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Television review: Battle of the Brass Bands (Episode 1)

Sky Arts
Twofour Group
Tuesday 20th August

stars

For a general public knowing little about the competitive, let alone artistic merits of brass bands, the Saddleworth Whit Friday contests could have offered a television production company fertile ground to easily indulge in misplaced stereotypes and lazy working class tropes.

To their immense credit Twofour did nothing of the sort; the first of a four-part documentary series laying an introductory foundation of warm hearted, informed positivity based on what was admittedly a very singular pursuit of excellence, success and much needed cash.

Illusory

The opening sequence of players trekking up a moor accompanied by the sound of a hymn tune and voice-over from actor Stephen Tompkinson (a central character in the ‘Brassed Off! film) was a neat illusory set-up; series director Neil Edwards instead focusing his narrative template on the people who made the music and organised the day.

Brighouse & Rastrick and Fairey conductors David Thornton and Garry Cutt spoke of rivalry and respect, as well as lifting the lid on the preparation of their march choice ‘Knight Templar’, players Laura Hirst and Becky Lundberg of the commitment and graft required to put practice into performance.

Japanese student Chiaki Hirata’s pride at fulfilling her musical ambition with the West Riding band was obvious, as was Brian Taylor’s dedication (the undoubted star with his dry wit and aching back) to the Stockport band that has seen him notch up close on 50 years of appearances in the pursuit of the rich pickings around the picturesque villages.

The more obvious idiosyncrasies were treated with editing respect (the actual announcement of the results for instance and the judges in their motor-home ‘boxes’) as the camera lens focussed on ordinary people enjoying their extraordinary past-time; from the indefatigable contest organisers Bob and Mary Rogers to the players of Delph Band proudly marching back into their village to round off the contest night.  

A few wry smiles perhaps in Grimethorpe last night as David Thornton’s prophetic British Open ambitions were revealed, as well as in Queensbury at the sight of some helping hands in the Fairey playing ranks, but this was not a programme for digesting contesting minutiae for hard core cognoscenti.

Wry smiles

A few wry smiles perhaps in Grimethorpe last night as David Thornton’s prophetic British Open ambitions were revealed, as well as in Queensbury at the sight of some helping hands in the Fairey playing ranks, but this was not a programme for digesting contesting minutiae for hard core cognoscenti.

The aim was at an audience that enjoys the stamp of quality (the camera work and sound production was excellent) that Sky Arts demands in terms of informing as well as entertaining on a wide variety of artistic topics (it was preceded by a fine programme on American singer Neil Diamond). 

It was also one that was achieved without once having to fall back on the type of cliché ridden pigeon-holing that the brass band movement has become accustomed to for far too long.
 
In that respect the next three episodes from Twofour focussing on the British Open, National Championship and Brass in Concert are eagerly awaited.

Iwan Fox

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