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Review | Freckleton Band’s ‘Kinky Toots’

Freckleton Band’s Spectacular Drag and Brass Collaboration


When Freckleton Band’s collaboration between brass bands and drag performance was announced as the first project in Brass Band England’s Elevate Programme, I was beyond excited. This was for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, to see brass bands collaborating with other artforms is something I’ve wanted to see more of for a long time. Secondly, I’m a huge fan of drag -  I admire the power it holds as a vehicle for self-expression and to educate, as well as how entertaining it is to watch. Last, but not least, as I’ve said in many previous posts, I’m a huge fan of the compositional and musical talent of the band’s MD, Adam Taylor, so I knew that this show was going to be something incredibly special. 


I was not disappointed. 


A Seamless Blend of Traditional and Contemporary

This was the first time I’ve entered a venue for a brass band concert that had pop anthems blasting and vibrant strobe lighting as you entered the room. The Fifth Floor venue in Blackpool Tower had all the fun atmosphere of a nightclub without the sticky floors. It was an exciting first impression and so contrasting from the typical brass band concert venue. 


The first thing I have to commend Adam and the project's director, Jamie Sophia Fletcher, on is the choice of programming. They managed to effortlessly combine traditional repertoire that our movement is known for, such as marches and overtures, with pop classics, rock anthems and even Disney songs. Alongside well-known contemporary songs, the team had made the effort to present traditional brass band music, within a creative context that was engaging for those who are new to the brass band medium. It was the perfect mix that showcased our music in a way that offered a refreshing experience for regular brass band fans and an engaging introduction to those who were new listeners. 


A Professional Production

The show opened with The Contestor - a march that most brass banders would be familiar with. However, it was performed with the band marching in a style similar to that of an American marching band. Not only was the piece performed brilliantly by the band, the choreography was expertly executed - it was an impressive start.


As the band marched their way onto the stage, they were joined by the two drag performers, Len Blanco and Donna Trump who opened the show with an explosion of charisma and infectious humour; walking around the cabaret tables, welcoming guests to the tune of ‘Wilkommen’ from Cabaret. 


Comedy wasn’t the only skillset the two performers brought to the table. Alongside their spirited stage presence, both Donna and Len possessed fine voices that were showcased throughout the evening. 


The first vocal offering came in the form of the duet ‘Love is an Open Door’ from Disney’s Frozen, which was as charming as it was witty. This was followed by Queen’s energetic ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ which (as a fan of brass bands, drag and Queen - I thought all of my Christmases had come at once). It was the solo performances of each artist that really demonstrated their vocal talents. Len’s renditions of ‘Crocodile Rock’ and ‘I Want to Break Free’ were delivered with dynamism and showmanship both Freddie and Elton would be proud of. Donna, who has trained in musical theatre, had me in tears with her beautiful rendition of one of the most stunning songs from a Disney movie - ‘Out There’ from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. 


The band then had a chance to shine with a few instrumental items on the programme. One of the highlights was Cyril Jenkins’ ‘Life Divine’, which we know as a serious piece of brass band music, but in the context of the show it really worked as a cinematic opening to the second half. Other offerings included the iconic ‘Abba Goes Brass’ and Barry Manilow’s ‘Could it Be Magic’ that were performed with buckets of style and were real crowd-pleasers.



The final vocal performance of the night was ‘This is My Life’ - a powerful anthem that has become a signature song for the singing superstar, Shirley Bassey. This show demonstrated the importance of inclusion and what can be achieved when we enable people from all backgrounds to showcase their talents and this song, performed brilliantly by the band, Len and Donna, summed up this message beautifully. 


The entire show was performed and produced with such professionalism that it is easy to forget that the band is an amateur organisation and they managed to fit in many hours of rehearsal and the performance itself around full-time careers and busy schedules. The countless hours of hard work paid off.


Comedy, Competition and Cowboy Hats

Interspersed between the musical and vocal performances where some really funny skits, witty standup and even a game show!


My favourite comedic moment of the evening happened when drag king, Len Blanco, donned a Freckleton Band concert jacket and declared that he was joining the band. He then proceeded to attempt to contribute to the band’s performance of the Overture from William Tell on various percussion instruments with varying degrees of success. The comedic timing was hilarious and it was yet another demonstration of how you can present music that may be seen as ‘a little stuffy’ to modern audiences in an engaging way. 


Before the interval, it was announced that there was going to be some audience participation required for a game of ‘Supermarket Sweep’. When I put my hand up to be picked for these kinds of things, it’s a very rare occurrence that I actually get picked. So, you can imagine my surprise when Donna picked me out of the audience. The competition involved three rounds where we would have to find 3 items from around the venue:

  • The fanciest pair of shoes you could find

  • A bright pink cowboy hat

  • A stick of rock

The person who could source the items and beat the other competitors back to the stage would be the winner.


Now, dear reader, one thing you need to know about me is that my level of competitiveness would put Monica Gellar from Friends to shame. So, when I saw the other competitors take off running, you better believe I ran the full length of that venue faster than Usain Bolt running to the loo after a dodgy curry. I haven’t been to the gym in nearly a year, but I was going to win even if it risked my cardiovascular health. And win, I did. I am now the proud owner of the following prizes:

  • A bucket and spade (signed by the two drag performers)

  • A set of sand moulds (signed by the two drag performers)

  • A box of blackpool fudge (signed by the two drag performers)

  • A pack of blackpool playing cards (signed by the two drag performers)

  • 3 sticks of blackpool rock

  • A blackpool tower keyring

  • And a banana (signed by the two drag performers - yes, it was a real banana)


Oh, and I got to keep the bright pink cowboy hat too! 


Expanding Our Reach

It’s worth mentioning that there seemed to be some concern on social media in regards to the content of this show, given that there was age guidance provided. Firstly, I would say that the humour didn’t go beyond the tongue-in-cheek comedy and innuendo that would be seen in a pantomime. Secondly, should there be another performance similar to Kinky Toots performed in the future that did contain more adult themes, I don’t think this should be seen as a bad thing. There are plenty of comedians, musical theatre productions, films etc. that are aimed at an adult audience, so why shouldn’t we have some shows that are aimed at a different demographic to regular brass band performances. In my opinion, there will always be ‘family-friendly’ brass band concerts, so we don’t run the risk of losing out if more ‘grown-up’ performances were to arise, and any opportunity to introduce banding in a more contemporary way that attracts new audiences to the medium is surely a good thing?


The entire show was a vibrant showcase of the beauty that can be created when diversity and inclusion is embraced. There is so much talent to be found in many under-represented communities and backgrounds, and collaborations, such as Kinky Toots, can create spaces for that talent to flourish. 


The Launch of a New Much-Needed Era

During the opening speeches before the show, Jamie talked us through her vision for ‘Kinky Toots’, as well as her experiences growing up as a young person in brass bands. Fletcher, who identifies as a queer, trans woman, explained how she fell in love with banding and how this experience contributed to her understanding her identity and realising who she is.


However, the passing of Section 28, the legislation that prohibited the publication of materials relating to homosexuality and banned local authorities and schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’ from the late eighties to the early noughties in the UK, forced Jamie to hide her identity and had an impact on how she felt about herself. Jamie was an adult by the time these laws were repealed. 


As someone who often says, “I wouldn’t be who I am today without brass banding”, the statement Jamie made about learning about herself through being in a brass band resonated with me, as brass banding is the fire that has forged many features of my personality and identity. However, I had the privilege of being able to find myself within brass banding without legislation prohibiting who I am and I’m angry that Jamie and, undoubtedly, so many others were unable to explore who they are without unnecessary restriction and felt they needed to hide their true identity. 


It is a fact that LGBTQ+ people in the UK are still facing discrimination both within society and from governmental attitudes. Similarly, although viewpoints in brass banding are shifting to become more inclusive, there is still work to be done. As a child I was lucky that I was able to find myself within banding, but I want this experience to be universal for every person in our community, especially the younger generation, regardless of their background, gender or sexuality. Every person should be able to walk into a band room and be able to be their true, authentic self.


I do hope that this project helps to facilitate a new era of banding. An era that is very much needed to both ensure the survival of our movement by introducing it to new audiences and encouraging new players to join our bands. This can only be achieved through embracing inclusion and ensuring brass bands provide the space for everyone to be themselves, showcase their talent and be appreciated for who they are. 


Bravo to Freckleton Band, Adam, Jamie, Donna and Len for this brave, creative and thoroughly entertaining project. May it be the start of many more. Thanks also to Brass Bands England for creating the Elevate project that provides the opportunity for our community to secure our future and make brass banding the vibrant, innovative and musically-excellent community it should be. 


Here’s to the future. 


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bob
18 mar

Delighted that you enjoyed the performance, it was a blast to be part of it.


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