Hughes was very talented. I will try to find the movie. I would like to see it.

    I really don't know much about a coal miners life other than it must have been hard and very dangerous.

    Your grandfather's, father, uncle and brother must have been incredible brave,strong, men. Hopefully some of them are still with you.

    Winifred,Thank you for sharing that part of your life.

  6. I saw the Grimethorpe Colliery Band on Alan Titchmarsh's show last week too Winifred and hadn't realised or had forgotten that it was their music in "Brassed Off". A great film, so well cast. I must watch it again. I agree with you too that we have a greedy financial sector. Greed is the cause of all our problems.

  7. Dear Winifred ~ A very interesting story of your early home. So sad the
    mines were closed and so many out of
    work, but I am glad the Brass Band
    survived and did well.
    Thank you for the info about the
    Holocaust still being taught in British schools as it is here in Australia.
    Take great care my friend,
    Love, Merle.

  8. Thanks for this Winifred, I'm off to spend the afternoon weeping while watching Brassed Off. It's many years since I saw it, and even your little clip brought tears to my eyes. I recently blogged about my outing to see The Pitmen Painters, at the end of the play the miners start singing the words to Gresford as the music of Hetton Silver Band is played and I could not stop the tears. I have such vivid memories of my Granda singing Abide With Me and Lead Kindly Light, and happy trips with him to Durham Big Meeting.
    You are so right about how the pit closures decimated our area, but when I returned in the late 90's I saw a lot of rejuvenation here and a positive attitude form the people which had been missing since then.

  9. My dad was from a family of coal miners. When he was 8 or 9 my grandfather took him down in a mine and told him this is the first and last time you will ever be in a coal mine. And it was.

    That music is very stirring.

  10. So sad to remember some time.

  11. Gill - You can still buy coal, have no idea how much it costs though. Most of live in smokeless zones now and tend to use gas or electric.

    Marjorie - You're right, it was a very hard and dangerous life with not much financial security. They were very badly paid. When you're young you don't realise this. Only my brother is still alive, my last uncle died last year.

    Jordylass - I missed your posting so I'll go back and check. Some areas are doing OK. A lot of money was put into regenerating Seaham, housing and factories. However many people come from outside to work and buy the new houses. If you look at Dawdon where the main pit was, there are lots of social problems including drugs. The price of houses has plummeted, nobody wants to live there.

  12. Destroy and rebuild, a law of life.



  13. I will not comment on the political side of the miners issues as I do not know enough about them but I can see from your writing that they are/were very close to your heart and I sympathise with that.

    I agree that the colliery bands sound great and I enjoyed Brassed Off but had not realised that Ewan MacGregor was in the film. My being taken up with E.McG only began after reading and seeing his films on his round the world motor cycling and the Long way down etc.

  14. There was something very stirring about those old brass bands.

  15. Wonderful post Winifred, very moving indeed. I love ♥Brassed Off♥ and cry everytime. It really brought home the plight of the mining community. I grew up listening to Brass Bands and I always feel so emotional and moved by their music. The Salvation Army has a CD out called Together which is superb.

  16. im from grimethorpe and i love to hear the band, i am friends with paul hughes and knew alot of the lads in the band when brassed off was made. i now live in seaham and watch the film just to remined me of home(and the good and bad times in the strike)

  17. Well now Alchie there's a coincidence.

    You can see a lot of regeneration but my Dad & step mother's house has been up for sale for a year now and even though the price is extremely low, nobody wants to pay even a pittance for it.

    The only people who want to buy houses are property developers who want to let them. The local estate agent suggested sending it to auction which meant dropping the price by almost half! The wolves are at the doors of ordinary people.

    Local people either don't want to buy or can't get the mortgagees. Sad!


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