Shout! Sister Shout!

As part of our “Manifesto For A New Wakefield” project, we commissioned Charlie Wells to create a brand new band and performance, under the banner of Shout! Sister Shout! An invitation was made public…

“Join Charlie Wells as she develops Shout! Sister Shout! A new all-female music based street performance, combining Yorkshire brass traditions with shout band traditions from the southeastern United States. Together we will make ‘a hell a’ joyous racket and create a new type of brass band for Wakefield. All levels of brass and horn players are welcome.”

We spoke to Charlie post commission to put it all into context:

How did you interpret the Manifesto For A New Wakefield brief, and how did that come to be Shout! Sister Shout!

I interpreted the brief for the manifesto as a kind of ‘looking back – moving forward’ plan. As a musician, my early development was in Wakefield through a training band that I played in from aged 8 to 18 when I left to study performance at University. So I am really passionate about using the strong musical traditions we already have here, but looking outwards and offering new musical opportunities that embrace those traditions.

I grew up playing an instrument that wasn’t as popular with girls and women as with boys and men, I was usually in the minority in bands or horn sections that I played in, and this became more marked as I progressed from voluntary music making to college and to the pro-circuit. A lot of music collaborations, horn sections, pit bands and gigs are fixed in social spaces, if you don’t join the social, because of other responsibilities, children, a day job, general anxiety or shyness, then you miss the gigs. I’m interested as to why it seems less women progress beyond playing for fun as children, and really want to do something to redress the balance by encouraging women particularly to pick up their brass instruments and play them to a high standard. Shout Sister Shout is my first step on this journey. I want to create a space where we are in the majority, playing music that is loud, raucous and fun.

Although we got to see the final performances, can you tell us a little about the process before that? How did you create the music, the group and rehearsals?

I created the programme for Shout Sister Shout using music from the United House of Prayer (UHP) traditions in the States which I transcribed and arranged, music synonymous with traditional Yorkshire banding which I arranged using the UHP style. I then added new music not normally played by brass, the tune, Start Wearing Purple by Gogol Bordello lends itself to an oompah style and is totally irreverent, which I thought worked well with the values I want for Shout Sister Shout! Once I had transcribed and arranged all the music, I began recruiting women from all musical backgrounds and abilities to play.

I used social media and my network of contacts to recruit and we ended up with 10 players, including beginners and experienced players and even one participant that hadn’t played for 25yrs but who was inspired by the project to go and find her old euphonium in the loft! I was especially pleased that of the 10, we managed to recruit 5 female trombone players. Anyone that plays brass will know how unusual it is to have a glut of trombones, so I was really pleased it could be done! Although I knew one or two of the players personally, it was lovely to have participants that I didn’t know or had never met before.

We managed to get most of the participants together a week before the festival and because we couldn’t get a suitable rehearsal space, 6 of us met at my house to go through the arrangements and get an idea of how we sounded. I then managed to get the local brass band’s rehearsal room for the Friday before the festival and 9 of us met for a final run through. 1 participant came and sightread on the day!

How were those final shows and what reactions did you get?

The shows were really well received, if a little surprising for passers by as there was nothing to tell them who we were or why we were there! It was lovely to have some involvement at The Ridings from children and families and I had brought percussion to facilitate this.

The performers really enjoyed the experience and have all expressed the wish to continue or develop the group in the future. I was really pleased about this as I was asking a lot of them so it was really important to me that they enjoyed themselves and the fact that they want more means we did something right! 🙂

Do you feel the commission allowed you to do or try something new, and do you think Shout! Sister Shout! may continue post festival?

The commission definitely gave me the impetus to try this project and it was great to have the opportunity to give it a go thanks to the seed funding. I have plans for a development next year, touring to festivals with community engagement, so I’m really looking forward to refining my arrangements and transcribing some new tunes that expand the music genre.

What’s next for you?

I am currently planning the development of Symphony for the Mothers and Sons, now known as Trench Symphony which will involve choirs and a string quartet. I am also writing a song cycle based on how I experience the changing seasons in Secker Woods near Wakefield, and I’m still playing with Wakefield Big Band. I’m also working with Edgelands Arts, the company I co-direct with Bev Adams and Tony Wade on a variety of projects telling stories and exploring the edges.