The 50s and 60s revisited:
David Read takes us through the two decades that greatly influenced
the banding movement of today.
4BarsRest is always delighted when we are able to feature articles
from leading personalities from the brass band movement. In recent
months we have had interviews with people such as Marcus Bach, Howard
Snell, Nicholas Childs and Richard Evans, all of whom have been
more than willing to be involved with what we are trying to achieve.
David Read has been one of those foremost figures for many years,
both as a player, conductor, and educationalist and latterly as
the leading contest adjudicator in the UK. His vast experience means
that he has seen many changes, but he believes we have forgotten
somewhat the influence on brass banding of the post war period –
the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Here he gives his own nostalgic look at banding during the period
of the mid 50’s and early 60’s – one of the most influential periods
in our movements history.
“Reading books and articles written in the 1980’s about banding
in this period, one could be forgiven for thinking that the movement
was in the doldrums, stagnating and only awaiting the 1970’s to
revive it’s fortunes. I believe that nothing could be further from
the truth – and I speak as someone who participated as a player
in the Championship Section, but also as someone who kept very much
in touch with the lower sections of playing during this time.
The first post war period had ended and with it the dominance on
the contest stage of Harry Mortimer and to a lesser extent, Eric
Ball, but their influence was as still as great as ever – the former
as a conductor and the latter as the movements leading composer.
The National Brass Band Championships with its Regional and National
Finals were thriving, as was the Spring Brass Band Festival with
it’s six sections held at Belle Vue Manchester and the September
Championship (now called the British Open).
Many solo and quartet contests were held in various parts of the
country, culminating in the highly organised and successful Great
Britain Solo and Quartet Championships sponsored and organised by
the Morris Motors Band and held annually in Cowley in Oxford.
BBC National Radio allocated six or seven programmes per week to
brass bands and military bands and a new contest called Challenging
Brass was started. And although bands found that the traditional
park engagements (some up to a week or more long) were declining,
Championship bands in particular found new audiences in concerts
in school halls, Miners Welfare Halls, Town Halls and the new Civic
Centres that had begun to spring up during a period when many towns
were being rebuilt and civic amenities given more importance.
Players showed loyalty to their bands and stayed as one-band players
usually for the length of their playing careers, whilst resident
conductors in the Championship bands in particular stayed and developed
their bands over many years. People such as Alex Mortimer (CWS Manchester),
Stanley Boddington (GUS Footwear), Jack Atherton (Carlton Main),
George Thompson (Grimethorpe), Albert Coupe (Luton), Eric Bravington
(Hanwell), Bill Scholes (Rushden Temperence and Kibworth), Trevor
Walmsley (Yorkshire Imps), Leonard Lamb (Fairies), Rex Mortimer
(Fodens), Albert Chappell (City of Coventry), Eddy Wiliams (St Dennis)
and John Childs (Tredegar).
I mention this long list as it may seem a little unfashionable
to players and conductors alike today to consider putting in 20
years or more service to just one band, but in the 50’s and 60’s
there was a commitment to a band that meant that loyalty was a term
that meant something. It is also no coincidence that many of those
conductors who stayed and nurtured talent over many years had the
New and younger conductors also began to make their mark and names
such as James Scott, Roy Newsome, Kenneth Dennison, Geoff Whitham,
Richard Evans and Derek Broadbent became more and more well known
The National Brass Band Final at the Royal Albert Hall was such
a success that tickets for the contest were hard to come by and
many supporters could be found outside the hall on the morning of
the contest hoping a ticket tout would help! The other three sections
were equally successful and were held to large audiences on the
same day in Fulham, Kensington and Hammersmith.
As far as test pieces were concerned, no shortage of original works
ensued, and among those commissioned to write for the competitions
were Vaughan Williams, Sir Arthur Bliss, Herbert Howells, Edmund
Rubbra, Gilbert Vinter and Eric Ball, whilst Frank Wright transcribed
some of the very best orchestral overtures. On National finals day
the two concerts held in the Royal Albert Hall after the contest
were tremendously popular with audiences, with only a few tickets
available for the first and the second invariably sold out!
The success of the concerts could be attributed to the organiser,
Mr Vaughan Morris, who in his autocratic manner planned everything
down to the smallest detail that found the perfect recipe for a
successful concert and gave the paying customer just what they wanted
in terms of the music and the spectacle. They were visual and aural
The massed bands appeared in their uniforms onto a beautifully
flowered stage, the proceedings would start with a splendid opening
fanfare by Trumpeter’s of the Life Guards Band and Frank Phillips,
the famous BBC announcer would be the compere for the evening. The
bands would play an unashamedly popular programme – probably including
a Gilbert and Sullivan overture and items such as “Trombones to
the Fore”, featuring at last twelve trombone players from the assembled
ranks or twelve cornets playing “Cornet Carillon”. Many fine soloists
were featured, including one year, John Berryman playing “The Lost
Chord” with organ accompaniment and on another the imperial Derek
Garside performing “A Brown Bird Singing”. The first half would
finish with perhaps a “Slavonic Rhapsody” and the guest conductor
for the evening would bring the proceedings to an end with an item
such “Finlandia” or “1812”. The players grumbled a little, but loved
the full hall and the audiences loved the music.
The 1960’s saw the rise of instrumental teaching in schools through
peripatetic teachers and many youngsters joined new youth and Junior
bands such as the famous Besses Boy’s Band, Tredegar Junior Band
and St Dennis Junior Bands, whilst Butlins and Pontins initiated
new contests to attract the new younger players.
In addition there was the start of an explosion of young talent
ready and willing to write for bands and composers such as Edward
Gregson, Dalby, Tate and Musgrave all wrote substantial music.
However, bands were not immune to economic and social change, and
in the mid 1960’s high pitched instruments ceased to be viable and
bands were forced to change and spend hard earned cash on the new
low pitched instruments which in many ways were forced upon them.
Percussion finally raised its head and gave bands a new and exciting
colour, although it wasn’t until 1969 and “Spectrum” at the Open
that it finally and irreversibly made it’s mark – a mark that would
revolutionise the way in which bands performed.
In brief then to conclude, the economic climate affected many works
bands and many collapsed, closed or had to seek alternative sponsorship
or change their names to survive during this period. The decimation
of the coal industry had already started by now and many bands would
disappear because of this.
Finally, the introduction of the entertainment contest and television
changed the way in which bands were perceived by the public and
it was a worrying trend that radio broadcasts in particular diminished.
Professional musicians became more involved in the banding scene
and brought new ideas and approaches to the way in which bands performed,
whilst women made a welcome introduction to mainstream banding that
has had a profound effect. Colleges opened their doors to brass
players and the future was starting to be secured.
However, even though the 50’s and 60’s saw many changes for the
better, the greatest sadness was that loyalty, he bedrock of good
banding seemed to disappear.
We have much to be grateful for in banding today, but we should
never forget the importance of a past that encouraged and developed
the movement so that it can stand proud and secure into the 21st
© David Read.
David Read has long been associated with the brass band movement,
since he first played at Belle Vue in 1949 with Carlton Main Colliery
Band conducted by Eric Ball.
A Welshman, he forged a reputation as being one of the finest cornet
players of his era (an era of some of the greatest brass band cornet
players) and secured his reputation with the famous Munn and Felton’s
Band, which later became the equally famous GUS Footwear Band.
During this time he led the band to four National Titles and a
World Championship title at the Royal Albert Hall in 1971. He was
also a member of Harry Mortimer’s “All Star Brass” and the “Virtuosi
Band of Great Britain” under Eric Ball, whilst during his military
service he was a member of the Welsh Guards Band. In addition he
became a three-time winner of the title “Champion Cornet Player
of Great Britain” and also on one occasion the overall Solo Champion
of Great Britain.
In 1983 he was awarded the Iles Medal from the Worshipful Company
of Musicians in recognition of his services to the banding movement.
For over 25 years he has been regarded as one of the leading adjudicators
of brass band contest and has judged at every major contest both
in the UK and Europe. He has gained immense respect from bandsmen
and conductors alike for his constructive and insightful remarks
and it is no coincidence that he remains at the top of the list
of judges that the bands themselves want when given the chance to
He is currently the Chairman of the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators.