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.

Dad defends letting five year old do burnout

Five-year-old Riley Dobson has become a viral sensation after his dad Alex filmed him doing a burnout on their Thagoona property.

The single dad says he built the car with his son

Brisbane, Gold Coast airports hit by Border Force strikes

Extensive rolling stoppages to start today

More than 9000 Queensland kids in foster care

The Department of Communities and Child Safety suspended or cancelled the permits of 30 carers last year while it substantiated 144 cases of harm to children.

30 foster carers banned as 144 cases of harm to children revealed.

Local Partners

UPDATE: Woman remains in critical condition after crash

VIDEO: A woman is fighting for her life after an accident this morning

Dad defends letting five year old do burnout

Five-year-old Riley Dobson has become a viral sensation after his dad Alex filmed him doing a burnout on their Thagoona property.

The single dad says he built the car with his son

Hospital emergency: Thousands clog ED with minor issues

EMERGENCY CALL: Ipswich Hospital's emergency department has been swamped in the past 12 months by people presenting with very minor issues.

Residents need to stop presenting with only minor treatment issues

Police appeal for witnesses to fatal motorcycle crash

Scene of a fatality where male motorcycle rider lost his life on Augusta Parkway at Brookwater.Photo: Contributed

Police have ruled out a white ute from their investigations.

PHOTOS: Marty's graveyard shift in memory of daughters, wife

RESTING PLACE: Martin Kelly at the grave site of two of his daughters, Gayle and Lynne, and his wife Elva.

90-year-old keeping up family's legacy but needs help

Welfare group protests against circus at Redbank

The Lennon Brothers Circus has erected their tents at Redbank.

Lennon Bros use of lions has group riled up

Cyndi Palmer's tribute to murdered daughter

Cyndi Palmer addresses the media.

Mum of murdered schoolgirl calls for public not to speculate on case

MPs say meatworks bosses should take pay cut

JBS Meatworks and abattoir at Dinmore. Beef cattle processing and kill floor.

Workers are taking a 25% pay cut each time shift is cut at the plant

Classic car auction draws buyers from US, Dubai

"He wants everyone to enjoy the cars, the collection got too big'

PREVIEW: Luke Cage origin story is a strong addition to MCU

Mike Colter in a scene from the TV series Marvel's Luke Cage.

MIKE Colter stars as latest Marvel superhero to get his own series.

Kate goes down fighting in heated Survivor elimination

Australian Survivor contestant Kate Campbell.

YOGA teacher's 'good guys' alliance fails to get off the ground.

Emily Blunt's (almost) singing career

Emily Blunt nearly became the British Britney Spears.

Angelina is blocking calls from Brad Pritt

Angelina Jolie has reportedly blocked Brad Pitt's number.

Apocalyptica 'seek and destroy' sceptics with 'master' set

Apocalyptica play Max Watts in Brisbane on their Shadowmaker Tour.

Review of final show of Apocalyptica's tour

Rebecca Hall doesn't own a TV

Newspapers, yes. Television, not so much

$40million hotel, shops development project for Mackay

Mt Pleasant hotel and retirement accommodation, proposed at 194-202 Malcomson St.

$40m development to take Mackay to 'the next level'

Five ways to slash household bills and save the environment

THINK GREEN: Considering the environment when building or buying your next home can save you big dollars. The Village Building Company, who is responsible for Woodlinks Village at Collingwood Park, builds homes with this front of mind.

THERE is nothing as sweet as slashing dollars from your bills.

Property 200m from ocean selling for just over $100K

BEACHCOMBER PARK: Work has started on a new $19.2 million development at Toogoom.

The estate's developer is offering huge discounts for early buyers.

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

First stages of $25 million housing development underway

New development on Madsen Rd - The Springs.

The blocks of land are much bigger than usual

Couple build their own 'tiny house' for $45k

Holly Bowen and Oli Bucher built their "tiny house" themselves, only hiring a plumber and an electrician. Photo/supplied

The house, which is built on a trailer and can be towed.