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.

Callide power station owner enters receivership

Callide C power station (right) nestled in next to the highly-visible Callide B station (left) at Biloela.

IG Power elects not to make $50 million payment.

Biloela hosts CQ BMX championships

Riders at the BMX Queensland Central Zone Championships take to the track at the Callide Valley BMX Club. Photo Andrew Thorpe / Central Telegraph

Local riders lead the pack as track pasts first test.

Nationals in position to strong-arm policy

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce last month.

Strong showing from regional party boosts case for greater role.

Latest deals and offers

Ipswich MP wants "royal commission into black lung"

IPSWICH MP and coal miner’s daughter Jo-Ann Miller has called on the Queensland Premier to hold a royal commission into black lung

Callide power station owner enters receivership

Callide C power station (right) nestled in next to the highly-visible Callide B station (left) at Biloela.

IG Power elects not to make $50 million payment.

Biloela hosts CQ BMX championships

Riders at the BMX Queensland Central Zone Championships take to the track at the Callide Valley BMX Club. Photo Andrew Thorpe / Central Telegraph

Local riders lead the pack as track pasts first test.

Nationals in position to strong-arm policy

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce last month.

Strong showing from regional party boosts case for greater role.

Panthers raise $8K for school chaplaincy

The Biloela Panthers (right, in special uniforms) and Rockhampton Brothers teams observe a minute's silence for suicide victims before the game at the Panthers' home ground last Saturday night.

Teams unite to support cause.

Junior Panthers live the dream

Jonathan Thurston and Jason Tamololo say gidday to some of the Panthers' players. Photo contributed

Biloela U11s compete at Cowboys' home ground.

Superheroes of the big screen enjoy sounds of Splendour

CHRIS Hemsworth and his Avengers mates drop by Byron festival.

Dynamic pics from Splendour Day 1

The Strokes perform at Splendour in the Grass 2016. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star

Check out the latest pictures from Splendour in the Grass.

Bindi Irwin: 18 magic photos to mark her 18th birthday

Bindi Irwin with a python.

Photos: Bindi Irwin from babyhood to 18

Aussie director makes his mark on new Roots mini-series

Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte in a scene from the TV series Roots.

BRUCE Beresford behind final episode of remake of iconic series.

The Avalanches pull plug on live broadcast of Splendour set

The Avalanches are an Australian electronic music group.

RADIO listeners won't be able to tune in to the band's show tonight.

Who's got Richie's heart all aflutter?

Richie Strahan stars in season four of The Bachelor.

THE Bachelor has found his dream woman second time around.

You can own this Queensland town for just $1

Yelarbon

Unprecedented auction of town's business centre with no reserve

Work starts on $15M Caloundra apartment building

Turning the first sod at the Aqua View Apartments site in Kings Beach are (from left) husband-and-wife developers Alex Yuan and Stella Sun with construction company Tomkins director Mike Tomkins and Councillor Tim Dwyer.

Developers excited about addition to Kings Beach skyline

72-year-old Coast developer set to start new project

GREEN LIGHT: The Cosmopolitan has been approved for development at Cotton Tree.

Meet the Canberran set to deliver another chapter for Coast suburb

Plans revealed for 1500-lot 'master-planned community'

Precinct will be bounded by Boundary St and Shoesmith Rd

Ecco Ripley sales run sparks prime release

MOVING IN: Sekisui House has announced the release of more residential blocks at Ecco Ripley.

Sekisui House is preparing to unveil more land at Ecco Ripley

The climb is slow but property on the way up

Michael Matusik, director of Matusik Property Insights.Photo Allan Reinikka / The Morning Bulletin

The improvement would be mild when compared to past cycles