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Whit Marches 2002:

Whit Friday: A Personal Account


The weather report was not too optimistic when John Kettley on the BBC, being quite sombre, delivered the forecast for the evening “Rain, rain, high winds and more rain.” So it was under broken clouds, an unsettled sky and it has to be said relatively mild temperatures, at 4pm, the band set off in the coach towards the Whit Friday Brass Band Contests. A route, designed to take in 6 venues on the Saddleworth Circuit, took 50 minutes to reach and true to JK’s word the coach began to take a notable buffeting as the winds really got up as we entered the district. It was at this point the entry fee of a 1 coin; the standard amount was readied for the first venue.

Greenacres, a contest in only its 2nd year, where 36 bands to played that evening, was first en-route. Having removed the traffic warning sign, the stewarding policeman allowed the bus to turn left off the main road. The coach moved forward a short distance to a point in the road which widened into parking spaces for the residents of the houses which, on any other day, would have been a quiet residential area. Immediately in front of the bus, to the left, was a caravan, which acted as registration come contest control. As the band were only the 6th to arrive we drew up and where able to form up and play without queuing. A policeman and woman watched as the players hastily donned bow ties and silver grey jackets, grabbed instruments and under the ushering of the steward formed up in lines of four.

The rectangular black board stuck on a pole and held by a small boy announced the name of the band and the order of play. As the band neared readiness another coach pulled in behind and their 1 coin was deposited at the caravan.

After the bass drum introduction, the first eight bars of ‘The Pathfinder’ were played and the band strode away as the melody line appeared. This 8 bar routine would be repeated by every band at every venue throughout the evening but the actual duration of the march would vary according to the distance to the contest base. On this occasion the band played through to the double bar before the bass solo before they were knocked off by the double tap.

In a pub car park a caravan, with curtains closed, housed the adjudicator Denis Wilby and this was stationed beside an area marked out with white plastic garden chairs. The band stood in standard formation beside the caravan and following an announcement on a loudhailer, “Band number 6 will play O.R.B.,” the band began its clean and steady but unspectacular performance. So the evening got off to a enjoyable start and it was back onto the coach, which had taken the opportunity to turn around, and within no time progress was made toward the contest at Lees.

Lees and Springhead is always a popular venue usually attracting over 40 bands and as expected there was a queue to play. With five bands already registered it meant a bit of a wait. The coaches queued around the side roads, which went down and to the left edging forward with each subsequent performance. St.Helens Brass (15th) in their blue jackets, Pemberton Old wearing their claret uniform with embroidered crest (16th) both headed Rainford (17th) and soon in black jackets the 18th band appeared, Besses o’th’ Barn.

Being well known to each other and all being from the same or nearby locale the conductors and players mingled together talking and joking. The bands set up in a side street on the left of the main road and when everything was set a policeman held up the steady stream of traffic. The bands all in similar fashion moved forward and turned left on to the main road and marched, playing up to and once through the bass solo before turning off the road to stand on the library car park.

Waiting to be judged by the adjudicator Keith Wardle, who was behind closed bedroom curtains of the house opposite the library, ‘Pemberton Old’ had now formed up. They stood, in formation, in the area enclosed with bunting of red, white and blue. Their choice ‘O.R.B.’ was to be heard three times in succession, as it was also the march selected by ‘Besses’ under the direction of Lynda Nicholson. ‘Pemberton’ moved away having played a well controlled and dynamically shaped performance, which just confirmed the quality, which they had demonstrated in winning the Senior Trophy recently. Their performance was later to be rewarded with a well deserved third prize on the night.

Pemberton Old play ‘O.R.B.’ at Lees & Springhead

Besses now struck up and started their march down the street while we in the Rainford Band formed up in front of the library. “Band number 17 will play ‘O.R.B.’ Oldham Rifle Brigade,” announced the voice through the megaphone. Giving two bars for nothing, the conductor Neil Parkinson brought out the solo more and taking a little of the edge off the top end our performance was certainly a good notch or two up on that of that at Greenacres.

Rainford Band play ‘O.R.B.’ at Lees & Springhead
Yours truly at the end of the line

To enthusiastic applause and with heads held up it was a quick scoot back to the coach and onward to the next contest at Grotton.

Grotton, a well established contest saw 48 bands play and was well under way as the band registered at the table inside a garage of a house in the street. Having again paid the obligatory 1 the coach drew forward to the end of the road where a car park to a countryside walk allowed a three point turn. Manx Silver, Tarleton and St. Helens Brass had all chosen this venue so an opportunity to mingle, listen or the like before the march to the contest stage. Unsurprisingly ‘The Grotton’ public house at the end of the road was attracting a steady custom.

Manx Silver registered 21st and played ‘Castell Coch’ soon to be followed by ‘Tarleton (22nd) and ‘The Field Day.’ St. Helens Brass headed Rainford onto the raised bandstand dedicated to Stanley Ogden, President of the Contest. A plaque in his memory, inscribed with 4 bars of the contest march ‘Ravenswood’, adorned the brick and grassy platform.

Again a caravan provided the accommodation for the adjudicator Roy Roe who, together with a large audience, heard the band play another comfortable and controlled account of ‘O.R.B.’ - perhaps not quite as good as Lees but safe enough. Besses playing ‘The Chieftain’ were now on the street, being next up, having also chosen Grotten. It showed that even the best of players are fallible as a note blobbed in after the double tap and laughing the rest of the band fingered the culprit!

Prior to the contest, bands had been alerted through the grapevine that temporary traffic lights going out of Grotton towards Lydgate were a nuisance. They would have been of less consequence had not our coach driver decided to make a right turn at the lights without asking. The band now found itself driving towards Mossley in the Tameside Section with absolutely no prospect of making a U-Turn on such a narrow road, picturesque as it may be. There was little choice but to change plans and play at the contest at Top Mossley. With 6 bands queuing and it being 8pm, with time to spare, the Mossley Band Club was proving as popular a place as the ‘chippy’ across the road. Ashton-under-Lyne, BMP Goodshaw and Besses Boys Band all performed under conditions where the weather was noticeably a few degrees colder and much windier than before.

The Rainford performance, the 24th of the evening, suffered as a consequence being both rushed with less dynamic quality. The mutterings of the younger members about the temperatures were being heard all across and at least two players lost music through the gusting winds. ‘Whiston Band’ from the Rotherham district, who also took advantage of Mossley Band Club, followed and they also suffered at the hands of the cold weather as both music and a trombone slide found their way to the floor on the march down the street!

It was all back to the coach, a quick decision to skip Lydgate and head on to Delph which meant driving back the way we came . The sharp corner at the temporary lights was an impossible manoeuvre so a u-turn back in Grotton got the coach headed toward Delph.

Passing by Lydgate, where Tyldesley and Radcliffe had both registered, negotiating the sharp right hand junction with a five point juggle we dropped down past the Cross Keys pub and turned left in to the village of Delph which is sealed off to traffic for all but the contestants. As we drove up toward the registration point seven bands were already registered, Walkden Band at 45th, Dungannon Silver, having made the trip across the Irish Sea, 46th which made Rainford the 47th. band of the 64 that competed on the night

It was here that we met and had the opportunity to hear Parr Band, who have featured regularly in the prizes for the lower sections. Playing 44th they produced a top draw performance of ‘Ravenswood’ in the unique amphitheatrical like contest setting. Parr certainly relish the atmosphere of the Whit Friday Contest and supported by their ‘Brassed Off’ ‘look-a-like’ supporters complete with purple wigs, they made 2002 a night to remember. It looks like 4BR were right with the Buxton article - in saying it could set them up nicely for Whit Friday.

The road at Delph slopes downward at just the right angle toward the end and as Dungannon Silver now marching down the street, flanked by two mounted police one on a pure white steed, the constant applause from the four deep crowd had the chests on the players visibly pushed out with pride.

The call came and we now formed up and a reminder went out that the knock off for Delph is opposite the phone box towards the end of the street. Last year the bass drummer managed to march through a steaming pile of horse s*** so was the brunt of more than a few jibes. This contest expects anything up to 65 bands and we felt it as we left the arena that the playing was not far short of that at Lees. It was a contented band that left the crowded bars, busy chip shop and bustling streets.

As if one wrong turn weren’t enough another put the top hat on it ! The coach was now heading towards Denshaw in absolutely the wrong direction so it was 10:25pm by the time the coach made the right turn and entered the village of Dobcross. There we were to be greeted with the news that with eleven bands had already registered to play and a decision had been taken to close the contest station. With that we called it a night, much to the delight of the younger members, and the coach dropped down the narrow steep street passed the illuminated grassy knoll where the bands played and parked up. The evening ended at the busy Dobcross Band Club in the company of the players from Greenhalls and Haydock Ogden and at midnight the coach made its way back to St.Helens drawing the 2002 Whit Friday Contest to an eventful but most enjoyable conclusion.

That was how the evening felt and it would have been a cheat to have altered this article after the results were known as it could well have coloured the narrative.

This then is how the band figured :-

Greenacres - 28th of 36 - To be expected : Lees & Springhead - 19th of 47 - Not bad considering the band before us ‘Pemb’ came 3rd and Besses played afterwards. : Grotton - 34th of 36 - A bit lower than we expected : Delph - 46th of 64 - Disappointing as we felt we had performed a bit better than two-thirds down the field. The Mossley result is still to come and last place would be a probably be a good result. Given that the band played as if the Gurkha’s had requested it was only the following day that that the conditions at Mossley really came to light when one of the Bb Basses reported the true damage sustained to his instrument as he was trying to lift it out of the coach.

John James.

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