Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Saddleworth, and Nostalgia

I decided to look at YouTube for inspiration for today’s post and thought it was past time to mention the British tradition of brass bands. The Grimethorpe Colliery Band, one of Britain’s truly outstanding bands, is one I recalled hearing live when I was in England. So I looked them up and was surprised to find this clip from the 1998 Saddleworth Brass Band Contests, taken in the village of Delph. More on why I was surprised later. By the way, the video has two marches; the first is called “The Cobblers.”

British brass bands differ greatly from American wind bands. For one thing, there are no trumpets or French horns. Instead, they use cornets and what they call tenor horns and baritone horns. The latter are members of the saxhorn family. British brass bands have both baritones and euphoniums, which are members of the tuba family. When I was in school, anyway, baritone and euphonium were considered different names for the same instrument, which is incorrect. We had no baritones. Other instruments in the brass band include fluegelhorn, tenor and bass trombones, and two sizes of bass (tuba).

Saddleworth is one of more than a dozen villages near Manchester that hold band contests every year on Whit Friday. Bands ranging from local village bands to the championship bands like Grimethorpe Colliery march through the streets of the villages playing one march, and then gather in another area to play a second, showier march. British marches, by the way, are different from American marches as exemplified by Sousa, but they are every bit as wonderful. George Allen’s “Knight Templar” is one of my favorites, and very fun to play.

The Grimethorpe Colliery Band took part in the movie Brassed Off, and as far as I’m concerned, their wonderful playing was the only thing that made it bearable. Those of you who have seen the movie might remember the marching competition scene, which came closer to being real and plausible than anything else in the movie.

On my birthday in 2000, as a guest member of the Illinois Brass Band, I participated in several of the Saddleworth competitions, including Delph. Ten years later, the place still looked familiar. Here are a couple of pictures of the Illinois Brass Band in Delph. As it turns out, though, I didn’t hear Grimethorpe on that occasion. My picture is of another outstanding band, the Williams Fairey Brass Band. I’ll have to hunt for one of their videos some other time.


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