Inside Hornsey’s Spanner Big Band

Josh Garman of Hornsey’s Spanner Big Band shares the ensemble’s story

It’s Wednesday night in Hornsey. You’re halfway through the work week and need that pit stop to power you through. There are activities to unwind: wellbeing walks and children’s groups, but what about to energise yourself? You walk in the dark past Hornsey Station, cold, and thinking of home. That’s when you hear music. The powerful expressive rhythm of drums, the deep resonance of bass, spirited trombone, robust piano, assertive trumpets and of course the sax, like the human voice in musical form.

It calls to you and you can’t help but peer in through the frosted windows of the Three Compasses, where the Spanner Big Band are sweeping the room with sound. Perhaps you’ve been to many live gigs, frequented jazz bars a hundred times, or maybe it’s entirely new. But how many of us get to experience 15 or more high class musicians, playing, learning, and improvising together?

Since the popularity of the big band in the 1930s and 1940s, it’s been hard to recapture those energised times. Simply, it’s become hard to finance so many musicians in one place, which is why those that remain are a rarity. Playing biweekly in Hornsey, the band returns each time not only to recite and repeat polished tunes, but to refine the music live. Music from the greats and original pieces written by members of the band are brought forward, changed, trimmed, and rewritten in realtime, not only by musicians but with the aid of the audience.

The local community of listeners and loyal supporters that travel from all over London come together to participate. Since the band was established in 2006, this has remained their most unique contribution. Dan Spanner, the band’s creator, has become a charismatic presenter, engaging those gathered in music, singing, poetry, and humour. He has long grey hair, wears breeches, and a colourful waistcoat like a true showman. Even if it’s unlikely you’ll see him without a sax, balanced on a chord from his neck, don’t be surprised if he also bursts into jig mid-sentence. But he’s not the only seasoned musician. The band boasts talent not only from the city, but countrywide and overseas, bringing their influences, skill, and dedication to each performance.

Music remains a collaboration, artists connecting with other artists, but musicians want to be heard, to tell their story, and here within the community of Haringey, they take the chance to converse and contribute to the district.