The first brass band in the UK was thought to be formed in 1809 in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester and is still in existence today. The founder’s Thomas Avison and Billy Hall were acquainted from nothing more than both attending music lessons from the same teacher, William Oldham. The band began with 8 members who were not all brass players and each member paid 3d. towards the band costs.
Since this first rehearsal in 1809, The Stalybridge Band has grown and changed from their original 8 members, who were not completely brass, to 2017 where there is now 28 members.
The correlation between this and Cold Ash Brass is again a very similar story. Cold Ash Brass was formed a mere 194 years later by five friends who all knew each other and shared the common interest of playing a brass instrument. Despite the near two century gap between the two bands, they were both formed by people who simply wanted to share their love of playing a brass instrument not only with each other, but with the wider community.
For me personally, playing in a brass band was something I had no doubt I would do from a young age. Not only did both my siblings play in them but so had my grandparents as well as many of my aunts, uncles and cousins from generations before. When I was six years old, I jumped at the opportunity to play the cornet at our local brass band despite not knowing the first valve from the third or understanding what a key signature even was!
From this day, I have both grown and developed as a person and a player but had it not been for the heritage I have gained from being in a brass band, I do not know if I would be where I am today.
In my last 12 years of playing in the brass band community, I have played in three different bands, played two different instruments but have always found one common theme. The brass banding family is something which has never had one fixed set, while often thought to be associated with the mines during the 20th century or full of old men in the 21st century, there was never a defined expectation of you when joining a brass band. In fact, when I joined my first brass band in 2004, I couldn’t even make a noise out of my instrument.
The stereotypes of brass bands have derived from some truth. The rise of colliery bands in the 20th century did happen as well as there being some bands out there full of the same members it had maybe 30 or 40 years ago but despite this, there is a whole other world to brass bands. The UK has more than 100 youth brass bands and often some of the best bands have succeeded due to hosting a wide array of ages and demographic factors. For instance, Grimethorpe Colliery Band (which we all know the beloved story of from Brassed Off) only made it to the nationals after reforming the band.
I have played the trombone now for 10 years and been a member at Cold Ash for around 6 years. To me, Brass Banding hasn't just given me something to do in the Winter Evenings when there's nothing else but it has given me so much more: Confidence, Fun, Challenges and Success but most importantly it has given me a family.
And this is what banding means to me.