Shown below are a selection of conference papers and guest lectures that I have given. They cover all aspects of brass bands as an expression of class, culture, region and gender. I am available to give tuition, speak at guest lectures, or host seminars using these themes to explore social history and musicology. In addition a short adult education course about brass bands, class and regional identity is available. Please email me for more information.
Where the Brass Band is Beloved: The Pennine Brass Band and the Working Class a Study of Cultural and Regional Association, 1840-1914
In 1974 Peter Hennessy reported on the National Brass Band Contest, at the Royal Albert Hall, he highlighted the metonyms of working-class cultural and industrial history that brass bands were capable of producing, writing:
A roll call of the bands is like an evocation of industrial history From Wingates Temperance and Black Dyke Mills to more modern conglomerates like the far from poetic Williams…Grown men, old bandsmen say, have been known to cry at the beauty of it all….. Of all the manifestations of working-class culture, nothing is more certain than a brass band to bring on an attack of the George Orwells. Even the most hardened bourgeois cannot resist romanticising the proletariat a little when faced with one.
As Hennessy suggested, whilst the brass band was a national musical experience for working people, that was also popular in the rest of the nation, most notably Cornwall, Scotland and Wales, it is most readily associated with, and indeed has become a cliché of northern working-class culture. By 1914, The British Bandsman reflected on the fact that, ‘it could not be denied that the cradle of the brass band was on the slopes of the Pennine Chain.’Eric Hobsbawm argues that working-class traditions were invented from 1870 to 1914. The working-class world of labour with a capital L, cup-finals, fish-and-chip suppers, community singing, performing Messiah in crowded town halls and the palais-de-danse, that Richard Hoggart wrote bitter-sweet elegies about in the 1950s, all have their roots in memories of working-class life. This paper will examine reportage of brass bands in the media from c.1880 to 1914, exploring the reasons why popular images of the brass band movement should centre themselves on the northern industrial working class.
Brass Instruments, Bandsmen and Working-Class Identity: Brass Bands in the Southern Pennines and the Creation of Working-Class Identity, c.1840-1900
In 1840, John Murgatroyd was the owner of Oats Royd’s Mill, near Halifax. He purchased seven brass instruments for a fledgling brass band, within ten years he had thirty three players and a number of Besson First Class instruments worth over a thousand pounds. The questions that arise from such philanthropy are how bandsmen in the area used such instruments to create a cultural working-class identity that is still with us today? What elements of musicianship and working-class identity came together by playing these instruments?
‘The Mournful Sounds of a Cornet….’ Music as a Lifelong Pursuit for Bandsmen in the Southern Pennines, c.1850-1914: Reflections on Working-Class Musical Traditions and the Reinforcement of Working-Class Masculinity through these Traditions.
In 1888, the Musical World noticed brass players practicing so they could join a brass band, writing ‘….. From many a small cottage in country villages, or in the back streets of a Lancashire town, may be heard the mournful sounds of a cornet… as the mechanic struggles to make his evenings a preparation for harmonious concerts later on, when he shall have qualified for admission to the nearest amateur band he can find.’ Then a player could be a member of a band for life, a trait noticed by The Observer, when they wrote, ‘in old age he may end up with the BB flat bass, the deepest instrument of them all, requiring the lungs of a glassblower to fill it.’ This lifelong performance, then, not only created a working-class musical tradition, but also reinforced aspects of working-class masculinity common in the industrial north. This paper examines how the brass band created a metonym of working-class culture and identity that was a powerful expression of working-class masculinity.
‘Dancing was Afterwards Indulged In and Kept up Until a Late Hour’. The Pennine Brass Band as the Social Cement of the Community?
In 1907, The Musical Herald wrote:
Where is Wingates? Where is Goodshaw? You don’t know. The same answer might be given regarding scores of villages whence bands came on Sept.28th to the Crystal Palace…. We have had bands for a generation past coming out of the unknown and making their villages famous.
The Musical Herald showed that despite large industrial output the Southern Pennines consisted of small communities. Brass bands were at the heart of community life. If not the reason for the community event, they were a constant presence at them.
Specifically, it was the band room that acted as a rallying point for the identity of the bands. This paper will show how the brass bands’ community identity grew from individual player, to instrumental section, to band. I show how the band room acted as the social cement that brought the communities musical identity together to represent the village in a larger area from c. 1850-1910.