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BRASS collaboration celebrates County Durham's history

Published June 15, 2022 9.41am


Music and film which celebrate and commemorate County Durham's 'Category D' villages have been produced as part of this year's BRASS.

The festival, which is one of the highlights of our annual events programme, promises to be bigger and better than ever when it returns from Sunday 10 to Sunday 17 July.

One of the headline performances of the week will see LYR perform with The Easington Colliery Band inside the spectacular setting of Durham Cathedral in Firm As A Rock We Stand on Friday 15 July.

Comprised of singer Richard Walters, producer Patrick Pearson and current British Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, LYR's musical project is available on EP, with a documentary also accessible online to accompany the release.

Learning the history of Category D villages 

The work is the result of a co-commission by Durham BRASS and the Durham Miners' Association and combines poetic spoken passages, vocal melodies and imaginative, cinematic production alongside one of the premier brass bands in the north. 

Armitage visited the Durham Miners' Association to learn more about the history of the Category D villages, which were said to have not had an economically viable future in the 1950s.

Armitage said: "I'm super conscious of my identity in relation to where I'm from. Not only does my writing reflect that, I think I make a lot of my decisions in life by looking over my shoulder and thinking about where I came from.

"The idea that that place would no longer exist - or has been deemed to be hopeless and without a future - I could imagine being upsetting and bewildering. It spoke to me."

As part of his research, Armitage spoke to people who had lived in the Category D villages and learned more about the broader history of the county. His exploration of the region can be seen in the documentary directed by Ged Clarke. Meanwhile, LYR's new music features excerpts of recordings made as they were shown the villages by local residents.

Armitage described the project as being genuinely special, adding: "It is an incredible honour for us to be performing this new work at Durham Cathedral. It's an enormous privilege to be playing in that space and also a big responsibility to take on the issues and themes that are very real for some people. We are talking about people's lives and we want to do a great job of representing them properly."

The documentary can be viewed online at BRASS: LYR.

'An incredibly moving and powerful story'

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: "This year's BRASS promises some fantastic performances. As well as celebrating the rich history of brass music, we are able to showcase the combination of traditional big band music alongside more unique interpretations through LYR and Easington Colliery Band. This diverse offering demonstrates our ongoing commitment to culture and cultural led regeneration in County Durham.  

"Audiences can look forward to not only fantastic music, but also an incredibly moving and powerful story of the history of the Category D villages. One of the key principles of our UK City of Culture bid came from the Durham Miners' Association motto: 'The past we inherit, the future we build'. This performance perfectly encapsulates this and promises to be very memorable."

The festival will also feature a host of community workshops, free concerts in schools, communities and care homes across the county and a full programme of lively street bands.

And, coinciding with the BRASS festival is the ever-popular Durham City Run. This will see hundreds of competitors race through the city centre on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 July, accompanied by live music from BRASS' street bands.

To find out more about the festival and book tickets, visit BRASS: Durham International Festival.