The Bandstand Marathon

The Bandstand Marathon is a cultural event organised by Community Interest Company Superact that began in 2008 and saw a range of free live music concerts take place simultaneously at many historic, and often underused, bandstands in parks and seafronts and other outdoor venues across the United Kingdom. The aim of Bandstand Marathon was to celebrate Britain’s cultural and musical heritage, whilst also bringing back into use the bandstand, hundreds of which had been ignored for decades.

Brass bands used to be commonplace with colliery bands and other brass bands which used to play in Victorian parks where vast crowds congregated to hear their latest tunes. Brass bands were a vital part of the community dating back to 1830 when brass instruments were first being developed with valves. Then communities wanted to create their own music and amateur music took root. By 1900, there were more than 20,000 brass bands in Britain playing popular and classical music, but that number fell dramatically from the second half of the twentieth century.

Superact believed the Bandstand Marathon was an opportunity for every town, city, and village in the country to come together all at the same time for the soul purpose of enjoyment, to develop healthier communities through the arts. The last edition was in 2012. Now, we are a group of volunteers who want to revive this tradition.

Early days

The Bandstand Marathon was a series of concerts on bandstands and in open spaces across the UK designed to take place simultaneously across many communities which celebrated local amateur musical talent, with many playing at historic bandstands within their local parks or on the seafront, reviving what had once been a popular social event in communities in the Victorian era, before falling out of fashion with the growing popularity of cinema and television.

2008-2011 Marathon Bandstand

Bandstand Marathon began in 2008, inspired by the values and spirit of the London 2012 Olympic Games. In the first couple of years, concerts involved mainly traditional brass and silver bands, but many other genres such as jazz, rock, samba and bhangra were also represented in later years. The pilot event in 2008 was supported by the British Federation of Brass Bands and the south-west regional London 2012 Creative Programme as part of the inaugural Cultural Olympiad Open Weekend of 27 and 28 September 2008. 50 separate concerts took from Cheltenham to Guernsey and Bournemouth to Penzance. In total, 1500 musicians played to audiences totalling around 20,000 people.

With extensive media coverage after the 2008 event, 2009 saw the event grow across England and Wales featuring 120 concerts with more than 3,000 musicians playing to over 40,000 people. The project again received widespread publicity and was awarded the Inspire Mark in 2009 in recognition of its success in promoting the values of the Olympiad.

In preparation for the 2010 edition, Superact began working with several other regional Creative Programmes to maximise opportunities and benefits. In 2010 this led to new concert locations as far north as Scotland. However, 2010 saw a restriction on funding, so the number of participating bands was reduced to 70. However, grander events surrounded some of the later concerts. For example, at Victoria Park in Widnes, the Bandstand Marathon concert was part of the weekend-long North-West Vintage Rally.

Fortunately, the re-establishment of substantial mass participation in the UK began again in 2011, when on 25 September 2011 there were over 150 events across the UK and for the first time events took place in London, leading to the biggest mass participation event of its type in 2012.

London 2012 Olympic Festival

In 2012 the Bandstand Marathon became an official part of the Cultural Olympiad for the London Games. Partnering with Making Music, they were able to arrange and perform the official finale event of the London 2012 Olympic Festival with bands across the country performing the Coldplay song “Viva La Vida” to tie in with the band’s own performance of the song at the closing ceremony of the Paralympic games at 14:00 on 9 September. It was the partnership with Making Music that enabled Superact to put on the event on a scale much larger than had been possible in previous years.

From blues to reggae, bhangra to rock the Bandstand Marathon in 2012 took place at over 200 venues across the UK spanning Inverness in the north to St Ives in the south and Strabane in west Tyrone, Northern Ireland to Hartlepool on the east coast of England. Due to the tie-in with London 2012, one of the events took place at the bandstand in the Olympic Park, London, continuing the organisation’s mission to bring live performance right into the heart of communities in outdoor performances spaces across the UK.

Each event organised by Bandstand Marathon had its own unique flavour, and different musical genres and styles were celebrated across the country by around 200,000 people. As an example of an event, Dukes Meadow, Chiswick offered an afternoon of music, activities and dance. The afternoon included performances by the Barnes Concert Band, Alanka Jewels Bollywood Choir, Central Harmony Choir, electro pop band Kit Richardson, The Fabulous Swing Patrol and Mimika and Brassroots. Alongside the performances on the bandstand there were plenty of other things to enjoy, including a dance workshop and a samba parade coordinated by Rhythms of the City that took the audience right up to the bandstand. The event was further brought to life by storytelling sessions provided by Hounslow libraries, drumming and instrument-making workshops and a magical sing-along show.

The success of the Bandstand Marathon drew comment from Sebastian Coe, Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, who said “The Bandstand Marathon is encouraging local music groups to fulfil their potential. I am proud that with the help of partners such as Superact we are delivering our vision to use the power of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games to boost participation in creating a cultural legacy post-London 2012.”