Marching bands were a particular feature of the Black Country, often just equipped with just kazoos and maces, though some groups expanded to include drums, a semblance of a uniform, perhaps even marimba and stylophone if they were successful with fundraising. You’d see them at church fetes, tenants events, carnivals, local festivals in the park, on protest marches and at numerous events organised by Jubilee Arts. One particular marching band, the Beechmen Drum Corps – 80 strong – developed particular expertise, basing themselves very much on American style marching bands, with even their own ‘colour guard’. Peter Emina, who had previously worked at Jubilee, interviewed them for a feature on Central Television in 1984, the year they were also featured on the front cover of The Sunday Times Magazine to illustrate a particularly unfavourable article about Sandwell – which in turn inspired Jubilee to develop a programme called ‘The People’s Portrait’. (You’ll find more about that in ‘Sandwell in Black & White’…)
This particular photograph is from 1988, one late November evening in the school hall at Churchfields School, West Bromwich. You’ll find more about a lovely oral history project with this school in ‘Bending the Truth a Little Bit’.
As for kazoos, this instrument was co-invented by a German clockmaker, Thaddeus Von Klegg, and an African-Amercian, Alabama Vest, in the 1840’s. Based on the African mirliton, the kazoo is part of the family of musical instruments known as membranophones. This means you don’t blow into a kazoo, you hum into it.