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Febreeze Won’t Kill a Moth, The Three Musketeers go Marching and Seagulls Don’t Like Bra

Durham Miners Gala

There are some days where I wake up and think ‘Why do I do this to myself?’

This was my first thought at 2:30 am on Saturday morning when my alarm went off anyway. After having the grand total of an hour and forty-eight minutes sleep, all I could mumble as I sleepily brushed my teeth and donned my band polo shirt was- ‘why do I do this to myself!?’

Why was I up at 2:30 am on a Saturday? No, I wasn’t catching a flight to Ibiza, I was making the annual excursion to Durham to represent South Hetton at the Durham Miners Gala with Eccles Borough Band.

Here’s the story of yet another eventful banding weekend:

Friday Night

As per usual, I stayed with my banding besties, Natalie and Matt (or Daffodil as we call him- don’t ask, it’s a long story) who very kindly put me up (and put up with me) for the banding weekend. Due to the long day ahead, Friday night was dedicated to beer, pizza and chilling. That was until a moth, the size of a small child, decided to fly through the window causing Daffodil and I to flee from the living room and hide behind the door. It wasn’t until we had barricaded ourselves outside of the living room that we realised, to our horror, that we’d left Natalie (who was having a pre-durham snooze on the couch) defenceless against the Mothzilla. Armed with a bottle of Febreeze, we attempted to stick it’s wings together or gas it, in an attempt to defeat the beast. However all this did was anger it and probably made it smell like clean linen or mountain air or some other vaguely named scent. Eventually our cries of fear woke Natalie up and we had to explain the situation. She called us a pair of wimps (or words to that effect) which, I suppose was justified- it was a bloody big moth though. We all decided to call it a night and evacuated the living room. The moth lived to fight another day, biding it’s time behind the curtains, waiting for its chance to strike again.

This eventful weekend had begun.


I won’t say the word that came out of my mouth when the alarm sounded at 2:30 am, let’s just say it’s not fit for publishing. After a lot of sleepy shuffling about, mumbling good morning to each other and grumpily getting ready, the Three Banding Musketeers were ready to set off to the band room.

Once on the coach, things started to look up. I managed to bag the only seat that reclined all the way back, Batman was shown on the coach DVD player and after a pain au chocolat, and a couple of croissants washed down with a G&T (yes, at 4am- it was necessary) I was in a much better mood.

South Hetton

We arrived in Durham to a warm welcome from the people of South Hetton. I was incredibly grateful for the bacon butties and strong coffee on offer. After sustenance was devoured, we made our way up the road to play Gresford (the miner’s hymn) and take part in a road march/procession around South Hetton.

Despite it being 8 o’clock in the morning, we played to an attentive audience that stood in their gardens or on the pavement, many of them clutching a can of Stella or Strongbow (the people of South Hetton are my kind of people), as we marched past. The fact they didn’t close the road off, meaning cars had to carefully make their way around the procession was a bit disconcerting…especially due to the fact that I was on the end of a row. I did fear, at one point, that my last moments may have included flying over the bonnet of a Vauxhall Astra- what a way to go…

End of the road march in South Hetton

Now, was the time for the main event. We made our way to the centre of Durham and took our position in front of our banner. The sun was peeking through the clouds, I had a bottle of G&T in my hand and, somewhere in the distance, one of the bands was blasting a Queen Song- I was a happy bunny. If you’ve never taken part in Durham Miner’s Gala, next time there is an opportunity to play for a band who does, you NEED to do it. The atmosphere is unlike anything else. The streets are lined with people all cheering on the bands and dancing, singing and drinking- it’s a massive party.

Caught in the act- it’s just a bottle of water, honest!

One particular highlight of the route is a makeshift mini arena that consists of a set of stone steps overlooking the road. Each band stops and plays a piece to the audience (who are sat on the steps) and they tend to go berserk. We decided to entertain them with Mamma Mia, which went down incredibly well. So well in fact, they asked for another one! We fulfilled the request of our adoring fans with ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, which they went crazy for. It’s not often that banding feels cool, but at that moment it really did.

Serious marching- look at those concentration faces.

By the time we came to the end of the march down, the sun was out and we had about three hours to kill before we had to march back up again. We had three options: go on the fairground rides, listen to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech or sit in the pub. I don’t think I need to say which option the majority of us chose. Eventually our three hours were up and we made our way back to our banner. However, Mr Corbyn hadn’t quite finished his speech. In an attempt to, politely, get him to wrap it up, myself and Natalie decided to play a spectacular rendition of the National Anthem. He did not wrap it up and I’m surprised we left with our lives ,as I can’t imagine the thousands of Corbyn-ites would have appreciated our little performance. I cracked open another bottle of pre-mixed G&T and took in the sunshine whilst he continued to witter on- sorry, I mean address the crowd.

The Three Banding Musketeers chilling with a beer. Yes I am holding two pints. Yes, they’re both for me.

Durham’s Smallest Bar

Now, a couple of litres of water, copious amounts of gin and a few pints of cider had been consumed over the course of the day and before long I had to respond to the call of nature. The last time I played in Durham, I managed to fall down a set of stairs on the way to a pub toilet. A bar known as ‘Durham’s Smallest Bar’, which was all on one floor and roughly the size of a shed, with the toilet consisting of a door at the back of the room, seemed like the safest option. Thinking we probably had a little while until we had to play again, I handed my cornet to our Solo Horn player, George, and sauntered off. I’d just like to note, I’d been caught up in the atmosphere and was slightly tipsy. As I did what I needed to do, I could hear a band playing ‘Happy’. It sounded like our arrangement of ‘Happy’. Who on earth is playing our version of ‘Happy‘? It took my drunken little brain a few minutes to process what was happening.


In my haste to leave the bathroom, I managed to lose my balance and smack my head against the bathroom door, much to the amusement of the patrons of the bar, before streaking out towards the band who’d moved on up the route. George had managed to hold my cornet between his knees, so he could play his own instrument. I very carefully managed to grab it, which considering how clumsy I am and the state I was in, it was a miracle that I avoided giving George a rather awkward injury. I managed to join in by the last chorus, trying to remember my part as I’d given it to somebody else to hold and dancing like a loon as I played. I probably wasn’t the most professional principal cornet of the day, it has to be said.

The performance of ‘Happy’ that I nearly missed…

We finished our time at the Gala with another rendition of Gresford, which was a beautifully emotional and instantly sobering end to a fantastic day.


I’ve played at worse venues

The Three Banding Musketeers slept in until the delightful time of 11:30am- marching really does take it out of you. Our banding for the weekend was not over. Myself and Natalie had agreed to dep for a band that Daffodil conducts- Freckleton. After a full day of banding on Saturday, we began to question this decision, but managed to be persuaded by Daffodil’s promise of coffee and pancakes with Nutella. We played at a place called Happy Mount Park in Morecombe, which sounded like the setting of an Agatha Christie murder mystery novel to me. However it was a gorgeous venue and a fantastic concert. The fact we were able to have an ice cream in the interval was a bonus!

Liv & Natalie: Superdeps

Unfortunately there was one member of the audience who didn’t seem to enjoy the concert. As we were leaving, I felt a drop of something warm splatter against my arm. A seagull, clearly not impressed by the concert, decided to show his distaste by pooing on me. Seagulls obviously don’t like brass bands. How rude.

So, why do I do this to myself? I could have stayed in bed, watched the tennis, had a spa day- many, many other options. So why?

I do it for the laughs I had with my band-mates. For the dodgy dance moves to a brass band playing Despacito. Drinking gin in the sun. Being cheered on by thousands of people for doing something I love (a rarity for brass bands these days). For the ex-miners, their families, their friends, who this gala means so much to, saying how much they enjoyed our band. For the privilege of being asked to step in as Principal Cornet for the band I love so much. For when all you can feel is joy when you’re playing. For interval ice creams. For pancakes with Nutella. For playing Gaelforce in the sun, in a beautiful park. For feeling proud to be a bander.

Not for a seagull pooing on me though…

Thank you to Natalie’s Mum, Nicola for taking this shot of pure (slightly drunk) joy!

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