Friday, 25 March 2011

Brass Banding comes to Muswell Hill

Yes, I know. The headline seems so improbable that it has to be some kind of spoof. What's the payoff, you're almost bound to ask. But please bear with me because I'm dead serious about this, and also very excited.

As an aside, I'm actually quite worried about even starting on this topic. It's a vast area for me and I'm not sure where this'll go: certainly it would, if I did it properly, require several other pieces of writing to try and make it all make something like sense. Given that I don't usually seem to have time to write this blog at all, I'm not sure quite where this leaves us, or rather where it leaves me. But ho, and hum, and ho hum, and we shall see.

(No, Colin, I shall not now be telling the ladies and gentlemen the "All In One Strand" joke, apposite though it may seem to you. And anyway, foolish boy, now you have made me give away the punch line and thus I could not tell it to this audience, even if I wished to, for the next five or so years.)

Where shall I start, then? A person of my acquaintance frequently complains, rather unkindly if not wholly inaccurately, that I use too many words - that is, more than they would like - when trying to explain things. (I note that they've never solicited my opinion of their powers of self-expression. A pity.) So let me see if I can use a few less, and, er, Cut To The Chase, or something. Yes indeed.

Well then. Some points.
  • The last time I played in a proper, real, formally-constituted brass band, we still lived in Yorkshire, and the United Kingdom did not yet have decimal coinage. (No, Tamsin, we shall not discuss the 50p piece right now. Jabnaas. Nidbaabeth. But yes, they were interesting times.) Never again since then. Plenty of brass ensembles and what have you, but never an actual real brass band per se. 
  • I have at times in the past had an odd/bad attitude to brass bands and their players. Big area, won't fit in this bullet point … another time. I am in awe of their technical ability, but I also fear them, or have done so, and have at times disliked some of what they do. I have, I think/hope, grown out of this stupidity a bit over the last, say, 20 years.
  • It's also a horribly complex North/South culture thing for me. This too requires its own piece of at least 80,000 words but this, too, is getting shunted off into a siding for now. If you want more on this right away then I'd strongly recommend Stuart Maconie's Pies and Prejudice - if you were to read that you'd at least see a bit of where - wait for it wait for it - I'm coming from, aha.
  • The death of Maurice M made me think about brass bands and orchestral players more than somewhat. Compiling a monster tribute to the late great man for the, er, trumpet club for which I sometimes write brought it home even more so. Again this needs its own piece, and how, but suffice it to say that as well as a labour of love it was an epic undertaking and a bit of an eye-opener at times. It certainly caused me to think about brass bands a little more carefully than I perhaps have done in the past.
  • The even more recent death of Jimmy W, ridiculously and unfairly early at the age of 59 … well, you can probably imagine. (Large digression edited out for now.) It was Not A Good Day. More brass band thoughts. It's not coincidence, you know.
  • Over the decades since I stopped trying to be a serious trumpet player (though you could of course question whether I'd ever really started) I've often worried, or at least blethered on about, the problem of needing to do more playing, and particularly regular playing, to keep my lip in and various other things at least ticking over rather than just actually seizing up. Doing Salomon and Haydn is great but they both work in shortish, intense bursts; in between times, with nothing specific to aim for and no regular commitment, it's sometimes been, ahem, a touch challenging trying to live up to the claim that I play the Accursed Bugle at all.
  • I've in the past wished out loud that I had some regular, say weekly, playing to do. Kind friends have even mentioned a brass band or two, but it's always been impossible to imagine committing to the travel as they've been a fair distance off. So the out-loud wish, over the years, has mutated and become more specific - what I'd really like, please, is a regular weekly brass ensemble or band or whatever, but just round the corner from my house. Oh, and its fixed weekly time would have to somehow, miraculously, be when I could usually make it but without wrecking my family life, my existing playing commitments, my orienteering, our desire to get out for a decent walk sometimes … well, you get the picture. Not an easy set of criteria to meet.
  • As an aside, I did even consider trying to set something up myself. I was a little inspired by the success of a family brass ensemble a year or two back, and of something I did at Lottie's school, but I think it would have been a pretty tall order for someone of my undoubted inabilities and it's probably just as well for the safety of innocent ears that this idea never bore fruit.
So we return to the present. I want regular playing; I'm odd/nuts/nostalgic/sad about brass bands; I wish someone would start one in the church hall round the corner; and so on.

Well, I am here to tell you, dear reader, that I have had my bluff well and truly called. Well and truly. For someone is doing just that - they're starting up a brass band, two minutes' walk from my front door ... Wednesday nights; first rehearsal 15th June, 7.30pm: I shall be there. Oh yes indeedy.

As you may have gathered this is a very, very, very big deal to me. For an opportunity like this just to drop into my lap - it's incredible.

Obviously there's many a slip, and all that. It's not really what I'm saying about it now - in a gibberingly overexcited state - that's the test - it's what I'll be saying about it in a year.

Will it be a good band? Will I be any good at it? Will people show up? Will they want me? Will I be anything like reliable enough, given the cloud of other commitments in which I operate? How does a brass band fit into the cruel, cynical, latte-sipping, Guardian-reading, film-discussing er er milieu of Muesli Hill? (Oh hang on, scratch that last one - I've just realized I don't give a monkey's about all that,)

More on this - probably more than you'd ever want to read - another time. For now, we have already reclaimed the rather nice Smith-Watkins cornet - Lottie's cornet, ackshly - from our beloved nephew; I'd quite like to find my real mouthpiece for it (long story) and I prolly ought to, you know, learn to, er, play it a bit … watch this space. But if I don't get round to mentioning it again, please think of me on the evening of June 15th, when surely my world will be changing a little.


Anonymous said...

Happy 1st birthday NLB Muswell Hill! How do you feel a year on?

Strawberryyog said...

Gosh! You're right - it's a whole year. Well well well.

I personally feel pretty good about it. In many ways it is everything I hoped it would be, and I love it.

Some of the things I feared about clashes and conflicts have come true, but it's actually sort-of working OK: that is, there are other players around and, while I'd rather be more reliable, I know that I don't have to be totally convulsed with guilt if I can't make it.

Socially it is wonderful - you could not wish for a nicer, more positive group of people.

For me it's been an extremely positive year, is your short answer. I ought to write more on this topic when/if I get a moment.

Thank you for asking!

Anonymous said...

You wait 25 years for a brass band and then 2 come along in less than 2 years! Welcome to Fortismere Community Brass! Is Muswell Hill the new brass banding capital in North London?