Why century old Barnsley Brass band needs support to keep its sound alive

After a year of no concerts owing to the pandemic left Barnsley Brass with no income, the band is now fundraising to pay for its tubas to be refurbished. Laura Reid reports.

The band has not played in full together since March. Photo: Barnsley Brass
The band has not played in full together since March. Photo: Barnsley Brass

For 115 years the booming tones of Barnsley Brass have echoed around communities in South and West Yorkshire.

But like brass bands across the country, the group this year has been all but silent, forced to cancel concerts and performances owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Plans to carry out a much-needed refurbishment of the band’s four tubas have been hit as a result.

Barnsley Brass is crowdfunding to raise money to pay for the refurbishment of its tubas. Photo: Barnsley Brass

With no income coming in, cash that was set to be used to start the project has instead been spent on keeping the band going, as chairman Peter Webster explains.

“This year the band had plans to refurbish our tubas, as they are urgently in need of a lot of work. We had set aside some money to start this project but then the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

“Our income this year has been reduced to zero. This is because all our band concerts had to be cancelled.

“Any funds we had put to one side had to be used just to keep the band alive and our running costs didn’t stop.”

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Now, the “almost unplayable” tubas desperately need attention and a crowdfunding initiative has been set up in the hope of raising the nearly £10,000 required to refurbish them.

“The sound of a brass band is well loved,” the donation page states. “But it is dependent on the sound of the bass section.

“Ours currently isn’t sounding great due to the fact that our tubas are now over 45 years old and are in need of replacement or at least full refurbishment.

“The cost of these refurbishments are around £2,400 each – a new tuba is around £6,000 – so we are looking to refurbish them at a total of around £9,600.”

For more than a century, the band has been at the heart of the community. It had a strong affinity with the mining industry and was once known as the Barrow Colliery Band.

Today it prides itself on providing opportunities for players to continue with their musical talents beyond school years, through performances in the local area.

Last year, the band met and played for Ricky Tomlinson and Ralf Little for the filming of TV series Ricky and Ralf’s Very Northern Road Trip. The group featured in an episode that aired earlier this year.

“Little did we know what the next 12 months had in store for us,” Peter says.

This year, members have not met to perform as a full band since the beginning of March.

“So we lost our summer season of concerts and income,” says secretary Graham Mallory. “But we have still had to meet costs such as rent and insurance.

“The Christmas season is also a very important time for fundraising as we raise much-needed funds through bucket collections at shopping centres, supermarkets etcetera. Alas that is also lost this year.”

The band is part of a national initiative launched by Brass Bands England to save many of the UK groups that are struggling to survive the impact of Covid-19.

More than 30,000 people of all ages and abilities take part in weekly brass band activities across the country, but there are concerns many of the bands are at risk of disappearing forever.

“We still don’t know when normal performances will be able to take place,” campaign organisers say.

“A significant loss in income over the summer months, paired with necessary expenditure needed to make rehearsal spaces Covid-compliant, means that many brass bands are in a perilous financial situation.

“Without urgent support, we could lose our nation’s amazing brass bands. Please help us to make sure they survive this crisis and will be there to be enjoyed by future generations.”

To donate to Barnsley Brass’ cause, visit barnsleybrass.com/crowdfunder

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