As the old saying goes; “where there’s muck, there’s brass”.
And that can certainly be said for the small, but hugely dedicated, band of musicians who make their way, come rain or shine, to a run down former church hall in the back streets of Lochgelly every Thursday evening.
It’s the weekly gathering of the Lochgelly Brass Band, and with 164 years of musical history already behind it, it’s one of Scotland’s oldest and longest surviving bands.
But all that history could soon come to an abrupt end should they fail to raise £5,000, the figure needed just to patch up their Russell Street practice hall, the band’s home for the past 60 years.
Without it the hall could be in danger of closing for good, a move that would almost certainly sound the death knell for the band that only a few decades earlier had been crowned Scotland’s finest.
“The situation has become critical, there’s no other word for it but we need to raise £5,000 just to fix the hall,” Fiona Morrison, the band’s percussionist told the Press.
“Without the money, we could see the hall being forced to close on health and safety grounds and that would be tragic for the band which has been a constant feature with the Lochgelly community for countless generations.”
The situation is a far cry from the halcyon post- war days of the 1950s, 60s and 70s when the band were revered throughout the brass band playing world.
The band reached its zenith in 1973 when Lochgelly was crowned Scotland’s best after lifting the Scottish Championship, the country’s highest award.
That took them to the world famous Albert Hall in London for the National Final to compete alongside the very best the UK had to offer.
All a far cry from the windy streets of the then mining community in the heart of the Kingdom.
Now, band members, many of the who have been performing for decades, have launched a bid calling on, not only the public to dig deep to donate what they can, but also local builders, plumbers and joiners for practical help in fixing up the worst of the rapidly-deteriorating practice hall.
“We’ve already fixed problems with the floor, but the situation is still critical, and we desperately need to do the essential improvements before the winter if possible and certainly before the situation gets much worse,” Fiona Explained.
“But if we can achieve the necessary improvements, it will be of benefit not just to the band, but the whole Lochgelly community.
“As the hall belongs to the band, having been given to them by the church 60 years ago, we’d be looking to open it up for the use of community groups like mother and toddlers and kids organisations.
“A few organisations do already use the hall but we want it to become a community asset and we are determined to achieve that in the longer term, we just need the public’s support to put us on that path.”
The public spirited approach of the band and its conductor, Paul McKelvie OBE, is mirrored by the camaraderie within it.
Stewart Hepburn, a band member for the past 20 years, is just one of many dedicated to the band’s survival.
“Many players flit from band to band but her people tend to stay put, there’s many great friendships built up over many years which is great.
“That’s one of the reasons one of our members travels over from Oban once a week to practice.
“In practical terms, to see the band fold would mean the loss of a traditional brass band at gala days and at important events such as Remembrance Sunday at the war memorial.
“But much more than that it would mean the loss of a significant piece of Lochgelly’s history and that would be incredibly sad.”
For Second Baritone, Davy Bennison (83), Lochgelly Brass Band’s longest serving musician, who joined the band at the aged just 11, to see the band disappear would be “nothing short of a disaster.” “We can’t let it happen, we won’t let it happen,” said Davy, who has been performing with Lochgelly
Brass Band for a staggering 72 years.
Members have already raised more than £1,800 to cover essential repairs but unlike in the past, when the town’s band received a penny a week from the wages of every miner in the local pit, today’s band survives on good will, self funding and the commitment of its members. And for Davy the message is loud and clear: “There’s too much history to lose.
“The band has been my life, I wouldn’t know what to do without it, that’s why we need the people of Lochgelly, and the rest of Fife to support us.”
Davy, still blowing after 72 years
Having given a staggering 72 years of dedication to Lochgelly band, Davy Bennison is something of a living legend among the brass band fraternity.
Having joined as an 11-year-old, he’s still playing Second Baritone some 72 years later and has played a major part in the band’s success.
“The pinnacle was undoubtedly performing at the Albert Hall in London in the National Finals.
“To represent not just your town, but the whole of Scotland was a huge honour.
“We did well and beat some good bands that day earning a sixth.
“The band used to rehearse in the Lochgelly Town Hall the we heard that they were building a new fire station. I went along to see the old station which would have been ideal for the band to practice, but the residents objected because of how loud the band was!
“But then the Church of Scotland kindly heard about our situation and kindly gave us this hall we are still in today.
“I don’t know what I’d do if there was no band. To lose the hall is a no, no... I’d have to chain myself to the door if we were to lose it.”
Can you help?
Are you a joiner, plumber, builder or roofer prepared to give a little back to the community? Lochgelly Brass Band would love to speak to you and urgently need your help. If you can help or want to donate to help raise the £5,000 the band needs, go to their Facebook page Lochgelly Band.