Brassed off: No, it is the `new rock and roll'

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The Independent Online
The film Brassed Off and an injection of lottery cash have given a welcome boost to the traditional British brass band.

As the first national development officer starts work in Yorkshire, Louise Jury reports on the boom.

The sight of Tara Fitzgerald blowing on her flugelhorn was enough to give Ewan McGregor renewed hornblowing vigour in Brassed Off, the surprise hit film of 1996.

Telling the story of a struggling colliery band and its eventual triumph against the odds in competition at the Royal Albert Hall, it has apparently prompted renewed interest in brass band music.

And the donation of more than pounds 11m of lottery cash in the last three years has provided instruments for 261 brass bands, many of whom had been struggling to replace sponsorship lost with the closure of the collieries and factories where members once worked.

Norman Jones, general secretary of the British Federation of Brass Bands, said the bands had never gone away, but many were now trying to encourage young people in with youth classes. The lottery cash enabled bands to buy new instruments and pass older ones on to young people who have fewer opportunities to learn to play at school.

"Obviously the Brassed Off film helped to bring brass bands to the fore," he said. The Full Monty also featured Sheffield's Stockbridge Band.

The appointment of Peter Denton as full-time national development officer, should raise the profile of bands further. "It's part of our heritage," Mr Jones said.

There are about 600 bands registered in Britain, compared with around 2,000 in the heyday of the late Fifties and Sixties. There are possibly as many bands again who meet simply to play together or for worship, such as with the Salvation Army.

An Arts Council spokeswoman said it had only become aware of the scale of interest when the brass bands began applying for lottery money. As a result, the council decided to make the brass band federation one of its clients and give a pounds 15,000 grant to fund the development officer.

Ray Clark, secretary of the National Association of Brass Band Conductors, said bands were strongest in the North, Cornwall and Wales with a separate revival in Scottish schools. "After the war there was a tremendous build- up of bands but then it dropped off with guitars and pop groups. Now in quite a lot of places brass bands are coming back," he said.