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!

S
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!

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