April in the Department sees the inaugural event of the Carnivals, Pageants & Street Parades Research Network, followed in July by an international symposium on representing street carnival, marching bands and dance troupes in the museum. So what’s sociological about marching bands?
The ‘jazz’ bands of the coalfields areas trace their origins to the processional culture of carnival, street parade and pageantry of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, which often included comic bands in fancy-dress playing home-made instruments: usually percussion with a ‘humming’ instrument (variously known as kazoo, gazooka, Tommy Talker or bigophone) supplying the tune. Although the comic bands’ repertoire remained eclectic, the jazz craze of the 1920s saw them rebranded as ‘jazz’ bands, including both adult and juvenile versions. Like brass bands, the jazz bands competed in regular contests, reaching their height during the 1926 Miners’ Lockout, sometimes referred to in Wales as ‘the jazz band strike’. After the Second World War, former members of the juvenile jazz bands revived the movement, which reached its peak in the 1970s before declining to around 50 active bands today.
My research focuses on contemporary juvenile jazz marching bands and similar forms of working class cultural production elsewhere in Europe, particularly majorettes in France and Belgium. The bands and majorettes are intriguing as hidden forms of working-class white women and girls’ cultural production, their invisibility in the cultural mainstream suggesting that apparently low rates of working-class cultural participation may be a function of the methodology of national surveys i.e. of what we measure and define as culture. More significantly, they provide a case study of Skeggs’s selective appropriation, or how certain (generally masculine) aspects of both black and white working-class culture are seen by the middle-class as worth plundering, whereas white working class women’s culture is condemned as artificial rather than authentic (Skeggs 2004 p.97). UK and France marching bands and majorettes – which are associated with local communities rather than schools or sporting events , as in North America – have been ‘held in place’ in middle-class representations as signifying stagnation and immobility (Skeggs 2004 p. 153).
Skeggs, B. (2004). Class, self, culture. London & New York: Routledge.