Players come – players go; bands go up and down the sections like yo-yos; conductors become celebrities and then disappear into obscurity; supporters moan and groan one minute and then think the brass band movement is the best thing since sliced bread.
This has been trundling on for almost 200 years since the first brass bands started blowing just after the Battle of Trafalgar (the real one, not the narrated concert item). There have been huge changes in that bicentenary with instruments getting better, players getting fewer and umpteen daft rule changes.
If there is one thing that has remained static (apart from prize money) – it’s the brass band stereotypes that lurk around the world of brass. In every brass band there are specific roles being played out. Those skills are either inherently possessed or cleverly developed over years of hard work. What are we talking about here?
Well it’s not so much the players who indeed seem to develop a persona when they are left in charge of an instrument. Have you ever known a soprano player who has been totally sane? A bass trombone that doesn’t think they are Don Lusher and play, much to the annoyance of everyone, before and after a contest? A percussionist who doesn’t regard the band as ‘something to do’ after the gigs have dried up? Of course not!!!
But what of the other personalities that make this hobby unique? The essence of what makes it so intriguing, over and above the playing side of the equation? There are personalities that have to exist for any band to function:
You always have someone who has no conscience hiring and firing (usually the band manager!) …that certain person, grinning like a zander, who welcomes you with open arms into the band. Sooner or later, whether it is the arrival of another player or you have reached the stage where your gums have rejected your teeth, along comes old Zander Face, minus the grin. A diplomatic chat would be the nice way to prepare you for your impending expulsion. But this is not the way of the Axe Man who simply ejects you with a deftly placed size 9 saying you were never any good in the first place!
The Musically Unconscious
That mysterious person who plays in the band but doesn’t like contests, concerts or rehearsals; who has no sense of timing, tuning or artistic flair and is totally bereft of ambition. Why do they bother coming to band? – Because they can!
A reflective and usually ancient character that, like Doctor Who, has an accomplice in the form of a nodding dog. “I remember watching Derek Garside hit a top Z in the Albert Hall ripping a hole clean through one of those mushroom thingamabobs in the roof”…cue nodding dog – “Aye ripped a hole clean through it he did!” The Time Lord pontificates – “Those were the days”, recalling how bands were much better in those bygone years, reliving outstanding performances that could never be bettered by today’s top bands. The Time Lord is able to recall every detail of a contest 50 years ago but is unable to remember their part on stage today!
The ‘There but not quite’
This person who has a highly inflated opinion of their playing ability – who is constantly after promotion and always backstabbing to gain a foothold into the end seat – always threatening to leave if promotion is not forthcoming. This can also be someone who has reached their level of incompetency but either won’t admit it or just doesn’t know how bloody awful they really are.
The Sub (pub) Committee Member
This band politician makes all the real decisions in the bar after the official committee meeting is over – and tells everything that went on to all who will listen. This individual doesn’t normally take higher office on the committee as they hate responsibility. Their skill lies in delegation of personal objectives by loading the bullets in the pub for the band to fire.
A cunning and mean individual who combines their ‘summer’ family holiday with the Spring Festival at Blackpool. Usually spotted on the coach with a hoard of kids and toothless aunties (who are never seen supporting any other band event). You can usually smell them first as the waft of 300 tomato sandwiches drifts down the bus.
The combination specialist also has a combination of drinks for the extended family of supporters. A hip flask containing the finest malt (for personal consumption) and several ‘litre’ bottles of water (for the rest). By the time the tower is in sight, the sandwiches are long gone and there are bits of tomato floating in the dregs of the water. Don’t ever have the last swig if offered!
The Buy one – ‘Get one free’
To get a really good player into the band you may have to take on their other half to clinch the deal. The ‘Get one free’ usually lacks ability, motivation, turns up when they feel like it and is a positive liability on stage.
Totally frustrating, devoid of moral fibre and unable to string a run of minims together, the ‘Get one free’ is very hard to remove without offending their talented partner. A cunning scheme will have to be put in place for their extraction. The usual route of conductor bullying is a non starter so there are only two available solutions.
Either find two new players to replace both or place the ‘Get one free’ in a staged compromising situation (with photographic evidence if possible) allowing the Axe Man the easy job of offering to share the photos with all and sundry if they don’t step down.
Have you ever sat on the band coach smiling contentedly because after years of mundane contesting you are, at last, off on a band jolly? On tour. On the lash. Just the tonic to boost the band’s morale and bring everyone together.
There is always some poor unfortunate soul who couldn’t make it because of work or a possessive spouse. Stepping into the breach is that slimy little wart – the ‘Tripper’, who you only see crawling out of the woodwork after months of boring hard slog – waltzing in to enjoy a superb tour of Europe.
Not content with an ‘all expenses paid’ trip, they also get blind drunk, cop off with the band ‘tottus’ (that’s male or female ‘tottie’ for the P.C. Brigade), sing foul rugby songs, and just for good measure, puke on the bus.
The most annoying thing about the Tripper is when you look fondly back at the band trip photo there is the Tripper front and centre, spoiling the whole memory. Similar to the ‘Flitter’ but only comes to high class gigs.
Always suffering some ailment, or is being picked on, or their instrument doesn’t work properly. Needs constant reassurance to stay focused. Is always going to resign but secretly adores the attention when they are begged not to leave.
The Victim loves to whine to anyone who will listen. Similar to the musically unconscious but tends to make a song and dance about their woes.
Usually on the committee and lets all out of the bag with a wink and a “between you and me…” – similar to the Sub (pub) Committee Member but slightly more subtle.
The unsung hero at the band contest bereft of a personality that impassionedly rubber stamps the back of your hand with a force that breaks wrists. They care little for health and safety as they methodically brand the whole banding fraternity. Blood poisoning or not – you must bear the mark of the beast!
Like a butterfly they fleetingly visit the band until they get bored or the travelling annoys them. They usually get through several registration cards flitting from band to band in order to be kept in the limelight (or before anyone realises how bad they really are). There is usually a trail of financial devastation left behind as the band cons and hotel bills remain unpaid in their wake. Unfortunately, due to the scarcity of players, the Flitter continues to give temporary respite and equal measures of heartache, when in fact they should be resoundingly swatted like a bluebottle!
Seen at the registration table shaking and turning a nasty shade of ivory-green. Takes a bottle of water spray on stage that could irrigate a large geranium for six months. Develops a stammer just as the conductor gives the warm up speech. Is unable to smile and produces Amazonian sweat patches that cannot be dry cleaned. Breaks wind often and frequents the toilet wetting their brow and any other part of their anatomy that isn’t sweating. Shakes like a shaved polar bear on stage and loses bowel and diaphragm control.
Always sits next to the conductor on the bus to glean useful snippets and load a few bullets. Always has an apple for the teacher and laughs heartily at even the worst attempt at humour that the conductor can offer. This is the person who keeps the conductor’s finger on the pulse – snitching on everyone. The Sidewinder will usually join the committee, where the opportunity arises, so that they can keep the conductor informed. This is usually the person that carries the conductor’s score and baton on stage.
The Makeup Artist
Lacks ability so makes up for it by knowing the result of every contest that ever took place. Always has a copy of Brass Band World Magazine and a laptop for 4BarsRest on the bus so that you have to ask them for a ‘lend’. The Makeup Artist always infiltrates the committee to prolong their survival. Very often you will find them in the higher ranks of the committee because it guarantees their survival. It’s easy to get into this position because volunteers at Band AGMs are better than twenty pressed men!
Drawn number 1 of 22 bands. Played and then went straight to the bar. Seventeen pints plus whisky chasers later is furious at the results – even though they only heard their own band!
Usually found stalking players ripe for poaching – good at projected whispering in busy foyers, usually have the skills of a used car salesman in the art of persuasion and always have one hand on a wad of registration cards in the inside pocket.
The Inside Pocket is also a master of psychology and will undermine the victim’s current band to such an extent that nagging doubts will have them screaming for their mothers in the dead of night.
The Stiff Wallet
So called because it never opens – usually owes at least twelve months’ cons, always times their arrival at the bar when someone else is buying and is usually equidistant between the bar and the buffet. Only ever has a £50 note when buying a cup of tea in the rehearsal break.
Usually found parked in front of the adjudicator’s tent with a veritable banquet of sandwiches washed down with a flask of coffee the size of a septic tank. They have developed the technique of re-ingesting their own waste material to enable them to stay put throughout every section of the contest.
The Full Course takes down copious notes throughout the contest and is normally not that far away from the correct result at the end of the day’s proceedings. The Full Course is very useful for asking the time as they not only have a wristwatch but also a stop watch and metronome to ensure that they have every time and speed check at their disposal.
The ‘Look at Me…Look at me…Look at me!’
This is quite a common stereotype that you will find in every band without fail. The ‘LAM-LAM-LAM’ is always striving for attention. They play when no one else is playing, they strut around the dressing room half naked with underwear either dozen sizes too small or so bright they could ignite wallpaper. But their worst trait is that they always divert any conversation so that it focuses entirely on them.
Fred: “I thought the adjudicator got it spot on.”
Doris: “Pretty much summed up our performance…started strong but sounded tired towards the final section and….”
LAM-LAM-LAM: (interrupts) “Tired!…Tired! You don’t know the meaning of the word! I haven’t slept properly for month with all the excitement of my job promotion. I am now senior editor of ‘Lamp post Weekly Magazine’ . Since I was promoted I have turned that magazine around. Turned it around I have. And do you know how I did it? DO YOU? Well it’s a long story…and you’ll love this… It all started when I……blah blah bloody blah”
Fred and Doris have been well and truly hijacked quicker than Kaa the snake mesmerise Mogli!
The ‘LAM-LAM-LAM’ can hold court for hours without apparently taking a breath. I have long suspected that this personally has evolved a second airway from a different orifice. However this is probably unlikely as this is the very orifice that they are speaking through!
If you see a LAM-LAM-LAM heading your way always have an exit strategy ready.
Parents often have rose-coloured spectacles when their little darlings take up a new hobby. “Isn’t he wonderful?” announces the mother. ”He’s so gifted!” coos granny. To ensure the Prodigy’s rapid development to stardom, the family always escort their little darling and pressurise the conductor and committee, and undermine all the players who pose a threat. “She will get the end chair…won’t she?” the father asks pleasantly through gritted teeth.
The Prodigy normally starts its banding career innocently enough but, after the corrupting influence of family members who raise the belief of ability to Mozart level, the Prodigy becomes equally as twisted and determined.
The actual ability is usually several octaves lower than stated but this does not stop their determined march forward to the principal seat. At solo contests you will often see the Prodigy attempting ‘Cleopatra’ or some equally difficult piece spattered with a million zemi-hemi-semi-quavers (without a hope in hell of playing it).
Parents are then seen verbally and physically abusing the adjudicator and the actual winner after the event. The Prodigy reigns supreme until someone stands up to their parents; another Prodigy arrives or they find another shiny new thing to focus their ‘genius’ upon!