Meet the members of Lancaster's only true brass band

PUBLISHED: 17:35 08 September 2011 | UPDATED: 21:37 20 February 2013

Antonia Kasam

Antonia Kasam

A group of Lancaster musicians is determined to carry on the tradition as city's 'only true' brass band.Holly Blackwell reports

The Industrial Revolution not only brought the cotton mills and factories to Lancashire, it also heralded the rise of the brass band. But in the last 30 years, many of these bands have fallen by the wayside, lost in the ruins of the factories in which they were founded.

Lancaster City Brass, however, is intent on continuing the legacy. Since the turn of the 20th century, Lancaster has always enjoyed its own brass band. But with the demise of one of the citys biggest employers, which provided much-needed financial support as well as a factory-full of budding players, the future of brass in Lancaster has looked bleak.

We were on the brink of folding at one time, said Trish Wright, secretary of Lancaster City Brass. But weve built up from what we were and now have around 18 members. We like to say we are Lancasters only true brass band.

The origins of Lancaster City Brass date back to 1946 when the band was formed by Lancaster plastics manufacturer, Storeys.

At the time every large engineering works had a band, said conductor Laurie Johnston. In Lancashire it was very much a big thing and was one of the strongest places in the country for brass bands.

The original Storeys Works Brass Band was formed when bosses at the factory gave the conductor of the Standfast band, Arthur Brownville, 1,200 to buy instruments and put together a junior and senior band.

In 1947, a year after forming, the band applied to enter the fourth section of the Daily Heralds national brass band contest and within two years had won the section outright. They went on to win the entire contest at the national finals in London during a glorious period which lasted until the late 1970s, when Storeys employed around 2,200 staff.

I was a painter and decorator there from 1961 to 1969 so I joined the band then, said Ron Eccleston, who is the only original member of Storeys Works Brass Band and at 75 is also the oldest member of Lancaster City Brass.

I started playing the cornet in the Salvation Army when I was seven and then I went into the army and played the euphonium. When I got demobbed I had to go in the T.A. so I played in the band there and then went onto Storeys. In 1982, after 126 years in business, Storeys was forced to close down its White Cross Mill, leading to 650 job losses.

But the band played on, continuing under the Storeys banner for a decade before going through several name changes and finally settling on Lancaster City Brass.

Since then the band has attracted new members, all keen to keep the spirit of brass bands alive in the city.

I enjoy being part of the tradition, said Antonia Kasam, 20, who leads the junior band and plays flugelhorn. Its not really seen as cool but Id like to be able to change that.

You get so much out of it and meet so many different people. Its been a huge part of my life.

Trish Wright agreed. Its in your blood, she said. I moved here from Heywood in 2004 and used to play in the Blackley Band so when I arrived here I was looking to join a brass band.

It used to be quite a working class thing but we are finding these days were getting a lot more people doing it.

We have two teachers and a nurse and a farmer. Theres a whole mix.
At 16, Richard Phillips is the bands youngest member. I play baritone, said Richard.

Its interesting, the music you play and the people you play it with.
Despite making something of a resurgence in recent years, the band is still desperate for new members.

We are always on the look out for players, said conductor Laurie. There used to be about 10,000 brass bands in the country, now theres only about 1,000 so we have to get younger players coming through.

We are a very friendly band, everyone gets on well and for many its very much a social thing.

Get in tune

The band rehearse every Wednesday evening between 7.30pm and 9.30pm, with a junior band rehearsal on Monday evenings between 6.30pm and 7.30pm. They also regularly perform at a range of community events such as Garstang Childrens Festival, Heysham Rose Queen and Remembrance Sunday.

We do feel theres a pressure at times to keep going, said Trish. But it should be a duty for the people of Lancaster to keep the band going.

When Storeys Band was winning cups it was promoting Lancaster and its time for them to return the favour.

* For more information on Lancaster City Brass visit their website

Bands of gold

Freckleton Brass Band was established in 1886 and has always been associated with the local pub, The Coach and Horses. Currently directed by Paul Denton, members compete regionally and nationally and came second in last years National Brass Band Finals.

Leyland Brass Band began in 1946 as the Leyland Motors Band. The band have had much success over the last 25 years and won the National Brass Band Championships in 2005.
Middleton Brass Band is based in North Manchester and was created in 1876. In the beginning, the band members used to play in local pubs in exchange for ale and lemonade which earned them the title of the Pop and Ale boys.

Morecambe Brass Band was created around 1904 and used to be known as the Morecambe Borough Band. The band is now under the care of musical director Andrew Warriner and recently won the second section in the North West Regional Championships.

Skelmersdale Prize Brass Band was formed in 1878 and used to rehearse in a bakery.
Disaster struck in 1976 when their band room burned down. Since then, those involved have worked hard to restore it to its former glory.

The print version of this article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Lancashire Life

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