As July 2020 comes to a close, the UK marks another month of living with a global pandemic. Many people are starting to enjoy more freedom as their routines gradually return to normal, businesses are re-opening, tourist spots are open to visitors and even international travel restrictions are lifting. However, not everything is moving forward.

Normally, at this time of year, if you take a stroll through many large parks or visit summer fêtes on a weekend, you’re more than likely to hear the sounds of one of the areas’ brass bands as they provide an afternoon of light entertainment. (Many parks do run a full series of concerts throughout the summer months spanning June to September – check with your local councils and news outlets for details).

Not this year though. This year the bandstands, summer fêtes, concert halls, churches, etc will be silent, with the bands not even allowed to meet in small groups to rehearse, never mind perform altogether.

Today, 4th August, marks 150 days since Unite the Union Band have sat in a rehearsal room, or on stage, and played together. We are just one of thousands of non-professional bands across the UK in this position.

With the re-opening of sports venues, gyms, restaurants, tourist attractions, holiday facilities and even international travel, I think we could be forgiven for hoping that it wouldn’t be too long before we could start to resume our activities too. Sadly, as of yet, there is nothing in the Governments' guidance that will allow us to play as a group, or gives us an idea of when we may do so again.

Do not misunderstand us, the impact of Coronavirus across the world has been devasting. We understand the reasons why we are not able to play, and on the whole, we support the decision. The safety of our players and our audience is still at the forefront of our minds, as it was when we took the decision to suspend all activities, and to the majority, not being able to participate in a ‘hobby’ is a small price to pay. However, with many recreational facilities once again available for people to use, it is a little disheartening to realise that we do not have a timeline yet where we can look to resume.

Perhaps another aspect to brass bands that is not often appreciated by someone from the outside, is that a band is a bit like a family – granted it can be dysfunctional and an unusual one at times, but it is family none the less. We choose to spend a large proportion of our free time with this group of people, usually for years at a time. We clash over ideas and have disagreements, but we also celebrate victories, birthdays, promotions, weddings, births and commiserate together when things go wrong, both inside and outside of the band. We can be a sounding board for peoples' ideas, we might be a support network for people or we provide a place for a group of individuals to enjoy something together outside of work and family. There are very few environments where people of numerous different backgrounds, professions and ages (our age range is 20 – 70+ for example), come together for a common course, week in week out. Many bands, ours included, also have families within their ranks, both playing and helping within their organisation. In short, it is not just the music we are missing.

Lockdown is not all doom and gloom though. Whilst we have been unable to get together to play, we have been able to take advantage of technology - big thank you to our MD John Davis for leading on this -  to stay in touch and put together a few small projects. Zoom, the internet and video editing software have become essential tools to the band over the past 5 months. Anyone who has visited the bands’ Facebook page in the last few months will (hopefully) have seen our virtual ‘Slaidburn performance’, contributions to International Workers' Memorial Day, the Durham Miners' Gala, and also our “Meet the Band” series.  If you haven’t yet seen them, or don’t use Facebook, you can find all the videos on our “Lockdown Latest” page.

On the social front, we are holding chats and quizzes, through Zoom and by email, on our rehearsal nights, PlayStation gaming nights and our social media chat groups. A few of us have even managed a couple of socially distant meetings in the past few weeks. Hopefully it won’t be too long until those meetings between a couple of us, are able to involve all of us once again.

We don’t know what the future will hold, but with all of our concerts cancelled until at least October, along with appearances at the finals of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, and the Bolsover Entertainment Contest, all we can do is prepare for our next performance, whenever that may be. To borrow a phrase from a film featuring one of our fellow Yorkshire bands:

“Two world wars, three disasters, seven strikes, one big depression, and the band played on…”.

All being well, it looks like bands will be adding “one global pandemic” to the list.