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

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.

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“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 First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: RMCM Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive? — Making Music in Manchester during WW1

The First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: Royal Manchester College of Music (RMCM) Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive? By Dr Stephen Etheridge Through an examination of the first Manchester Children’s Society Concert, which was held in 1916, this blog will show how the Victorian ethos of ‘Rational Recreation’ still existed, and, as an agency […]

via The First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: RMCM Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive? — 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?




Rediscover Manchester through the Local Image Collection

The Manchester Local Image Collection contains over 80,000 online images of Manchester’s people, streets and buildings stretching right back to the nineteenth century. It’s a great way to access our local history and get a glimpse into what life in Manchester looked like many years ago. One of the local history Facebook groups recently posted up an […]

via Rediscover Manchester through the Local Image Collection — Archives+

The Dance Trains

Saturday night dancing! Who doesn’t remember the excitement and the joyful days of Saturday nights in Blackpool during the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s? “I was under age to go dancing…

Source: The Dance Trains

Greater Manchester Sound Archive Commision

The Greater Manchester Sound Archive is the new collection of sounds at Archives+ , Central Library in Manchester. It is a rich sonic treasure trove charting the socio-political history of the city…

Source: Greater Manchester Sound Archive commission

Brass Bands as A Stereotype of the North

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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


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.









Publications and Ongoing Research


On this page are a selection of my publications and ongoing research. I am happy to give guest lectures, host seminars and offer adult-education programmes and tutoring  based on the themes raised in my research. The key themes are class, culture, community, gender, region.

I  can also offer seminars and advice on managing post-graduate study. Themes could include time-management, project management, academic writing, conference organisation, networking, motivation, dealing with research isolation and mining for research ideas. Email me for more details.


Anne Baldwin, Chris Ellis, Stephen Etheridge, Keith Laybourn and Neil Pye (Eds) Class, Culture and Community: New Perspectives in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Labour History (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, 2012)


In recent years historians have debated fervently on the reason for the
decline of British Labour History as an academic discipline. Most certainly
the challenge of Thatcherism to the working classes and trade unions in the
1980s, and the fragmentation  of Labour history into gender studies,
industrial studies  and women’s history, have contributed to its apparent
decline. Post-modernists challenges to the concept of class, culture and
community have done their damage. As a result “Labour history “, in its
broad-school sense, has been taught less and less in British universities.
Yet it survives and there are grounds for believing that it will revive.

This collection of chapters arose from a conference held at the University
of Huddersfield in November 2010, held under the auspices of the Society for
the Study of Labour History, where nineteen papers were presented. Ten of
this disparate array of papers form the basis of this collection and one has
been produced separately. The theme of community and localised struggle form
the first section, ranging as it does from the newspapers representation of
Yorkshire miners to brass bands and the development of separate culture. The
second section deals with the more  traditional trade unionism and varieties
of industrial struggle. The third section focuses upon the political aspects
of working-class activity, drawing upon the role of women, and Labour policy
on steel nationalisation and defence. The fourth deals with radicalism,
ranging from the failure of Chartism, the policy of working-class
organisations to emigration, and the failure of the “soft” section of the
British left in the 1920s and 1930s. There is no all-embracing concept here
for what is a varied collection of chapters. However, what can be said is
that British labour history continues to provide new areas for research.
Indeed, its death as an academic discipline has been greatly exaggerated.
This collection of book chapters represents the current revival in Labour
history which has emerged in a form that brings together community and
culture alongside class and political representation to explore the breadth
and depth of working-class identity.

Chapters in Books:

Etheridge, Stephen,  ‘Brass Bands in the Southern Pennines, 1857-1914: The Ethos of Rational Recreation and Perceptions of Working-Class Respectability’ in, Class, Culture and Community: New Perspectives in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century British Labour History (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle-upon-Tyne), pp. 37-54.

Etheridge, Stephen, ‘Music as a Lifelong Pursuit for Bandsmen in the Southern Pennines, c.1840-1914: Reflections on Working-Class Masculinity’ in, Catherine Haworth and Lisa Colton (Eds.) Gender, Age and Musical Creativity (Ashgate, 2015) pp. 80-100


This chapter examines musical careers that run in parallel with brass players’ employment in the industrial north of England. Focusing particularly on notions of masculinity in the brass band movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, I find a strong linkage between the construction of masculine ideals in Victorian society, in terms of the value placed on economic independence and moral behaviour, and the expression of those ideals in the homosocial space of the band room and in public performance.

Forthcoming Articles:

Etheridge, Stephen, The Brass Band and Perceptions of the North: Musical Constructions of Space, Place and Region c. 1840-1914 in Northern History pp. tbc


Articles Under Consideration:

Etheridge, Stephen, ‘Representations of the Working Class and the Construction of Cultural Identity: Brass Band Contests, Brass Bands, and Bandsmen in the Press, c. 1840-1914’ in the journal Labour History Review

A Nice Find

 Ongoing Research:

Punk Rock in East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley, c. 1978-1982: Representations of Conflict and Resolution in a Traditional Working-Class Community

Two Punks

The Deeply Vale Rock Festival

Pop Fans

Women and Jazz in A 1930’s Staffordshire Town


Women Brass Musicians in Military and Brass Bands, c. 1940-1960

The Reception of Jazz in Britain, c. 1900-1930

The Nineteenth-Century Choral Society and Civic Identity, c. 1840-1914

Music Clubs and Leisure c. 1930-1950

Provincial Nightclubs and Social Identity, c. 1969-1990