A Blast From Coventry and Warwickshire's Banding Past
This week marks the arrival of Damian Cruden’s major UK Touring production of” Brassed Off”:http://www.belgrade.co.uk/event/brassed-off starring John McArdle and Andrew Dunn. Coinciding with the 30th Anniversary of the UK Miners’ Strike, this poignant and thought-provoking play about a Yorkshire Colliery band fighting for survival against the odds shines a spotlight on one of the most influential moments in British industrial history and its long-term consequences on working class communities across the UK.
Since Brassed Off first came to our screens in 1996, the story of the Grimely Colliery Band has continued to capture the collective imagination. But what of Coventry and Warwickshire’s rich banding past? Would it surprise you to learn that Warwickshire was home to a thriving colliery band whose history stretches back over 60 years?
Originally formed in 1947, the ‘Arley Welfare Band’ first rose to prominence performing in the 1957 feature film ‘Blow Your Own Trumpet’ starring Michael Crawford. The film which has been referred to as the original ‘Brassed Off’ follows the story of the down-and-out Jim Fenn (Michael Crawford) who learns to play the cornet and wins a place in the local band against all the odds and features solo performances by no less than five Arley Welfare Band young members including Brian Harris (18), Robert Blackburn (16), Laurie Blackburn (18), Terry Brotherhood (12) and Billy Chuter (17).
Digging for History:
A few weeks back, the Belgrade Theatre launched a region-wide appeal in association with the Coventry Telegraph, for anyone with connections to the Arley Welfare Band to come forward and share their stories.
To our surprise, it transpired that a former member of the Arley Welfare Band – Mervyn Jones – was in fact performing on stage in Brassed Off with local stars the Coventry Festival Band!
Having only recently returned to banding after a thirty year absence, Mervyn’s links to the Arley Welfare Band go back over several decades. Having joined the band in 1964, Mervyn played with them for four years, during which time he successfully auditioned for a place in the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. Despite the pit closing in 1968, the band played on long after the colliery ceased to operate, enjoying performances throughout Warwickshire and the wider UK.
It was during this time that Mervyn’s father took on the role of the band’s unofficial ‘librarian’ – a role he enjoyed up until the late 80s.
We were lucky enough to be given access to the Arley Welfare Band archive earlier this week.
We’ve gathered together a selection of just some of the fascinating documents lovingly collected by Mervyn’s father during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. You can scroll through highlights from the collection by clocking the gallery to the right.
Brassed Off runs at the Belgrade until Sat 26 April. For more information and to book your tickets, call our Box Office on 024 7655 3055 visit www.belgrade.co.uk