By Anita Bašić (Musical Director)
I like to describe BRADFORD ACCORDION BAND as a unique and diverse musical group whose mission is to make memorable music, whilst having fun! Following BAB’s formation in 1997, I am continuously reassured to know that we are still ‘squeezing together’ through good and bad times and the camaraderie we proudly boast has never been more vital, since the onset of the 2020 Pandemic.
Our membership comprises accordion (and other) players between the ages of 25 and 89 – both amateur and semi-professional. The band’s repertoire is wide-ranging and includes classics, music from the shows, pop, rock, folk and accordion originals. My personal mission is to present the image of ‘our’ accordion as both a flexible and desirable instrument; one that has the potential to bring people together, regardless of age, culture or experience.
Bradford Accordion Band now affectionately known as BAB, was established almost 24 years ago. Prior to the official formation of the band, I had arranged for a group of 4 local accordionists I was teaching at the time, to start playing together in parts. The repertoire was largely folk music, as it was simple notation and relatively easy to pick up. It quickly became apparent that playing in this way had a wonderful number of benefits: improving playing technique, enhancing well-being and facilitating a very enjoyable, sociable evening.
So, I launched BAB officially on July 10th 1997 with no real clear idea of where it was all going! In the early years, fortnightly rehearsals were held at Lidget Green Methodist Church, Bradford and there we spent many a fun and fruitful night learning our ‘trade’. I begged, borrowed and wrote arrangements of part-music, so that we could begin to expand our range of styles; membership averaged 15 players at this time, each bringing some unique personality and diversity to the group. I also recall some cracking Christmas parties back in the day!
Fast-forward 24 years and BAB now meets weekly (on Thursdays) at Northowram Community Centre, situated on the outskirts of Halifax. So why Halifax and not Bradford as in BAB?
Well, the Centre is a decent size and is a central location for our now 30 -plus membership who travel in to squeeze the night away from all over Yorkshire and the North East. The Band have performed at countless venues across the county, including Bingley Arts Centre, The Victoria Theatre, Halifax and Ripon Racecourse.
BAB really do enjoy performing out, and I always insist that it is the audience who matter on these public occasions. As a result, we’ve worked hard on our stage presence, adding costume and humour in the form of BAB ‘characters’ (we’ve a fair few of those!) and regularly asking members to step out of their comfort zones, even if that’s been challenging at times. I never cease to be surprised, motivated and inspired by how much BAB members (and their unsuspecting spouses) do indeed rise to these challenges.
As many of you reading this will appreciate, sourcing more accordionists can be a challenge, so thank goodness for the power of social media: websites, Facebook groups, WhatsApp and of course, not forgetting Zoom! In recent times, I decided that another way to swell our ranks would be to seek out musicians who were adept at playing other instruments, that might complement our sound. So, we have been very lucky to find a brilliant bassoonist, a (highly) competent clarinet player, 2 fabulous flautists and a sublime saxophonist or two. I have also tapped into BAB member dual-musicianship and am pleased to report we have a top trombonist, a heavenly harpist and a groovy guitar-player amongst our crew, who are all now becoming increasingly adept at swapping instruments to suit our repertoire.
Annual Grand Charity Concert
Since 2015, BAB has been hosting an annual Grand Charity Show at the fabulous 350- seater Bingley Arts Centre. We take pride in marketing ourselves professionally and as a result, manage to pack the theatre to the rafters every Autumn. This event has definitely become the central focus of the BAB-year. I am so very proud of the fact we have raised in excess of £20, 000 for local and national charities including: Breast Cancer Care, Alzheimer’s Society, Sue Ryder Hospice and Bradford Hospitals’ Charity. I can honestly say that these dazzling shows have been some of the most memorable nights of my life. BAB has successfully joined forces with outstanding dance troupes, steamy Latin-American ballroom dancers, an uber- talented ukulele band, phenomenal solo and group vocalists, a traditional Scottish piper and our latest guest star who is a fire-eating, lyrapole artiste; we definitely don’t do things by halves!
BAB Zoom Nights
During these unprecedented times, BAB continues to meet twice- weekly (Mondays and Thursdays) on Zoom. You are probably very aware of Zoom’s limitations when it comes to making music in a group and we still (even after a year of doing this!) witness hilarious moments of players not muting microphones, chatting to their dog or leaving the TV on in the background and attempting to talk to the assembled group whilst still muted – I am especially guilty of that! Since January 2021, I have extended an open invitation to any other players in the UK who are welcome to join us, and I am very pleased to say that the response has been overwhelming. As a result, we now have accordionists from all over the UK attending on a regular basis. Mondays are workshop in style, whilst Thursday has become our ‘night out’ play-along session, plus social hour after the music ends. This takes various forms and laughter is always the order of the day.
In 2021, BAB also diversified into GAB (Global Accordion Band). I lead this newly formed Zoom- group every fortnight, which is happily growing in number and comprises of players from all over the world including: Australia, Romania, USA, Canada, Belgium, Italy, Germany, and of course, England, Ireland and Scotland. We have yet to conquer Wales!
And finally…the Pandemic has given me the opportunity to truly stand back and reflect upon the now-and-then. I realise how much BAB has developed, not only in number, but in confidence, friendships and mutual support. It really feels like being part of an extended family and every player is welcomed into the BAB fold regardless of instrument, ability or age. Who knows exactly what the musical future holds, but we’ll definitely be back behind our beloved bellows just as soon as we can, as we’ve a Silver Anniversary to celebrate in 2022! I hope you all stay safe and well and playing music in the meantime.
If you are interested in learning to play the accordion from scratch, polishing up your current skills, joining a BAB or GAB Zoom session, or better still joining Bradford Accordion Band LIVE, please make urgent contact with me TODAY, because there’s really no time like the accordion- present!
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