Yes, feeling brassed off*. This weekend we should have been making our pilgrimage to the iconic Royal Albert Hall, London, for the National Brass Band Championships. Alas this is yet another event understandably cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions. This would have been my twentieth visit to the main event, attracting an audience of over 4000, and other fringe activities in London over the weekend.
The competition has been held there since 1945, and is one of the most prestigious events in the Brass Band calendar. I first attended in 1968 and was immediately impressed by the size and atmosphere of the fascinating building. The acoustics are unusual and the hall has a noticeable echo. Various attempts have been made to improve acoustics over the years as can be seen in the acoustic diffusing discs hung from the roof and lit purple and blue.
Twenty championship bands, representing all the regions of Great Britain, compete for the title and magnificent trophy. The day starts with a draw for order of play when band hope to avoid the number one spot and be first on. Three adjudicators sit in an enclosed box so they can hear but not see which band is playing. 2018 was a special year for us when Foden’s, a band very close to our hearts, were crowned winners for the fourteenth time in their history.
Maybe, just maybe, we will be there on 9th October 2021.
*For my overseas followers, ‘brassed off’ is a British expression meaning fed up or disgruntled. It is also the title of a feel-good film which tells the story of the fictitious Grimley Colliery Band facing closure but overcoming various difficulties and obstacles to go on and win the championships.
Dipping into the file of photos from our recent visit to Beamish again, this time looking at some of the many buildings on site. Most of these have been re-located, (or translocated is the word used on the Beamish website) stone by stone, brick by brick, from outlying towns and villages and now form an important part of the structure and layout of the museum.The town area, officially opened in 1985, depicts a typical street scene of around 1913.Ravensworth Terrace is a row of terraced houses, presented as the premises and living areas of various professionals, e.g. a music teacher, dentist and solicitor.The school opened on site in 1992. The building originally stood in East Stanley, It was donated by Durham County Council. No they are not IPads on the desks! Who remembers a Stephens Ink thermometer from school days?
The relocation of Pit Hill Chapel was completed in 1990. Originally opened in the 1850s, it first stood not far from its present site, having been built in what would eventually become Beamish village. It houses a fine replica of a double-lensed acetylene gas powered magic lantern as the chapel would have been used for various community activities.
As brass band enthusiasts we had to visit the Hetton Silver Band Hall which was opened in 2013.
As one of the more recent ‘translocations’ we felt it need to weather a bit as the brickwork looked new and pristine as did the surrounding block paving. However, it represents the role of numerous colliery bands in the area. The hall had been used by the Hetton Silver Band, founded in 1887, and the band donated the hall to the museum after they merged with Broughtons Band of South Hetton to form the Durham Miners’ Association Band. It is still used for performances at the museum.
St Helen’s Church was relocated from its original site in Eston, North Yorkshire where it had existed since around 1100. It opened at the Beamish site in November 2015.
A couple of weeks ago we had the pleasure of attending the Whit Marches in the Tameside, Oldham and Saddleworth area in North West England. These are a series of brass band competitions held in 22 towns and villages on the edge of the Pennines and date back to the 1870s. Whit Friday has traditionally been a holiday in the area. On the Friday morning the traditional church Whit Walks take place and in the evening each village holds its own brass band contest. Well over 100 bands from all over the country tour the area in coaches, visiting as many contests as they can. The bands include all levels from Championship level, including National Champions Foden’s, to school and youth bands. This year there were also bands from Canada, Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland.
At each venue each band performs two pieces – a march performed on the move, where they may be awarded marks for deportment, and a set piece performed on a temporary band stand. The adjudicators are concealed in a caravan or nearby room, awarding marks without knowing the bands’ identities.
The Whit Friday contests are a favourite event in the brass band calendar and attract thousands of people. They are often described as ‘the greatest free show on earth!’