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

‘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

A Magazine Piece about Brass Bands


Here is a link to a journalistic piece  I wrote – with some editorial assistance  –  in the Webzine Northern Soul about the film Brassed Off, brass bands and the North.  It is called, Brass Bands: a Northern working class cliché? I hope you enjoy it.

Brass Bands: a Northern working class cliché?

 

 

 

Crowdfunding for Women in Brass and Military Bands c. 1940-1960


 

 

Today I am launching a crowd funding project to support my new research that explores the influence of women in brass and military bands c. 1940-1960.

The aim of this research project is to gain a fuller understanding of the role of women in brass and military bands, c. 1940-1960. This research bridges a gap between the Second World War and the upsurge of debate surrounding gender in the 1970s. As such this work not only contributes to the chronology of brass and military bands, but also significantly adds to the debate around issues of gender, status and identity. This project is indeed interdisciplinary.

This research will take eight months of visits to national and local archives. I am hoping to raise enough for travel, accommodation and some subsistence. I see this research being a journal article in a key musicology or social history journal. If you would like to fund this research that will be a substantial contribution to the scholarship of gender, please follow this link.

 

Archive Material, Brass Bands & Local Studies


 

In this post I want to outline the importance of using local archive material in the study of history and musicology. Local archive libraries were valuable resources when I researched my PhD, ‘Slate-Grey Rain and Polished Euphoniums’: Southern Pennine Brass Bands the Working Class and the North, c. 1840-1914 (University of Huddersfield, PhD Thesis, 2015).

I have outlined a little theoretical background as to why local archives are significant and then I have listed an indicative bibliography of primary source material that helped illustrate the themes my thesis covered, class, culture, gender and region. I also consulted local newspapers and band periodicals, which is somewhat axiomatic, but they were also significant sources of reporting and comment. My key point, however, is that local studies libraries contain gems of archive material that are often undiscovered. My research was done in the Southern Pennines, which has proved a fruitful area for many historians.

Local Archives and Influential Historians

Influential historians have turned to the Southern Pennines to examine working-class lives in the ‘classic’ period of class formation. In 1968, Eric Hobsbawm argued, when writing about Manchester, that ‘whoever says industrial revolution says cotton.’[1] E. P. Thompson’s classic, The Making of the Working Class (London, 1969) was coloured by archival work from the West Riding of Yorkshire. Patrick Joyce was emphatic that ‘the manufacturing districts of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire were the cradle of factory production, and it [was] to them that posterity […] looked in seeking to discern the nature of the class structure to which the new system of manufacture gave rise.’[2] Therefore, it is valid to view the density of brass bands in the area as a way of defining aspects of working-class leisure and cultural activity that depended on, interacted with and influenced other activities within the industrial settlements of the Southern Pennines.

Brass Bands as an Agency for Social History

My research used brass bands because of the vast amount of social networks they were involved in. In 1892, the music journal, Magazine of Music featured an article that placed an emphasis on the importance of northern brass bands’ social networks. This piece featured the importance of brass band contests and how they encouraged musical skill; moreover, the rhetoric in the piece highlighted the importance of bands over other musical groups in bringing working-class cultures to the attention of the wider world. Towards the article’s end the author wrote:

Contests, however, are by no means the only objects, as everybody knows, for which bands exist. There is scarcely a public function of any kind at which there is not a band to dispense sweet harmonies. As one looks through the record of a month’s work, one sees social gatherings of all kinds – teas, suppers, dances, cricket or football matches, presentations, festivals, demonstrations, camp meetings and anniversaries. It would seem as if nothing human were complete without a band, for this week, a band has to play at a marriage and a funeral. At Christmas the bands turn out in great force to go the round of their subscribers; and we hear that in spite of the intense cold last Christmas, some bands played before the houses of over a hundred[…]members, notwithstanding benumbed fingers and frozen valves […].There are many wide questions connected with these bands – the influence on their members, on their home life, on the life of the neighbourhood, which we must leave to be answered […] by those whose knowledge of bands and bandsmen is more extensive than our own.[3]

Furthermore the years 1870-1914 are of fundamental importance in any study of recreation and leisure. These years saw the fruition of previous trends and the emergence of a fully-formed working-class style of leisure. This period witnessed the evolution of small public houses into fully-fledged music halls, the professionalisation of sports, the emergence of the seaside holiday, and the growth of cinema.[4] In short, this era was the birth of the classic working-class leisure experience that embraced working-class attitudes and experiences. Therefore, an understanding of bandsmen, bands and the social networks that supported them adds to the understanding of a period when both men and women were taking part in pastimes that started to define working-class cultural identity after the mid-nineteenth century.[5] Indeed, the brass band becomes a site to explore working-class life from the 1840s onwards.

Local Archives and the History of Labouring People

The Society for the Study of Labour History (founded in 1960) investigated how trade unions and the Labour movement became a representation of influence in British society. Asa Briggs, and other contributors to Chartist Studies, changed modern study into the movement arguing that Chartism could only be understood fully through local studies, in an attempt to record the activities of the movement’s rank and file members.[6]

This view is reflected in my own work by my use of many local studies source material, not only newspapers, but also local diaries, reflections, minute books and financial records that discuss local bands and their relationships within the community. In addition local and national newspapers, magazines, music journals and the brass band movement’s own press, records that have been overlooked in earlier analysis of the social networks of brass bands, have been used.

Local studies materials then are significant collections that can bring new material to the historical record.

The Sources

Where primary sources and books cannot be found in the British Library collections I have listed the locations using the following key:

Accrington Local Studies Library (ALS)

Bacup Local Studies Library (BLS)

Bolton Archive Service (BOAS)

Bradford Local Studies Library (BRLS)

Burnley Local Studies Library (BULS)

Bury Archive Service (BAS)

Halifax Local Studies Library (HXLS)

Haworth Brass Band (HB)

Huddersfield Local Studies Library (HLS)

Lancashire Record Office, Preston (LRO)

Leeds Local Studies Library (LLS)

National Brass Band Archive, Wigan (BBA)

Rawtenstall Local Studies Library (RLS)

Salford Local Studies Library (SLS)

Todmorden Community Brass Band (TCBB)

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Bradford (WYASBR)

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (WYASCD)

 Brass Band History Booklets:

Anon, Irwell Springs (Bacup) Band (Bacup, 1914) (RLS)

Anon, Life and Career of the Late Mr. Edwin Swift, a Self-Made Musician, Bandmaster and Adjudicator: Trainer of Many of the Leading Bands in the North of England, (n.p. 1904) (HLS)

Anon, Milnrow Public Band, 1869-1969 (Milnrow, 1969) (BBA)

Anon, Slaithwaite Band: Golden Jubilee Year Souvenir (Huddersfield, 1975) (HLS)

Anon, Stalybridge Old Band, 1814-1914 (Stalybridge, n.d.) (BBA)

Bythell, D. Banding in the Dales: A Centenary History of Muker Silver Band (Muker, 1997)

Bythel, D. Water, A Village Band, 1866-1991 (Water Band, Rossendale, Lancashire, 1991) (RLS)

Carrington, R. (Ed.), The Centenary Chronicle of Rothwell Temperance Band, 1881-1981, A Tribute to Those Who Have Gone Before (Leeds, 1981) (BBA)

Hampson, J. N. The Origin, History and Achievements of Besses o’ th’ Barn Band (Northampton, 1893) (ALS)

Hartley, E. A. Brindle Band: A Social and Cultural History of a Lancashire Brass Band, 1868-2000 (Preston, 2000) (LRO)

Hesling White, J. E. Our Village Band (Bramley, 1905) (LLS)

Hesling-White, J. E. A Short History of Bramley Band From Its Inception to The Present Time. With Glimpses of Old Time Doings in Bramley (Bramley, 1906) (LLS)

Hume, J. O., Souvenir of St Hilda’s Band (n.p.1929) (BBA)

Leech, I. Reminisces of The Bacup Old Band, Which Appeared in the Columns of the Bacup Times in 1893 (Bacup, 1893) (RLS)

Lord, S. The History and Some Personal Recollections of the Whitworth Vale and Healy Band (Rochdale, 2005) (RLS)

Massy, R. Meltham and Meltham Mills Band 1846 -1996, 150 Years of Music, Commemorative Booklet (n.p.1996) (BBA)

Rogerson, B. ‘A Touch of Brass’, Eccles & District Historical Society Lectures (1977-1978) (SLS)

Walker , M. The History of Farnworth and Walkden Brass Band: A Brief History of Brass Bands in the Bolton District (n.p., 2007) (RLS)

 

Local History Pamphlets:

Baldwin, A. Crompton, M. Hargreaves, I. Simpson, J. Taylor, G. The Changing Faces of Rossendale: Production Lines (Halifax, n.d.) (RLS)

 

Architectural Plans:

Clifton Subscription Brass Band-Plan of Proposed Band Room, Clifton (11 May, 1898) (WYASCD), catalogue ref CMT6/MU: 24/42

 

Brass Band Minute Books:

Haworth Brass Band Minute Books, 1900-1904 (HB)

Minute Book of The Christian Brethren Brass Band, Cleckheaton, 1886-1899 (WYASCD), catalogue ref, K131

Heap Bridge Brass Band Minute Books, 1898-1914 (BAS), catalogue ref, RHB/1/1

Helmshore Brass Band Minute Books, 1889-1922 (ALS)

 

Brass Band Tutor Books and Instrumental Methods:

Arban, J. B. Grande Méthode Complète de Cornet à Pistons et de Saxhorn (Paris, 1864) (BBA)

Curwen, J. The Brass Band Book for Tonic Sol-Fa Pupils, Containing Instructions for the Cornet, Bugle, Tenor, Baritone, Euphonium, Bombardon, Trumpet, Trombone, Ohecleide and French horn (London, 1864) (BBA)

Wright and Round’s Amateur Band Teacher’s Guide and Bandsman’s Adviser (Liverpool, 1889) (BBA)

 Concert Programmes:

G.U.S. (Footwear) Band 1867-1967, Centenary Year Concert Programme (12 November, 1967), catalogue reference, RC785G00 (RLS)

 

Music in Greenhead Park Concert Programmes (1901-1922) (HLS)

 

Contest Entry Forms:

Contest Entry Forms for the Belle Vue Contest, Manchester, from 1901-1904 (BBA)

 

Contest Results:

Database of Contest Results from 1900-Present (BBA)

 

Correspondence and Reports:

Correspondence re Bury Recreation Grounds, 1895-1905 (BAS), catalogue ref, ABU2/3/7/1

Park Superintendents Reports on Bands, 1812-1913 (BOAS), catalogue ref, AF/6/125/2

 

Ephemera:

Documents Relating to Oats Royds Mill Brass Band, 1864-1897 (WYASCD), catalogue ref, JM857: Band Uniform Brass Tunic Buttons

Newspaper Cuttings With Regard to John Foster and Sons, and Local Events in Bradford and Queensbury (WYASBR) catalogue ref, 6195/9/1/1

Peacock M. R. Haworth Public Prize Band Poem (September, 1912) (HB)

 

Financial Records, Personnel Records and Receipts:

Bradford Brass Band Account Book, 1854-1858 (WYASBR), catalogue ref, DB16/C31

Bradford Borough Council, Town Clerk, Papers Regarding Peel Park, Including Financial Agreements, Correspondence, Minutes, Plans, Reports and Subscriptions, 1851-1864 (WYASBR) catalogue ref, 1D82

John Foster and Sons, Director’s Minute Book, 1891-1920 (WYASBR) catalogue ref, 61D9521/1

Documents Relating to Oats Royds Mill Brass Band, 1864-1897 (WYASCD) catalogue ref, JM857:

Engraving receipt 253a, 31 December, 1869, receipt, 254a, 31 December 1870

Estimate for band clothing

Instrument and band membership lists, 1864-1884

Settled Accounts in the Winding up of Oats Royd Mill Brass Band (11 November, 1890)

Helmshore Brass Band Leger Books, 1901-1914 (ALS)

Heap Bridge Brass Band Trust Deed for Instruments and Other Property, 21 December, 1885 (BAS), catalogue ref, RHB 2/1

Register of Staff Absences, With Time Off, and Cause, to Playing in Black Dyke Band, 1864-1880 (WYASBR), ref 61D95/ 8 box 1/ 4

Watson and Son and Smith, Solicitors, Bradford, Records (Idle and Thackley Brass Band Papers, 1898-1943 (WYASBR), catalogue ref, GB202

Todmorden Old Brass Band Ledger Books, 1900-1910 (TCBB)

 

 

Pamphlets:

Anon, Recreation for the Working Classes on Temperance Principles (Dublin, 1857)

 

Parliamentary Acts:

Uniforms Act 1894, Office of Public Sector Information, <http//www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1894/pdf/ukpga18940045_en.pdf>

 

Trade Directories:

Halifax and Huddersfield Mercantile Directory, 1863-64, (London, 1863) (HXLS)

Kelly’s Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire, 1897 (London, 1897) (HXLS)

 

Trust Deeds, Rules and Regulations:

Clifton Brass Band, Declaration of Trust, 1882 (WYASCD), catalogue ref, KMA: 1850

Cliviger Prize Band Rules and By-Laws, 1908 (BULS), catalogue ref, LT641

Haworth Public Band Agreement (6 December, 1876) (WYASBR) catalogue ref, 80D/92

Idle and Thackley Public Brass Band, Rules and Regulations (30 July, 1898) (WYASBR) catalogue ref, 540D/1/5

The Shipley Brass Band Trust Deed (7 March, 1894) (WYASBR), catalogue ref, 41D/84/49

 

Unpublished Manuscripts, Diaries and Reflections:

James Law Cropper, Memories, typewritten transcription of interviews (n.d.) (RLS)

Moses Heap, An Old Man’s Memories n.d. (typescript, 1970) (RLS)

Moses Heap of Rossendale, My Life and Times (1824-1913) (transcribed by John Elliot, 1961) (RLS)

Diary of Willie Jeffrey, 1906 (Queensbury Historical Society) photocopy, held in (BRLS)

 

[1] Eric J. Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire From 1750 to the Present Day (London, 1968, this edition, updated with Chris Wrigley, 1999), p. 34.

[2] Patrick Joyce, Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in Later Victorian England (Brighton, 1980, this edition, London, 1982), p. xiii.

[3] Magazine of Music, 9/4, (April, 1892), pp. 62-63.

[4] Martin Childs, Labour’s Apprentices: Working-Class Lads in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (Belfast, 1992), p. 143.

[5] See Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The Making of the Working Class, 1870-1914’, in Eric Hobsbawm, Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz (London, 1998, this edition, 1999), pp. 78-99.

[6] McWilliam, Popular Politics, p. 21.

Brass Bands as A Stereotype of the North


Cloud 14

On the 24 February I will be  leading another session of ‘Slate-Grey Rain and Polished Euphoniums’: Brass Bands, the Working Class and the North, ca. 1840-1914, at Heritage Quay Archive Centre, at the University of Huddersfield. This short adult-education course explores why, in the popular imagination, and, almost without question, the brass band movement should be such a powerful symbol of northern working-class identity? This question is all the more surprising when we recognise that the brass band movement was a national movement in this period. Why, in other words, were the brass bands of the Southern Pennines at the centre of this creation of northern working-class culture, ca. 1840-1914? The  Course Handbook can be downloaded and if  you would like to discuss arranging the course for your learning centre email me for more details.

Session one examined how the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire and Lancashire  developed a reputation as a centre of excellence for amateur working-class music making. This gave brass bands a secure foundation to begin a leisure pursuit that would become a highly recognisable working-class hobby. This region was also where influential historians, such as E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm and Patrick Joyce,  have turned to understand how labouring people lived their lives during  the ‘classic’ period of class formation. We discovered how the history of labouring people could be understood by the examination and use of local archives. This was an approach advocated by Asa Briggs and the journal Chartist Studies and as such influenced a significant amount of research into working-class identity.

Session two developed this idea further and we examined a significant amount of archival documents and discovered how bandsmen ‘invented a tradition’ of music-making that was self-replicating, mentor driven and spread by a semi-oral transmission of style. This resulted in bandsmen creating their own working-class identity with their own rituals and customs, made up of concerts and in particular a regular contest season.

 

 

Session three will examine how and why brass bands should be considered a northern phenomenon?

In 1907, the popularity of the national brass band contest at London’s Crystal Palace led the Musical Herald to reflect on two of the bands that were taking part in the contest. They were Wingates Temperance Brass Band, formed in 1873, near the north-west town of Westhoughton, in Lancashire, and Goodshaw Brass Band, formed in 1867, at Goodshawfold, in east Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley, an author in the Musical Herald wrote:

 

Where is Wingates? Where is Goodshaw? You don’t know. The same answer might be given regarding scores of villages whence bands came on Sept. 28th to the Crystal Palace […]. We have had bands for a generation past coming out of the unknown and making their villages famous.[1]

Wingates Temperance Band, 1907

 

 

Goodshaw Band, 1903

 

 

Such questions, clearly aimed at a musical audience outside of the region, showed that the industrial north contained communities where brass bands flourished. This session explores how the bandsmen, and the brass bands of the Southern Pennines, influenced the construction of an idea of the north: In spite of being a national movement the bandsmen, through their culture of brass bands, contributed to a clichéd perception of the north that flourished well before 1914.

There were a significant number of ‘crack’ bands that came from the Southern Pennines and these bands were emulated by others. Yet this does not account fully for their distinctiveness, as other areas of the country had equally strong brass band traditions. It is undeniable that the Southern Pennines had a strong tradition of music-making and musical appreciation, but there was a great deal of activity in other areas of the country. By the late nineteenth century virtually every town and village in the country had at least one kind of amateur musical ensemble, and Dave Russell has argued that ‘the brass band was perhaps the most pervasive of all.’[2] Alun Howkins, for example, discovered 148 bands in rural Oxfordshire alone that were active between 1840 and 1914.[3] Brass band periodicals reported on the activities of bands from almost every corner of the country.

 

This session will explore how the brass band did not so much create separate identities for Yorkshire or Lancashire but brought them together as a recognisable ‘north’ that southern readers could identify as a specific industrialised north, often without clear boundaries. Moreover, this north was a place that represented industrial and urban manual labour over commerce and agriculture. The press and brass band periodicals between 1840 and 1914 provided an anthropological view of ‘northernness’ that focussed upon the manufacturing districts of the Southern Pennines. As a result of this reporting, to the northern and the southern Victorian and Edwardian observer, brass bands represented an example of the clash of values between northern and southern identity.

As before we have many archival documents to unpack and analyse.

 

[1] Musical Herald (1 November, 1907), p. 342.

[2] David Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, 1850-1914: A Study of the Relationships between Music and Society (PhD Thesis, University of York, 1979), p. 316.(In the south and west of England Russell points out that they are more accurately described as ‘brass and reed’ or ‘military’ bands.)

[3] Alun Howkins, ‘Whitsuntide in Nineteenth-Century Oxfordshire’ History Workshop Pamphlet, No 8 (1973), cited in Russell, The Popular Music Societies of the Yorkshire Textile District, p. 316.

The Cleaster Brass Band Contest Poem: Musical World, 1877, p.243


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A Belle Vue Contest Programme: A Model for Comment

By the 1840s brass band contests in the North of England  were very popular and it was not unusual to see crowds of up to ten-thousand people at local contests. By the 1870s regular contests were being held at Belle Vue, in Manchester, and at the Crystal  Palace in London.

What emerged from musical writing in this period were observations of the brass band movement from a middle-class position; the writing was quasi-anthropological in nature, resulting in studies of working-class music-making that engaged with, and complemented, observations of the changing nature of working-class leisure in this period. For the press it was the brass band contest that became the central event in the representation of the emergence of working-class cultural identity. One phenomenom that emerged was the writing of poems to illustrate the nature of these contests.

Inherent in this verse is the working-class nature of the bandsmen and their involvement in skilled or manual labour. The word slubber, for example, comes from the word to describe the preparation of wool or cotton for spinning and included three working-class roles, from the labouring to the skilled, the Slubber Doffer, who removed the empty bobbins from the loom spindles, the Slubbing Frame Fitter, who installed and maintained the frame used in the preparation of the cloth, together with the Drawing Frame Slubber Hand who operated the machine used to prepare the cloth.[2] Music as a rational recreation was slowly becoming a way the working class could define their own cultural identity. To be in a brass band was to be of the working class.

By 1877, for example, the Musical World wrote a long poem about an upcoming brass band contest featuring the efforts of the fictitious northern Cleaster Brass Band to enter a regional contest.

The ease with which bandsmen were perceived by this journal as being familiar with the standard canon of composers indicated that real bandsmen were more than familiar with celebrated composers.

In addition the poem highlighted how easy it was to obtain brass instruments by either credit or cash and start a musical hobby. This hobby led to social networks. Social networks that were reinforced by the  way the railway gave people mobility.

Also shown is that the contest was a communal event that included the consumption of alcohol. By the 1870s drinking was a social lubricant and less of a debilitating event. The contest was becoming a homosocial environment where laboring men could define themselves by their hobby and the company they kept. This also had elements of roughness and violence when disagreements arose. Even though many Victorians believed that music would civilize and educate the working class, what emerged was that the brass band contest was where working-class roughness could exist.  So, in one poem, we see the development of working-class identity through music-making. We have the hobby as respectable pursuit. The hobby as social network. The hobby as homosocial arena with inherent roughness.

Enjoy the poem.

 

The Musical World wrote:

Come, listen to me, and a story I’ll sing

About a Band Contest which took place last spring,

And the fun and the frolic the adventure did bring,

A twelvemonth ago now come Easter.

The folks in the neighbouring town sent a bill,

With a note, “If your band wish to play, then please fill

Up the spaces in blank, just to say what you will

Concerning this contest at Cleaster.”

 

Now Cleaster’s a city some ten miles away,

A junction for Durham, Leeds, Bridlington Bay,

Through which some four hundred trains pass ev’ry day,

Of all sorts – goods, cattle, expresses.

They cultivate music of every kind,

They sing and play pieces, both coarse and refined;

In short, they’re a people in no way behind

The age, as perhaps each now guesses.

 

Ev’ry year they give prizes of various sums,

Silver cups, plated cornets, gilt batons, and drums,

To the finest Brass Band, from wherever it comes,

Provided the playing is decent.

‘We had often desired to be down on their list,

But somehow or other the chance we had missed;

They passed us, as if we did never exist,

Though we’d gained some good laurels but recent.

 

At last we’d received the long looked-for invite;

We filled up the form, and despatched it all right,

And at once began practising that very night,

So eager we were for the prizes.

We sent to De Lacy for all the best tunes:

We bought a new tenor sax, two bombardoons,

A slide alto trombone, that shined like full moons,

In the clear winter’s sky, as each rises.

 

So soon as the factory bell told us to cease,

And we’d washed ourselves clear from the slubber and grease,

We met at the sign of “The Fox and the Geese”,

And sat in a ring round the table.

When Bumbly-foot Harry gave word for to start,

We blew hard at Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart,

Until ev’ry man knew the lot off by heart,

And to play without music was able.

 

Not to weary you all with a troublesome tale,

Know, we met for improvement each night without fail;

After practice each man took his one gill of ale,

And straightway went home without staying.

The winter flew past, and the buds ‘gan to burst,

And the throstle sang blithely by coppice and hurst,

And still we ground on as we had done at first,

To make sure of a good place in playing.

 

At last the long looked-for day opened up bright,

We’d scarce slept a wink through the whole of the night,

So eager we were to show Cleaster our might,

And to come back all loaded with laurel.

We hired a waggon, with two pair of greys,

Each one took his instrument lapped in red baize;

Our coats had red trimmings, our caps were red glaze,

Like sealing-wax melted, or coral.

 

We start. As our neighbours collected to cheer,

And to wish us good luck, Johnny Smart from the rear

Threw a slipper, which hit Humbly-foot on the ear,

And caused him to fly in a passion.

He soon calmed himself, and we clattered away,

With confidence singing, so happy and gay;

Ne’er doubting a bit but we should win the day,

We entered the town in good fashion.

 

We got to the place where the tents were set out,

And when we had time just to look round about,

Sure ne’er in your life did you see such a rout,

Or hear such a comical shindy.

There were brass bands from all the towns twenty miles round,

All blowing at once as they came on the ground,

Each trying the best who could make the most sound,

All the time full discordant and windy.

 

At last the bell rung, and the judge took his seat,

And the bands were set out in good order complete,

And the humming of voices alone the ears greet,

As each waited the call of the numbers.

The judge knew the bands by the figures they held,

And not by their titles or place where they dwelled;

As the tickets were drawn from the hat; then soon quell’d

All the talkers as if sent to slumbers.

 

Our ticket was “six”, we were drawn to play first,

And we set ourselves out in the plan we’d rehearsed,

And till told to begin our impatience we nursed,

With our instruments ready for blowing.

A thundering cheer made us all feel elate,

And angered the other bands who had to wait,

And to guess by our playing what would be their fate,

If they worse than us should be showing.

 

We first played a Chorus from Handel’s Messiah,

And then a strange piece at the judge’s desire,

After that the bombardon performed “Obadiah”,

And other new music-hall ditties.

Upon which our first horn made a few observations,

Which the cornet replied to with frantic gyrations,

And the piccolo whistled a few variations,

Like frolicsome gambols of kitties.

 

How the other bands got on I can’t tell you now;

Enough that the day ended up in a row,

For the pride of the lot had that day low to bow

We had won the first prize in a canter.

Our foes said our playing was nothing but fudge;

A mistake had been made, and that they wouldn’t budge

Until the award was reversed by the judge,

Whom they made an endeavour to banter.

 

But a truce was patched up, and the bands stood apart,

To play altogether a piece off by heart,

All waited in silence the signal to start,

As was usually done at conclusion.

But the anger long smothered broke out in a flame;

And while some bands were silent at loss of their fame,

Some played “Hallelujah”, some played “Same old game”,

And all marched away in confusion.

 

At length to the station with fury they hie,

And each tried his neighbour in noise to outvie,

And from blows came to words, and in words did deny

The right of a triumph to other.

Soon words grew to deeds, and then cornets did clash

Against arms, breasts, and shoulders; and now with a dash

A mighty bass tuba comes down with a smash

On the head of the drummer’s big brother.

 

The fray was now fierce, and the shout and the cry

Was mixed with wild blasts from defeated ally,

And the blowing off steam from the engine hard by,

And the shriek of the whistle for starting.

Cornet bells were pulled off, curly saxhorns stretched straight,

Drum heads were all burst, and cracked many a pate,

When the voice of Joe Jolly cried: “Make for the gate

And I’ll set the foemen a-smarting”.

 

Joe’s coat was ripped up, and his red cap was gone,

His shirt and his waistcoat to ribbons were torn,

His eyes swoll’n and blacken’d, yet darted forth scorn

At our rivals, through whom he was rushing.

“Make the gate, make the gate!” still he cried in his rage

And leave me alone with the foe to engage!”

No words we could say did his fury assuage,

As we fell back, each other near crushing.

 

How nobly he stood, and how nobly he fought,

I cannot now tell but must leave it to thought,

Suffice it, in safety our waggon we caught,

As the enemy fled from him howling.

The slide of his trombone he lost in the fray;

He had bought a few pints of gray peas on his way,

Through the mouthpiece these missiles he’d scattered like spray

And they stung like small shots used in fowling.

 

Thus ended the day, and thus opened our fame,

Though ’twas won at the cost of some bruised and some lame.

All our instruments spoilt, all our clothes torn to shame,

On that memorable Monday last Easter.

The first prize we gained, and that was our pride,

And a salve for our wounds, and a solace beside.

So now you know all that to us did betide

At our first brass band contest at Cleaster.