Incredible Plastic Street Band

The North West of England, and particularly East Manchester and Saddleworth, has a rich brass band culture, probably best illustrated by the Whit Friday brass band competitions where bands from all over the world tour the countryside in search of prizes.

But when Global Grooves learned about local brass bands’ difficulties in recruiting new, young blood, they decided to do something about it. The first port of call was Youth Music to gain funding to run a seven-week project and test the water: using pBone plastic instruments and expertly facilitated by Tim Chatterton, a leading trombone teacher and performer, could we turn this decline in interest into something exciting for young people?

Coincidentally, and concurrently, we got to know Beren Airstone who was embarking on fundraising and marketing for one of the youth and learner bands in Mossley. We realised that our aims were one and the same, and Beren came on board to lead what became known as the Incredible Plastic Street Band, launching officially in 2016.

Paul Exton-McGuinness, a trombonist and educator, became guest tutor and the initial project involved 30 local children from Mossley and Stalybridge, who were linked with two established brass bands. Subsequently, the parents of this group ran a crowdfunding campaign to turn the project into a live street band. A Carnival street band approach, rather than traditional brass band, was chosen as the way forward: so far, the project had more success with teaching by ear, rather than sheet music, and with emphasis on improvisation and composition suiting our participants, many of whom have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In September 2016, the Incredible Plastic Street Band relaunched, with Paul as lead tutor and the instrument range extended to include the pBuzz (KS1 trombone).

In autumn 2016, weekly rehearsals for children aged three and above began in earnest, with the band composing, improvising and playing its own repertoire, with a few covers. And then performances beckoned! Since the band’s inception, it has appeared at civic winter light festivals, Stalybridge Carnival, Whit Friday, and at school fairs and showcases throughout the borough.

And then came the expansion! Following a successful bid to the Kerrching Youth Opportunity Fund in 2017, the band began work ‘over the border’ in one of the most deprived areas in Oldham, Holts village estate, engaging over 50 children that year, working out of the local community cafe.

Global Grooves remained on board to support with funding bids and providing rehearsal space, alongside forging other connections, such as with Jubacana, another locally based youth music project. But gradually the band became its own organisation – which is just what we like to see!

Since then, the Incredible Plastic Street Band has firmed up its presence in the area by working out of four venues each week, Mossley, Carrbrook, Holts and Greenacres, and performing at gigs and civic events across Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. The band has extended its workshops into plastic recycling, ecobricking and ‘junk jam’ instrument making, accompanied by their specially commissioned puppet, Oomoo, and the band’s summer school has gone from strength to strength, with the children producing a CD of their work, putting on a concert from scratch or making a film.

Even 2020’s lockdown couldn’t stop them: to date, the band has managed 24 weeks of remote and digital delivery with a focus on family walks, sponsored by Greater Manchester Walking. Participants collaborated on four pieces, written during the spring term and presented by Paul in video format so that they could play along.

The band is not standing still, either. Complemented by a new tutor, Megan, the band is delivering a full programme of lessons and rehearsals online. 2021 will bring a return to face-to-face music-making and a collaborative project is planned with Oi Musica! in the summer: a soundtrack entitled ‘Enough is Enough’ for COP26, the UN climate assembly in Glasgow.

So next time you see a group of young people with plastic instruments in a procession, give them a wave – or better still, join them!

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