I moved to Southern Scotland some years ago and have been slowly working out what’s beneath my feet. Mostly coal.
I came here from the suburbs of England to play folk music (with the band Lau). The folk music took me to the extremities of the country, way out west and way up north, but gradually I realised there was something else, another music all around me but hidden like the coal.
One day I stumbled on a brass extravaganza, dozens of brass bands gathered at Scottish Mining Museum just two miles from my house, playing literally on top of a mine. Not even folk music has such strong connection between music and vocation.
It’s easy to fall in love with a thing, especially something as beguiling as brass band music. And this world is not whimsical, it’s not nostalgic, it’s a machine of raw power, it’s right there at you and it’s loud and angry, soft and beautiful.
It’s easy to fall in love with a thing, especially something as beguiling as brass band music. I thought others might fall in love too."
Photograph: Jon Calvert
Much of my life has followed a pattern of falling for a type of music and subsequently those humans that make it. Brass banding is a special scene, it’s a self-supporting community music making system with all the dramatic rollercoasters any group of people coexisting have.
Add to that it being so inter-generational, and multiple family members still playing in the same bands, the rich social context of mining, trade-unions, industry, post-industry… and there’s a lot of stories, passion and magic to uncover.
From this rich seam has come an audio drama - “Keli”, the fictional story of a young horn player and her tempestuous existence; radio series for BBC Radio 4 - “Love, Spit and Valve-Oil” and of course music, always music, in the form of “Split the Air” part of the PRSF New Music Biennial performed by the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain.
The New Music Biennial presents new music across all genres, from classical and chamber opera, to jazz, folk and electronic. 20 of the UK's most pioneering and innovative composers and their work are selected to perform these compositions across two weekends in 2022.
Split the Air has been funded by the PRS Foundation.