Co-founder of Boobs and Brass by Pete Austin
From the age of 11 years, the then school girl at Wollaston Secondary Modern School (as it was formerly called) answered an appeal made during a school assembly for pupils to join the school band. Along with a couple of others, Jane responded, and went along to rehearsals where she was first given a baritone horn. As the school had a policy of swapping things around to give pupils the opportunity to try other instruments she was soon holding the one that would decide her future musical career.
Now married and with her own family, Jane Nichols said: “I was given the cornet next and I fell in love with it and have been playing it ever since. I was in the school band performing at different school functions but from there have gone on to play in many different bands.
“I had only been playing for around six months when I was out with my parents, down at The Embankment in Wellingborough, where the Rushden Temperance Band was playing. My dad knew (the late) Ron Benning who was in the band and he spoke with him. Following that conversation I was invited along to one of their rehearsals. I stayed with them for 30 years, generally playing twice a week either at rehearsals, concerts or other events.”
Jane is currently a valued member of Rushden Town Band, but has in the past played in the London & Counties Youth Band and the Mainline Big Band, Bedford. However, since her school days, she had harboured intentions to form an all-female brass band. The result of which, in 2006, was, and still is, Boobs and Brass, a brass band that initially came together to perform what was intended to be a one-off charity concert. Held at Ss Peter & Paul, Kettering Parish Church, this event raised £5,000 and was just the beginning of a project that continues to go from strength to strength.
“I was probably only 13 or 14,” said Jane, “when I told my mum that one day I was going to have my own all-girls’ band. I had read about Ivy Benson (leader of a 1940’s all-female swing band) but not of an all-female brass band. As you know, time ticks goes by, I got married, had a family and thoughts like these were put aside but a few years back I resurrected the idea. I had been friends with Maggie (Margaret Betts) since we were at school together, she was like a kind of mentor to me, and when I mentioned the idea to her at the back end of 2005 we started to consider the possibilities. By 2006 we had put the band together and performed a concert.”
The process they used was simple but neither person could believe the short time in which the end result was achieved. It began by drawing up a list of female brass band players they knew who lived locally. In a very short space of time they were not many players short of a brass band, Jane explaining that the regular size for a brass band is around 25 brass players and a couple of percussionists. Jane and Maggie then set about contacting these people in the hopes some would agree to join and thus form the backbone of this fledgling band.
“If they all said yes, we would have a band, said Jane. “ We told them we wanted to do a one-off concert for charity. As an all-female band we thought it was logical to donate most of the money to Breast Cancer charities with a portion going to the Ophthalmic Department at Kettering General Hospital, where I worked, and still do, which was short of the funds needed for some equipment.
“When we rang round to the girls we could not believe it, they all said yes, count me in – it was quite unbelievable. Within weeks we had our first rehearsal and after only three or four times of playing together we put on the concert at the church and it was packed. “
Choosing a name for the band was a logical one, though occasionally it has led to a lack of publicity in places, the word ‘Boobs’ being considered too outrageous in some quarters. However, it is a name that Jane justifies by saying it signifies everything for which the band was formed – “What else could you call an all-female brass band raising the majority of funds for Breast Cancer Research other than Boobs and Brass? It says it all.”
That first one-off concert was almost ten years ago since when there have been many developments. The band was asked to perform further concerts or to play at specific events. However, understanding the players were mainly already members of other bands and had other commitments, family, work etc., these were kept to around three a year. As none of the members charged any expenses – all the money raised going direct to charity – these events were all in the area local to Kettering.
Jane said: “Specifically the money we raise is for Breast Cancer Research but sometimes we go 50-50 with a church or other charity. No money, even travel costs, is taken out by any of our members. To date we have raised in the region of £170,000 for Breast Cancer Research and around £20,000 for other charities.
“Word of the band has spread and we have had people asking us if they can come and play with us,” said Jane. “We have had people from London and Yorkshire and even two girls from the States came over to play with us one time. It’s really unbelievable but we are known worldwide. We have around 500 band members, meaning there are now three Boobs and Brass bands. We have one up north and another one down south, which all helps keep travelling costs down for our members, though if one band is short of a couple of players, people will travel from the different areas to make up the numbers.”
The band has adopted a uniform and is proud there is no hiding placed for the members who are instantly recognisable wearing their bright pink jackets. Neither has this deterred the few men who have joined the ranks who are not afraid of this test to their masculinity (or revealing their feminine side).
When asked about the highlights of the band the one event which stands out for Jane is when the band was asked to play at Huddersfield Town Hall. Now, for some, (and apologies in advance to Huddersfield) that may not sound the most prestigious of venues but it was there where Boobs and Brass were invited to share the stage with one of Britain’s top brass bands, the Brighouse & Rastrick Band. It was definitely a concert and venue to rank as being number one on the list of outstanding memories for the band and its members.
Originally Boobs and Brass did not set fund raising targets but now the committee choose to support different projects throughout each year. Already in 2015 the band has successfully raised enough funds to complete six projects and is now working towards the total for its seventh.
Jane said: “We have many people who regularly attend our concerts and events but I would like to thank everyone who has ever supported us. We always chose a programme of music to suit each venue we play and hope people enjoy the music they hear. It is a potpourri of styles and genres from classical and show tunes to contemporary pop. We try to cater for all tastes.
“We are looking forward to playing at Kettering Arts Centre and putting on another great concert for people to enjoy, while raising funds for charity.”
Boobs and Brass will be playing at Kettering Arts Centre on Saturday 15th October.
Tickets for this event are available from Waterstones, High Street, Kettering, by post from Becky at St Andrew’s Church (cheques made payable to “PCC of St Andrew’s Kettering”) to St Andrew’s Vicarage, Lindsay Street, Kettering NN16 8RG. You may also buy or reserve tickets from Jaime Ferreira by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at We Got Tickets (subject to a booking fee).