I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
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Monday, 19 March 2012

Where brass bands went wrong

Occasionally someone in government reduces a mound of polemic into a memorable phrase and we have the soundbite. Hence the pithy, if charmless, “It’s the economy, stupid”. A century ago they did these things rather better. Georges Clemenceau, French PM, 1906 - 09 and 1917- 20 came up with

There is no passion like that of a functionary for his function.

And, even better, the oh-so-inescapable:

It is easier to make war than make peace.

Finally, foreseeing the emergence of that force for good, Tone Deaf, he kindly emailed me:

Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.

which I widened to include all brass bands.

I come from the West Riding of Yorkshire which has spawned many of these musical perversities, including the doubly politically-incorrect Black Dyke Mills Band. In the early days brass bands had a limited repertoire and merely occupied the leisure of men who worked fourteen-hour days down mines and in weaving sheds. All the tunes sounded the same which is what, I suppose, Clemenceau thought.

NOTE. My antipathy does not extend to the funny, magnificently splenetic, anti-Thatcherite movie, Brassed Off, starring the late and much-lamented Peter Postlethwaite.

Latterly, brass bands have taken on airs. The technical competence of the musicians has risen and they’re no longer satisfied with the Internationale and over-sentimentalised versions of Linden Lea. You can if you wish now hear a much-shortened Pastoral symphony (arr, for brass band). National competitions are held and the musicians’ “delicacy” is praised. Which is of course a nonsense. However agile the trombones, they can never match cellos. A string section, simulated in brass, remains a simulation. Monkeys with typewriters.

As my profile says, I renounced my West Riding birthright some time ago. This is part of the same shriving.


  1. Your observations on brass bands might to some extent be modified by hearing the word brass pronouced. To rhyme with bars or lass? U suspect an growing sentimentality about them in the South where we don't really have them. I can understand that you would not want to share it. I Enjoyed the film Brassed Off and differ from you only in enjoying brass bands provided they know what they are doing. Somehow I don't think of them as military, rather as something to do with mining towns.

  2. I think you just don't want to admit they make you cry.

    If Clemenceau was basing his judgement on anything resembling what I've heard of a French 'batterie fanfare', his aversion would be even more understandable than yours.

  3. I found, during my army days, that marching behind a military band was a stirring experience (although it did not quite induce orgasm).
    Loved your "doubly politically-incorrect" attribution!

  4. Plutarch: Hmmm. I see you and Lucy are playing the irony game. As to enjoying a brass band that knew where it was going, this would only work in and around Beachy Head.

    I see no one has picked up on the fact that such music tends to sound the same. In tacitly espousing brass bands you are dangerously laying yourself open to a charge synonymous with the name I chose for this blog.

    Lucy: You can't have it both ways. There are all sorts of advantages to living in France (some of which tweak my heart with envy when you record them) but from my limited experience it is not a country which embraces good music. No doubt the French have a well-worked defence: music is too subjective to be tackled in words and therefore - France being France - it must be laid to one side. There's something implicit in this in that France's most celebrated pianist (along with Cécile Ousset) is Louis Lortie and how's that for a diminuendo-ish, dying fall surname.

    Cry? You're right in one sense. If it did happen I wouldn't admit to it in Tone Deaf. Thus we arrive at the philosophical conundrum: discuss the implications of the sentence: I am lying.

    Avus: I am glad your willingness to be stirred fell short of orgasm. This neatly denies me a malicious line of rejoinder to your comment. As to my experiences when marching with the RAF my mind was on other things. Do you recall the command that preceded a bit of official marching: Tallest on the right, shortest on the left, in two ranks SIZE! Because I am 6 ft 1½ in. this resulted in my ending up in the front row of the marching column, terrified of failing to hear an order to turn and thus left marching on to oblivion and embarrassment.

  5. However 'agile' or tall/short the trombone players, they too are required to lead the parade because their slides could otherwise cause discord by hitting a musician in front of them when extending for that inconsiderately arranged bottom E.

    On another note, here's a sonnet which, while not qualifying for your 'fewest words' competition, is a short and merry one recently discovered behind the bar during renovations to a long-established bistro in Polano, just outside Verona.

    Sonnet 155

    Ironic is the smirking muse of fate.
    For I, in exile, writing Shakespeare's work,
    And having played the murdered scribe of late,
    Now fear yon brute who comes with flashing dirk.

    Shall I combat him or be

  6. Figmince: I seem to recall you have some expertise with the Jack Teagarden tube. My trumpet mentor - never satisfied - used to long for a trombone on the grounds that its dynamics were so arranged that the triads for any key could be blown from a single position on the slide.

    Your truncated sonnet leaves me wondering: rather than a bistro in Polano wouldn't a pub (let's say The Three Feathers to sustain the literary conceit) in Deptford have been a more likely finding place?