East of the M60‘s review of BBC One’s documentary on brass banding

Our Lives: Battle of the Bands: BBC One, 27 May 2019, 7.30pm

  • Presenter: Ruth Madoc;
  • Musical Director (Tredegar Town Band): Ian Porthouse;
  • Musical Director (Cory Band): Philip Harper;
  • Executive Producer (BBC Wales): Christina Macaulay;
  • Executive Producer (Yeti Media Ltd): Siân Price;
  • Producer and Director: Gruff Rees.

© 2019 Yeti Media Ltd for BBC Wales.

Brass banding seems to be at the back of the queue in relation to television coverage these days. Before the late 1980s, BBC had Champion Brass which gave our brass bands a national arena for viewers who couldn’t afford the trip to the Royal Albert Hall. There was also similar competitions organised by ITV franchises, most notably Granada Television’s Granada Band of the Year.

Thanks to the internet, brass banding has had a second wind. Social media has become an important form of communication for the brass banding movement. The likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a few other social media sites have created a relationship between each band’s members, its supporters, and audiences. Whereas a well organised social media campaign is effective in keeping bands in the public eye, television is still an effective media form.

Hopefully, Our Lives: Battle of the Bands will be successful in performing this role. Presented by Ruth Madoc, who many of you may remember as Gladys Pugh in Hi-de-Hi!, it offered a holistic view of how brass bands form part of the community. For the documentary they chose two of the finest bands in the world: Cory Band (Number One in the 4BarsRest World Rankings) and Tredegar Town Band (Number Nine).

The documentary follows both bands’ journeys to the Welsh Regional Finals at Wrexham Glyndwr University. Leading up to the all important day we see both bands rehearse their test piece (Ray Steadman-Allen’s Seascapes). We look at how one member returned to brass banding after doing daft things in his teens (his girlfriend’s pregnancy gave him new found responsibilities so he returned to the fold).

Between the lines, the programme reflects upon the positives of being in a brass band – applicable to any band from Championship Section to non-contesting. That of teamwork, self-discipline, fulfilling tight deadlines (read attending rehearsals) and persistence. All of which are marketable skills to any employer as well as vital experience for wannabe Philip Harpers or Harry Mortimers. As Ruth Madoc says, “focus, escape and support for many”.

Amid the serious intent there is room for some comedy moments in the documentary. Particularly with Tredegar Town Band’s coach being held up en route to Wrexham. Even a dodgy windscreen wiper didn’t stop them from being Welsh Regional Champions.

For brass band players, there is plenty of material in the documentary you can relate to with the rehearsals. For the average viewer on the Greenfield omnibus, enough human interest without belittling its audience. More than anything, a documentary which celebrates the advancement of working-class people instead of being a voyeuristic sideshow for their ‘betters’. About time I say, given recent televisual events over the last month.

If you have missed the programme at its original transmission time, Our Lives: Battle of the Bands is available on BBC iPlayer till the 26 June 2019. Which, by coincidence neatly covers Whitsuntide. If you wish to introduce anyone to brass banding, it is a good primer to the subject, leaving you wanting to explore the field further.

Music:

  • Seascapes (Ray Steadman-Allen) – 2019 Championship Section Regional Finals test piece;
  • Bitter Sweet Symphony (Richard Ashcroft, arr. Philip Harper);
  • Delilah (Les Reed/Barry Mason/Sylvan Whittingham, arr. Alan Fernie);
  • Let’s Face the Music and Dance (Irving Berlin, arr. Goff Richards).

S.V., 27 May 2019.

Image of Darranlas from Penrhiwcaradog Farm by G. Evans, 2009 (Creative Commons License 3.0: Attribution-ShareAlike).

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