The tradition of the brass band is a strong one. Communities, from industrial townships to militaries have since the 19th century used these instruments as great signifiers of competition, comradery and compassion. Readers will be aware of the sombre power of a sousaphone, even if they can’t name or spell it.
It was the sousaphone of the Hackney Colliery Band that shook the walls and floors of the o2 Forum in Kentish Town last Friday night. Outside two touts would step forward in unison, ‘buy or sell, buy or sell’, I worked not too hard on avoiding eye-contact. How much business could they really be doing? Were they business partners or strict competitors?
Inside, the show was thankfully five minutes underway, the floor was packed – Friday night.
Hackney Colliery Band is independently run, they tend to put their own shows on the road. Whilst watching the passion pour out of band leader Steve Pretty, I gave him the moniker Billy Brass, Billy Brass-Band, something Billy Bragg related. Hackney produced or inflected the social justice that was proudly on display.
This crowd and music was a safe setting from the winds outside. Insulated and able to show some force, I was mobbed by a range of men in nice jumpers, older couples bopping, and a general sense that everyone had seen the show before whilst having a cider or glass of ketamine at take-your-pick festival.
Movement in the crowd was minor, for a while, people didn’t quite seem to know how to dance (to the music). And I expect many were, like I was, blown away by the sheer volume of the Hackney Colliery Band. The sound was good, great even, no qualms there. The only issue on the technical side might be the overly itchy ‘bring those lights up’ finger belonging to the AV guy.
Bar queues are a phenomenon where the attitude to order has been dipped in the end goal. A recursive procedure to explore the bounds of our mores. As the Hackney Colliery Band was finishing up, I joined this experiment. In front was a polite man from northern Europe – his phone was in my eye line – and he wasn’t queueing very well at all: like a buoy in the sea, consistently marking a point perhaps always two customers away from service.
From my right came a woman, in her mid-fifties, having a great ball. Incredibly kept and from her behaviour, incredibly kept in most of the year – yes dear, festival band, festival vibes. With great affectation she ducked out of the way of drinks being passed back from the bar. Leaning into me, she eyed up the buoy in front. Her bangled and manicured arm wandering in the waves between me and the buoy. Her fake (?) leather jacket squeaky against me. Perfume eau’t the arse.
Time to move, someone, please, stop this intrusion.
She goes, he goes, they reach the bar. I can’t take it, I’ve seen this young man waste his own time and that of everyone else who has been tricked by his depth marking abilities.
“A-me” the woman leans – I must intervene. “No, no. It’s him, it is that buoy now.” I offer from between their heads. Brass is honking away in the background but now I have an audience of three.
I tell the keen bean she’s flouting. She comes back down to earth. She cedes to the polite buoy and then to myself. Thanks. Cute mummy begone.
The o2 have upped their ‘venue experience’ with the two-pint pint. Two-pint pints give you two-pints in a comically sized cask. I saw a man doing the tri-force dance with six pints of San Miguel. Submitted without comment.
Back to the music. Having arrived late, I missed the fact Don Letts was DJing. Mr Pretty said something unclear about Mr Letts and I thought “oh has he died?” Relieved I was to see him wheel out some decks from the side and play some tunes. Don’t know about Stars Wars dub though.
The Hot 8 Brass band comes from New Orleans, their brass tradition is in the Second Line parade. A jazz funeral sans the funeral. The bands covered, with great skill and passion, songs from across the board.
Hot 8 sing and rap too, they bring a greater mode of audience participation, the constant bringing up of the lights connects the players and the payers together. They sing, we sing. It is fun, I’m not fully on board in the darkness of February though, my prerogative.
You can grab the chance to size up these acts yourself though, Hackney Colliery Band are playing Brixton Jamm in April, the Hot 8 Brass troupe are playing, headlining, the 6Music festival in Camden from the 6th to the 8th of March.