Uncertain future for world famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band - featured in Brassed Off - due to coronavirus

A legacy to Yorkshire’s industrial heritage is facing its greatest “existential threat” since the closure of the pits, the director of the world’s most famous colliery band has warned amid rising financial uncertainty.

Grimethorpe Colliery Band outside the Royal Albert Hall in 1996.
Grimethorpe Colliery Band outside the Royal Albert Hall in 1996.

The globally acclaimed Grimethorpe Colliery Band, which was inspiration behind the hit film, Brassed Off!, has long been recognised as the face of British brass band traditions and regularly performs to 150,000 people a year.

Now, with venue cancellations resulting in the loss of 85 per cent of its projected income for this year, its director Andrew Coe has warned of the dire consequences it could bring with a lost link to the nation’s mining history.

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“For the arts in general, but for people like us, to lose 85 per cent of our projected income, is a terrible blow. We are just hoping that brass bands can survive,” said Mr Coe. “This year does represent a really substantial threat to the existence of the band.

A still from Brassed Off!

“This probably ranks alongside the closure of the colliery in the 1990s, which was a major threat. For a lot of people it was a lost connection with a major industry. We are trying our best to keep going. When we have no income, it’s a real challenge. It is an existential threat.

“It’s the legacy of an industry that has now gone. It’s meaningful still, to so many people.”

Formed in 1917, during the First World War, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band was intended as a leisure escape for the workforce, but has since grown to be recognised as a British institution.

As four times National Champion Brass Band of Great Britain, it has performed at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup and BAFTA Awards.

Every year, the band appears at about 30 major events around the world, but already 20 performances have been cancelled as theatre venues and major settings remain closed to the public.

At the height of the lockdown, the band had been scheduled to perform at the Royal Albert Hall for a sold-out special film event which was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hosted on Channel 4 instead, all 28 members had joined together online from their own homes to perform a moving rendition of ‘Danny Boy’ to honour NHS workers.

Despite efforts, said Mr Coe, meaningful rehearsals have been largely impossible, and while it is doing all it can to keep band members engaged, it still faces major uncertainty.

He said. “It’s a very British export, brass bands. We have this global reach. To potentially lose all that, and to have that legacy disappear, because of a virus, would be catastrophic for so many people. It’s down to us, ultimately, to change this.”

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