During the 1970s juvenile jazz bands were at their peak across the working class coalfields of the North of England, Midlands and Wales. For those not familiar with juvenile jazz bands, they are a children’s marching band which originated in the Welsh mining towns during the depression of the 1930s – an affordable means of family entertainment during the economic downturn and inspired by the miner’s union and colliery (brass) bands.
During their seventies heyday juvenile jazz bands were particularly popular in the North East, with the majority of pit villages having their own. The bands would compete against each other in regional and national competitions, marching through estates and villages dressed in pseudo military attire, playing kazoo’s, drums and glockenspiels to ‘When the Saints go marching in’ and other traditional arrangements. The juvenile jazz band ‘The Pelaw Hussars’ even appeared in the classic ‘Get Carter’ – filmed on location in the area during 1970.
Tish’s approach to the Juvenile Jazz Bands series earned her quite a reputation locally at the time. She felt that they were militaristic and harmful to its young members and that they crushed out normal childlike behaviour alongside any spark of individuality. Initially she had the backing of the people who ran the bands, who imagined her photographs would be ‘glamorous’, however when Tish saw that the Jazz Band rejects who played in the streets had been excluded from these groups, this resonated with her, so she shot the bands in their finery alongside these kids from the back streets, imitating them with their ‘toy-bands’. These often started out as an attempt to emulate the big band, but involved the children’s imagination to almost the same extent as the ‘official’ band denied it. Her photos highlighted the individuality of the kids instead of the forced conformity of the juvenile jazz bands culture.
The Jazz Band committees were furious when they saw the finished series along with her comments – they wrote angry letters to the local press labelling her ‘The Demon Snapper’. At the time Tish was photographing, Newcastle was undergoing massive changes and houses and neighbourhoods were being demolished all around – a fitting background to the anarchy of the ‘unofficial’ jazz bands.
Juvenile Jazz Bands with be the third book of Tish Murtha’s work and released by Bluecoat Press by way of a Kickstarter campaign. Although the third book, Juvenile Jazz Bands was Tish’s very first exhibition and an important part of her story. The series was made while she was employed through a Youth Opportunity Programme at The Side Gallery in Newcastle and shown there in 1979 before touring.
Juvenile Jazz Bands will be published by Bluecoat Press in the same limited edition hardback format as Youth Unemployment and Elswick Kids, forming an essential trilogy of her work in Newcastle.
Juvenile Jazz Bands Kickstarter launches Tuesday 3rd March at 10.30am to support and pre-order the book please follow the link > HERE
All photos by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.
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