Festival preview: Fanfare

This article is from 2015

Festival preview: Fanfare

credit: Stephan Vanfleteren

We hear from those behind a project which seeks to bring Scottish bands out of their shells

It was once popularly said that where there’s muck, there’s brass. And there were brass bands too. This honorable, egalitarian music tradition was originally rooted in working communities, springing up in earnest around mining and mill towns in the mid-19th century. ‘Anything other than a brass band or a pipe band was looked on as being aloof or upper class,’ says John Boax, education officer for the Scottish Brass Band Association. ‘To play in an orchestra was not the thing that a working man would do but they could play a brass instrument. Even if they’d worked hard all day, they could still manage to play a cornet or a trombone. It brought the working men together so that they could let off steam after their day down the pit.’

The decline of industry and the advent of dedicated instrumental teaching on the school curriculum has altered the make-up of brass bands over the years but the appeal for players and listeners remains the same: it’s a very sociable activity with a varied repertoire. ‘The brass band can play pretty much anything you ask it to, whether that’s a piece of jazz, a section from an opera, or something written by Elgar,’ says Sally Hobson, the EIF’s head of creative learning. ‘Plus there is a lot of new music being written for the brass band which is really interesting.’

The likes of Yorkshire’s Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band – who collaborated with folk act the Unthanks on traditional and original material in 2011 – are still going strong, but both Hobson and Boax mention that Scotland is still shy about proclaiming its brass band culture. Boax estimates that there could be as many as 500 brass bands in Scotland (most located in the central belt), encompassing competition and non-competition bands, plus school, college and community groups.

The International Festival hopes to make some noise on their behalf with Fanfare, an all-day event dedicated to brass band music which has been devised in response to the EIF visit of Belgian dance company les ballets C de la B. Their show En avant, marche! is set in a rehearsal room and explores the theme of community ties.

The plan for Fanfare, meanwhile, is to link different parts of Edinburgh through the warm blast of brass. Twelve bands from around Scotland have been invited to play simultaneous concerts throughout the day in different locations around the city – for example, along the Water of Leith – which are beyond the main Festival thoroughfares.

The repertoire will vary from band to band but, at certain points in their performances, all of them will play the same pieces, creating a massed fanfare. ‘Hopefully there will be some contemporary tunes in there too because I wanted to get away from some of the preconceptions of oompah bands and draw out more poignant contemporary flavours,’ says Hobson. ‘There is a renaissance of brass music happening in other parts of the UK as well as in Europe. So it’s going to be interesting to see what happens when we do this big project.’

Fanfare, various venues, 0131 473 2000, 23 Aug, various times, free; En avant, marche!, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, 0131 473 2000, 24 & 25 Aug, 8pm, £12–£32.


Fanfare is a city-wide event that harnesses the enormous forces of Scotland’s community of brass bands by working with the Scottish Brass Band Association to present a day of free performances for everyone to enjoy.