Brassed off: Lothian band chosen for new production

Karen Chamberlain and bandmates will appear in a stage production of Brassed Off. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Karen Chamberlain and bandmates will appear in a stage production of Brassed Off. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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IT was a film that encapsulated the struggle once thriving mining communities faced to keep hundreds of families afloat.

And now a Midlothian Colliery Brass Band has been chosen to appear in a stage version of the surprise 1996 hit movie Brassed Off – playing the imaginary band from the film.

Dalkeith and Monktonhall Colliery Brass Band was formed in 1989 when the Dalkeith Burgh and Monktonhall Colliery Brass Bands amalgamated, due to falling funds and a membership crisis sparked by the demise of the coal industry in the 1980s.

In a case of life imitating art, members believe they are particularly well suited to bringing the role to life.

Band chair Jim Henderson said: “The Grimley Band, who were played in the film by the real-life Grimethorpe Colliery Band, were united through adversity and need. From that, friendship and a common goal flourished, not unlike our own story.”

Brassed Off, which starred Ewan McGregor, 42, Tara Fitzgerald, 45, and the late Pete Postlethwaite, was set in the fictional town of Grimley, and dealt with the colliery band’s struggle for survival following the closure of the local pit.

The town was based on the village of Grimethorpe, which the European Union had named the poorest town in Britain two years earlier.

Secretary and percussionist Heather Henderson, 54, of Prestonpans, whose husband, daughter and son-in-law also play in the band, said: “The producers got in touch with us to ask if we’d like to be in the show. We jumped at the chance and will be the first Scottish band to be involved.”

Although the band only has one ex-coal board employee on its books, “colliery” is retained in the band name to pay homage to its ties to the past.

For men who toiled in dark and dangerous mines, involvement in the local colliery band was one of their only forms of recreation and self-expression.

Bands across Scotland held community identity together through thick and thin and – now that the pits have gone – for most all that remains is the music.

David Plain, 50, who plays flugelhorn, the same instrument played by Tara Fitzgerald’s character in the film, said the bands still have an important part to play in uniting communities.

He said: “I’ve been involved in brass bands since I was 12, and through that have made friends all over the world. A lot has changed over the years – the bands now have a lot of professional musicians playing with them, whereas before it was a strictly amateur pursuit.

“But they still act as a focal point for the local community and while lack of funds does restrict us, we try to be as involved in local issues as we can.”

Proud band members are due to appear in Brassed Off at the King’s Theatre next spring, to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1984 miners’ strike.

Bitter dispute won by Thatcher

THE miners’ strike took place during 1984-85 and was seen as a major political victory for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party.

The National Union of Mineworkers had been one of the strongest unions in the country and its defeat significantly weakened the trade union movement in the UK. The strikes began after an announcement in early 1984 that 20 pits were to be closed, resulting in the loss of 20,000 jobs.

Dalkeith and Monktonhall flugelhorn player David Plain said: “I remember the strikes well. It was a terrible time for a lot of people. A lot of the men I played rugby with lost their livelihoods.”