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The 2002 Great Northern Brass Arts Festival:

Manchester is to play host to one of the largest brass band festivals anywhere in world, with the second Great Northern Brass Arts Festival taking place at The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on Saturday 7th September 2002.

This year's festival will be looking at the famous years of the CWS (Manchester) Band and Alex Mortimer, their conductor in the 1950s, sixties and seventies, and the incomparable Harry Mortimer, whose name is synonymous with Brass Bands and brass playing around the world.

See our news item for more details and programme of events


CWS Manchester
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The Famous CWS (Manchester) Band

Many of you will I'm sure remember standing in awe as the famous names began to arrive, each of them hoping it would be their year to be successful. We stood there each trying to catch a glimpse of our own favourite band or player as they passed through the gateway into Belle Vue, the birthplace of the British Open, an experience never to be forgotten. We were just young lads in those days, the late 1950's and early 60's and they were the superstars of the brass band world.

One band with a growing reputation during this period was as the Fontana record label marketed them 'The Famous CWS (Manchester) Band'

This band began just as the famous organisation which created it did, from humble beginnings - it was 1900 when a group of workers from the CWS Tobacco Factory in Manchester got together to form a band - a band which quickly made a name for itself on the concert and contest circuit. In 1931 the old Tobacco Band, conducted by J. A. Greenwood was awarded first prize at the Grand Shield Competition at the Crystal Palace. This success at the time was considered to be a turning point in the band's history.

In 1946 the directors of the CWS decided to re-organise the band which included changing its name to the CWS (Manchester) Band. In 1947 Fred Roberts from Brighouse & Rastrick was offered the position of Bandmaster alongside their new professional conductor Eric Ball. In December 1947, at the age of seventeen, Derek Garside was invited from B & R to be the Principal Cornet at CWS - a position he was to hold with distinction for the next 25 years.

The first major success the new band had was at the British Open Championships at Belle Vue in 1948. In the Centenary British Open Championships of 1952 under the baton of Eric Ball the band took to the stage in an atmosphere charged with a high level of anticipation. It was another Henry Geehl test piece 'Scena Sinfonica' and a truly memorable performance which saw them awarded the coveted title of British Open Champions for the second time.

The final piece of the band's jigsaw was in place following the appointment of Alex Mortimer as Musical Director in 1954.

During these early years the band followed the pattern of many other leading broadcasting brass bands of the day by having a signature tune-CWS adopted 'County Palatine' by Maurice Johnstone the former BBC Controller of Music.

Between 1947 and 1970 they took part in the British Open Championships in the Kings Hall, Belle Vue on 18 occasions and won it 4 times and were placed on 12 occasions. They took part in the Daily Herald National Brass Band Finals in London practically every year following their contest successes as North West Area Champions in 1955; 1957; 1958; 1960; 1961and again in 1962, which saw them crowned champions for the sixth time in eight years, also registering the area's first senior class of hat trick wins. With the exception of 1961 when they were led to victory by their bandmaster Tom White, they were conducted by Alex Mortimer. In addition they were runners-up at six area championship contests and placed sixth in 1970 in the World Championships.

Prior to competing in the 1962 National Finals they had already collected 5 second prizes and 3 third prizes in twelve appearances at the senior finals. In the eight Edinburgh International Festival contests the band entered, they took 4 first prizes, 4 second prizes and, with the exception of 1953 when they were conducted by Jack Atherton, they were conducted by Eric Ball (1949; 50; 51; 52) and Alex Mortimer (1954; 55; 56). The band took part in the National Festival Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1955; 57; 58; 60; 61; 68 and 1969.

The band finally achieved their long awaited crowning glory on Saturday, 20th October 1962 when at last they became the number one band at the Daily Herald National Brass Band Championships at the Royal Albert Hall with Musical Director, Alex Mortimer, playing Frank Wright's arrangement of Verdi's 'Force of Destiny'. A performance which is still talked about today - forty years on… An achievement they went on to repeat the following year in 1963 playing 'Belmont Variations' by Sir Arthur Bliss.

The band toured throughout the United Kingdom and went on numerous continental tours, including Canada in June/July 1972 with Fairey Aviation Band, Black Dyke Mills Band and G.U.S. (Footwear) Band. Owing to Alex Mortimer's continuing ill health he was unable to go on this tour which meant Derek Garside the band's Resident Conductor then became Musical Director and took charge of the band on that tour.

A few months prior to Derek's appointment the band had once again qualified for the national finals under the direction of what was to be Alex Mortimer's last appearance on stage at an area contest. Although Derek led the band through that summer it was 'Mort' who had found sufficient strength and determination to lead them for just one more time at the Royal Albert Hall playing Eric Ball's test piece 'A Kensington Overture' off number three but the results showed that it was not to be their year.

In 1973 Derek led the band to qualification at the North West Area contest, ensuring they took part in the national finals once again. This was a memorable occasion for Derek on what was his first appearance at the Royal Albert Hall as Musical Director, leading them to second place behind B & R. Under Derek's direction the band did well and was awarded first place in both 1975 and again in 1976 at the North West Area Finals - Derek had announced in advance of this performance that he would be leaving the band after the London finals.

He was followed by Trevor Walmsley DFC as the last full time Musical Director of the band, followed by Frank Renton with Stan Whiteman as the Resident Bandmaster. Shortly before Frank arrived to take up the reins Maurice Handford the former Principal Horn player from the Halle Orchestra and Orchestral conductor took them for a short while.

On Sunday, 3rd April 1977, at the Preston Guild Hall, conducted by Trevor Walmsley DFC the band could only manage third place at the North West Area Contest, which ended a run of twenty four successive appearances at the national finals in London.

Derek's return to Manchester in September 1981 was prompted by Frank Renton, the band's professional conductor but in 1985 the C.W.S. Board of Directors decided that a brass band was not the image the Co-op wished to promote in the future and made the decision the band would cease to exist - for the record the last appearance of the band was at Dobcross Band Club in 1985.

The C.W.S. (Manchester) Band had been a well respected and admired household name amongst the country's banding fraternity and supporters for over eighty years. Something the leaders of the Manchester City Council must have thought, when they took over the band which resulted in the band becoming known officially as The City of Manchester Band - a band which lasted until the March 1993 when the secretary informed the City Council it was apparent that for all practical purposes the new band had ceased to exist.

This concert will undoubtedly bring back many happy memories of the CWS (Manchester) Band - performances from another era that were pure magic and just for today a touch of real nostalgia.

© Chris Helme 2002

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