Carlton Brass visit Grimley Colliery
Nottingham Arts Theatre production of ‘Brassed Off’
One of our leading lower section bands have been busy of late with
the latest production of the eponymous brass band production of
"Brassed Off", whilst our man John James met up with the
Director to find out more about the play of the film of the band
of the pit of the...........
The production of ‘Brassed Off’ currently on its run
in Birmingham is not the only version of this play that has won
over audiences in 2003 as Tony Wilson, MD of Carlton Brass, Nottingham
explained to 4BarsRest.
Speaking after Carlton Brass has just completed seven consecutive
performances of the staged version of ‘Brassed Off’
at the Nottingham Arts Theatre that was demanding but most enjoyable
project to work on he said,
“The band played very well and this was appreciated by the
applause from the cast, stage crew and audiences. It is ironic that
as the band were performing and acting out the roles in the play
like the Whit Marches and the National Finals – Carlton Brass
are doing both in real life this year. The band will attend the
Whit Contest for the first time on June 13th and we will be preparing
for our third consecutive trip to the Nationals, this year in September
up in Dundee competing for the ‘Third Section Championship
Title’ before being promoted to 2nd section in January 2004.”
The band played the whole week from Monday 12th – Saturday
(twice) 17th May and provided the total music during the production.
Several band members also assisted with a few on stage roles with
members of the cast who belong to the Arts Theatre. The cast although
amateurs were very convincing as they enacted the strong characters
in each role and added their own individual styles which culminated
in performances to the highest standard and worthy of near professional
The performances by both band and cast were extremely well received
by the audiences on each and every occasion as the cast managed
to capture all the emotions as depicted in the original film.
To create the atmosphere and achieve a full sound the band were
on stage but concealed behind a see through gauze for most of the
performance. The gauze being removed when the band performed in
all its glory to a backdrop of red silk for the scene of the National
Finals at the Royal Albert Hall towards the end of the play.
During the opening scene the band played ‘Death or Glory’
with the several players wearing mining helmets with lights on,
a very illuminating effect. This march was played to open and close
each half of the show.
The ‘Concerto de Orange Juice’ was superbly played
by Carlton’s Flugel player - Steve Mercs at each and every
performance and was a big hit with the audience. The full programme
also included extracts from: The Floral Dance, March – Slaidburn
(3 times, worsening due to imaginary drink at Whit Friday Marches),
March – Florintiner, Danny Boy, 1 verse of Jerusalem –
Trombone solo by Alan Carling, Finale from William Tell overture
and Land of Hope and Glory.
The band attended only three rehearsals in the preparations for
the show and at times wondered how it would all come together. The
Friday nights (9th) rehearsal started at 7.30 and finished at 11.15pm
and the band were still a bit doubtful of exactly what to play and
when however the Sunday rehearsal (day before the opening) saw things
take shape and we they certainly felt more confident of the music
and the timing.
This was a real test for the band indeed and one they passed with
flying colours. Without question the band really pulled out all
the stops with such enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to the
heavy demand of six daily evening performances and an additional
matinee on the Saturday. Around 14 members made every single show
with others only missing an odd performance. A few deputy players
kindly assisted to which the band and they would like publicly thank
them and reiterate an appreciation for their help.
Tony Wilson concluded by saying :- “Our participation in the
production of ‘Brassed Off’ has benefited the band in
both strengthening us as a unit and helping our finances. The funding
will help the band towards financing the trip to Dundee and will
help pay for both the travel and accommodation. This is much deserved
by the band and I would like to thank all the members for their
hard work, dedication and professionalism throughout the whole of
Extracts from Independent Reviews that appeared in the Regional
Press and BBC Nottingham
"Although The Full Monty achieved greater notoriety, Brassed
Off arguably offers a sharper and more pointed critique of the devastation
caused to working communities by the Thatcherite revolution of the
1980's. The systematic destruction of one of the country's great
industries for purely political motives will be seen as one of the
great tragedies of the late 20th century and Brassed Off is a poignant
reminder of the effect that political decision making has at a purely
The Arts Theatre and Carlton Brass did a very good job of suggesting
a community under pressure and the pride it could muster through
its music making. It was a pity, therefore, that Carlton Brass spent
most of its time behind a gauze without being fully integrated into
the action of the play - a piece of staging which seemed to run
contrary to the play's message. That said, their playing was flawless,
stirring stuff, which gave one hope for the survival of this particular
community's spirit.Any production of Brassed Off must stand, or
fall, by the audience's reaction to the plight of the mining community
depicted in it. Here the Arts Theatre's production scored. We were
made to feel the anguish of a community under threat from the destruction
of all that it holds dear, and their partial triumph in defeating
the nameless, faceless "them", who have no understanding
of values unless they appear on a profit and loss sheet, is one
that we wish to applaud to the echo, as indeed, we could at the
end of this moving production."
"Set in a Yorkshire mining town as threatened pit closures
imperil the lives of the community, Brassed Off follows the struggles
of the members of the colliery brass band portraying the difficulties
of both musical and personal survival
It is the music of Grimley Colliery Band that represents the spirit
of the community but with the threat of unemployment not all the
band members can share the passion of their leader Danny. Despite
the antagonism the Grimley Band return victorious from the National
Semi-finals only to find that the pit has been closed.
Phil, Danny’s son has now lost everything, his family, home
and job and almost his life. The band see Danny’s collapse
from pneumoconiosis and a determined fighting spirit is rekindled.
Helped by an unexpected donation the miners unite to fulfil Danny’s
dream of participating at the National Championships in London.
As representatives for their community they take a journey that
will tell their story to the nation. Visit the Nottingham Arts Theatre
this week, lots of laughs and some moments of pathos but you will
come away feeling that with determination any goal can be reached.
The Carlton Brass Band were brilliant as were all the cast 5 out
A ‘Brass Session’ with Director Neale Birch
The music for ‘Brassed Off’ is one of the vital components
in any performance of this play and theatrical director Neale Birch,
with assistance from Liverpool University Brass, gave an insight
into the directorial challenges the musical component of the play
Acknowledging that his familiarity and understanding of brass bands
had been considerably enhanced with his work on the production of
the play, which has been running to critical acclaim both in Liverpool
and Birmingham, he took time to explore a number of different scenes
that feature the band directly.
The playwright actually specifies which eight pieces are to be
played in key scenes during the production however the Director
is given the scope to use this music in his own directorial style
– an important concession.
Further music may be added as the director chooses and in this
production Neale used incidental music and linking strains to facilitate
scene changes. The choice music does present an immediate problem
for the director as the length of each given piece, if played in
its entirety, would cover too much time for the theatre production.
As a result selected cuts and specific bars of music were chosen
to convey the essence of the action.
A scene set within the rehearsal room was of particular importance
and featured two pieces, ‘Floral Dance’ and Concierto
Turning to the ‘Floral Dance’ he highlighted it as
an important music in that it established both the credibility of
the band and their conductor, however it did not need to be played
in its full scoring to indicate these facts. This is where his pre-production
planning proved most beneficial, time spent with the Stourport Band.
Visiting the band in their rehearsal room he timed each piece individually
and followed closely the score of the music for dynamic markings.
An important element that came into play in a later scene.
It was therefore necessary to introduce a small cut in the piece
without substantially undermining the overall familiarity of the
The Concierto de Aranjuez similarly needed to be conveyed with
confidence and poetic feeling as it introduces the central character
of Gloria and establishes her musical integrity. Finding an actress
with the musical ability to carry off the part was a quest that
took time but Neale was fortunate in auditioning actress Lois Naylor.
An interesting anecdote emerged that Lois, although a trumpet player
of some experience was faced with a similar situation to the one
her character also faced. On the second day of rehearsal she joined
Stourport Band to play her flugel solo and similarly had to perform
in the face of a new band experience.
Again to facilitate time and action slight revision to the score
was required although here again, as the Director, he stressed that
he thought it most important that the amendments did not detract
from the needs of the plot.
Moving to the march that has become synonymous both with film and
the play ‘Death or Glory’ the work is used at the top
of the show and after the interval to introduce the action.
When first hearing the march at Stourport Band it was taken at
street march tempo, a pace quite steady and easy however Neale felt
that this tempo did not suit the feel he wished to create. So with
the help of the band he plotted the music in two quite distinct
At the opening he asked for the piece to be taken at Contest March
tempo which would he hoped convey an energy and give a bright opening
to the show which would immediately have the audience sit up in
their seats. An announcement that the play had started as it were.
Given that the play and its plot were well described, the feel
he wanted for the opening second act was one of a ‘boozy’
feel. Quite a different impression - an announcement by the band
that they were back but only in a context of re-introducing the
story. This was to be achieved by using the trio, now at street
tempo, but with pronounced accompaniment to emphasize the ‘swing’
in the music and given the needs of the play the march was only
taken with the first repeated section.
Staging the Whit Friday walks presented its own particular set
of problems. Firstly the director had to give a notion that the
band was travelling from village to village, secondly that the music
needed to convey an impression of continuous music and thirdly that
the actors important actions and dialogue could be heard effectively.
This is where the art of the director was at its most challenging.
The march ‘Slaidburn’ was used to compliment the scene
and the band was to march onto and around the stage at this point.
This was timed and rehearsed quite rigidly and worked out to be
a 55 bar sequence. A march does not last just 55 bars and he explained
how he came up with the answer to this directorial argument. To
give the impression of continuous music the basses were asked to
carry on playing, even in the wings, so that a low steady pulse
of music was maintained. A serious ask for the basses who had to
play in an area of obviously very low lighting. This allowed the
director the scope to focus attention on the scenario being conducted
in the auditorium whilst keeping alive the Whit Friday atmosphere
before the band once more emerged from the wings. Only on the final
sequence was the march given more length as the scene allowed for
more front of house action.
To round out the session Neale turned his attention to that in
and around a hospital setting. The play called for the music ‘Danny
Boy’ to be played whilst the character of Musical Director,
Danny, was being nursed in a nearby ward.
This presented the director with a particular challenge in ensuring
that the dialogue and poignant atmosphere be conveyed and yet the
music was to be in the audience consciousness at all times. Here
the director turned to the use of a smaller twelve-piece ensemble
and quartet section in order to maintain the important ambiance
for the scene. The quartet of horn, baritone, euphonium and bass
was used at pp for nine bars, which gave enough time for the dialogue
and atmosphere to be created, before the band moved into a tutti
passage with the cornets giving the music lift after the subdued
With that our time drew to an end and we thanked Neale Birch for
taking the time to explain and allow us the chance to question him
on the important part the director played in bringing this particular
stage version to life in a rewarding and sensitive style. Mind you
not before he took the time to thank the bands for their wonderful
playing and faultless contribution to the play.
The production continues in Birmingham until 21st June 2003
Stourport-on-Severn (29 May – 7 Jun)
City of Birmingham (10 – 14 Jun)
Jackfield Elcock Reisen (17 – 21 Jun)
With thanks to Neale Birch, Director - ‘Brassed Off’