Last Friday and the cars through our villages found themselves in gridlock face to face with brass, bitter and uniforms marching towards them. A standard bearer before them, names taking the place of the Eagle, the Aquila of Lees, Lydgate, Yarwell and Nassington Britannia, Lignieres, Greenalls (yes, the brewery) and Dobcross Silver Band to name a few. You could see some of the drivers becoming a tad heated, stopped by the greatest show on Earth, a mix of regional accents, a mix of people from across the globe all here to play music and to stop them getting home, and it's raining! It's a bit hard to swear at people from your car window when Castell Coch, Glemdene and Blackadder drowns you out. You look a bit of prat doing physical gestures to the Great Escape tune. It wouldn't have worked for Steve McQueen and it won't for you. You're boy racer car booming out some dirge from some terrible artist who proclaims 'genius' because he's sampled Led Zeppelin or the B-52s or Annie for the fiftieth time pales in wave after wave of the brass that drowns it out. It's a hard knock life is brass. This isn't a film, this isn't Brassed Off (though it was filmed around here), this is the real thing, this is Whit Friday and you should know better to bring your cars through here at that time of year. Take the day off. Piss off. Either way, take something off. We have known particularly sweary drivers vanish in the wake of a brass band, their cars simply cease to exist under a wave of beer and burly hands, and cheap parts on eBay. This is the greatest show on Earth, and like Sparta, you don't mess with it and you don't play your crap. You listen to our crap instead, and it is great crap, played by men and women who go to work, and then in their spare time start packing a tuba, a trombone, a cornet. For anyone whose been punched by a cornet, you know what we're saying. Anyone who has ever watch a trombone player empty their spit valve, you know where we are coming from. So, listen. Listen and hear the land, hear the world beneath your feet, hear the soil that flows through beer and into brass.
Andrew is at the beer tent lamenting bad beer, he may argue with them again this year and demand local beer for local people. He hasn't decided. The tourists can have the flat stuff that gives you headaches after two pints. He wants to feel warm in his cheeks, a deep smiling ache that infects the jaws bone and pulls the eyes taut into an endless smile without hangover. Little D is running around with the girl from the farm across the way, they're on their fiftieth lap, red faced and munching on a year's worth of pocket money chocolate. They sing, they run to the pace of Glemdene, move like The Cossack and are as sly as the Ravenswood when you look for them. It is to them the greatest day of the year, it will be over too soon, the heavens are opening, the skin is soaking and as we call it quits, as we pull Andrew away from arguing about beer with the barman, the brass follows us uphill past all the fuming drivers caught in gridlock, caught in the arms of brass.
If you wonder what the fuss is about listen to the surge of brass. Scroll down and we'll leave the final word to Ammon Wrigley.
Home to old Saddleworth, home once more,
How my heart is stirred to its innermost core;
For I've been roaming and it's a joy to go;
Up the hillside lane by the fields I know.
Home to the hamlet where my own folks bide,
To the old armchair by the hearthstone side;
To the neighbour folks and my boyhood's friends;
Who oft played with me at the old lane ends.
Home to the throstle on the high ash tree
When its throat is full of the springtime glee;
To the upland fields where the skylarks sing;
And the rough brown moor with its grouse and ling
Home to the meadows in the morning time,
To the high barn now that I used to climb;
To the windrows turned on a howling day;
And the laneside trees hung with whisps of hay.
I'll go to the village not far below,
To the quaint old street and the folks I know;
I know what they'll say as they've always done;
"Put it theer, owd lad, if it weighs a ton.
The little sweet shop where I sued to stare
At the parkin pies and toffy sticks there;
How I pressed my nose 'gainst the window pane;
And longed for a penny but longed in vain.
Home to old Saddleworth what more do I need,
Than the hills I love an' the men they breed?
And I'll roam no more for I ne'er have found
More kindlier hearts or a dearer ground
Ammon Wrigley (1861-1946)