Album Review: Hackney Colliery Band – Sharpener [Veki UK, 22nd July 2016]


Building on a quintessentially British tradition of colliery brass bands, the 8-year old Hackney Colliery Band has ingeniously transformed what used to be a coal-mining community music tradition into a dynamic and dance-inducing response to today’s cosmopolitan London. The nine-piece brass and marching percussion band from East London, fronted by trumpeter Steve Pretty, is made up of musicians from many musical backgrounds, from jazz groups to orchestras at the Royal Opera House, which is undoubtedly what gives them the unique ability to create such an eclectic repertoire. Though their music is mainly influenced by hip-hop beats, jazz, rock and soul, it seems that the Hackney Colliery Band is able to draw inspiration from any genre imaginable, as evidenced by their upcoming album Sharpener

Sharpener, due for release on 22nd July 2016, will be Hackney Colliery Band’s third full-length album and is said to be the band’s most exciting work to date, showcasing new electronic features with a dance floor sensibility. Since its early days, the band has gained a lot of its popularity through its invigorating arrangements of other pieces, such as previous covers of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ and Toto’s ‘Africa. This album also features a number of new arrangements which certainly don’t disappoint, from a soulful rendition of Kwab’s ‘Wrong or Right’ to the contrapuntal math rock motifs of Three Trapped Tigers’ ‘Cramm’ and their playful and almost comical interpretation of Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’. While it may have been their arrangements that initially shot them to fame, it’s the band’s innovative originals that stand them out from the crowd, and Sharpener is full of such musical treasures.

All their originals are strong in their own right, from the groovy ‘Jump then Run’ and ‘Gather Your Wits’ as perfect introductions to Hackney Colliery Band’s feel-good dance floor style, to the cross between a punk rock groove and wailing brass in a free-jazz style in ‘It’s Normally Bigger’. Title track ‘Sharpener’ takes us on an emotional rollercoaster ride, building up to a bold and brassy climax before abruptly making way for a beautiful and all-to-brief melody on the trumpet, before rushing towards a dramatic finish. Special mention however, goes to final track ‘Bread and Circuses,’ where the band makes a cheeky musical tribute to Julius Fučík’s infamous 19th century circus-cum-military march tune ‘Entrance of the Gladiators.’ The almost schizophrenic piece moves in and out of Fučík’s infamous motif, morphing into more contemporary funk and jazz idioms, and is just a lot of fun to listen to.

Brass bands from all around the world have always been known to stir community spirits, rouse emotions and rally people together, and the Hackney Colliery Band is no exception. With its multitude of musical influences, from experimental jazz, Balkan brass, ska, rock and hip-hop, the band’s reach is incredibly widespread, bringing individuals across different cultures and generations together.

Listen to an exclusive streaming of the album:


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