Split The Air: Martin Green And Grimethorpe Colliery Band At The Glasshouse

Hitting the right note on people and place
Emma Chesworth
May 14, 2024

On taking our seats in the always impressive setting of The Glasshouse International Centre for Music's Sage One, I got an immediate wave of excited anticipation just seeing the lines of chairs and music stands adorned with the Grimethorpe Colliery stand banners.

Martin Green introduces the world famous Colliery Band onto the stage with the first half of the show shining the spotlight firmly on the South Yorkshire musicians. What follows is 20 minutes of unadulterated aural joy as the Band plays a whistle-stop repertoire of some of their most requested tunes. As Green says later in the show “I don’t believe that you don’t feel it in the gut when you hear brass.”

Kicking off with a jazzy marching band rendition of Malagueňa, it isn’t hard to see how the Grimethorpe Band has become a national institution. The Band’s Principal Cornet Player, Jamie Smith, takes centre stage for Miss Blue Bonnet before they play two songs which appeared in the 1996 hit film Brassed Off. A few of the band members who performed in the film are on stage in Gateshead. They first perform the opening song from the film, the stirring March, Death or Glory, and then give the audience a performance of Londonderry Air, better known as Danny Boy.

Ending the first part of the evening, the players are again note perfect for MacArthur Park, a tune that has become synonymous with the multi-award winning band which was formed in 1917 and has since gone on to play at the FIFA World Cup, BAFTA Awards, BBC Proms and the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. It really does feel an honour to be sat just feet away from them here in Gateshead.

On that note, Sage One is a big space to fill and it is far from full for Split the Air. The audience that is there is obviously loving every minute of it and as the band comes to the end of their performance, the possibility of an encore is teased by Derek the conductor. I am no fan of the encore to put it mildly, but seriously, I would have happily taken a tune or two more but like all good performers they left us wanting more ahead of the start of Split the Air.

Martin Green's 'Split The Air'
Martin Green's 'Split The Air'

During the interval, while buying a drink at the bar, we bumped into one of the Band’s trombonists who was grabbing a quick cup of tea. We chatted and he was delighted to be back performing in Gateshead in what, especially during the second half of the show, was an opportunity to be part of something different to the usual concert. It was wonderful to chat briefly and I admired his impossibly shiny black shoes. Standards remain high in the brass band world.

Split the Air is not easy to describe in a sentence. Green, an Ivor Novello winning composer and accordionist with folk group Lau, has come together with Grimethorpe to celebrate the creativity and the strength of character of post-industrial communities. (You can read an in-depth interview with Green about the background to Split the Air HERE). Through music, spoken word and electronics, The Glasshouse audience was left in no doubt about the importance of community and collective spirit. A brass band is a community of players within a larger community where there is a real desire to see people come together to play, and listen to, music.

Green has produced an audio drama entitled ‘Keli’ about a fictional, talented but troubled 17-year-old tenor horn player. She is brought to life, musically, by tenor horn player Sheona White who joins Green and the Band on stage for a rendition of Indomitable Spirit - a test piece from the Brass National Finals back in 1979.

Finally, ‘Keli’ comes on stage, played by Chloe-Ann Tylor who gives a mesmerising performance, commanding the stage. There is a real generational aspect to brass band communities with many having two or three generations at any one time. This was a love letter to brass bands without being sentimental. It is too easy to look at the past with rose-tinted glasses, but there is much to celebrate that brass bands are still going strong.

I have seen Green perform at The Glasshouse in the past in a commission by Opera North. Lighting the Dark drew together the stories, rituals and music of Christmas. It was as hard to describe as Split the Air and that is no bad thing.

In these fast-paced times with demands for instant gratification and knowledge available at the click of a button, it is particularly pleasing to see Green taking the time to fully immerse himself in other worlds to bring the myths, legends and lives of others to a wider audience. We are richer for it. On stage with Grimethorpe Colliery Band he, and they, certainly hit the right note.

Header Image: The Glasshouse International Centre For Music, Gateshed (Tynesight Photographic)