Byline: MIKE KELLY
THE National Health Service is usually in the business of saving lives. However in the case of the Westoe Brass Band it helped breathe life into a musical tradition which risked becoming another victim of the 1984-85 miners' strike.
Colliery band rules meant that at least 50 per cent of members either had to work down the pit they were affiliated to or were directly related to miners there.
As coal mine after coal mine was closed down and with a band usually having to consist of 28 members, the mathematics of survival didn't add up. Particularly when you factored in the cost at a time when miners were all but financially broke.
In 1993 when Westoe Colliery closed, band member Dave Petherwick met up with the then South Tyneside Healthcare Trust chief executive Brian Aisbitt and its chair, Dorothy Blenkinsop.
"I was actually looking for somewhere to practice," said Dave, 45.
"They said we can offer you somewhere to store your instruments and in return you can do something for us." In a mutually beneficial arrangement the band has received backing and help which has enabled it to continue to survive. They play for free at functions and events for what has become the South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust.
Today, the band is made up of accountants, teachers, town planners and IT workers. How many of them are directly or even indirectly linked to former miners is not known but it is fair to guess the answer would be maybe one or two at best. As if in acknowledgement of the change of circumstances it is now called Westoe Brass Band not Westoe Colliery Band, one of several name changes over the years.
Its roots actually go as far back as 1873 when the first reference is made to the Harton Colliery Band which participated at the Morpeth Brass festival. However five years later it folded. Meanwhile in 1890 the Tyne Dock Temperance Band was formed which ran for 21 years until the managers at Harton Colliery decided to start a new brass band and adopted it. So in 1911 and the Harton Colliery Band was re-born. And so it remained until 1958 when Harton and Westoe collieries merged and the band name changed accordingly. In 1969 when Harton Colliery closed it became Westoe Colliery Band. After Westoe closed in 1993, and following the meeting between Dave and the two executives at the South Tyneside Healthcare Trust, it became Westoe (STHCT) Band until 2006 when it reverted to Westoe Brass Band. During that time it has had a rich and varied history with many ups and downs. In 1919 it became the first North East band - and the first colliery band - to win the prestigious British Open Championships. By the 1950s interest had waned and, according to Dave, it only survived "by the skin of its teeth". Inevitably the miners' strike. led to financial, social and internal difficulties and membership dwindled to a handful of players. In 1985 a "new start" was made and children were recruited from local schools to play in the band. …