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Brassed Off:

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 status.

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.

The Music:

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.

Preparations:

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.

Band Commitment:

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 this project”.

The Accolades

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 human level.

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."

BBC Review

"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 of 5"


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 presents.

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 de Aranjuez.

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 music.

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 styles.

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 opening.

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’ - 2003

© 4BarsRest

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