Brass band: Sheffield players carry on centuries old tradition of local carols

Christmas in Sheffield just wouldn’t be the same without a brass band and Stannington has one which can trace its roots back to 1881.
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Based at Knowle Top, Stannington Brass Band is proud to be part of its community and play local carols which date back centuries.

The community link is crucial. Just ask publicity officer Lorraine Dyson. “We do at least three sometimes four concerts a year within Stannington. We play at Lomas Hall on Church Street, a community hall and a fantastic venue.

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“It is to make sure we remain connected with the community. We also do the Remembrance Sunday parade and Stannington Carnival, although covid has stopped that for the last two years.”

Stannington Brass Band playing at Hillsborough Golf ClubStannington Brass Band playing at Hillsborough Golf Club
Stannington Brass Band playing at Hillsborough Golf Club

The band has resumed its usual tradition of playing local and traditional carols throughout December.

Band chairman Phil Attrill said: “Last year was particularly difficult as we were unable to perform indoors due to the pandemic but this year we are looking forward carrying on with tradition of playing carols around the pubs, clubs and churches.

“Many of the local carols are unique to this area of Sheffield and we are proud that they are part of this band’s heritage”.

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Lorraine adds “Christmas is about carols and there is one called Stannington, written by a Mrs Dyson although we’re not related!

Music on the stand for Stannington Brass BandMusic on the stand for Stannington Brass Band
Music on the stand for Stannington Brass Band

“That is the signature tune for our band. Local carols are unique to this area, not just us but other Yorkshire bands.

“It is something this community holds very dear to its heart and we are very keen that it continues for future generations.

“It is important youngsters play these carols and hopefully some will move on to other bands to continue this heritage which goes back centuries.”

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This is detailed on the website which says: “Although there is a core of carols that are sung at most venues, each particular place has its own mini-tradition.

Stannington Brass Band at Christmas.Stannington Brass Band at Christmas.
Stannington Brass Band at Christmas.

“The repertoire at two nearby places can vary widely, and woe betide those who try to strike up a ‘foreign’ carol. “We don’t sing that one here,” will come as a sharp reminder.

“Some are unaccompanied, some have a piano or organ, there is a flip chart with the words on in one place, a string quartet (quintet, sextet, septet) accompanies the singing at another, some encourage soloists, others stick to audience participation, a brass band plays at certain events, the choir takes the lead at another; but, whatever the occasion, there is always a warm welcome and a willingness to help the newcomers with words and tunes.

The band has a busy diary up to Boxing Day performing at the following venues, subject to changes in covid restrictions:

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December 19; Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, 6pm, then onto The Peacock, Stannington at 8.30pm. December 21; The Ball, Crookes, 8.30pm. December 22; The Holly Bush, Hollins Lane, 8.30pm. Christmas Day and Boxing Day; carols around Stannington village, 9.45 am start from Rose and Crown car park.

Stannington Brass Band celebrating its 50th anniversaryStannington Brass Band celebrating its 50th anniversary
Stannington Brass Band celebrating its 50th anniversary

They also have a Christmas carols CD which sold out but is available again thanks to a re-order and a 50th anniversary disc called Images. Oh yes, there’s a training band too. Lorraine plays tenor horn in this. “It is for people honing their musical skills. They don’t necessarily want to move on but just love playing the music. We recently played carols outside the shops and it was lovely.

“We’re a diverse group in age and experience, from aged eight to teenagers through to people like me.” Lorraine is 70 and says the focus is on fun. “We play music from the movies, traditional songs and classical. We mix it up so there’s something for everyone.”

Brass bands are famously competitive and Stannington is currently in the Yorkshire Area First Section. “Bands are like football teams playing in leagues and the top is the championship section,” says Lorraine. “We did get up to that level where you are playing against bands like Grimethorpe and Brighouse and Rastrick. They are world class.

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“Then there’s the first section and we stand a chance of promotion. It depends on the championship in March which is held in Huddersfield.

“If we finish first or second we move into the national finals in Cheltenham. We have played there in 2016 when we moved up from the second section.”

They have also collaborated with Sheffield favourite John Reilly, of Boy on a Dolphin fame, for concerts at Sheffield City Hall and Sheffield Cathedral for local cancer charities.

Stannington Brass BandStannington Brass Band
Stannington Brass Band

“That’s been running for the last four or five years and is a fantastic night. John gets some top class acts, classical singers, and we are very honoured and privileged to be part of that.”

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Sadly, the band’s base is under threat. Knowle Top Chapel, a striking landmark since 1879, is now for sale on the open market. For a few more weeks it will still be used by the community for the breakfast and after school club, bellringing, keep fit classes and Stannington Brass Band. The popular Saturday coffee mornings have unfortunately ended already.

Soon everything will stop unless a community buy-out to own and manage the buildings is successful.

Lorraine said: “Just over a year ago we heard from the chapel that they were going to cease worshipping in the building. The congregation was diminishing and they felt they couldn’t carry on any longer.

“They gave us ample notice so we made an announcement on Facebook and got a really strong response.

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“A campaign group was formed called Action For Knowle Top and the last 12 months have been working towards putting in a bid to buy the building.

“£350,000 is needed to buy the buildings and cover their running costs until income rises to balance them. This can be achieved within three to five years.

“It is hoped at least £150,000 can be raised from investments in Community Shares. This is the minimum needed to make the project viable. The rest will be financed by grants, donations and – if necessary – a mortgage. But the higher the shares investment, the lower the need for costly loans."

Community matters and the ups and downs of the building reflect the band. As we know, the first mention of Stannington Brass Band was in 1881. Later it became the Stannington Church Brass Band and after a six year break was reformed in 1968 as Stannington Brass Band with its first performance in February 1969 – making that the Golden Anniversary year.

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“There is so much to be proud of and celebrate in the 50 years since the band reformed,” the band’s website says.

“As in life, there have been highs and lows, moments of exhilaration and disappointment. We will all remember the sheer joy - and a little trepidation - of our promotion to the Yorkshire Championship Section in 2008 – the highest accolade in the band’s history.

“Competing against some of the highest ranking bands in the world for two years certainly put us on our mettle and provided memories we can share with our grandchildren forever!

“There were more celebrations in 2016 when the band pulled off an incredible double in the same year by scooping both Second Section Yorkshire Area and National Championship firsts and a promotion back to the First Section.

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“Still on a high from their success at the National Brass Band Championships, the band continued their winning form by being awarded first prize in the Second Section at the Bolsover Festival of Brass where Richard Dowling was rewarded with the best Soloist’s prize.

“They topped off their most successful contesting year with win number five at an annual contest in Holmfirth where they were judged best Second Section band.”

To find out more visit the band’s website or Facebook page

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