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Hackney Colliery Band: ‘Our first gig was in a Stokey snooker hall’

PUBLISHED: 11:04 03 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:04 03 May 2017

Hackney Colliery Band. Picture: Aidan Harris

Hackney Colliery Band. Picture: Aidan Harris

www.aidanharris.co.uk

Steve Pretty may refute the hipster label but he admits that “running a postmodern brass band is quite a hipsterish activity”

Steve Pretty may refute the label hipster but he admits that “running a postmodern brass band is quite a hipsterish activity”.

He named the Hackney Colliery Band after the neighbourhood where he lives, as a “tongue in cheek” homage to the UK’s brass band tradition.

“Musically what we do is very different – we don’t play the Hovis theme - but we imagined if a contemporary colliery band existed in Hackney what might it sound like?

“We played our first gigs above a snooker hall in Stoke Newington and rehearsed in a derelict pub next to Hackney Wick station. Americans get confused by the name but it acknowledges that we are British with a sense of location.”

Although some of his band mates have moved on, Pretty, who writes the music and arrangements, still lives in the borough.

“I live in a pretty hipsterish part of town but compared to my neighbours I’m not a hipster, I don’t have a beard, I’m not into fashion and I don’t wear silly little glasses but it’s all relative, when we tour around the country we would be labelled hipsters.”

The trumpeter co-founded the band back in 2008 inspired by all the “interesting brass music coming from all over the world, from America and the Balkans but there wasn’t much of that in the UK.”

Early efforts focused on covers, but they’ve since developed a set that’s largely original, and a performance style which includes moving through the audience while playing.

“Hackney’s a super vibrant, incredible musical borough with jazz, reggae and grime in its history. We’ve put our UK take on it,” he says by which he means fusing jazz, hip hop Balkan, soul and electronica.

The odd cover like Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box: “has to be a track that we can add something new,” he adds.

If the 2012 Olympics was the biggest crowd they’ve played to date, their upcoming gig at Koko is their largest headliner.

With two drummers, two sax, two trumpets, two trombones and a sousaphone, they’re certain to fill the venue.

“Brass bands are visceral, you don’t often see a large ensemble of musicians making this great noise. It’s quite raw but we’ve refined it – we see ourselves as a rock band but with brass instruments and there’s that energy behind it, we engage and connect with an audience. We’ve had times when the PA broke down but we could still go on.”

With a background in theatre and comedy, Pretty takes the mic to host the gigs with audiences ranging from students to older fans.

“People don’t always know what to expect, we’re hard to categorise, not jazz enough for the jazz scene or pop enough for the music industry. Jazz is a massive influence for us, the band is really a jazz project. It’s seen as an elitist music which can be frustating but we wanted to present music which is occasionally challenging and make it accessible.

“What sets us apart from other jazz projects is we engage an audience, have fun with the audience. People are usually partying by the end.”

Hackney Colliery Band launches a Live Album on May 12 and plays KoKo on May 26. Hackneycollieryband.co.uk

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