A Social History

Dave Russell

Manchester University Press, 1987

"Britain in the Victorian and Edwardian periods was an extraordinarily musical place. The home, the street, the public house and the public park were almost as much musical centres as the concert hall and the music hall. A communal or civic event was a poor affair indeed if not dignified by music."

Now we have muzak, but the thriving musical life of England can at least be appreciated historically in this valuable study. Russell has produced what he terms a "genuine social history", in which he strives to build "a broader picture through an investigation of the way in which ideas and experiences gained through various forms of popular musical activity influenced popular political life".

The themes covered in the book include music, morals and the battle for the working-class mind; the music hall and jingoism; brass bands and choral societies.

The most interesting chapter for me begins thus:

"The brass band represents one the most remarkable working-class cultural achievements in European history."

Russell goes on to discuss instrumentation, repertoire, band contests and hooliganism.

We can only concur with his concluding remarks:

"We should not be sad to lose the world that created the musical life of 1840-1914. But in my opinion at least, many aspects of that musical life were worth preserving and the passing of many of them is surely a matter for regret".



Paul Taylor 2001