Hackney Colliery Band @ Jazz Festival Big Top, Cheltenham (04.05.15)

It’s always a curious thing when you walk into a festival portaloo and discover that it’s got EXACTLY the same vinyl flooring as you have in your bathroom. I’m not really quite sure what that says about our decorative taste or our budget (or more to the point, Cheltenham Jazz Festival’s taste or budget).

But anyway, this review isn’t about bathroom flooring (go to http://www.askabathroomflooringtradesman.com for that), we are here at lunchtime on Bank Holiday Monday to watch Hackney Colliery Band in the Big Top.

DSC00029And it sounds like Hackney Colliery Band have had quite the last 12 hours. From leaving the stage at 2am that same morning in Sheffield, to suffering a power cut in the tent whilst sound-checking, you do wonder if their entrance onto the stage THROUGH the actual audience whilst playing their instruments is planned or whether they are just delirious from lack of sleep.

When they do take their places on the stage, the band open with ‘A Bit Of Common Decency’ from their latest album, and from then on in the next hour and a bit can only be described as a relentless explosion of brass. You see, Hackney Colliery Band make brass band music (dare I say it) – cool. It’s amazing what a pair of jeans, some unkempt hair and a few choice covers of Kanye West and Prodigy songs can do. The Salvation Army afternoon tea this is not.

Talented musicians throughout, their double trumpet, saxophone, and trombone line-up provides the focal point whilst the percussionists drive things along at the back – only occasionally taking the limelight for themselves through some lively solos. Band leader Steve Pretty at the front holds things together with almost constant name-checking of the rest of the band every time they play something particularly exceptional (which is A LOT) and only once seems to forget that he’s not still at last night’s rave in Sheffield when he references recreational drugs to a Cheltenham Jazz Festival family audience on a Monday afternoon.

DSC00036The whole band are quite something (hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits attest to that). They throw in a bit of 21st Century technology with an arrangement of drums beats, and then pull the carpet from under us with a slow ballad. New song ‘Bread & Circuses’ is a whirlwind of hypnotic brass that showcases their political edge, whilst their Prodigy medley is far superior to any Abba medley you might hear at your cousin Tracey’s Wedding disco.

Watching Hackney Colliery Band is a bit like watching a fireworks display. For a while things just simmer, but then all of a sudden they EXPLODE and a trumpet goes off in your face and a drum goes rat-a-tat-tat in your ear, and the people watching cover their children’s ears and go ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ simultaneously. And then when it’s all over, you turn to the people you came with and say, “That was bloody good. Shall we come again next time?”


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