20240512 212814 2

LIVE: Split the Air by Martin Green: performed by Grimethorpe Colliery Band – The Glasshouse, Gateshead, 12/05/2024

The year-long miners’ strike of 1984-85 was the biggest and probably the most bitter industrial dispute in post-war Britain. Miners from across the country left their pits in huge numbers to fight the attempt by the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her aggressively right wing government to close the collieries, break the miners’ union, and the labour movement in general. It is rightly said that as a result of this dispute “Britain changed forever”.

To commemorate the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the miners’ strike, Martin Green, the Ivor Novello Award-winning composer and member of the Edinburgh folk trio Lau, has released Split the Air, an album that “celebrates brass bands, community, and the strength of collective action”.

This record is but one creative outcome of Martin Green having explored the world of brass bands for the previous three years, a period of research that has also produced a documentary series (BBC Radio 4’s Banding: Love, Spit and Valve Oil), an audio drama (Keli), and a number of live shows.

For this evening’s performance Martin Green is united with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, who formed in 1917 as a leisure activity for the workers of the South Yorkshire colliery. And it is the Colliery Band who begin this concert with what is an unusually condensed but nonetheless customarily diverse set that takes in a rousing reading of the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s ‘Malagueña’, a couple of contrasting yet deeply emotional pieces (‘Death or Glory’ and ‘Danny Boy’) from the 1996 British comedy-drama film Brassed Off for which they contributed the soundtrack, and a euphoric ‘MacArthur Park’, written by American singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb and first recorded in 1968 by Irish actor and singer Richard Harris.

20240512 203932
Split the Air by Martin Green: performed by Grimethorpe Colliery Band

After a short interval, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band return to the stage with Martin Green and together they perform Split the Air. Green also assumes the role of narrator as he speaks about some of the amazing people he met during the period of his research into brass bands. It is all intersected by poignant, powerful excerpts from his interviews.

Music, people, and stories coalesce in a dramatic amalgam of sound and the spoken word. For over an hour Martin Green and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band – conducted by Bryan Allen – take us on an absorbing journey that both examines and reflects the feeling of not only hearing the sound of a brass band but of also recognising its place in some of the darker periods of social history.

We are introduced to a number of incredible characters, both real and imagined, whose stories resonate around the auditorium leaving us with a maelstrom of emotions that embrace the dichotomy of darkness and light. Devastation, anger, pride, and a great sense of belonging and collective purpose percolate through the narrative and we are left with a strong belief that the brass band still remains the beating heart of so many local communities.

The profound musical accompaniment reflects the impact upon decimated communities, the fault lines exposed by these conflicts, and both the unity and ongoing tensions that emerged from those highly charged, divisive periods of history. It all reaches an unwavering climax during ‘Indomitable Spirit’ when Martin Green and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band are joined by Brighouse and Rastrick Band and tenor horn virtuoso Sheona White.

It is undeniably moving. As is the unexpected appearance shortly thereafter of the fictional character, Keli, played by the brilliant Scots’ actor Chloe-Ann Tyler, a fulminating, foul-mouthed expression of fear and uncertainty but who finds that every time she “walks in the band room, it makes sense”. It is a dramatic, often uncomfortable, and deeply affecting conclusion to a performance that highlights all that was lost as a result of the miners’ strike but still searchs for, and ultimately finds similar threads of connection between the past and present in what is the viable and restorative shape and form of a brass band.

P1018335 Enhanced NR
The Glasshouse, Gateshead

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.