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Introducing: Hyde Park Brass

It’s coming up to the most wonderful time of the year. And among the Coca-Cola lorries, chestnut roasters and frenzied shoppers swarming through Briggate, you are quite likely to find an enduring symbol of British folk tradition projecting Christmas carols and festive melodies: the brass band. It wouldn’t be a community occasion without that glistening, disciplined arrangement of musicians whose warm and noble sound can melt the hearts of anyone in earshot. Colliery bands represented workers and industry, military bands sustained morale and bandstands mark the heart of a community, as an ever-present feature of the country’s public parks. It’s hard to imagine life without them.

In 2016, there are an array of brass bands doing their thing, but making an effort to modernise the tradition. Recently, HiFi have hosted the Hot 8 Brass Band and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – two of the biggest live acts in the world, and for good reason. The power of those golden instruments in an intimate space should never be underestimated. Which is why we are really excited to have another brass band in our basement this weekend. They are the new kids on the block: Hyde Park Brass. We spoke to Rich from the band before they play for us at the Sunday Joint.

 

How did you get into playing your instrument in brass bands? What kinds of groups have you been with before?

I started playing trumpet at the age of 8, and got into playing in bands and orchestras through my local music service back home in Durham. The first time I really began to realise how much fun it could be to use brass in a more pop-oriented context was when a friend at home set up a function band and asked me to be in it. We had a few rehearsals, a couple of gigs and then won the Sixth Form Battle of the Bands which got us quite a reputation at our College.

 

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How did Hyde Park Brass form? Where did you all meet? Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Hyde Park Brass actually formed for a one-off gig for an end of year party that me and Harry (our alto player) were putting on at our halls at the end of our first year at Leeds Uni. We got together a long list of party tunes, played to a sell out crowd and started to think that there might be something good that could develop from what we were doing! We’ve all met through the Music Society at the Uni, or by playing with various bands around Leeds and working together in a musical sense.

 

What else do you get up to in Leeds? Where do you like to go out? What music are you guys into?

As most of us are at the Uni, it’s no secret that we’re real sticklers for a Fruity now and again. We all have so many other interests from Big Bands and orchestras to music theatre productions and so much beyond, there’s no one in the band that isn’t incredibly busy. Our musical taste is ridiculously huge, with probably everything from J Dilla to Miles Davis to Grieg covered, but I think someone we can all agree on is a bit of Motown soul, and we all absolutely love a Wednesday at HiFi!

 

What is the dynamic like in practice and performance? Does someone take the lead? Can you give us any insight into how a brass band is conducted/arranged?

Usually, as I set up the band originally, it’s either me or Chris (our snare player) who count in the tunes, but when we’re practicing that’s really the end of any leadership being concentrated on me. As I arrange all the tunes for the band, I often have a pretty clear about how I want it to sound, but that’s often not the best thing for the group over all. Finding our sound in any context – be it busking, practicing or gigging – is always a collaborative effort and so we like to take a collaborative approach.

 

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What do your sets consist of? I am aware that you do your own covers of pop songs. How are these arranged? Who suggests the tracks?

At the moment, our set is quite pop heavy (perhaps more than we’d like!) but we are trying to start throwing in some covers of our favourite bands that play in this sort of style over in America. We’re adding to our set a few tunes by Soul Rebels and Youngblood Brass Band, and the reason for that is by bringing more of those tunes in, it’ll allow us to move more towards writing our own stuff in the New Year! I usually arrange the tracks, and while we usually suggest them as a group, it does take me a second or two to hum through the different harmony parts and see if it would work for us. If it does, we do it!

 

What are your plans for the next few weeks and months? Are you looking beyond Leeds?

We’ve started to get quite busy over the next few weeks which is really exciting for us. On the 3rd December we’re playing a Brass Festival over in Oldham, and then from the 16th we’re taking up a residency with the Hidden Christmas Market at Kirkstall Abbey. In the New Year, we’re headlining the Bacchanalia event at the Uni, and hopefully we start looking at other venues around the area in preparation for our second summer of festivals!

 

How did you find your busking experience? Do you do it a lot?

We all thought it was fantastic, if a little cold. It’s the first time any of us had been busking in Leeds, but we though there wasn’t really a better way to get the word out about ourselves and our Sunday Joint than going onto Briggate and playing and shouting! We are hoping to increase the frequency of our busking, because if nothing else it serves as a great way to rehearse things and hopefully we’ll be doing a lot more soon!

 

 

What is your favourite song that utilises a brass instrument?

As a musician myself I could probably go on all day about this question, but probably anything by Earth, Wind and Fire. The horn parts they write a just ridiculously good and I can’t think of anyone who uses brass better in a pop context!

 

See Hyde Park Brass’s Facebook page here, and see them perform at HiFi for free this Sunday.

 

Oliver Walkden