Where might you find a welder, a physiotherapist, a former jumbo jet pilot and a funeral officiant all in close harmony? Or a guest house proprietor, mental health professional, gun designer, microbiologist[retired] and a complementary therapist together in strict tempo?
The answer is Blast Furness, Ulverston’s community street band. Welfare State International started it around 1996 or 7 –no-one can quite remember – and it has survived and grown over the years without interruption. These days it is completely independent.
Now with 25 members, the band boasts both brass and percussion sections which together offer carnival melodies and rhythms for the crowd to dance to; performing on the move, in street parades as well as static sets at festivals. From Tango to Township music, Balkan to Blues Brothers, our repertoire is varied. New Orleans, Reggae beats, Ska and Soul. Blast Furness will suddenly pause the instruments and launch into vigorous street singing. Annie Lennox’s ‘Sweet Dreams are Made of This’ gets everyone joining in, also Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ does the trick.
These days, as its reputation grows, Blast Furness is booked out 9 months of the year, appearing at events and festivals from Oxford to West Yorkshire, Manchester to Glasgow as well as at countless Cumbrian gatherings and celebrations. It has thus become a huge part of everyone’s life. We are delighted to play at 6 or 7 regular Ulverston Festivals and Celebrations – Feast of St George, Another Fine Mess, Ulverston Carnival, Lantern Parade, Ford Park’s Apple Day, Dickensian Festival and the Canal Regeneration Illuminated Umbrella Procession along the towpath in the pitch dark !!
Blast Furness is an extraordinary and loyal bunch of strong individuals from diverse walks of life who might never have met or become friends except for their shared love of playing this sort of music and playing it together. The majority of members work full time, many have families – children and grandchildren. Each player acknowledges the huge support from partners and family members who agree to hold the fort while they are away on tour.
No uniforms, no dress codes except for colour. Red and black, hats essential. Whatever fashion statement each player cares to make is fine as long as it is in black and red. Satin, organza, leather, fishnet, sequins, braces, feathers, frocks, pants, shorts, tailcoats, waistcoats, off the shoulder, on the shoulder, slinky or frilly. Outfits for all weathers, constantly changing yet coherent and recognizable. Surprising really when you consider people’s serious day jobs: project manager, health and safety consultant, property professionals, accountant and those working in the major industries in West Cumbria and Barrow.
There is lots to learn apart from rehearsing and learning the music. Effective formations for street parades, group choreography to add interest, singing, tour management, transport planning. Currently the band comprises 1 trombone, 2 trumpets, 2 sousaphones, 5 drummers, 6 percussionists and 9 saxophones.
Blast Furness charges fees to perform, yet no member receives any payment. Income covers expenses of rehearsal rooms, transport costs, publicity and insurance, plus annual master classes when the band invites one or two of the country’s best experts to come in for a weekend to introduce new repertoire and improve skills.