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Brassed Off - Derby Theatre’s landmark production starring local band Derwent Brass

PUBLISHED: 11:17 14 September 2015 | UPDATED: 11:17 14 September 2015

Derwent Brass

Derwent Brass

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Derby Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary in September with a production of ‘Brassed Off’ starring Derwent Brass. Derbyshire Life talks to musician Rob Stew and actor Jimmy Fairhurst

In the much-loved British film Brassed Off there’s a sequence in which Tara Fitzgerald’s character Gloria performs a solo of the Concierto de Aranjuez, which was in reality played for the actress by flugelhorn player Mark Walters of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

These days, for charity, Mark dresses up in drag as Gloria and recreates the scene from the movie and Derbyshire musician Rob Stew can’t see that part of the film now without a wry smile on his face.

Rob and his fellow players in Derwent Brass weren’t featured in the 1996 movie but will get their own chance to shine in Derby Theatre’s stage version of the story.

Also starring Pete Postlethwaite and Ewan McGregor, the film tells the tale of the troubles faced by a colliery brass band as its pit faces closure.

‘The film featured Midlands and South Yorkshire players that we knew,’ says Rob. ‘Now we are getting the chance to follow in their footsteps in Derby.’

Derwent Brass have performed regularly at the Assembly Rooms and joined indie band British Sea Power on their brass project, performing live together at Derby Theatre.

Rob says: ‘Derby Theatre were so enthused they wanted us to go back and do other things and we got a call from them when they decided to stage Brassed Off.’

The full Derwent Brass band features 25 brass players and four percussionists. They put out smaller groups for weddings and special events. The youngest performer is 17-year-old percussionist Elliot Davis, the son of flugelhorn player Pam. The oldest member is 62.

The band has been planning for the Derby Theatre production for the last six months.

Rob says: ‘It’s a long run and we have to ensure we have the right number of players, between six and ten, for each performance. There is not room on stage for a full band, although we will all be at the gala night celebrating the venue’s 40th anniversary.’

Derwent Brass, formed in 1992, quickly became established as a concert attraction. The band has performed in Derby Assembly Rooms and Derby Cathedral, at Harrogate International Centre, Wembley Conference Centre, London Royal Parks and many more venues. They have also had success in various competitions.

Rob says: ‘Brass bands are graded, very similarly to football. We are mid-table Premiership, if you like, Derbyshire’s top band and in the top 100 in the world. We compete in competitions and are graded accordingly.

‘That was part of the theme of Brassed Off, with the band going through a qualifying competition to the Albert Hall and the finals. We haven’t qualified for that final as yet. The top two bands from the region get there and we were third last time, so we were unlucky but knocking at the door.’

The top brass bands include Black Dyke, Brighouse and Rastrick (who reached No. 2 in the charts with their rendition of the Floral Dance) and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, who provided the inspiration for Brassed Off.

Rob says: ‘Some of the bands are out doing 50 or 60 concerts a year and are bordering on professional. We get together once a week and do the best we can with that as we all have jobs, families and social lives.’

The band is based in Belper and meets every Thursday night.

Rob plays tuba, although he started in 1962 at the age of eight on euphonium. He says: ‘There is often a family connection. My grandfather played, my father played trombone in the Army and my wife used to play in the local village band.

‘Being a professional musician is a tough career. There are several members of the band who could do it but it’s not easy. For me it’s a great hobby.

‘We are a traditional brass band, like the one featured in the movie, but we can play anything from orchestral transcriptions and Beatles numbers to Glenn Miller or almost anything we want to do. We are lucky to have a musical director, Keith Leonard, who is always pushing the boundaries of what we play. We don’t just churn out the traditional things you hear in village bandstands, we do contemporary stuff. We packed out the Assembly Rooms with the Treorchy Choir and the Swingle Singers. Because we are not bound by being a traditional brass band we can do things like that and have a very forward thinking committee. What music we play often depends on the audiences. We have a group of supporters who we call our “friends” and we do a concert for them where they choose the music. Whatever we do, it always goes down well.

‘And brass band music is thriving. People love it and I’m sure lots of them will want to see Brassed Off.’

Sarah Brigham, who will direct Brassed Off, said: ‘I am delighted that Derwent Brass will perform as part of all our performances and that they will play an absolutely key part of the production. I have heard so many great things about the band and I know how incredibly popular they are, with audiences of all ages.

‘I was really impressed when I saw their performance, along with British Sea Power, of Sea of Brass at the theatre. Their involvement, skills and expertise will be a huge asset to the success of the production and we all look forward to working alongside them and welcoming them to Derby Theatre.’

Derwent Brass has performed abroad and has enjoyed worldwide sales of CDs and merchandise. A reprint of their first solo CD entitled Celebration, their second CD The Wonder of Christmas, their most popular recent release Big Band Big Screen and their latest CD Simply Carols are all currently available for purchase online at www.derwentbrass.co.uk

DREAM ROLE FOR JIMMY

FOR Jimmy Fairhurst, Brassed Off is a dream opportunity. His dad was a working miner and the young actor comes from Pete Postlethwaite’s home town of Warrington and got a helping hand into drama school from the late actor.

Jimmy, who was also in Derby Theatre’s acclaimed production of Kes, is proud of his northern roots and believes Brassed Off celebrates the humour, tradition and ‘brutal honesty’ of the region.

He plays trombonist Phil in the Derby Theatre production, following in the footsteps of Stephen Tompkinson in the movie.

He says: ‘The film has a great cast and underscoring it all was that beautiful brass band music. I play trombone in real life as well as in the show and that music gets you in the chest, it has your whole soul vibrating. There isn’t anyone who doesn’t enjoy the sound of a brass band.

‘I played in a brass band when growing up in Warrington but playing with Derwent Brass will be so great. It will be a challenge for me but also a wonderful opportunity to get better.’

Jimmy says that the effects of the pit closures still reverberate in the old mining villages and that’s what is reflected in Brassed Off.

He says: ‘These communities are still reeling from the pit closures. They are still fighting for an identity and looking for the beating heart of community spirit that used to be there. That’s why they identify with Brassed Off, because they still believe in that sense of community and relying on each other. It’s part of the value systems of the north.

‘My dad was a miner and he says that it wasn’t a nice job at all but there was phenomenal camaraderie because you were relying on the people standing next to you every single day. The bond between these people and the miners’ wives and in the social clubs was so strong.

‘As a youngster growing up I could see the rage about Margaret Thatcher and what she did. It feeds into you and you know what was right and what was wrong. Even now we are learning more about the injustices and how those hard-working men and women and their families suffered and were depicted as the “enemy within”. Now the information has come out that shows they were right. The national press think that has all gone now but it’s still there, it still informs us. When I tell people I have the part in Brassed Off they all have their own connection with that story and that time.

‘I spoke to a couple of guys who were miners at the time and it still hurts them. It hit their pride as much as anything else.

‘That’s why I’m so proud to be in Brassed Off. There are some productions where you think “I have to be in this”. Not just because it will be so brilliant, which I will know it will be after being in Kes which was also directed by Sarah Brigham, but because of what it means. I also think, despite all the great productions under Sarah at Derby Theatre, that Brassed Off has the possibility to be the best of the lot. This wonderful brass band, a great cast, and all the right ingredients to be a truly great show.’

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