I want to propose here that the musical creativity of Barnsley in the 1970s was, in part, due to the thriving school music scene within the borough. For my part, I know this to be the case, but I feel that the inspiration went wider than one inept flautist.
Going to Broadway Grammar in 1972, I was given the opportunity to learn an instrument. I chose the flute (in imitation of James Galway on the BBC) and started regular lunchtime lessons with a peripatetic teacher who came in once a week. Two or three of us attended; I was only a moderate student, but the experience of learning to read music combined with the discipline of practising daily were doubtless valuable. It inspired me to believe that I had some ability that could be transferred to other instruments- a confidence that has enriched me in the years since.
Over and above the regular lessons, we were encouraged to join the activities of the schools’ music centre. This met every Friday evening at Charter School , which was a comprehensive literally next door to Broadway Grammar that I attended. For a couple of hours on a Friday night we further enhanced our skills by playing in either an orchestra or in the so-called concert band, which played popular tunes from films and musicals (The Entertainer and similar). There was also a guitar group, but there was naturally little call for a flute amongst the ranks of acoustic strummers.
I started off in the orchestra, but I was awful and I didn’t much like it. My mum wanted me to like Bach and Mozart, but I could never feel true admiration or attachment. After a few months, I was able to transfer to the concert band. I was still awful, and spent a lot of my time miming or just playing the bars that I could manage with reasonable competence, but the tunes were better. I have referred elsewhere to our stirring rendition of The Dambusters’ March; at least what we did was fun, even if I couldn’t keep up.
The music centre offered other facilities to the budding musicians. You were assisted with the musical theory aspects of your instrumental examinations- and it was with their aid that I attained the dizzy heights of Grade Four (lower) on the flute in July 1976. This tuition also gave me the confidence that I could compose my own tunes (and record them in proper musical notation); something I duly did, though whether the pleasure derived from the act of composition was equalled by that of the listener is another matter.
The music centre also had another benefit: you also had less inhibited access to members of the opposite sex than at school and my own romantic interests are now a matter of public record- on this site and elsewhere.
The greatest contribution of the music centre to Barnsley’s rock history was the director’s curious and aberrational decision to allow the band I had joined, Nightmare, to practice on Fridays in one of the spare rooms in the school. It was another style of music to add to the mix, but we were entirely free of any supervision or instruction and just got on with making a racket and hoping to impress girls, an endeavour which culminated in playing three songs at the annual summer concert in 1976. Doubtless we were awful; doubtless our cover of ‘Do you close your eyes when you’re making love?’ by Rainbow was unwise given the mixed audience of parents and siblings under ten. We were never invited back, anyway.
Out of those music centre collaborations grew several other bands, one of them very well known indeed, so that I would contend that the instrumental and compositional skills instilled through the school’s service had a direct impact upon the interest and ability of local musicians. Huge thanks are due to Barnsley council for their foresight and investment in our cultural development.
I’d welcome the views of others who went through the same experiences!