The middle Saturday in May means Spring Festival day

Since the pandemic began last March, any form of normality was put on hold. Pub pints became dependent on the weather (till the 17th May at least). Theatres and cinemas went dark; concert halls, likewise.

Worst hit by the pandemic is our musicians. At a professional level, it has affected their livelihoods; at amateur levels, it has affected their role in communities. Social distancing means brass bands cannot perform outdoors due to the rule of six. Audiences have only just been allowed to gather at concerts in limited numbers. Then there’s the issue of social distancing in rehearsals.

The pandemic has been dire for brass bands. No concerts, limited fundraising options and rehearsal opportunities in the ‘traditional’ sense, and all contesting activities put on hold. At this time of writing, I would (in a normal year) be looking forward to the Spring Festival at the Winter Gardens and Opera House in Blackpool. Last year, I should have seen Boarshurst Silver Band in the Senior Trophy, but COVID-19 scuppered that opportunity. Ditto the above this year. Maybe next year (2022).

This year also sees the suspension of this year’s Whit Friday Brass Band Contests, a real high point at any year in conventional times. With 2021 being the second year without this spectacle, we have been pining for the return of our bands. For the time being, I shall leave you with this article.

You Know You’re Pining for Brass Band Music When…

  • You still book Whit Friday off: if you live in Tameside or Saddleworth, it becomes second nature to book Whit Friday off when you put your holidays in. I do too.
  • Your calendar is based around Regional and National Final dates: as well as being a favoured date for railway timetable changes, the middle of May is associated with the Spring Festival in Blackpool. September and October means Birmingham, Cheltenham and London. As for November, Gateshead (normally for Brass In Concert).
  • Your ringtone is a contest march: the collected works of Messrs Allan, Rimmer, Douglas, Powell and Greenwood make for great ringtones. Ravenswood is a fantastic example – especially the first few notes.
  • Your Spotify and/or Apple Music account has brass band music: Spotify does have a few brass banding gems, but it would never be the same as going to a concert. Ever.
  • An Eric Ball test piece follows S Club 7: that of course is an exemplar of having an eclectic taste in music. It isn’t unusual for me to listen to Resurgam before Invisible Touch or Bring It All Back.
  • You’re thinking of suitable pop songs or television themes to arrange: if I was an arranger or composer in the Paul Lovatt-Cooper mould, I probably would have spent my lockdown period doing the same. And hoping to get them performed at future concerts.
  • You still rehearse from home – either alone or over Zoom: that is no bad thing, even with band rooms being closed for rehearsals in the traditional sense.
  • Your Sunday afternoons or Sunday evenings feel empty: they bloomin’ do – both in my role as compere at Boarshurst Band Club – and in the audience at Glossop Old Band Room. Yes, all that lovely Mouselow Farm beer not being imbibed – or those Sunday afternoons on the 237 between venues.
  • You walk along Bethel Street, Chew Valley Road or Old Elvet and feel bemused at the lack of brass bands: it is hard to imagine how empty these three iconic streets are without a brass band. Especially when you are used to seeing the Brighouse Hymn and March contest, the Greenfield Whit Friday Band Contest, or the Durham Miners’ Gala.
  • You miss the good times associated with brass banding: a brass banding state of mind goes beyond appreciating good music. It is also about the friendships made along the way – whether you play an instrument or listen to the bands.

And finally…

What are you missing about the brass band world? Do you miss the concerts or the rehearsals? The company among fellow audience members and brass band players? The atmosphere you get at an open air contest on Whit Friday or other times of the year? Feel free to comment.

S.V., 08 May 2021.

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