IT is perhaps no surprise their story was turned into a movie. It was, after all, filled with all the right ingredients - heartbreak, redemption and trombone players.
But before Brassed Off told the world the tale of Grimethorpe Colliery Band that tale had been real life. And there had been no guarantee of a happy ending. It is the 15th anniversary of the film, starring Ewan McGregor and Pete Postlethwaite, but David Barraclough remembers the struggles as if it were yesterday.
He is the only remaining member from the era the movie portrays; a period when the pit was closed, the community devastated, and the world-famous group looked on the brink of extinction. There was a happy(ish) ending, of course.
The band not only survived to be named the best in Britain, it also remained the most successful brass ensemble on the planet and has since sold more than 200,000 CDs while playing venues like the Sydney Opera House and New York’s Carnegie Hall.
But today, as the 27-piece currently tours Australia to celebrate that landmark anniversary, somehow the past always looms large.
“When they announced the mine was closing, it was the worst moment of my life,” says David, a cornet player and the group’s librarian. “I’d worked there all my life. My whole family had, and suddenly I was 32 and without a future.”
The year was 1992. To most of the 6,000 men left unemployed by the closure, the band’s future was not an issue, but to those in the group, the thought it might be wound up was insult added to injury.
David, a one-time belt mechanic and now a music technician at Leeds University, again: “Obviously the main concern was finding another job but the idea of losing the band felt like a two-pronged attack. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a way of life. We didn’t know what would happen or where we’d practise.”
But as in Brassed Off - set in the fictional town of Grimley but featuring music by the real life GCB - the group not only survived through sheer determination; it overcame the adversity to win that year’s National Brass Band Championships at the Albert Hall, in London.
Then, within weeks, its future was secured when British Coal offered sponsorship.
“Going to London was like nothing I’ve ever known,” says David, a father of two and step-father of one, of Farringdon Close, Hemsworth. “I remember getting off the coach and camera crews mobbing us. The story of our struggle with the closure had gone worldwide long before the film so to win was a dream.”
The victory was comprehensive - the band scored 99 points out of 100 - and paved the way for a glorious next two decades. Because, while Brassed Off concludes with the triumph, the real life band went on to even greater success. The group, which is now based in Grimethorpe’s Acorn Centre and has players from across South Yorkshire and the North, won the National Brass Band Championships again in 2006 and 2007.
“I’ve had so many great moments,” says David. “It’s given me a life I wouldn’t have had otherwise, allowed me to see the world and meet new people. Like this tour of Australia. I’d never have come here on my own.
“What’s really nice is when people from South Yorkshire come up after a show in another part of the world and talk to you like an old friend. What do they say? They’ll normally ask if a chipy or a pub is still open. But that’s lovely.”
It’s 15 years since Brassed Off. Perhaps it’s time for a sequel.
1917 - The band is founded as a leisure activity for colliery workers.
1932 - First appearance on radio.
1955 - George Thompson is appointed musical director and over 17 years is credited with turning the band into the best in the world.
1974 - Becomes the first brass band to perform at the Proms.
1982 - Tours Australia for the first time
1992 - The pit closes but the band continues and is named Best National Brass Band at London’s Albert Hall.
2011 - Tours Australia for the fifth time to celebrate 15 years since the film Brassed Off was released.