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The National Championships of Great Britain 1992 - Alan Morrison looks back on Grimethorpe's memorable win quoted as being "a sure triumph of the human spirit, a sense of liberty and resurrection drawn out of sorrow and pain"


The story starts in March 1992 on a spring Sunday afternoon. The day of the Yorkshire Regional Championships 1992 at St. Georges Hall, Bradford.

Grimethorpe Colliery Band were on the crest of a wave and at the time were the form band in Britain, having had a very successful 1991 winning the Yorkshire Area, BBC Band of the Year, the British Open and the UK Entertainments title in Doncaster. This was backed up with a 2nd at Brass in Concert and 3rd at the London Finals in RAH.

However the 'Holy Grail' was to win at London and we joined every other band in Britain in starting out with an appearance at the Area as the first step to glory. Frank Renton was to conduct the band, as he had with great aplomb and success over the previous 4 years and the test-piece was 'Frontier' by Michael Ball.

We arrived at the rehearsal room for a 4pm start. The draw was at 5pm and the first band on stage was scheduled for 6pm. There was already a little concern about the bands Solo Horn player, Andrew Armstrong. He was due to be picked up en route to the rehearsal but hadn`t turned up. The bus had waited, but decided he wasn`t going to appear and must have decided to go by car, and so the bus carried on to the rehearsal without him.

The rehearsal started without him, as frantic telephone calls were being made to his home, which were totally fruitless.

At about 5.15pm the draw came through to the rehearsal room - yes, you`ve guessed it - the dreaded No.1, which Ken Hirst, the band secretary, had an annoying habit of pulling on a regular basis. This meant we had to pack up immediately and get down to St. Georges Hall to be on stage for 6pm. We just hoped that Andrew Armstrong would get his act together and go straight to the hall. This was not to be.

Andy was a chronic diabetic, and at lunchtime had inadvertently missed a meal. His wife had taken their young son out for the day, knowing that Andy was tied up with the contest. In mid-afternoon, Andy suffered a `hypo` and was laid motionless on the kitchen floor until his frantic mother found him at around tea-time. He was rushed to Barnsley General and was later released, but was in no fit state to play an Area Contest. We realised this as we signed on, minus a solo horn player.

The contest management were very supportive, and allowed us to delay the start until 6.15pm in the hope he may turn up. They also sanctioned the use of a borrowed player, but because of the No.1 draw, it had to be from the band drawn last, Hammonds Sauce Works and in particular a young man by the name of Billy Rushworth. We were delighted to hear this, but more dismay came when we found that they were rehearsing in Shipley, and even a helicopter wouldn`t get Billy to the hall in time. We resigned ourselves to going on stage with only 2 horns.

At this point, Frank Renton swung into action. It was already 6.05 pm, we were signed on and ready to play. Frank threw the score at me and told me to write several sections of solo horn parts for 1st baritone. He was already writing out some parts for Solo Trombone, and Ray Curry, - well poor Ray looked under serious pressure. He was Grimethorpe`s 1st Horn player, and he was frantically practicing the horn solo and small cadenza which was not easy for the most rehearsed of horn players, not quite believing the predicament he had found himself in.

We trouped on stage at 6.15pm a little disconsolate. However the band played really well, Ray Curry was absolutely amazing and played the horn solo as if he had been playing it for weeks. There were problems though, -not all of the horn parts had been covered and some trios turned into duets late on in the piece. We knew this immediately and retired to the pub to drown our sorrows and think what might have been.

About 4 hours later, someone burst through the doors and congratulated us on a marvelous 2nd prize and of course qualification for the National Finals at RAH in October later that year.

The piece for London had already been chosen. It was to be `A New Jerusalem` by Philip Wilby. I had worked on the piece as cornet tutor to the NYBB and therefore was quite familiar with it. It had been commissioned for the NYBB and was dedicated to Roy and Muriel Newsome. I knew it was a wonderful piece of music and would sound fantastic in the RAH acoustic. I also knew that it had an off-stage trumpet part that was fundamental to the whole ethos of the piece. The Voice of God started the work and returned twice more, the final time very near the end. To make the effect convincing and achieve the spine-tingling character of the whole piece - The Voice of God needed to be unseen by the audience throughout.

Frank Renton made it plain that, that was exactly what he wanted and suggested I stood as high in the RAH as possible - appropriately enough - in the Gods!!!!

Preparations started in earnest about 2 weeks before the date of the contest. However nothing could prepare us for the events that were about to unfold and as we entered the final week we were unknowingly just starting a story that would be covered worldwide and would throw our carefully planned schedule into utter chaos!

At Monday evening's rehearsal, somebody happened to mention that an announcement was to be made in the House of Commons at 2.00pm the following day. It could affect the future of British Coal and might have implications for the Yorkshire Coalfield and Grimethorpe Colliery in particular. We were not concerned about Grimethorpe possibly closing because we knew that there was at least 90 years of coal left and felt sure that this would keep the pit safe for many years. How wrong we were!

At the appointed time, The President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, rose in the Commons and sounded the death knell for the British Coal Industry. In a hard hitting speech, he announced the closure of 33 pits nationwide, mentioning each colliery by name. I listened in cold shock and nearly froze with fear when the words `Grimethorpe Colliery` were mentioned in the long list. It was like the reading of the `Killed in Battle` list on Armistice Day each year.

Still in shock we arrived at the bandroom for our scheduled extra rehearsal on the Tuesday evening. However, the car park was full. We couldn`t even get near the Miners Welfare Institute, (the `stute`) where the bandroom was situated. It seemed that the whole of the worlds media had descended on Grimethorpe. They soon realised that the famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band were to take part in a major competition at the weekend and we became headline news. We were on News at Ten (after the 1st bong), BBC News, Sky News, Channel Four - they were all there. Japanese camera crews turned up, Swedish, American, Spanish, Polish, Australian - you name it, they were there. The `Media Village` was set up in a primary school car park which became a mass of satellite dishes, caravans, news reporters, camera crews and everything associated with a major, breaking news story. It was totally unreal!!

David Arnold, the bands trusty Assistant Principal Cornet, and very close friend of mine was in an entirely different predicament. His wife, Donna, gave birth that afternoon to his eldest daughter, Emma. The media, latched onto that story almost immediately and sent camera crews and reporters off to the maternity hospital in Doncaster. The next morning Dave was on all of the tabloid front pages holding his beautiful new baby, however not satisfied with that, the photographers wanted more and, much to the annoyance of staff, and Dave & Donna, tried all ways to gain illegal entry into the ward for more pictures and interviews culminating in some angry scenes.

Rehearsals became a total waste of time. They were forever being interrupted for interviews to meet deadlines, photo calls of individuals and collective shots were demanded and by Thursday Frank Renton was tearing what little hair he had left into shreds. He demanded to be left alone and we after agreeing to all demands by the media, slammed the door shut on them at about 10.00pm so we could get down to the serious business of rehearsing for the National Finals.

The following day, we packed up the coach, amid several camera crews, and agreed that one, the BBC, could travel on the coach with us to London. The others hired cars, and were overtaking us on the M1 filming at the same time, nearly causing several accidents on the way.

We arrived at the hotel around 5pm, and guess what the scene in and out side reception was. Total chaos, with the world's media now encamped on the doorstep and in the foyer. It took hours to check in. We then had to set up the rehearsal room and again found it impossible to rehearse until Frank stamped his feet, shouted some abuse at the media, and finally got down to rehearsing New Jerusalem. Unsurprisingly, the playing was not at its best. Elgar Howarth was in attendance and seemed quite concerned that the players were tired and drawn after such a traumatic week. We retired to bed thinking that we were way behind in the rehearsing schedule and if anything, hoping for a miracle the next day.

At 6.00am, (Yes, 6.00am!!!!!) Frank and I were at RAH. Because of the nature of the piece, and in particular the off-stage element, the organisers had said that any band wishing to do so could try out various positions in the hall between 6am and 8am. Never being one to miss a trick, Frank insisted I was on parade at the crack of dawn to take advantage. He stood in the area of the box as I blasted out some top G`s, which is how the piece started. He was satisfied with my position in the Gods and so it was finalised.

As ever, we were anxious to get a late draw, the television camera crews were still taking our every move and had even agreed with the organisers to set up a camera in the hall. We drew No.17, which for Ken Hirst was a major achievement. He even mumbled something about somebody pinching his no.1 ball, although he was a relieved man when they had.

We spent the day relaxing as the tension built up towards the mid-afternoon performance.

As we arrived at the hall, we were met by hundreds of people all cheering us on. It seemed like much more than just the normal contest goers. There were of course the obligatory 4 or 5 camera crews that followed us into the bowels of RAH.

Frank Renton gathered the band together for his usual pre-match pep talk. Frank always finds the right words for the right occasion and surpassed himself in motivating the boys for this one.

"Win this contest not just for you and Grimethorpe Colliery Band, he bellowed. Win this contest not just for the 1,500 miners at Grimethorpe and the village devastated by this announcement. But win this contest for the 33,000 miners nationwide who have just lost their jobs and may, just may, find a little comfort in the knowledge that their band has triumphed in the adversity that afflicts them all, and could just be a glimmer of hope for a very bleak looking future, whatever they do from then on."

The lads were visibly moved by this very emotional rhetoric from Frank and turned on their heels determined to play the performance of there lives. I disappeared very quickly and left the band with many wishes of good luck from everyone. I had to sign on 2 bands before everybody else so that I could be escorted up to my designated position in the Gods.

As I signed on, Frank Woolf, an old friend joined me as my escort, and accompanied by Garry Cutt the bands Resident Conductor we started the `ascent to heaven`. As I was to be out of sight from the audience, I was also unable to see the band on stage and Frank Renton the conductor, so Garry came with me to be my `eyes` and keep me informed as to what was happening on stage.

I set up in the Gods very nervously and listened to the band drawn No.16 Bodmin Town, whom I seem to remember played very well indeed, finishing very high up at the end of the day.

And so the moment arrived, Bodmin left the stage and Grimethorpe entered. I was stood right at the back of the gods so could only hear what was happening. The audience was buzzing, the RAH was packed to the rafters and the camera crews were already doing their business. Suddenly the buzzing stopped, Frank raised his right arm directly above his head. Garry nodded to me to start. The first note was a top G double forte. Frank had said to me on numerous occasions, `Alan! I don't care if you split that G all over the ceiling, just go for it!` His words were ringing in my ears. I had prepared a set routine to get the tongue in exactly the right place. Breath in, 2 spits into the mouthpiece, quick breath again and BANG!!! ------- to my relief a perfect top G filled the RAH. Members of the audience later related to me that the slight delay from Frank pointing, causing several seconds of silence in the packed hall, really filled the air with tension as everybody wondered were the Voice of God was going to come from. Then suddenly the silence was broken by this huge sound and the atmosphere became totally electric.

In the opening bars as the band sat still, a photographer started crawling commando style through the cornet section to get a better picture of Frank. He was stopped in his tracks by a furious Frank Renton who glowered and pointed at him with all the force of a senior army officer. The photographer evidently froze, and slid away with his tail between his legs.

As I finished the first trumpet call, the band took over. The energy in the performance was absolutely spellbinding with each and every player reaching into the depths to give every ounce of commitment and strength into what was turning into a wonderful performance. All the set backs of rehearsing went out of the window and the band gave one of the most memorable and outstanding performances ever given at the National Finals or any other contest for that matter.

At the end of the performance the audience went into raptures. The emotion of the whole scenario took over and coupled with the excitement of the contest and the feeling of overwhelming satisfaction at the level of performance achieved, tears rolled down the faces of more than one hardened band member and Yorkshire Miner.

The band were on an uncontrollable high, and were whisked off stage onto the steps of the RAH for the worlds media to get another ounce of flesh. It was as if we had won already, but then we had to come down to earth until we found out whether or not the 3 adjudicators agreed with the whole audience.

The band supporters were ecstatic, but other bands had also played well. The reigning champions Desford Colliery had evidently played very well a few bands earlier than us. Fairey`s had also given a very worthwhile performance and these two seemed to be our main contenders. So we waited and waited for the results.

3rd - Williams Fairey 2nd -Desford Colliery and the 1992 National Champion Band of Great Britain were announced. With 99 points the band which played number ------- 17 Grimethorpe Colliery.

The balloon went up. Tears of joy flowed down the face of every single member of the band. We had done it. We had triumphed over adversity as the bible quote in the front of the score had indicated:

Revelations: "And I saw a New Heaven and a New Earth; for the first Heaven and the first Earth were passed away"

Philip Wilby added "a sure triumph of the human spirit, a sense of liberty and resurrection drawn out of sorrow and pain"

As you can probably imagine, the mother of all celebrations was underway, and if any body of people know how to celebrate, Grimethorpe Colliery Band are world leaders and the evning became a blurred but very happy memory.

The pit closed within 15 months of the announcement and is now flattened entirely, however the band remains and goes from strength to strength.

The story you have just read has been immortalised, with a few notable additions and embellishments, in the wonderful film featuring the music of Grimethorpe Colliery Band, `Brassed Off`. Some members who lived through it are still there, but many have gone on to other things, however none will ever forget that week in October 1992 when the lives of 33,000 miners were changed forever and Grimethorpe Colliery Band came out of the turmoil to carry off the National Championship title with a wonderful performance of `A New Jerusalem` by Philip Wilby.

Copyright 2001 Alan Morrison

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