Marching, tradition and fancy dress: The Whit Friday Brass Band Contests, 2017


I recently wrote a piece for the ezine Northern Soul about the 2017 Whit Friday Contest. Here it is:

http://www.northernsoul.me.uk/the-whit-friday-brass-band-contest-music-review/

It was a grand day out.

A Working-Class Trombone Player’s Moral Dilemma: Faith, or Socializing with Bands?


Clogshop Chronicles is a volume of Lancashire tales that was first published in 1896, by John Ackworth.  This was a pseudonym for the Methodist Preacher, Frederick Robert Smith. Smith was born at Snaith in Yorkshire on April 18th 1854. His family had a long tradition of Methodist preaching.  He was accepted for the Methodist ministry in 1876, and studied for two years at the Headingley Theological Institute, after which he was appointed to his first post at Castletown in the Isle of Man.  Subsequently he travelled in some of the most important circuits in Methodism. Smith gained fame with his first book Clogshop Chronicles in 1896.  From then until 1907 he wrote an almost annual sequence of short stories and novels; also a volume of sermons in 1909. (1)

 The tale of the Knocker-Upper in Clogshop Chronicles expresses the dilemma between the more rowdy elements of brass band contests, that could be found at the Belle Vue Contests in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the trombonist Jethro’s Methodism. He is torn between his love of playing the trombone in secular brass bands and his faith.  As Jethro says himself, “Wot con Aw expect?  Didn’t Aw let th’ trombone tak’ me into a public-haase Mysel’?  Aw never thowt it ‘ud come whoam to me like this, but it hez! it hez!  My sin hez fun’ me aat!”

The Knocker-Upper, Clogshop Chronicles (1896)

THAT all-important event the “Sarmons” was approaching.  The formal rehearsals for it took place in the chapel during the fortnight immediately preceding the great Sunday, but the real hard work of the band was done at the Clog Shop, and woe to the misguided customer who came to do business after the music had commenced.

It was the first practice of the season, and one by one the members of the band entered the shop, most of their faces wearing a caught-in-the-act sort of look, for their instruments had been taken down from their hanging-places on house ceilings to a feminine accompaniment of railing against all bands in general and the Beckside one in particular.

Each player as he arrived and began to tune his instrument, inquired―

“Hasn’t Jethro come yet?” and the later comers exchanged their query into―

“Wheer’s Jethro?”

Jethro, though not the leader of the band, was its moving spirit, and far away the best musician in Beckside.  He was usually the first to arrive; but now, although Nathan, the smith, for whom they always had to wait, had come, there were no signs of Jethro.

At last Sam Speck offered to “goa an’ fotch him,” and whilst he is away on his errand I will tell you about the missing bandsman:―

He was a spare little man of about sixty years of age, and lived in a one-storey cottage, two steps below the level of the road, on the left-hand side as you went down towards the Beck.

He was the village knocker-up, and went his daily rounds with unfailing regularity every morning, except Sunday, between the hours of four and six.  Over his shoulder he carried a long, light pole, with wire prongs at the end, with which he used to rattle at the bedroom windows of the sleepy factory hands until he received some signal from within that he had been heard.

Though employed and paid by the “hands,” Jethro regarded himself as representing the masters’ interests, and if a post was unoccupied or a loom “untented” when the engine started at six o’clock, Jethro felt that it was a reflection on his professional ability, and was ashamed and hurt.

This doubtless accounted for the extraordinary zeal which the old man put into his work.  The knocker-up was expected to go and knock a second time a few minutes before six to stir up any drowsy one who might, peradventure, have fallen asleep again, and into this second round, which was to many the real signal for rising, Jethro put all his resources.  Not only the windows but the doors were assailed, and in addition he would give a word of exhortation in his thin piping voice―

“Bob!  Dust ye’r?  It’s five minutes to six!  Ger up, tha lazy haand (hound).  If tha dusn’t ger up Aw’ll come an poo’ thi aat o’ bed.”

At the next call he would drop into a coaxing tone-

“Lizer!  Jinny!  Come, wenches!  You’ll ne’er ha’ breet een (eyes) if yo’ lie i’ bed like that.”

After his rounds were finished, he would go down to the mill to report “quarterings” and sick cases, and to spend an hour with the fireman.

Jethro was a light-hearted, merry old fellow, who quoted Wesley’s hymns by the yard on all possible occasions, and sang snatches of them in the still mornings as he went his rounds.

The knocker-up began his musical career as a fiddler, but on visiting Manchester on one occasion, and attending a great concert there, he came back bringing a trombone, and though there was considerable murmuring at the incongruity of introducing a brass instrument into a string and reed band, Jethro was so indispensable that nobody openly rebelled.

This trombone was Jethro’s chief earthly pride and glory, and the source of untold pleasure to him.  He was, in fact, often troubled with the fear that the very strength of his affection for the instrument was a sign of its unhallowed nature, and many of his spiritual conflicts were fought about this unfortunate trumpet. In all pulpit utterances, “stumbling-blocks,” “besetting sins,” “spiritual idolatries,” “false gods,” and the like spelt “trombone” to Jethro, and all appeals for self-sacrifice brought up painful visions of a possible parting with that cherished instrument.

Once, indeed, it spent a Sunday night in the back garden, where its owner had thrown it in a fit of self-disgust at having played it in a public-house, where he had substituted for the sick trombonist of the Clough End brass band.

But the conscience-smitten knocker-up could not sleep whilst his beloved instrument lay among the cabbages, and he finally sneaked out about three in the morning, brought in his pet, went to bed again, and slept the sleep of guilty peace.

Now Jethro had an only son, grown up and married, who from the standpoint of the chapel was a very unsatisfactory character.  Every Becksider, as I said before, believed in retribution, and the father was haunted with the suspicion that his son’s prodigalities were judgments upon himself for his idolatrous love of his trombone.

By this time Sam Speck has returned from his search for the missing musician.

“Aw say, chaps,” he cried, “there’s summat up wi’ th’ owd lad; ” and as the fiddle-bows stopped their scraping, he continued―

“He’s sittin’ afoor th’ feire yond’, and staring into’t like sumbry gloppened, an’ Aw couldna get a word aat on him.”

The musicians looked at each other in astonishment.

“Wor he in a fit, dust think?” asked Jonas.

“Aw conna tell thi, but theer’s summat wrung wi’ th’ owd lad.”

Jabe and Long Ben posted off instantly to Jethro’s cottage.  Opening the door—for knocking was a sign of stiffness—they found him seated on a chair before an expired fire, with his feet on the fender and his body bent forward, so that he propped his chin with his arms, which, in their turn, were propped on his knees.  He never moved when the visitors entered.

“Wot’s up wi’ thi, Jethro?” asked Jabe, approaching him with some hesitation.  But the knocker-up neither moved nor spoke.

Long Ben took a careful look round the room, and finding nothing suggestive, he leaned against the mantelpiece so as to get a side light on Jethro’s face, and then he said soothingly―

“Come! come! owd lad, wot’s up?”

Jethro heaved a great sigh, and looked wildly round, whilst Jabe, getting behind the old man’s chair, motioned to Ben not to speak.

“It’s a judgment on me,” cried Jethro at last.  “It’s a judgment on me.”

Ben was about to interrupt him, but Jabe scowlingly motioned him to desist.

“It’s my own doin’.  ‘Be sure your sin ‘ull find yo’ aat!’  An’ it hez done!  It hez done!”

Another pause; during which Jabe was going through every kind of pantomimic gesture he could think of to prevent Ben from speaking.

“Aw carried him to th’ chapel when he wor three wik owd.  He’s been ta’n (taken) theer for twenty ye’r.  When he’d th’ fayver Aw fowt wi’ th’ Lord two neets an’ a day, an’ naa”—and the old man buried his head in his hands and moaned piteously.

Jabe and Ben drew chairs up, and sitting down one on each side of him, Long Ben asked gently―

“Come, owd lad, wot’s it aw abaat?”

Jethro lifted his head out of his hands, and asked, in a voice of tremulous surprise―

“Why, durn’t yo’ knaw?” and Jabe and his companion answered simultaneously, “Neaw!”

“Durn’t yo’?  Why, aar Jethro ta’n th’ alehaase.  O Absalom! my son! my son Absalom!” and the heart-broken old man rose and stamped on the sanded floor in a passion of grief and shame.

The only public-house in Beckside stood on the left, a little below Jethro’s house and close to the Beck-bridge.  The innkeeper had died recently, and Jethro junior, unknown to his father, had got the licence temporarily transferred to himself.  This young man could not have taken a more cruel young means of inflicting pain on his old Methodist father than the one he had adopted, and whilst Jabe and Ben looked at each other with dull sad astonishment, Jethro walked about the house crying―

“Wot con Aw expect?  Didn’t Aw let th’ trombone tak’ me into a public-haase Mysel’?  Aw never thowt it ‘ud come whoam to me like this, but it hez! it hez!  My sin hez fun’ me aat!”

Nothing that could be said or done seemed to pacify the old man, and his visitors felt that to mention the suspended “practice” would be to inflict pain.

For many a day after this Jethro went about disconsolate.  His voice was scarcely ever heard in the silent road on a morning, and when it was it sounded like a sad wail.  In spite of all that could be said, he was firmly convinced that his son’s conduct was a sort of consequence of his own overweening devotion to the trombone, though he was never able quite to demonstrate the connection between the two.  No amount of persuasion would induce him to play the trombone again, and he dared not go near the Clog Shop for fear of falling into temptation.

In a few days young Jethro moved into the Bridge Inn, and the knocker-up spent the whole of the removal day walking about in the road in front of the alehouse, but neither coaxing, nor flattery, nor reasoning, could induce him to step across the threshold.

But when the door closed at night for the first time on the new tenants, a haggard old man might have been seen kneeling on the steps and pouring out his soul in intense and tearful supplication.

Young Jethro’s wife was a bonnie brown-faced lassie, who had been a great favourite with her father-in-law, and she had done everything that woman’s wheedling could do to coax him into the house, but he vowed again and again that he would never cross the threshold.

Great, therefore, was Polly’s astonishment one morning, when old Jethro entered the inn, but walked straight through into the kitchen.

“Hay, fayther, bless yo’!  Aw am fain to see yo’,” she cried, rising from her chair awkwardly; “come an’ sit yo’ daan.”

But the old man did not move.  He stood there in the middle of the room looking at his daughter-in-law with sad solemn eyes.

“Doan’t stop’ theer, fayther; sit yo’ daan an’ Aw’ll make yo’ some tay.”

“But Jethro took a short step backwards, and raising his hand, and looking for the moment not unlike an old Hebrew prophet, he said―

“Polly, if onybody ‘ad towd me as my fast gronchilt ‘ud be born in a alehaase, Aw’d a letten aar Jethro dee when he had th’ fayver; he’d a bin safe then;” and then breaking down into a wail, and crying: “But it’s a judgment on me,” the old man hastened away.

Now the young landlord had not been much disturbed by his father’s protests, for he had not noticed that the circumstance had taken the hold upon him which it had.

But two or three weeks innkeeping had opened his eyes, and so the account his wife gave of Jethro’s visit made a deep impression on him.

Meanwhile the old man’s melancholy seemed to deepen.  All the efforts of his cronies to cheer him were vain, and as he evidently dared not go near the Clog Shop, the practices were seriously interfered with, not only by the absence of the leading spirit, but also by that of those who went to keep their old friend company.

One cold, dull morning—for the spring was late—old Jethro was seen hurrying up the road past the Clog Shop as fast as he could go, with a sack on his back.  The sack might not have attracted any attention, but the suspicious haste with which it was being carried excited great curiosity at the cloggery, and Sam Speck followed very carefully to see what ” th’ owd chap wor up to.”

After passing the chapel, Jethro slackened speed, and having turned the crest of the hill, he sat down on a heap of stones, whilst Sam was crouching behind the hedge and watching him.

The poor fellow looked very miserable, and after sitting for a minute or two he got up, looked stealthily around, then opened the sack, took out of it a long, green baize bag, containing the trombone, and, after concealing the sack in the hedge bottom, started off to Duxbury to sell his idol.

It was a seven-mile walk, and such an instrument was not easy to dispose of, and had to be carried about from place to place before a purchaser could be found.  So terrible was the mental conflict going on within the old man that he forgot to take food, and started the long walk home in a fagged condition.

It was a weary tramp, accompanied by more than one Lot’s-wife-like look behind him.  The wind, strong and heavy, was all against him, the brooding grief of the last few weeks had drained his vitality; he began to feel very fatigued, then giddy; and finally, just as he drew near the place where he had concealed the sack, he staggered to the roadside in a dead swoon.

Luckily, however, Lige, the road-mender, was returning home from his work behind Jethro, and seeing him fall he hurried up, and in a short time the knocker-up was safe in his own bed.  The doctor said it was a slight stroke, and Jethro must have been worrying about something, but as he had an excellent constitution no serious consequences need be apprehended.

Jethro’s walk to Duxbury took place on a Friday, and on the following day young Jethro sat brooding over late events behind his little bar, and it was evident he was very ill at ease.

On the Sunday he went twice to chapel, and after the evening service Jabe gave him that significant jerk of the head Clog Shop-wards which was the recognised form of invitation to its councils.

The ordinary members of the Club treated him with marked coldness, but he sat the session out, and when the others rose to go, Jabe beckoned him back into his seat, and he sat down, knowing full well what was coming.

Long Ben also remained, and when they had gazed into the fire and puffed rather vigorously at their pipes for a little time, Jabe suddenly turned to the young landlord and said―

“Well, wot dust think to thysel’?”

“Wot abaat?”

“Wot abaat!  Abaat aw t’ trouble tha’s geen yond’ owd chap o’ yours.”

“Haa did Aw knaw he’d tak’ it so ill?”

“Neaw ” (very sarcastically); “tha thowt ‘as th’ best owd saint i’ Beckside ‘ud feel a-whoam (at home) among pigeon-flyers an’ cards an’ ale-pot bottoms, didn’t tha?”

The culprit was getting red, and so Long Ben put his hand gently on his shoulder, and said―

“Wot ‘ud thy mother think if hoo saw thi, lad?”

Jethro winced, and Ben proceeded―

“We ne’er thowt as that Bible we gav’ thi at th’ schoo’ ‘ud find its road into a alehaase.”

There was silence; the young man was deeply moved, and began to bite his lips, whilst a heavy sigh broke from him.  In a moment or two Jabe said, very gently for him―

“Kneel thi daan, lad.”

And down the three went, and there they prayed and prayed until the small hours of the morning, when young Jethro “found liberty,” and went home with a new joy in his heart and a new power in his life.  Next week he gave up the inn.

Some ten days after this the old knocker-up sat on a “long settle” which had been pulled up near the fire, though it was late in May.

Aunt Judy, who had installed herself head-nurse, had just been telling him about his son’s conversion, for it had not been deemed prudent to inform him sooner.  The old man’s face was a picture.  Delight, gratitude, and wonder seemed blended in it.

Then Judy excused herself for a moment and went out.  She was soon back, however, carrying a mysterious bundle of clothes.  This she “flopped” suddenly on Jethro’s knee, and, pulling back the outer shawl, disclosed a fine three-days’-old baby.

“Theer!” she cried, “isn’t that a whopper?  It’s th’ pictur of its grondad!  An’ it’s no’ been born in a alehaase, nother.”

What the knocker-up thought as he sat and looked at the wee one will never be known, but as he held his knees together lest the treasure they supported should be disturbed, Judy was startled to hear him burst out in his high piping voice and to a popular local tune―
“God moves in a mysterious way,” etc.
After this the old man “came on” quite rapidly, and as the “Sarmons” were still three weeks off, he began to talk quite eagerly of being present at them “efther aw.”

One evening some of his Clog Shop cronies paid him a visit.  Jethro thought he noticed three of them as the door opened, but when he had made room for them on the long settle he perceived that there were only two—Jabe and Long Ben.

Jethro at once began to inquire eagerly about the practices, and his face became quite clouded as Jabe mentioned with most persistent frequency that they were “ill off for th’ trombone.”

The more the visitors talked the more uncomfortable Jethro got, and every now and again he glanced uneasily up at the empty hooks whereon his instrument used to hang.  Then Jabe, glancing round the house as if making a most unimportant remark, said―

“We’re thinkin of axin’ Traycle Tim to tak’ th’ trombone parts.”

Now this was positively cruel, for Traycle Tim of the Clough End brass band was Jethro’s great rival, and after gasping in a helpless sort of way, and glancing once more at the empty hooks above him, he said with a sigh―

“Ay, well!  But Aw dunno want a trombone on the top o’ me to keep me daan when Gabriel comes to knock us aw up.”

“Gabriel?” cried Jabe; “why, he’s a trumpet hissel’!  Ay, an’ he’ll blow it too o’ th’ resurrection mornin’!”

This was a new idea to Jethro, and it evidently told; but, shaking his head, he replied, though not quite so decidedly as before―

“Ay!  But a trombone isn’t a trumpet, tha knaws.”

“Yi, but it is.  Th’ new schoo’-missis says ‘at trombone’s ony a soart of a frenchified name for a big trumpet.”

The new schoolmistress was a great favourite of Jethro’s, and so, as Jabe expected, the second shot told even more heavily than the first.

Presently he said, “Th’ trombone’s a varry worldly instrument, tha knaws, Jabe.”

“Nowt o’ th’ soart!  They blowed trumpets at aw’ th’ anniversaries i’ th’ wilderness, an’ i’ th’ Temple, an’ th’ owd prophet says ‘at when th’ millenium comes they’ll blow the great trumpet, an’ that means th’ trombone―naa, doesn’t it, Ben?”

“Sartinly!” said Ben, with tremendous emphasis.

Jethro sat a long time in silence; at last he said―

“Aw’ve happen made a mistak’ efther aw.”

“Of course tha hez,” chimed in both his visitors.

“But yo see Aw’m feared o’ lovin’ th’ trombone moar nor Aw love God, and God Gonna abide that.”

“Ger aat, Jethro,” interrupted Jabe; “Aw’m shawmed for thi.  Did thaa iver tak’ owt fra your Jethro for fear he’d like it better nor he liked thee?”

“Neaw,” very slowly and ponderingly.

“Well then, dust think as God’s woss nor us?”

“Aw never seed it like that afore,” said Jethro, and glanced up again at the hooks, and then he went on―

“Aw wish Aw hed mi owd trumpet here!”

At that moment a most mysterious noise came from behind the long settle.  It was intended to have been a royal blast, but Sam Speck’s unaccustomed effort only evoked a gurgling, struggling sound.

It was enough, however.  Old Jethro seized the instrument, and after holding it out to make sure it was really his own, he put it to his lips and sent forth a blast that brought the hands of his comrades to their ears.

It was really the old trombone.  Nearly two days had Sam spent seeking it in Duxbury; and on the anniversary day, Jethro, with visions of tabernacle and temple in his mind, and the figure of the great Archangel in the background, blew away every lingering doubt and fear, and blew himself into contentment and hope and health again.

References: 

  1. http://gerald-massey.org.uk/ackworth/b_biography.htm

A New Brass Band Publication: Music-Making and the Invention of Northernness


brass
A Northern Stereotype?

 

The brass band movement is a national movement. Yet, in the popular imagination, brass bands are considered working class and northern. My latest article published in the journal Northern History examines the roots of this cliché. The link to the full article can be found here:  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0078172X.2016.1254379

The abstract and opening paragraph of the article are shown below.

 

In spite of being a national form of music-making, the brass band movement is accepted — almost without question in the popular imagination — as working class and northern. Hence, in 1974, Peter Hennessy described a band contest at the Albert Hall: ‘A roll call of the bands is like an evocation of industrial history. From Wingates Temperance and Black Dyke Mills to more modern conglomerates …. Grown men, old bandsmen say, have been known to cry at the beauty of it all …. Of all the manifestations of working-class culture, nothing is more certain than a brass band to bring on an attack of the George Orwells. Even the most hardened bourgeois cannot resist romanticising the proletariat a little when faced with one. (The Times, 11 Oct. 1974) This stereotype, which emerged in the nineteenth century, generated the following questions about northern identity: what elements in the brass band movement created this reportage of northern bandsmen and how did bands, which thrived in large numbers in the Southern Pennines, emerge as a musical and cultural metonym of the industrial landscape? This article explores notions of music-making and the creation of a musical space, place and region through the reporting of brass bands c. 1840–1914.

Opening Paragraph (Copyright University of Leeds)

 

In spite of being a national movement brass bands have become a clichéd representation of northern working-class identity.[i] Writing in the Daily Herald in 1963, Dennis Potter wrote a review of a play by Ron Watson called Man of Brass. The play starred Jimmy Edwards, who played Ernie Briggs, a B-flat bass player, who preferred playing in brass bands to staying at home with his wife. Potter captured the tone of the play by writing, ‘this “northern saga” grimly celebrating slate-grey rain and polished euphoniums was firmly in the eh-bah-goom heritage of North Country humour.’[ii] As Dave Russell maintains, this image of the northern working-class brass band ‘has become so taken for granted in the national comic grammar that it is easy to smile (or wince) and move on.’[iii] The aim this article is not to move on but to pause and ask questions about these assumptions. When and how did Southern Pennine Brass Bands become a metonym for the industrial north? What elements combined to create this clichéd identity? Through an examination of the brass band movement’s journals and external commentary I will show that the origin of the brass bands’ cliché of ‘northernness’ was a construction that grew from the reporting of bands c. 1840-1914. In spite of the national nature of brass bands commentators singled out the Southern Pennine bands as a symbol of not only northern music-making, but also a representation of northern industry and production over, and in contrast to, what reporters saw, however fancifully, as the unmusical and unproductive south.

 

Notes and References:

[i] The British Bandsman’s Easter Contest listing from 1903 is indicative of the high amount of national brass band activity. Contests were held, for example, at: Mountain Ash, Carlisle, Abergavenny, Compstall, Stourbridge, Senghenyyd, Barnet, Wigan, Rugby, Lewisham, Colne, South Hetton, Elsecar, Ilkley, Lindley, Pwlleheli and Rotherham. Source: British Bandsman, 18 Apr. 1903, pp. 124-127.

[ii] Quoted in the British Bandsman, 7 Dec. 1963, cited in, D. Russell, Looking North: Northern England and the National Imagination (Manchester, 2004), p. 2.

[iii] Ibid., p. 2.

Cloud 14

A Brass Band Contest at Manchester Dr Stephen Etheridge The following page comes from The School Music Review: A Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Interest of Music in Schools, 1 October 1916. Like other London-based music journals the reporting is indicative of a style of writing that was anthropological in nature. In other words the brass […]

via A Brass Band Contest at Manchester — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

Conference Paper: 21 January, 2017 at Durham


Brass_Band_News_1938
Brass Band Reportage in Manchester During World War One

 

January the 21st will find me at the University of Durham where I will be giving a paper at the conference: A Great Divide or a Longer Nineteenth Century? Music, Britain and the First World War. This paper is based on research carried out for the Royal Northern College of Music’s project Making Music in Manchester during World War One. The paper will argue that the repertoire played in Manchester’s Public Parks during the conflict reinforced a Victorian ideal of nation and patriotism. The abstract is shown below:

Conference theme number four: In what ways did popular music—whether repertoire, performers, or the industry—change because of the war? In what ways did it carry on Edwardian and Victorian traditions?

 Brass Band Music, Contests and Entertainment in Manchester’s Public Parks in World War One: Reinventing Repertoire, Patriotism and Tradition?

Manchester was the gathering point for brass bands in the industrial regions surrounding Manchester. From the 1840s the growth of brass bands in the region was rapid. In spite of being a national movement, by 1914, the British Bandsman stated that ‘it could not be denied that the cradle of the brass band was on the slopes of the Pennine Chain.’[1] During the war years Manchester was significant for bands because the British ‘Open’ Contest at Belle Vue Gardens was the only large contest that kept going. In addition, bands played regularly in Manchester’s public parks.

1913 was a watershed year for the brass band movement. Labour and Love, Percy Fletcher’s tone poem, was performed at the Crystal Palace Contest.[2] Labour and Love was significant as it was composed music of some substance that was available to all bands.[3] It was the first test piece that was composed for the standardised brass band line-up and that the sources can account for fully. Composers such as Elgar and Bliss would soon follow.

In spite of the brass band movement moving away from its standard repertoire I will show that not only did older working-class traditions of music-making reinforce Victorian and Edwardian values in the public space, but also that public performance encouraged patriotism by reinventing patriotic themes found throughout British history.

.[1] British Bandsman (18 April, 1914), p. 349.

[2] Jack L. Scott, The Evolution of the Brass Band and its Repertoire in Northern England (unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Sheffield, 1970), p. 267.

[3] Paul Hindmarsh,’Building a Repertoire: Original Compositions for the British Brass Band, 1913-1998’, in, Trevor Herbert (Ed.), The British Brass Band: A Musical and Social History (Oxford,2000), p. 248.

Not A New Year’s Resolution: But Resolving to Stay Slow & Steady


IMG_00000211
A Big Pile of Archival Research

A quick glance at the Oxford English Dictionary gives us a glimpse at the language used when so many of us pledge a New Year’s Resolution, especially when we pledge to research and write so much. They write:

Resolution: 

 The capacity to make decisions; free will; the fact of having decided to do something; deliberateness, intentionality. Later also: a decision; a settled intention, a resolution, a purpose; (occas.) a plan of action. Obs.

These are all positive words and intentions. We all, I think, make a ‘plan of action’, and have ‘a settled intention’ when we write down our lists of things to do. It’s a start, and the list looks lovely in our brand new Moleskine Notebooks. The early-career researcher  nods sagely as they sip a flat-white in a coffee bar that plays smooth jazz. They have ‘a purpose’. They feel smug and consider having a piece of cake.

The trouble is this is where the rot sets in, and, to me, researchers are sometimes their own worst enemy on the road to frustration. The lists are just too big. How often is this bigness encouraged by the academic echo chamber of Twitter?

I looked at my Moleskine and here is my list for January. This list was clearly written under the influence of too much coffee and smooth jazz :

  • Write conference paper
  • Plan lecture
  • Write blog (not this one)
  • Research gender
  • Write book chapter
  • Research that biography
  • Source adult-education vacancies
  • Update CV

That is about 20,000 words, possibly more if I am telling Twitter about it. Over a generous 3 day research week  it’s 5,000 words a week,  or, 1,666 (and a bit) words over a day. If I put by a generous five hours a day to writing that’s 333.2 words an hour, or, about 5.55 words a minute. I haven’t even done any thinking, reading or redrafting. This is a very ample research week. Many only get one research day a week. Put another way, I have written a to-do list that is the equivalent of writing a master’s dissertation in one month.

Is it any surprise early-career researchers become disheartened? No wonder they have no time for themselves and others. Plus, at some point, they have to earn a crust. Early-career researchers often ‘make’ themselves too busy with their lists.

So, in the end, I am resolving to be slow and steady. To produce, but on my own terms. Learn when to say no, and, above all, ignore academic bigness on social media.

When I write my future lists I will ask: Is it doable? Will it be of good quality? Will I, in all honesty, have time to do it? Is it a contribution to the academy? Can I conference it?  If I publish, how many revisions are likely?

I know my big list looks great on the new page of my new notebook, but maybe I also need a new eraser to go with it.

 

 

 

 

‘Mungoe’s Christmas Adventures’: A Brassy Victorian Christmas Tale


“Mungoe’s Christmas Adventures”

From the Cornet, 15 January, 1900, p. 3.brass

This time a vaary owd friend ov mine, Billy Blowtop, came to spend a few days with us. Billy ewst to play t’ cornopean in t’ band in t’owd days,when ahh yewst to play t’ buzzoon.  He turned up this time reight enuff at Kersmas Eve. We gav him a warm welcome, en after we’d hed a good meeal en toosted wer knees in t’front ov t’fire en tawked aboot t’owd times oover a glass ov toddy, we tewk a walk into t’taan. We called attwo or three haases, en Billy met a few own friends that he hedn’t seen for many a year. Ov course we’d to hev a glass with ’em all, en there wor soa much to talk abaat wol it wor turnin’ aght time afore we fairly knew where we wor….

We wor up in good time in t’morning, en when t’band came to play at Aah’r haase we wor sittin comfortable in front of a good fire; we were feet on t’fender, wer glasses ov toddy at t’side on us, an we woor smookin real Have Hannahs. They played us a few nice tewnes, en Billy seemed sewted wol his een fair dazzen led….

After t’ dinner we made it up to hev a walk en hear some of t’other bands in t’district, soa we made wer way to Burstal, where we fan em in good form, en knockin on en makin brass fast. We had a liquor up with em en then wemade wer way to Drighlington, en we walked abaat a good bit, but could hear nowt of t’band, soa we called at a pub to mak enquiries….(More drinking with bandsmen.)

After another haar or two of fun t’ landlord came in and said he’d a conveyance at t’door ready for us. There was a flat spring cart covered wi straw en plenty ov rugs to lap us with, so we gat on an laid daan en covered us en we must have fallen asleep…. [When  got home] Just then t’door opened, en t’wife came en said, “Helloa, what  hav we here?” but t’driver jumped on his cart, an hes he wor drivin off he shaated, “You’ll find ’em all theer, missis, sooart ’em aght for yorsen.”

Merry Christmas to my followers, friends and colleagues.

Stephen

x

2017: Upcoming Papers, Publications & Research


brass

Ever since I began my PhD, back in 2007, and finally graduated in 2015, December and January have proved to be busy times not only for research, but also for writing and conferences. So it has proved to be this year. Why the darkest time of the year is the busiest, I have no idea. Nevertheless, here is an outline of current papers, publications and research for 2017.

January the 21st will find me at the University of Durham where I will be giving a paper at the conference: A Great Divide or a Longer Nineteenth Century? Music, Britain and the First World War. This paper is based on research carried out for the Royal Northern College of Music’s project Making Music in Manchester during World War One. The paper will argue that the repertoire played in Manchester’s Public Parks during the conflict reinforced a Victorian ideal of nation and patriotism. The abstract is shown below:

Conference theme number four: In what ways did popular music—whether repertoire, performers, or the industry—change because of the war? In what ways did it carry on Edwardian and Victorian traditions?

 Brass Band Music, Contests and Entertainment in Manchester’s Public Parks in World War One: Reinventing Repertoire, Patriotism and Tradition?

Manchester was the gathering point for brass bands in the industrial regions surrounding Manchester. From the 1840s the growth of brass bands in the region was rapid. In spite of being a national movement, by 1914, the British Bandsman stated that ‘it could not be denied that the cradle of the brass band was on the slopes of the Pennine Chain.’[1] During the war years Manchester was significant for bands because the British ‘Open’ Contest at Belle Vue Gardens was the only large contest that kept going. In addition, bands played regularly in Manchester’s public parks.

1913 was a watershed year for the brass band movement. Labour and Love, Percy Fletcher’s tone poem, was performed at the Crystal Palace Contest.[2] Labour and Love was significant as it was composed music of some substance that was available to all bands.[3] It was the first test piece that was composed for the standardised brass band line-up and that the sources can account for fully. Composers such as Elgar and Bliss would soon follow.

In spite of the brass band movement moving away from its standard repertoire I will show that not only did older working-class traditions of music-making reinforce Victorian and Edwardian values in the public space, but also that public performance encouraged patriotism by reinventing patriotic themes found throughout British history.

.[1] British Bandsman (18 April, 1914), p. 349.

[2] Jack L. Scott, The Evolution of the Brass Band and its Repertoire in Northern England (unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Sheffield, 1970), p. 267.

[3] Paul Hindmarsh,’Building a Repertoire: Original Compositions for the British Brass Band, 1913-1998’, in, Trevor Herbert (Ed.), The British Brass Band: A Musical and Social History (Oxford,2000), p. 248.

February will be publication time and I have a piece coming out in the respected journal Northern History.

The article,  Southern Pennine Brass Bands and the Creation of Northern Identity, c. 1840-1914: Musical Constructions of Space, Place and Region examines the ‘northernness’ of brass bands as as constructed metonym in popular culture.

In spite of being a national form of music-making the brass band movement is accepted -almost without question in the popular imagination – as working class and northern. Hence, writing The Times, in 1974, Peter Hennessy described a band contest at the Albert Hall:

A roll call of the bands is like an evocation of industrial history. From Wingates Temperance and Black Dyke Mills to more modern conglomerates […]. Grown men, old bandsmen say, have been known to cry at the beauty of it all […]. Of all the manifestations of working-class culture, nothing is more certain than a brass band to bring on an attack of the George Orwells. Even the most hardened bourgeois cannot resist romanticizing the proletariat a little when faced with one.

This stereotype, which emerged in the nineteenth century, generated the following questions about northern identity: What elements in the brass band movement created this reportage of northern bandsmen and how did bands, which thrived in large numbers in the Southern Pennines, emerge as a musical and cultural metonym of the industrial landscape? This article explores notions of music-making and the creation of a musical space, place and region through the reporting of brass bands c. 1840-1914.

Ongoing research for 2017 includes women in brass and military bands, masculinity and militarism in the brass band, and a biography of a well-known Victorian singing teacher. I am also being drawn towards local rock music, and an exploration of discos in the 1980s. 

So, for someone without a full-time position, it feels full-time. Keeping in the loop, that’s the key to moving forwards in academia, I think.

 

“That Minutes of Last Meeting Pass as Read”: Helmshore Public Prize Band’s Committee Meeting Minutes, A Case Study of ‘Life as Normal’ and ‘Moral Contracts’ in the First World War — Making Music in Manchester during WW1


“That Minutes of Last Meeting Pass as Read”: Helmshore Public Prize Band’s Committee Meeting Minutes, A Case Study of ‘Life as Normal’ and ‘Moral Contracts’ in the First World War Dr Stephen Etheridge Helmshore Public Prize Brass Band were formed in the 1870s and were active in East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley in the late nineteenth […]

via “That Minutes of Last Meeting Pass as Read”: Helmshore Public Prize Band’s Committee Meeting Minutes, A Case Study of ‘Life as Normal’ and ‘Moral Contracts’ in the First World War — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

‘The Man Fro’ Lancashire’: Prisoners of War and Lancashire Musical Donations — Making Music in Manchester during WW1


‘The Man Fro’ Lancashire’: Prisoners of War and Lancashire Musical Donations Dr Stephen Etheridge Figure 1. French, Belgian and Russian Prisoners of War forming a band. Including, with the baton, ‘the man fro’ Lancashire’. (Rossendale Free Press, 3 June, 1916) On June 3, 1916, the Rossendale Free Press published this picture which included an unknown […]

via ‘The Man Fro’ Lancashire’: Prisoners of War and Lancashire Musical Donations — Making Music in Manchester during WW1