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Don't look back in anger
How memories of Britpop should give us a kick up the backside

A less than cool perception of what brass bands have left to offer an ageing generation of Oasis and Blur fans may in fact be the perfect stimulus to reach out to the new generation of pop obsessed youngsters...

Guitar

Although 'The Times' journalist Will Hodgkinson may have seemed rather cruel in his thermodynamic appraisal of the coolness of Cory’s latest ‘Britpop Brass’ CD release, reading between acerbic lines not even Noel Gallagher could muster in a spasm of Mancunian pique, his assessment also revealed some blistering home truths.

The paper's chief rock and pop critic’s opinion that it was… “A father’s day gift you have long lost respect for, this is the album equivalent of scraping a comb across a balding pate and watching in horror as the last remaining hairs sail down mockingly to the bathroom floor”, will certainly have miffed Cory fans.

However, on closer inspection it really had nothing at all to do with it being a critical analysis of the playing excellence of the world’s number 1 ranked band.

It was though, everything to do with the perception the general musical public has of brass bands as a lingering, outdated stereotyped vestige of working class naffness.

Curl up and die

No wonder he rather eruditely posed the question whether we were ready to watch our ‘youthful dreams curl up and die?’  

Because, if you were a preening, hands in your parka 20-something Oasis-clone back in 1996, ready to ‘start a revolution in my bed’, those particular nocturnal aspirations certainly shuffled off their mortal coil a long time ago. 

It should be remembered that Britpop was part of the cultural phenomenon of ‘Cool Britannia’ that blazed with a brief incandescent brilliance until it was snuffed out as soon as Tony Blair invited Oasis and host of ‘celebs’ to a post election soiree in Downing Street in 1997.  

As the fashion designer Wayne Hemmingway said at the time: "There is a very grave danger that by simply inviting a few pop stars and comedians to drinkies at No 10, the very people Blair is trying to impress will be turned off."

They were.  It has never been remotely tepid since.  

It should be remembered that Britpop was part of the cultural phenomenon of ‘Cool Britannia’ that blazed with a brief incandescent brilliance until it was snuffed out as soon as Tony Blair invited Oasis and host of ‘celebs’ to a post election soiree in Downing Street in 1997.  
 

Blair
Hip and trendy: When Britpop went to Downing Street...

How on earth then could Cory possibly be expected to breathe cool new musical life into a fading memory cadaver of vacuous pride in hip and trendy things that now seem so horribly tacky and irrelevant - from FHM magazine to ladette feminism?

Today’s generation of Gallagher wannabes, fast approaching middle age, are surely worrying more about an expanding waistline and the onset of Type 2 diabetes as they head to a garden centre, ratherr than whether or not Phil Harper and his band have stripped, the Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ , as Hodgkinson says, of  ‘…any last remaining vestiges of cool’.   

Faux outrage

However, forget any displays of faux outrage at misplaced pop music sensibilities. 

Will Hodgkinson has simply highlighted the stark reality that the brass band movement has done very little as a whole in the last 20 years or so since ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ hit the charts in 1996 to attract at least two generations of pop influenced youngsters to the joys and relevance of brass band music making.

What have we actually achieved in successfully marketing brass band playing as exciting and fun to a generation that now listens to Dagny, Jessie Reyez and Arianne Grande, let alone Blur, Supergrass and Shed Seven?

Not a lot.

We have become paralyzed by a collective unwillingness to do anything about freeing ourselves of an addiction to self-obsessed naval gazing. 

What have we actually achieved in successfully marketing brass band playing as exciting and fun to a generation that now listens to Dagny, Jessie Reyez and Arianne Grande, let alone Blur, Supergrass and Shed Seven?

Outdated concept

We spend more time debating contest registration rules than we do trying to formulate a coherent approach to youth development strategy - one that continues to be dominated by an outdated concept that we can only express our relevance through copying the adult infatuation to compete against each other for meaningless titles.

Youth Brass
How do we make brass banding fun and relevant to even more talented young players? 

Creative thinking

Is anyone exploring why are we struggling to attract, enthuse and retain young players, years before they even contemplate heading to university or getting their first jobs? 

How are we engaging with youngsters to become the driving force behind creative thinking - and then trusting them to become the new pioneers of peer-led teaching and leadership?  

And what strategies and templates of good practice are being put in place to assist community bands to fill the vacuum created by the short sighted dismantling of properly funded local authority peripatetic music services?

And what strategies and templates of good practice are being put in place to assist community bands to fill the vacuum created by the short sighted dismantling of properly funded local authority peripatetic music services?

Is anyone developing long term plans to work in partnership with innovative companies who offer affordable starter pathways into brass band music making?

Basically, who is actually talking and listening to what youngsters want and aspire to from playing in a brass band?

Challenge

There is anecdotal evidence of individual beacons of excellence (both from bands and various brass band organisations), but little that it is being supported in a way that could eventually benefit the whole of the youth banding movement in the decades to come.

Surely then, the challenge for those with a passionate interest in its future is not to change the perceptions of a critic over the release of a pop music brass band CD, but to challenge ourselves to attract the next generation of youngsters to think that playing in a brass band is just as cool, hip and trendy as anything Noel Gallagher once appeared to be a quarter of a century ago.

Instead of decrying Will Hodgkinson for his seemingly critical appraisal, we should in fact thank him for giving us all a collective kick up the backside. 

Instead of decrying Will Hodgkinson for his seemingly critical appraisal, we should in fact thank him for giving us all a collective kick up the backside.

All he has done is highlight once again the damming evidence of complete irrelevance those of us of a certain age felt seeping into our once youthful anti-establishment revolutionary veins when we saw Jonny Rotten advertising ‘Country Life’ butter on the television.

And if that can happen to the former lead singer of the Sex Pistols then heaven help us all, let alone Cory Band.

Iwan Fox

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/eeb1dc4a-6a2f-11e8-9c53-0e2cb45ebb16



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