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Whit Friday: A personal retrospective

Our man Malcolm Wood describes a "Perfect Day"


It only seems a short time since David Bowie helped produce the song ‘Perfect Day’ when it originally appeared on Lou Reed's Transformer album, and then sang on the charity single version which was released in 1997 by the BBC. The mention of the song is deliberate as for many Whit-Friday is ‘The Perfect Day’.

The timing of the day is determined as to when Easter falls, and hence, for 2003, it fell as late as it possibly can, almost the longest day of the year, mid June, and on Friday 13th, no-less. The weather was ideal, no bands were touring or having to concentrate on rehearsing for The Masters, so the opportunity arose for the hills of Saddleworth & Tameside, to have the best bands in the world on their doorstep. Whilst YBS declined to tackle the circuit this year (although the odd player was spotted around the contests), Brighouse & Rastrick, Faireys, Fodens, Grimethorpe, Leyland, Sellers International, Wingates and Yorkshire Imps, were all in attendance and the circuit welcomed back after a twelve year absence, Black Dyke.

The choice of where to go to listen is numerous. Between the two districts, twenty-four venues were on offer for people to go and listen. Some people prefer to move around and perhaps follow particular bands, but a lot of people will attend a venue and stay till they have had the fill of bands for the night. As for the musicians, strategy plays a big part on Whit-Friday. Decisions have to be made beforehand on what a band wants to achieve on the evening itself. Hence, do they want just to concentrate on Saddleworth and/or Tameside? The enticement of some serious money effects the bands thought process on the day as well (Traditionalists of Whit-Friday won’t be too happy about the money, but it influences bands nowadays, especially with sponsorship at a premium). Both Oldham MBC (where Saddleworth comes under) and Tameside offer a nice amount of money for becoming respective champions of their competitions.

The rules indicate that to be considered for champions, a band has to play at six contests in that area. With over a hundred bands out on the circuit, to get round a minimum of twelve contests, requires good knowledge of the route(s) to be taken (because plan ‘a’ can become plan ‘b’) and to be fair, you need a touch of good fortune hoping that you do not get stuck behind a number of coaches, subsequently, holding you back in the quest to conquer all twelve. The other key part of the strategy is the choosing of the march that the band will play at each contest. It has to be something they are comfortable with, and can perform time-and-time again to a high standard throughout the night.

Reigning National Champions, The Fairey Band, were the perfect example of these strategic thoughts. We heard at 4BR that they were looking to do the six contests required in both Saddleworth & Tameside. They’d also tried in rehearsal a couple of marches, before settling on Knight Templar. And so, with spies in various parts of the circuit, doing our up most to make sure that we did not miss anything, we set up base camp in Saddleworth. We had no idea, which bands we would hear during the night, it was just a case of fingers crossed, and lets see what happens. The first band we heard was indeed, Fairey’s.

They got both Denshaw & Delph contests’ of to a start and under Bryan Hurdley, we heard a musical performance of Knight Templar, but the perils of a number one slot would go against them, but as the night went on, confidence grew, they impressed enough judges to pick up various prizes along the way, and they managed to participate at fourteen different venues in both districts, and achieving what they had planned in the first place. An awful lot of fun can be had on Whit-Friday when you see the names that appear on the boards and confusion mounts as to exactly who they are.

Two such examples that we came across at 4BR were Ebury Brass and Salvo Brass. Ebury Brass has been out and about before at the march contests and they are a combination of musicians from the Guards bands in London. Under conductor, Stuart Watts, they played The President and concentrated on Saddleworth, and there best placing was third at Greenacres. A terrific achievement by these men to come such a long way, and when you consider that they were on duty first thing Saturday morning on Horse Guards Parade, participating in the Queen’s Birthday Parade, it speaks volumes for their dedication. Well done.

Unless you live in the Leicestershire area, you might not know who Salvo Brass is. In fact, it is a combination of Salvation Army musicians from across Leicestershire, and what a delight to have them on the circuit. Playing the march ‘Beaumont’, they took in six contests in Saddleworth, and hopefully they will come back another year. The Oxford Barbarians is another band who went under a pseudonym, getting together a mixture of players, and enjoying this unique experience.

One of the real joys of the contests is the fact that any band can play, regardless of status, and age does not matter either. The circuit sees a number of bands from Youth sections, and they provide nothing but delight as of course, they are the future of the movement. This is the time of year of when exams are very much on the agenda, but it did not stop pupils coming out and taking part in the contests. Smithill’s Senior Band was a case in point. Chris Wormald’s students had been tackling GCSE and A-level papers during the day, but their commitment to banding meant that come the end of the exams, it was rehearse, jump on the bus, and forget about those exams for a few hours. Principal cornet player Vanisha Gangiyani (16) is one too look out for. This young lady certainly was on the right path for Smithill’s as they played The Pathfinder in Delph in daylight. This was novel for Chris Wormald as he has tended to conduct the band in darkness in Delph. Congratulations go to bands such as Dobcross Youth, Wirral Youth, Valley Brass (formerly Haydock Youth conducted by ex-Wingates’ Sop player, David Chadwick), for not just competing at Whit Friday, but taking part when it would be understandable if you concentrated on other matters in hand.

The night was running smoothly, and Delph had seen nine bands go through in its first hour, and by 7.30pm was past thirty, and the record of sixty-four bands could just disappear. Sadly for us at 4BR, Fairey’s was the only big name band that we had heard, although our spies told us that Grimethorpe had gone through and not stopped. All was to change though with the arrival of the men in purple tunics, Brighouse, under David Hirst. Tackling the familiar ‘Ravenswood’, they put in a strong performance which at that point had them very much in the lead. It was one of ten contests that the West Riding men competed at in Saddleworth, and they will consider themselves extremely unlucky to have only taken one first prize (Roundthorn) with a number of runners-up prizes being awarded to them. Their performance at our base in Delph, was worthy of third place, and on reflection (and with what was to come), just about right.

Following Brighouse on at Delph was Hepworth Band who had marched down the High Street and heard their Yorkshire-rivals’ performance. The band was certainly inspired as they produced an outstanding performance of Allen’s ‘The Wizard’, which gave them fourth place, at the end. Messages were reaching us that the band had been playing well, and this was proof. It was tight, compact, and extremely musical, and it must have been a close call for adjudicator, Keith Hollinshead to separate Brighouse & Hepworth – two strong and musical performances.

Whit-Friday would not be the event it is without The Navigation Inn sending a band out. Under the banner of ‘Sunline International Navigation’, this is the band that has many a player, that can tell a good story about days gone by. The band gets together every year, picks a march it likes and goes out for the crack. Looking around the band, it has some familiar faces. Soprano legend Brian Evans, his ex-Brighouse colleague, Stephen Lord on Euphonium, with ex-Black Dyke stalwart, John Clough, next man down. The bass section has another Brighouse legend in John Clough, and although we could not physically see him, pound-to-a-penny that Gilbert Symes was probably in the basses. Ex-Fairey's man, Phil Chalk was on top man and uder Les Beavers, it was no wonder they scooped a first prize at Scouthead from their eight contests played. Their performance at Delph gave them fifth place, and to be fair, for a band to still do the business like that, when some of the players are not involved at the top-level anymore, deserves an awful lot of respect and credit.

And so to band number fifty-five at Delph, Black Dyke. In Delph’s Souvenir programme, an article appears about Dyke’s return to the circuit, and what it means to people within the band. It has been twelve years since Dyke last appeared (under a young David King) and conductor Nicholas Childs stressed when he took over at Queensbury, that he was determined to get the band out their again on Whit Friday. As the band entered the contest arena (resplendent in stage-gear), the only noise to be heard was Eccleston coming down. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. As far as the eye could see, Gartside Street in Delph was packed, with people not wanting to make a sound. Everyone waited with bated-breathe and this included Contest Chairman, Bob Rodgers.

Working hard all night, Bob made sure he was in sight of this band as they had come to perform at the contest he had been associated with for years. In addition, Bob stood proud as anything as he watched son Mark, take his place in the cornet section. The performance? Well, you know when you indulge in your favourite chocolate bar as a rare treat and savour every bite, crumb and second, never wanting it to come to an end because it is simply wonderful? That was Dyke’s performance of Knight Templar in a nutshell. Six days previously, we at 4BR had heard Black Dyke in concert commence their programme with this march.

It was the same player’s, and yet different sound all together. It was clean, crisp, and extremely tight and a performance, to an exceptionally high standard meriting ninety-nine points. Since the contest we have heard that Dyke’s other performances were just as commendable and hence, they deserve to be Saddleworth champions 2003. Whit-Friday is a wonderful musical experience and the poorer for not having bands of the calibre of Black Dyke (and European Champions, YBS). Hopefully it won't be another twelve years before they reappear on the circuit. Dyke's way of celebrating was to head south and commemorate the Queen's official Birthday with a concert in Windsor. One of the real stars of Dyke’s performance in Delph was soprano player, Michelle Ibbotson, and her performance was enough to give her the best ‘Sop’ of the night. Messrs, Hobbins, Crockford, Wycherley and Evans of Brighouse, Fairey’s, Foden’s and Navigation, respectively, can consider themselves a touch unfortunate not to have taken the sop prize, such was Michelle’s performance.

The band looked happy as they left Delph with their efforts, but the fat lady was not even contemplating gargling as Delph contest had some distance to go before the winners would be announced. Bands continued to come through and compete and it was well past the check-in time of 10.30pm. The University of Warwick Brass Band is a group of musicians who are becoming regular attendees on the Circuit. As students, their social life is an important of aspect of Warwick Brass Society, but they play to a very high standard. Word had come through that were producing some impressive musical performances in the villages of Saddleworth.

Principal Cornet player, David Bolton shone on the night as they performed an unusual choice for Whit Friday, a march by Gregson, ‘Delaro’, and not the Tom Jones classic ‘Delilah’ as some had first thought they had read on the notice board. Whenever a band wins at a contest, it always likes to do battle and come back and see if they can retain their title. The previous winners for the past two years, Marsden Band, made sure the arena was silent as their 2003 assault was about to begin.

Delph contest goers know full well that this is a band that has played out of its skin in recent years to take the title. This is another example of a band whose choice of march, suites the style of the musicians and in Honest Toil, they really did give it everything they had to make it three wins at Delph on the trot. The band finished in second place, (and achieved their highest placing of the night) and will no doubt have been happy with their efforts. Composer, Dr Philip Wilby took Elland Silver and the Whit-Friday contest into Whit Saturday with The Contestor, before Besses o’th Barn put in a corker of a performance on The Wizard, to give them fifth equal.

Foden’s and Russell Gray had decided that Tameside would be their main focus for the night, and when they had competed at twelve contests, taking the Tameside Championships, they nipped into Saddleworth for two more. Could they take the title at Delph after a long-hard night? They looked a touch weary as they waited to play, but as soon as Russell Gray gave them the command, the produced a performance of The President that was certainly (in our opinion) worthy of higher than seventh place. In the end it was Black Dyke’s title, and after almost eight hours of competition, the contest was at an end. It beggars belief that an amazing seventy-one bands did battle in Delph, and they are producing a CD of the night. As soon as we have the details of release date and cost, we will let you know, and professionally produce to the high standards Delph contest sets itself, it is bound to sell well and a terrific reminder of the night’s events.

The nature of the Whit-Friday literally means that it’s a lottery as to which bands you will hear on the night. We were unlucky not to hear Grimethorpe who did battle in both Saddleworth & Tameside, notching up twelve contests, and picking up many prizes along the way. Sellers decided too many were waiting to play, and Associate Conductor, Richard Evans with Philip McCann on Principal Cornet, (yes it was him) put in some sterling work coming away with some money for their efforts having taken the title at Scouthead. Newly crowned Masters Champions, Leyland have found Tameside more to their liking in recent years, and performed nine times with The Wizard.

An astonishing one hundred and twenty nine bands did battle in Saddleworth with around sixty of them going for the required six to stand a chance of becoming champions. Over five hundred people joined Geoff Whitham who was judging Denshaw contest for the last time, and he gave it to Black Dyke, who had some close competition from Brighouse, Fairey’s, Grimethorpe & Sellers as they broke their own record of fifty four with fifty nine bands in attendance.

Lydgate had a power cut but it did not dampen spirits as fifty one bands competed. Scouthead and Austerlands, along with Roundthorn were the only two contests in the Saddleworth not hear the winning bands play Knight Templar. Sunline International Navigation took Scouthead (Senator) and Brighouse (Ravenswood) won at Roundthorn. Making the long trip from Northern Ireland, Armagh Old Boys entertained as the marched through Uppermill, and took the honours for Deportment. St Kervene Youth Band made their long haul from Cornwall very worth while with some solid performances of Black Knight giving them plenty of rewards in the Youth categories. Another band who came along way to be part of the experience was Guernsey Concert Brass. People might have seen their big green banner entering various contests around Saddleworth and Tameside, and they did have successes during the evening.

Over in Tameside, over eighty bands descended on the borough, and it was a battle royal, between Fodens, Leyland, Fairey’s & Grimethorpe. Broadoak celebrated its Silver Jubilee with an estimated fifteen hundred people in attendance, and each band was given a commemorative rose bowl. It was Longridge Band who took the honours and Fodens had to settle for third with Pennine Brass coming in fourth. It was midnight in Denton before their contest came to an end with a record forty-one bands competing, Fodens, taking the title from North West rivals, Leyland.

Yorkshire Imperial had a lot of fun at eleven venues, winning at Micklehurst, and just missing out on a top three spot, at Carrbrook and Dukinfield. Hurst Contest had the biggest number of bands in Tameside (fifty-one) and Stalybridge Celtic, came back onto the circuit with thirty-nine bands. Fairey’s took the title in a tight contest with Grimethorpe and Leyland, taking second and third respectively. Down the road, Stalybridge contest in the heart of the town centre, saw Black Dyke, Fairey’s, Foden’s, Grimethorpe & Leyland amongst its fort-two competitors, with Foden’s taking the title. New contests, The Bush Inn (Droylsden) saw Wingates take the honours, whilst up at Hattersley, BT band, took the title from Leyland. Both of these contests though will look to improve on attendance figures next year.

As we now know though, the competitive honours went to Black Dyke and Foden’s, respectively, but every band deserves credit along with the committee’s at every contest who work hard all-year round to produce something unique to Saddleworth and Tameside, making it for many, the ultimate in brass-band terms of the ‘Perfect Day’.

 

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