If there is one musical tradition that our lovely home county of Yorkshire is famous for, it is brass bands.

So here is a tiny history... The brass band tradition began during the Industrial Revolution as a community music activity for workers (men) in the new mill towns and cities. The oldest band – Black Dyke Mills, founded in 1816, belongs, naturally enough, to Yorkshire. Incidentally, the band’s home is still it’s original Band Room, in Queensbury, Bradford (and they’ve played at Glastonbury!).

Brass Bands were the epitome of community music; young players joined, learned from their elders, practised and hoped to get a place in the main band as their skills and knowledge grew. Bands played many styles of music; faith-based hymns, military marches, arrangements of the classics, specially written pieces and the occasional ‘novelty’ item for exceptional players to show their ability.

Many bands were sponsored by and associated with industrial companies – coal mines (Grimethorpe Colliery Band), manufacturing (Foden’s, from Cheshire, or Leyland DAF in Lancashire). Some were faith-based, and there were many Salvation Army bands. Brighouse and Rastrick Band (a relative newcomer, being formed in 1881) was originally a ‘temperance’ band (meaning teetotal). Some have changed their sponsors; Saltaire Band (Bradford) has been known as Hammonds Sauce Works Band and also Yorkshire Building Society Band in its (considerable) time. Players - who are all non-professional musicians, though they are world class – often worked for the sponsoring company.

Competitions were (and are) the life-blood of the movement, from local meets to National Championships. It’s fair to say that Yorkshire is the Premier League in Brass Band terms (there are about 50 in total), though Lancashire also has a fair share of world-class bands.

There are some great pictures here of the Yorkshire Brass Band championship in Huddersfield Town Hall, 2019. You’ll see that, whilst still male dominated, there are more women joining brass bands these days!

But what is a Silver Band? Well, these days there is no difference between a silver and brass band. However, silver plated instruments were at one time more expensive than brass, and so a ‘silver band’ was thought to be a little superior...

Through the 1970s and 1980s, when the North of England experienced momentous industrial decline, many of the bands found themselves with no industry to be attached to. This is beautifully documented in the film “Brassed Off”, which illustrates some of the traditions we’ve outlined above. Incidentally, the actual band you hear in Brassed Off is Grimethorpe, which is also the location used in much of the film (though the fictional village is called Grimley). The sharp-eyed amongst you will spot Halifax’s own Piece Hall (Halifax, if you didn't know already, is where Yorkshire Youth and Music is based too). But who really played the Tuba on the film soundtrack? Well, it might be a Yorkshire-based Music Hub leader... But we’re not telling... 

Before long, we’ll do a ‘New Orleans Style’ Brass Band feature. Which is a whole different story altogether…

A few links if you want to read further...

Visit this month's Sounds Like... playlist to see our Director, Gail Dudson, pick her favourite Brass-based pieces

Brass Bands England is the country's go to advocate for this brilliant tradition and the surrounding history and culture

This fantastic article from NPR showcases some new blood alongside talking about this long standing tradition

Here's the Wiki-take on Brass Bands in Britain, with further links to explore