Durham BRASS Festival 2019
Review and photos by Dawn
The city I work in seems much quieter this week. The town parks in County Durham are emptier, with much less of a buzz despite the school holidays and summer weather.
Durham BRASS is officially over for another year and I'm not ashamed to say that, after a week of fun, I'm a little lost without it.
As a live music lover I spend too much time having to travel outside of the county I live in in order to see my favourite musicians. Despite Durham being a city, and a university one at that, surprisingly there is no large (or even medium-sized) venue here to host touring bands. I grew up in Teesside but even with venues in Stockton and Middlesbrough I still spent half of my gig-going time travelling to Newcastle, York, Leeds or further to see the artists I loved - and still do now.
So to have brilliant music on my doorstep for over a week each year – some of it in walking distance of my house and most of it for free - is nothing short of a dream come true, and the reason why this year alone I was able to partake in six days/evenings of brass fun with friends, family and (sometimes) my beloved greyhound.
Each July there are so many wonderful brass events going on in and around Durham that you could never manage to get to all of them, and this year was no exception.
Durham Town Hall turned into a Bierhalle for an evening of German food, beer and brass. Stanhope hosted a brass street ceilidh. Durham cathedral had a new transcription of Verdi’s Requiem arranged for brass band and choir. There was even a top secret 90s rave experience courtesy of Mr Wilson's Second Liners.
As ever, I mostly immersed myself in the street band side of things, visiting my local town parks for several of the Big Brass Bash evening events and then Durham city's Streets of Brass over the weekend to watch the likes of Back Chat Brass (Leeds lads playing cover versions of classic pop songs with their own cheeky twist), Artistas Del Gremio (superbly entertaining skirt-clad Spaniards playing everything from classical to heavy metal tunes), Loud Noises (another Leeds act playing energetic covers, featuring the inimitable Tim Hurst on trombone) and the aforementioned Mr Wilson's Second Liners (a colourful collection of smartly-dressed men and women bringing a brilliant brass twist to club and rave classics).
But it's not just about the music. It's about both musicians and local communities coming together for an escape from real life, just for a short while. An atmosphere where anything can happen and flashes of genuine loveliness take your breath away every single year. Musicians entertaining local people in their home towns, interacting with them and often giving them their moment to remember - to sing with them, dance with them or, if they're really lucky, play an instrument with them. It's about audience members suddenly breaking into gleeful cartwheels in the middle of Durham marketplace.
It's about artists from across the world rekindling friendships made in previous years and making you smile as they stop mid-song to greet a fellow brass player with a hug or a pat on the back. Happiness and camaraderie everywhere, as band members proudly display stickers bearing the name of their fellow musicians and invite them to join in with another glorious melodic jam in a park bandstand even when it's pouring down with rain. And, my word, did it rain this year – in Shildon and in Durham. But the more it rained, the more people danced, and that again spoke volumes about how important Durham BRASS is to the people of County Durham.
Some people think that music writers should be unbiased, but I've long believed in the importance of shouting loudly about anything that makes my heart sing. Life's too short to risk coming across as ambivalent about something when it brings joy to my little corner of the country every single summer; when I glow with pride to hear how very much the musicians look forward to visiting Durham every year, to catch up with old friends and new, and to explore the beauty of the city which I'm lucky enough to have on my doorstep.
Too often the north east of England gets overlooked in favour of the big cities elsewhere in England, and particularly in comparison to London. So thank you, Durham BRASS, and all who work tirelessly to bring this musical wonder to us every summer. Thank you to musical friends old and new for the fun you brought this year, for your kindness and joy, and for once again making us proud of our little part of the north east. Durham misses you all and is, I'm certain, already counting down to July 2020…
With thanks to Artistas Del Gremio, Back Chat Brass, Loud Noises,Mr Wilson's Second Liners, and Durham BRASS Festival.