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?




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

Brass Band and Music Archives: Significant Collections

Look at all this work!

A number of people have asked me where is best to find archival documents for brass bands? I have found that outside musical journals, brass band periodicals and local and national newspapers, which can be found in the British Library collections, the best finds are often in local studies libraries. I have also listed a number of brass bands that hold private collections. It is always worth while contacting a band to see what they have.

Naturally, because of my research, these archives are mostly in the Southern Pennines. I think, however, that most libraries will have a good music collection if you rummage around. In addition my research is driven by the social networks of musical groups, and the library collections reflect this ethos.

I have listed the archives and local studies libraries below. If you follow the link, where possible, the address will be shown. I’m sad to report that many of the local studies in Lancashire are under threat because of financial cuts. It is a fact that my PhD thesis would not have been as rich without these libraries and their loss would be a great shame.


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)

Keighley Local Studies Library

Lancashire Record Office, Preston (LRO)

Leeds Local Studies Library (LLS)

Manchester Local Studies

National Brass Band Archive, Wigan (BBA)

Ramsbottom Library

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)

University Collections

Huddersfield University: Heritage Quay

Leeds University Special Collections

Salford University: Brass Band Research


Good hunting.



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



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)




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

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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.

“Chicken in a Basket”: Musicology, Social History and Nightclubs


The Place, Hanley, 1975


I was thinking about some research ideas and I happened on a quote about Maxims, a  discotheque in  North Staffordshire, that opened in 1969, in Hanley, and later moved to Newcastle-Under-Lyme. The club celebrated twenty years of business in 1989. (Evening Sentinel, 28 Nov, 2014) In 1975 the local ‘what’s on’ guide for Stoke-on-Trent described Maxims as ‘the most breathtakingly beautiful discotheque in the Midlands.'(The Place Passbook, 1975, p.2.) To me, this phrase generated a number of ideas that centred on provincial life in the 1970s. Notions of the ‘dinner party’, the ‘aspirational’, the ‘sophisticated’  and the ‘important’. A night out in provincial Britain, it seemed, had become a way to see and be seen. The provincial nightclub was an area where musical performance enabled elements of status and display.

Lunchtime  Venues and Evening Meals: Two for One

On investigating further I discovered that there was a large number of discotheques in the region that were  not only nightclubs, but also places where you could have lunch or dinner in a ‘sophisticated and elegant setting’. The business lunch was a high-profile marketing idea where business could be conducted at lunchtime in a nightclub arena. In the 1960s The Place in Hanley had an oval plate with the menu printed on it. For the evening these disco restaurants became places to have a meal before taking in a show and dancing the night away. In a sense they had become entertainment centres. You could eat, drink, dance and be entertained in the same building. It could, indeed, be ‘breathtaking.


In addition these clubs had guest DJ’s, often high profile people from Radio One, comedians and live bands such as Little and Large, The New Seekers and The Three Degrees. In other words they reflected the Working Mens’Club experience closely. Yet, here is the difference: these provincial clubs were viewed in a sophisticated and elegant way. A dress code was enforce1973%20mcd, ties, shoes and smart wear. Membership was often required and the décor reflected what was considered to be sophisticated and chique (Velvet seats, mirrors, chrome and tiles.) They were designed to be ‘breathtaking’. Were they a diversion from the ennui of labour? Perhaps. Were they aspirational? Almost certainly. There are many questions to be answered about class, aspiration and status, together with the escape from the ennui of labour, c.1969-1990. In the final analysis, as I grapple with this new research, the themes of labour history: class, community, gender and region appear over and over again.

Is this Musicology or Social History?

The short answer is that this foray into provincial nightlife uses music as an agency to explore social networks and the identities that grew from them. Hence it is musicology and social history. The approach taken in ‘Chicken in a Basket’ bridges a gap between musicology and social history. Indeed Dave Russell recently wrote about the Batley Varieties nightclub, in West Yorkshire, in the Journal of Social History. ‘Glimpsing La Dolce Vita: Cultural Change and Modernity in the 1960s English Cabaret Club'(2013) and this comes at the end of a period of convergence that embraced an interdisciplinary approach.

In 1979 William Weber saw that musicologists and social historians had similar interests. Yet he still saw musicologists as scholars who tried to find meaning in musical scores, and social historians as researchers who tried to find historical significance in social groups. The link between music and the development of social networks had not yet been fully formed. Weber wrote:

I see strong similarities between recent interests of musicologists and the search among social historians for a clearer historical vocabulary. Just as musicologists are trying to arrive at a more accurate sense of how scores used to be played, so social historians are struggling to define what social groups meant to people in the past. Even if unanimity is in short supply in both fields, we all respect the past and ask that it be heard and seen in its own terms.[1]


Dave Russell made a call to study music to understand social history, together with the need to embrace an interdisciplinary approach, in his 1993 article, ‘The “Social History” of Popular Music: A Label Without a Cause?’[2] Major inroads into exploring music as an interdisciplinary study were made by the ‘Music and Cultures Research Group’ in the Open University’s Music Department, consisting of Trevor Herbert, Martin Clayton and Richard Middleton. The group’s stated purpose was to ‘pursue research in the cultural study of music, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches drawing on musicology, social history, anthropology, ethnomusicology, cultural theory and other relevant areas.’[3] The key text that resulted from this group was a collection of essays covering many aspects of the conjunction between music and culture.[4]

Significant research also emerged from the conferences of The Royal Musical Association’s Biennial Conferences on Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain, from 1997 onwards. These conferences have been crucial gathering points for scholars from a wide range of disciplines including musicology, cultural social and economic history, politics, sociology and cultural geography.[6] Significantly the work has been enriched by interdisciplinary dialogue.[7] Critically, as Rachel Cowgill maintains, these conferences ‘have long since squashed the notion that musicologists are not interested in the broad contextualization of music and its significance as a cultural practice.’[9] This evolution and acceptance of social history within the discipline of musicology was recently expressed in 2012 at the Centre for the Study of Music, Gender and Identity (MuGI), based at the University of Huddersfield, who argue they are ‘unique within the research context of music as a discipline in our exploration of the relationship between music, gender and identity in diverse cultural and chronological contexts.’[10

‘Chicken in a Basket’ is a fledgling research project that is another attempt to explore the interdisciplinary challenges in musicology and social history. As musicologists the more we move away from the printed score the more the waters become muddied, yet this is where we can find some good fishing.

[1] William Weber, ‘The Muddle of the Middle Classes’, 19th-Century Music, Vol. 3, No. 2 (November, 1979), p. 185.

[2] Popular Music, 12/2 (May 1993), pp. 139-155.

[3] < http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/music/musiccult.shtml> accessed, 6 October, 2011

[4] Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert and Richard Middleton (Eds.), The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction (New York, 2003), < http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/music/musiccult.shtml> accessed, 6 October, 2011.

[5] Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert and Richard Middleton (Eds.), The Cultural Study of Music, p. 1.

[6] <http:/www.cardiff.ac.uk/music/newsandevents/events/conferences/13MNCB/aboutMNCB.html> accessed, 15 May, 2013.

[7] See, for example, Bennett Zon (Ed.), Nineteenth-Century British Music Studies Volume 1(Aldershot, 1997); Jeremy Dibble (Ed.), Nineteenth-Century Music Studies Volume 2 (Aldershot, 2002); Peter Horton and Bennett Zon (Eds.), Nineteenth-Century Music Studies Volume 3 (Aldershot, 2003); Rachael Cowgill and Julian Ruston (Eds.), Europe, Empire and Spectacle in Nineteenth-Century British Music (Aldershot,2006) and Paul Rodmell (Ed.), Music and Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Farnham, 2012).

[8] <http:/www.cardiff.ac.uk/music/newsandevents/events/conferences/13MNCB/aboutMNCB.html>

[9] See the previous website.

[10] < http://www.hud.ac.uk/research/researchcentres/mugi/> accessed, 2 January, 2014.


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.