Blowing its own trumpet!
Irvine & Dreghorn Brass celebrated its 40th birthday in 2016. Since then, the band has had plenty to shout about, not least the purchase of its very own premises, namely, the Dunlop Memorial Hall in Dreghorn.
“It’s a great venue,” Secretary, James McGoldrick, tells me. “It gives us a bit of security as well. The space that we’ve got now is vast in comparison to what we had before. We have rooms where we can have separate tuition, we can store our instruments properly. We even have the ability now to host smaller concerts and events, without having to move everything to another venue!”
Previously, the band rented space from the council and would rehearse in a single room above the changing rooms at Woodland Road in Irvine.
“The youth band in particular has gone from strength to strength because previously there was nowhere for parents to sit and watch their kids perform, whereas now there’s enough space for parents to sit with a cup of tea or a coffee and actually watch. It’s also a venue that we can let out to the local community.”
James first became involved when a friend of his who already played in the band told him they needed a percussionist and asked if he would like to play in a ‘small contest’ in Cheltenham.
“I used to play in a concert band when I was at school but I’d never played in a brass band before. The first time I performed with the band was on stage at the National UK Finals!”
Not a small contest at all, then? But James was clearly not put off. In fact, not only did he join the band, he also joined the committee and later volunteered to take the trustee position of Treasurer and Secretary, a role he still performs today.
“I’ve been on the trustee team ever since… back and forward between the Secretary and Treasurer’s post for the last couple of years.”
It’s clearly a role he enjoys and he sounds genuinely proud when I ask about the band’s membership.
“The charity group has over 100 members. We’ve got a senior band, an adult members band, and then we have two, sometimes three, youth bands and children’s learning groups. A full complement brass band would have somewhere in the region of 23-26 players, depending on the number of percussionists that you have.”
For clarification, James confirms that the groups are actually based on ability rather than age.
“Irvine & Dreghorn Brass is the senior band. Monday night is the adult learners group. The standard is incredibly high but… they just want to come along and blow a brass instrument, play some fun music and socialise and have a good time. There are actually some really experienced brass musicians at that group. Then we have the Irvine & Dreghorn Youth Brass Band, a competent brass band in its own right made up predominantly of young people and adult volunteers. The Brasslets is for total beginners. They’ll be learning the absolute fundamentals of brass music, or it might be a short-term pathway programme for local schools.”
Despite the continuing success and growth of the band, James would still urge anyone interested in joining to get in touch, be it as a playing or non-playing member.
“We’ve started to grow significantly in the last three years but we do need to diversify the committee and the volunteering staff that we have to run the charity. We’re more than happy to welcome individuals who have an interest in promoting music making and the arts. If people wanted to help organise events or fundraise or otherwise support a charity, then there’s opportunities for people even if they don’t play an instrument.”
As for playing the in band, James couldn’t be more encouraging.
“It’s a great sense of community to be in the band. If you like music in any way… there’s no better way to enjoy music than to try and wrap your head around how to play it well. We play all sorts of different types of music from technical challenging test pieces all the way to your brass band favourites. Brass bands really are quite versatile. They fit really well in a huge amount of different genres.”
But don’t think you have to master a huge brass instrument. Like James, you could opt for percussion which, to use his own words ‘includes all of the stuff you would hit with a stick’.
Of course, as with any charitable organisation, fundraising is essential and Irvine & Dreghorn Brass owes a large part of its recent success and development to a number of funding bodies and grants. Supporters include The National Lottery, The Peoples Post Code Lottery, The William Syson Foundation, The Robertson Trust, The Maple Trust and the Co-op Local Community Fund. A number of sponsors also supported the band’s recent charity golf event at Dundonald Links.
Other fundraising endeavours included the Nevis Challenge which saw members climb to the top of Ben Nevis with their instruments in 2019. They then performed at the summit. Imagine that!
Again, James speaks of the event with pride, particularly when he confirms that major fundraising events such as that one usually raise between £3,000 and £4,000. He obviously gets a tremendous amount of satisfaction not only from playing in the band but also from his involvement as a trustee.
“I see the successes of the band collectively as an extension of my own success with supporting the band and providing a platform on which everyone else can thrive and develop and grow. If you like music there’s no better way to explore that and if you like a challenge, there’s no better challenge than learning a brass instrument because it’s not easy. But if you like a challenge and you like a bit of community along the way you’re going to struggle to find another group in North Ayrshire that will give you that challenge. If you’re looking for a challenge that will be really rewarding, there’s no better challenge than joining the band.”
The percussionist is unapologetically blowing the band’s own trumpet, and why not? It clearly has plenty to shout about. And James still has more to say.
“One of the main things is the sense of community and the challenge that it’s going to give you. You have to have that drive and that commitment to want to take on a challenge and learn something new. If you’re someone who gets satisfaction out of seeing the fruits of your labour then a brass band is definitely for you. It’s amazing to hear the difference over the course of seven or eight weeks practicing a piece of music, and when it comes together, the sound that you’ll make in a brass band is fantastic. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand when I hear the band get it right. It sounds amazing. And every person has had a part to play in it.”
If you’re interested in joining the band as a playing or non-playing member, you can contact them on the following email address to find out more: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Youth Band returns from its summer break the week after the new school term. Alternatively, if you’d like to see the band perform, it has over 30 major performances, events, parades and concerts planned for 2023, including over ten carolling gigs across the West of Scotland as well as its Christmas concert series. Visit www.idbrass.com or find Irvine and Dreghorn Brass on Facebook.