As the physical reminders of the once great UK coal industry continue to disappear with the redevelopment of many old colliery sites, there are still some lasting memories that continue to thrive and provide an insight into the past, none more so than the acclaimed Grimethorpe Colliery Band and their continued success.
The brass band, formed in 1917 and celebrating their 100th anniversary this year have experienced significant success over the past decade. The band was formed by workers from Grimethorpe Colliery, located about seven miles from Barnsley. This was once one the deepest mines in the UK employing 6,000 men in its heyday until the closure of the pit on 13 October 1992. During this period of hardship and uncertainty, the band had to rely on sponsorship money for survival and had to do so until as recently as 2011.
The story of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band was arguably best captured by the 1996 film Brassed Off! The film told the story of Grimley, a fictional South Yorkshire village, and how the local colliery’s band won a national competition only a few days after the closure of the colliery was announced.
The acclaimed film, starring the late Pete Postlethwaite, Ewan McGregor and Stephen Tompkinson is set ten years after the year long strike of 1984/85 during a time of strife for miners across the country. Miners from collieries across the UK were faced with the impending closure of the pits and were left with the choice of accepting the closures whilst losing their livelihoods and way of life or fighting for survival whilst running the risk of losing out on redundancy payments.
In 1992, the Government announced its intention to close a large number of collieries. From the outset it was apparent that Grimethorpe Colliery was high on the list of the mines to be permanently closed. As recently as 1992, 17 members of the band were employed at the colliery, all of which were soon made redundant as the mine ground to a halt.
The closure of the pit in 1992 could not have come at a worse time for the members of the band, as it was only five days before they were due to contest the National Brass Band Championships at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It is hard to imagine a situation in which there could have been more pressure placed upon the band but in keeping with all the best tales, the band triumphed and gained first place with 99 out of 100 on 17 October 1992 in the National Brass Band Championship at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
The band, which provided the soundtrack music and the extras for the Brassed Off! film have toured throughout Europe and have been recognised for their success after becoming the first ever brass band to become an ensemble-in-residence at the Royal College of Music in London. A player in the band captured the distinctive atmosphere that surrounds the band;
“I think the sound of Grimethorpe is unique, it grabs you by the throat it is just something that gets you from within”.
The band, known for its recognisable sound have enjoyed a significant amount of success throughout the past decade and have toured extensively both in Europe and worldwide, picking up numerous awards along the way some of which can be seen below.
National Brass Band Championships – Winners 1970, 1992, 2006 and 2007.
English National Brass Band Championships – Winners 2007, 2008.
Yorkshire Champions – 1963, 1967, 1973, 1983, 1991, 1995, 2005, 2006.
Mineworkers’ Champions – 1967, 1968, 1969, 1973 to 1980, 1983, 1985 to 2002.
It has often been asked why the men of Grimethorpe Colliery elected to form a brass band. One such theory is based on the idea that, as active miners, brass instruments were the only ones they could play whilst dealing with the physical trials of working in the mines. Daily life as a miner working long shifts at the coalface took its toll on the men involved and their hands were routinely left calloused, numb and painful meaning the large buttons found on brass wind instruments were ideal. The hardships that these men faced, both above and below ground, spoke to the wider mining community through their music. A community who were facing the prospect of the end of their livelihoods and way of life.
The physical impact of a career at the coalface still takes its toll on many miners with conditions like Vibration White Finger prevalent amongst many. Jordans Solicitors has a department working with ex coal miners looking into their Vibration White Finger claims as it has come to light that many miners missed out on £1000’s. If you’re an ex miner and think you may have a claim, contact a member of our VWF team free on 03303 001103.