Entertainment

The Titanic, its band and 100 years

"I hope that I have done their actions justice. I hope that some deserving stories will have been drawn back into the light. I'd like to think that if Wallace, Georges, Roger, Theo, Percy, Fred, Jock, and Wes were to read this book they'd think I was spot on."  - Steve Turner

Eight musicians played their instruments on the deck of the Titanic as it sank. A hundred years later, Steve Turner is asking 'What were they thinking?'

There's surprisingly little in the way of hard history written about the Titanic's band. Perhaps history was waiting for Turner to come along and treat the subject with the care, diligence, and totality that he's put into his new book, The Band Played On.

The tricky thing with writing about the Titanic's band is that the stories reported in the aftermath of the sinking were garbled and sometimes contradictory. Exactly what the band played or why they played it is obscured because the witnesses were all facing death. Trying to establish their motives for choosing a 'hero's death' is even harder.

Turner couldn't have discovered their motives for staying on the ship and he's smart enough not to try. By the end of the book, however, you can't help but feel that you know why they stayed. Like many of the issues in the book - commercialism, religion, incompetence - Turner poses the question and then stops, letting the reader decide. The way this is done doesn't feel like a cop-out; he delivers wonderful insights but stops short of passing judgement.

Having read the book, Joe Miller's choice of author seems to have worked. Turner's love of history and of music comes through in the details his research uncovered. It certainly feels like he's discovered everything that could be discovered about the musicians. Each musician owns a chapter, and everything recorded about them is brought together in a way where the narrative of their life comes out naturally.

Band leader Wallace Hartley goes from being the 2 dimensional Christian hero to being a man with a life and with reasons for being where he was, doing what he loved. Wallace was a good man, there's no denying that, but until now history has remembered little else but the facts that made him the poster-boy for being British and being Christian. Turner fleshes him out, and while Wallace's legend stays intact (he was in most ways a culmination of Methodism in England), there's more to learn from, identify with, and celebrate over.

Turner warns the reader early on that Wallace, being the band leader, was far easier to research than his fellow musicians. This may be true but you can't see it in the outcome. For most of The Band Played On, the light of the band's sacrifice is dimmed slightly so that the story of what they left behind can be spotted past the glare.

Wallace and Theo had both planned to leave the liners behind after the maiden voyage. Theo wanted to return to the woman he would have married, but because of past service in the military would have fought and possibly died in the Great War. The same went for spirited and worldly twenty-year-old Roger Bricoux, who had lived an adventurous life and had intended to continue it through his music. 'Wes' Woodward and John Hume were on board the Olympic when it collided with the HMS Hawke - an event that led to the Titanic being in the same time and place as an iceberg. Hume, the life of the band, went down with the Titanic before his future wife could tell him that he'd be a father. Percy left behind an estranged wife. John Clarke had taken the job to get to New York after hearing that his father had been murdered there. Georges showed every indication that he'd contribute greatly to the musical world.

The Band Played On is easily read but for some intensely detailed passages. In the middle chapters about the musicians it can be hard to keep track of the names mentioned. It's worth doing so - those names come back later in discussions of the aftermath.

This is where Turner's skill and discretion is perfect. I came close to tears at several points in the book, but only because the bare facts of the situation were given room. Turner never relies on emotional appeals; he lets the subject stand for itself.

If you're looking for a book to tell you why the Titanic sank, look elsewhere. The opening chapters, devoted to establishing the scene for the band's demise, do go into some detail but not much further. 

This is a remarkable, timely, and engaging book. The opening chapters have a level of atmosphere and drama that you're unlikely to find in most non-fiction books. The content is exceedingly well researched and the final chapter resurrects a piece of modern mythology that makes next year's centenary of the Titanic so much more exciting. While it's not the constant companion that Tribal Science will be, you'd be rewarded for having added this to your bookshelf.

You can purchase Steve Turner's The Band Played On online here.

Topics:  band book review disaster history music orchestra review titanic


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Members needed for club to survive

Auctioneer Len "Fonz” Bargenquest and Rotary member Errol Rix at the Blackwater Rotary Auction.

Blackwater Rotary Club is looking for more members

It's time to pay council rates

The Central Highlands Regional Council office in Emerald.

Rates are expected in the letterboxes of Central Highlands residents

Flood mitigation work complete

MITIGATION PROJECT: The earthmover at work to clear the Nogoa River.

The flood mitigation project in the Nogoa River is complete.

Local Partners

Hottest day in February

CQ sweltered through its hottest Feb day this week.

How Stay at Home Mum blogger Jody Allen struck it big

Jody Allen and Walt Collins will co-host the Seven Network's Stay at Home Mum television series from April.

Jody Allen's star continues to rise at incredible speed

Dance night away at ball

HAVING A BALL: Emerald Outside School Hours Care is holding a Valentine's Ball to fundraise for an outdoor playground.

Tickets are selling fast for the Valentine's Ball next weekend.

Comedy with extra cheese

Paul Fenech is taking his TV series Fat Pizza on the road for a series of live shows.

Fat Pizza and Housos are coming to town

Crocodile, hippo fears as I'm A Celeb filming hit by flooding

THERE are fears crocodiles and hippos could make their way into the I'm A Celebrity camp after cyclone causes flooding.

Small screen users make switch to smaller screens

In this photo taken Oct. 16, 2013, a girl plays Supercelll's Hay Day game on an iPad. The Finnish 'Clash of Clans' mobile game maker Supercell said Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, it plans to launch its third game next month on a tide of soaring revenues and profits. The new game, 'Boom Beach,' will be launched in March. It's been tested in Canada and Australia, ranking fifth in both countries' iPhone app store lists, according to the company. (AP Photo/Lehtikuva, Milla Takala)  FINLAND OUT

The digital age generation makes the switch

Nadia visits Coast to escape Married At First Sight drama

Married At First Sight's Nadia Stamp takes a breather from the show's drama at Mooloolaba.

MAFS bride unwinds on the Coast ahead of commitment ceremony

‘I didn’t stuff it up like you have’: Plibersek on Q&A

“I didn’t stuff it up the way you have stuffed it up, George”: Tanya Plibersek.

Plibersek lashed out at Brandis to plenty of applause

MKR cheating scandal: Alyse and Matt hit back

Matt Jenner shows his MKR rivals the curry paste he and Alyse used.

Alyse and Matt Jenner have hit back at claims they cheated on MKR

The spare part that forced the ABC off air

Aunty's showing her age ahead during new IT roll out

Why ABC Coast FM has taken so long to resume local programming

MKR rocked by satay sauce cheating scandal

Alyse and Matt slammed for satay sauce fiasco.

Popular island resort sells to loaded international investor

OUR PICK: Chris Foey's colourful shot of one of Gladstone's great tourism hot spots, Heron Island.

International investor snaps up piece of Gladstone paradise.

Expert: Why renters, home buyers may struggle

Matusik Property Insights director Michael Matusik.

What's next for the city's housing market

Massive seaside development of 3200 lots

DESIRABLE LIFESTYLE: The masterplan for the proposed Elliott Heads Estate.

"There's nothing else left along the coastline of Queensland now"

Potential home buyers punished for doing the 'right thing'

Should I go to university or buy a house?

50 more high rise buildings planned for Brisbane CBD

Height limits have been scrapped for Brisbane CBD

800,000 more people expected to work in city over next 20 years

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!