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Music, Emotion and Identity in Ulster Marching Bands

Flutes, Drums and Loyal Sons

Gordon Ramsey

Ulster’s marching bands form perhaps the most vibrant participatory folk music tradition in contemporary Europe, and are one of the most significant and visible elements of working-class loyalist culture in the divided society of Northern Ireland. Their significance springs largely from the central place they have assumed in the lives of their members.
This book presents an ethnography of three County Antrim flute bands from the very different genres of ‘part-music’, ‘melody’ and ‘blood and thunder’. The author explores the emotional rewards of communal music-making and the way that identities are formed through the acquisition of tastes, competences and skills within specific communal contexts, paying particular attention to the impact of class position. These issues are examined in the context of the competitions, concerts and street parades that are central to the social lives of thousands of band members and supporters in Northern Ireland.


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Foreword - xiii


Foreword The impulse to write this book came from the feeling that earlier academic studies, and journalistic portrayals of Ulster loyalist bands, which focused upon symbolism and boundary marking, although informative, were miss- ing something vital. That something was human experience – the feeling of smooth blackwood on the lip, or the weight of the drum on the thigh, the pride as the crowd burst into applause, the satisfaction of hitting a high A in tune with the rest of the band, the relaxed comradeship of a drink after a long parade, the exuberance of singing, clapping or dancing to a rousing march or a rollicking jig. To render such experiences in the black and white text of an academic monograph is not easy, however. Fortunately, readers need not be limited to this text for understanding. Loyalist bands and their supporters have taken to the internet with enthusiasm. A large number maintain their own websites and many hours of footage are posted on video-sharing sites every weekend. A search will soon turn up the good, the bad, the ugly and perhaps the beautiful. Loyalist bands remain a controversial presence on the streets of Ulster, and they are not likely to go away any time soon. I have tried to describe them as I have found them, neither as the blameless victims of prejudice as which they sometimes see themselves, nor as the sectarian brutes sometimes portrayed by their ideological opponents. Band members are human beings, with strengths and weaknesses, often from...

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