From the wings to centre-stage: Women joining brass bands in British mining towns (1945-1984)

By Marion Henry

Brass bands—amateur musical ensembles mainly formed of brass instruments—are a symbol of British working-class culture. Still deeply rooted in the coalfields during the post-war years, these musical formations embodied coalminers’ physical strength and were strong homosocial environments that reinforced camaraderie outside of the workplace. But between the nationalisation of the British coal industry in 1947 and the early 1980s, brass bands slowly opened to women, who had previously been restricted to a supporting role. This paper, drawing on an oral investigation conducted with a dozen musicians from mining brass bands, uses oral sources to qualify this process and to highlight the continuity of the gendered segregation of spaces and activities in the coalfields during the second half of the 20th century. From the late 1960s, these musical formations opened to women mostly because they had no other option in a context of deindustrialisation. The position of female musicians in brass bands was also limited and constrained by the necessity to adapt to the norms of a masculine world.

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