Covid: Yorkshire brass bands fight for survival

Covid: Yorkshire brass bands fight for survival

Yorkshire brass bands say 2020 has been their most challenging year, with many fighting to stay afloat.

The sound of brass bands playing carols on a bustling high street is synonymous with the Christmas run-up, yet is absent this year.

Coronavirus restrictions have decimated incomes, bands said, with groups relying on online donations.

Performers said the lack of rehearsals and meet-ups has also had a detrimental effect on their wellbeing.

The Barnsley-based Brass Bands England charity launched a national fundraising initiative, with more than £100,000 raised to help struggling bands across the country.

More than 70 bands are taking part in the campaign, with group rehearsals on hold since March and no clear indication when their musicians will be allowed to meet up in person again.

The world-renowned Grimethorpe Colliery Band, which provided the inspiration for the film Brassed Off, said it had lost 90% of its revenue during 2020, with 30 concerts cancelled.

About 80% of the band’s £150,000 yearly revenue comes in over Christmas through festive shows.

Roger Webster, principal cornet player for Grimethorpe, said: “Hopefully a lot of the bands survive, but some won’t be able to exist at the end of this.

“They have to pay electricity bills, they have to pay rent for the buildings. Some of them just cannot survive.”

The band members, who rehearse up to six times a week when preparing for competitions, said they require a practice room four times the size of their current site to allow for social distancing.

Barnsley Brass, which was formed in 1906, said its instruments are in desperate need of repairs, with the bill to refurbish four tubas hitting £10,000.

Martin Bland, band manager, said: “We usually spend the whole of December busking, be it at Sheffield Meadowhall or supermarkets, wherever.

“We raise enough money during that period to keep the band going for the next year – but we know that’s not going to happen this year.”

“Over the last few years we’ve been raising about £5,000 over Christmas, which is half of our required annual income to maintain the band,” said David Vivian, chair of Hessle’s East Riding of Yorkshire Band.

“Practice has to be done individually. We haven’t found any online platform suitable for a group rehearsal. It’s been a very challenging year for the brass band community.”

Grimethorpe’s Roger Webster, a former pit worker who is now a professor at the Royal Northern College of Music, said both performers and audiences are “ending up lonely” without the bands.

“I think musicians have the same mentality up and down the country, they want to do this for themselves, for the enjoyment, the mental health benefits of being in a group, playing and talking,” he said.

A further concern is the reduction of music teaching during the pandemic, with youth groups vital to the future health of brass bands.

Alex Parker, development manager of Brass Bands England, said: “Yorkshire is the heartland of bands where many people would have learned through the school system. That’s where it’s really going to hit hard.

“It has a knock-on effect of slowly losing a generation of players, which we’re trying hard to address.”

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