The rich musical heritage of Barnsley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:38 15 November 2017
Avnumber of vibrant bands, choirs and societies show that Barnsley is really on song
If you tried to identify what Barnsley has at its soul you’d consider its amazing sporting heritage, the town’s playing fields have been a production line of famous footballers and cricketers. Mining would be to the fore as well, the industry now consigned to history leaving a gentle hardness in the local DNA. But look at – or listen to – today’s Barnsley and you may feel music is the seam that runs through the place like coal once did.
Music and mining here are closely tied. Barnsley’s most celebrated music makers, with all due respect to Saxon and Danse Society, are the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, made world famous by the film Brassed Off. ‘This is our centenary year, so we’re particularly busy – it’s a rare weekend when we’ve no engagements,’ said band manager David Horn.
They set high standards, taking sixth place this September in the British Open, and remain in high demand as performers. ‘We have two Christmas concerts at Emmanuel Church in Barnsley, but could probably have sold out three, it’s not properly Christmas until you’ve heard a brass band,’ David added.
Barnsley Brass, based in Worsborough, have even deeper roots, having formed in 1906. Their history intertwines with Barnsley’s own since World War Two.
In 1948 they became the Barrow Colliery Band, named after a local pit and sponsored by British Coal. Forty years later, as mining declined, Barnsley Building Society supported them and after they were taken over by the YBS the Barnsley Chronicle stepped in briefly.
Chairman (and solo trombone) Peter Webster said: ‘We’re self-funding now, so sponsorship – and a couple of new players – would be welcome! But we’ll shortly be opening a new band room for which we got a grant, and on which we’ve done a lot of the work ourselves.’
The town’s musical life is by no means limited to brass bands, however excellent they may be. Yorkshire’s own chamber group Ensemble 360 play regular concerts at Emmanuel Church, where on December 1st they’re performing a programme dedicated to the works of Beethoven, Bruch, Berg and Joncurt. Flautist Juliette Bausor said: ‘We love coming to Barnsley because it has such friendly audiences, and a really warm, almost family-like atmosphere. We’re all just having a great time, the audience and the performers. It’s a really special place to come and play.’
Cawthorne Choral Society is clearly a special place to sing, in its 90th season this year and with a full complement of 64 voices. Malcolm St John has been the group’s musical director since 1995 and this will be his last season in the post. He said: ‘We are a well-balanced unit – a non-auditioning choral society and I hope we remain thus forever – and have a waiting list, but that doesn’t mean people can’t apply, especially tenors and altos, the most difficult parts to fill usually.
‘It has been a huge privilege for me to be musical director, they’re wonderful to work with, and the thing I value most from my time with them is their friendship.’
Friendship is one of the reasons why Barnsley Recorded Music Society has been going strong since 1948. These days the group is chaired by Sue Parker who said: ‘New members are always welcome, it’s not high-brow, you just need to enjoy a variety of music and it’s a great way to make new friends.
‘We have a combination of presentations from our own members and by visiting experts, some quite well known in the musical world, mainly classical music but not exclusively so, we’ve had recent programmes about Bob Dylan, and one that included The Who.’
Home-grown rock of more recent vintage is thriving in the town too, says Andrew Shaw, owner of Vinyl Underground Records on Regent Street. ‘The music scene in Barnsley over the last few years has been pretty vibrant,’ he added. ‘Live in Barnsley festival has been a big part of that, 150 or so bands over 15 stages every year, the vast majority from Barnsley and the surrounding areas. There’s still plenty of cracking bands here, a local band The Hurriers who played Glastonbury a couple of years ago released their album on vinyl and we sold loads in the shop.’
And there’s no danger of the town’s musical energy and the stream of talent diminishing anytime soon, with plenty of support for young musicians.
Barnsley Youth Jazz Association has been developing youthful talent since 1978. It provides instruments, and offers tuition at discounted rates, and runs three musical groups: a swing band for children from six to 11, the Barnsley Youth Jazz Orchestra for 11 to 18 year olds, and The Dearne Big Band and Singers for adults, the latter’s performances at concerts and functions funding the BYJA’s activities.
Loraine Cawood, who runs the organisation, said: ‘We find jazz is a really good platform for the kids, and we make it fun. We play Motown, jazz, swing, and pop stuff too, to keep it interesting for them. Over the years lots of our musicians have gone on to be either music teachers or professional musicians.’
Another source of inspiration is Barnsley Music Service, based at the town’s creative centre, The Civic. ‘Our funding is for five to 18 year olds, we’re the music education hub locally,’ said John Ingram of the BMS. ‘We provide whole-class instrumental tuition, so do a lot with 60-plus primary schools through the academic year, but we also have tuition, rock concerts, bands and orchestras at The Civic every evening.’
The coal may be long gone, but the soul – and jazz, classical, rock and choral music – looks set fair for a good few years yet in Barnsley.