Christmas must be the busiest time of year for any band. It is the time when fund-raising efforts move into top gear and for a few weeks before the festivities begin in earnest all other considerations are shelved whilst everyone is re-equipped with carol books and Christmas selections. Like many bands who play for their own amusement and the pleasure of others rather than in competition, Brassford Band must raise over £ 3000 each year just to keep going. Practice facilities must be paid for, music must be bought, damaged and worn instruments must be repaired or replaced and uniforms must be kept in good order. Fortunately, Christmas provides a fine occasion for fund-raising as the stirring and well loved tunes persuade even the most miserly to part with a few pennies.
Of course, carolling can have its drawbacks which inevitably supply the necessary humour to overcome the effects of chill winds and snow falling gently down the back of one's neck. Unlike the buskers so often seen in our cities sadly churning out bedraggled versions of the same few carols with boring repetition, the tradition in the smaller villages is for the band to make its way around the village pausing every few yards to play a different tune whilst their enthusiastic supporters visit each house in turn to elicit a donation. This is a slow process which, even in the case of a meagre village like Brassford, can take several trips to complete due to the generous nature of the inhabitants. For many, this is considered a social event and it would be considered a positive affront if the band did not pause at their gate and accept the token hospitality of a hot mince pie and glass of spirit. Obviously, it doesn't take many such stops, which of course the band feel duty bound to accept, for the whole purpose of the day's outing to be forgotten.
Surrounding villages are not immune from the band's attentions at Christmas and a visit to one of the more out of the way hamlets took on an entirely undeserved frustration. In their normal fashion, the band had been working their way from one end of the village to the other, stopping frequently to play a carol and knocking on every door that showed signs of life. It had been a cold evening, fine but frosty, and the chill was beginning to eat into everyone's bones. The villagers here were not quite as friendly as in Brassford and no warming pies or spirits had been offered. As they neared the end of the main street it was jointly decided that after one more carol stop they would pack up and head for home. The collecting tin was by no means full and usually no house would be left without the chance of contributing but this night was just too cold for comfort. They paused outside a small cottage and played a couple of verses of 'Once in Royal David's City' for which the old lady living in the cottage donated fifty pence. As they turned to make their way back to the other end of the village and their cars Jack Green spotted a light on a building about fifty yards up a track just off the main street.
"Let's just do that last one up there," he suggested, "it seems a shame to miss the last one."
Reluctantly the others agreed and they made their way up the track as far as a gate.
"We'll play here" said Bill "while you go and collect".
Again the strains of "Once in Royal......." echoed around the valley while Jack made his way tentatively up the muddy path into the darkness. Two verses later Jack had not returned.
"Shall we play it again?"
"Yes, I suppose we'd better. Maybe he's having difficulty making anyone hear."
Another two verses bounced back from the hills. Still no sign of Jack. The band were just pondering their next step when Jack's dishevelled form re-appeared at the gate.
"I'm sure there's someone in there but I'm damned if I can make them hear." he said "Play it again and I'll give it another go."
So off he went again while the band played a fifth verse and then a sixth.
Again Jack appeared. "I still can't make them hear, perhaps we'd better just forget this one."
"Forget it be blowed," Bill spluttered "after six verses I reckon they owe us something. I'll go this time."
Half way into the eighth verse Bill returned, red in the face and obviously not best amused. "Pack up," he yelled "thanks to this daft lummock we've just spent the last half hour playing to a ruddy barn full of cows!"
Occasionally, the collectors can get carried away as happened a couple of years ago. Again it was quite a cold and damp night, the band had been playing earlier in the day for an open air service around the village crib and some of the band members were quite reluctant to extend the carolling longer than necessary. The village was, however, the home of one of the trombonists, Jim Arnthwaite and he was anxious to show off 'his' band to all his neighbours and to demonstrate to the band how generous his neighbours could be. Rather than the usual procedure of play a carol, then move on a few yards and play another, it was decided that they would play at strategic street corners and collectors would go around all the houses within range. This village was larger than Brassford and its layout favoured this approach. Whilst the band struck up with 'O come all ye faithful', the collectors set off, including Jim. Soon his enthusiasm got the better of him and he was ranging further and further from the band at each stop. After about an hour and a half the band had had enough. For the last twenty minutes they had not seen hide nor hair of Jim but just assumed that he had stopped for a talk somewhere and would catch up in due course. It had already been decided that the band would adjourn afterwards to one of the local pubs to warm up again and assess the profitability of the evening and so they now made their way to the Red Lion close to where the cars were parked. The collecting boxes of the other collectors revealed a total of £ 46, not bad for an evening's work but where was the all important box of Jim's, surely that would admirably swell the coffers. It was another half hour before Jim finally turned up, some of the band had already left for home and the rest were just about to.
"Where on earth did you get to?" he spluttered.
"Oh, we gave up about an hour ago. Where were you?"
"I was still out collecting, waiting for you to appear!"
The band was not too popular for a few days with Jim but he soon came to see the funny side of the situation when all was revealed. It transpired that in his excitement Jim had covered almost all of the village single handed and was rushing round knocking on doors and assuring the occupants that 'the band will be along in just a minute' until well after the band had retired to the warmth of the Red Lion. His collecting tin alone provided another £ 56 towards funds which, whilst some of it had been acquired under false pretences, gave a very welcome boost to band finances.
It would be wrong to assume from the foregoing that all the band is concerned with over Christmas is its own fund-raising; certainly this does play an important part in the series of events but is by no means the main part of them. Christmas is also a time for freely giving to others in the form of concerts, church services and visits to local old folks' homes and children's homes. There are also the traditional aspects of playing for the dedication of the crib in the village square and entertaining in the local pubs who tolerate the sometimes boisterous musicians for the rest of the year. All these events have to be fitted into the month before Christmas and around New Year.
Playing in the churches of Brassford and the surrounding villages and market towns can, in itself, be a real joy. Almost without exception these churches, from the most elaborate to the simplest, provide the kind of acoustic environment which enhances the sound of brass instruments and gives the players shivers down their backs. The faces of the congregation experiencing the full force of the music in the more substantial carols and the sensitive roundness of the more delicate melodies are a joy to behold. This, of course, is not really surprising when one visits some of these same churches at other times of the year and hears the unkempt organs and squeaky harmoniums to which their congregations are usually subjected.
This work is Copyright to Ian W. Wright 1994. You may use it for your own private purposes but reproduction by any means or its use for commercial gain is strictly forbidden without the written permission of the author.