2004 National Championships of Great Britain - The Hat Trick Club

12-Oct-2004

Can Fairey FP (Music) become the latest member of a very elite club. 4BR looks at those who have made it onto the select club membership list and those who have just missed out.


When the Fairey FP (Music) Band takes to the stage on Saturday 16th October, they will be trying to join one of the most elite "members only" clubs in the brass band world - the National Finals "Hat Trick" Club.

Just four bands are currently on the members list (although that does include two that have done it twice) and their achievements are perhaps the banding equivalent of winning the Victoria Cross. Rare isn't the word for it.  To become a member you have to be without doubt one of the leading bands of your generation, have players of immense talent and commitment, a conductor who is blessed with musicianship, intuition and skill, oh…  and a little bit of luck.

Can Fairey's then, join a list that includes Fodens Motor Works (twice), Black Dyke Mills (twice), The Cory Band and Desford Colliery and become a fully paid up member of the most elite association in the business? If they do, then they will have certainly deserved it, because some pretty famous and brilliant bands have tried and failed.

In fact on six occasions since the Nationals have started have bands made the trip to the Finals seeking the elusive "Hat Trick", only to be denied by a combination of hard luck, poor draws and inspired opposition. That list includes Wingates Temperance, St. Hilda Colliery, CWS (Manchester), Brighouse and Rastrick (twice) and Black Dyke. So will Fairey's join the pantheon of immortals or the list of near misses?

Wingates were the first band to be within touching distance of doing it in 1908, after William Rimmer had inspired them the previous two years to victory on "Gems of Chopin" and "Gems of Schumann".  In a 21 band field and with Rimmer again at the helm,  they were drawn 13th, but it proved unlucky for them on the day and they could only manage 3rd place (although Rimmer himself won the contest with Irwell Springs). 

It was becoming apparent that it would have to be a very special band indeed to do it, and St. Hildas were certainly that.  In 1920 they won with the great William Halliwell at the helm on "Coriolanus" and repeated the feat in 1921 on "Life Divine". Surely the first ever Nationals hat trick would be theirs, for they were without the best band (professional may be) of the age.  

It wasn't to be though and on September 23rd 1922 and drawn last band on in a 14 band field, they could only manage 4th place and the chance was gone. On the day Halliwell conducted the bands that came 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th - but not the winners. 

Finally though it was done - and by the Fodens Motor Works Band, who started the club after their hat trick of wins at Crystal Palace in 1932/33/34. In fact they are the only members of the club to have done the hat trick at the original home of the contest as in 1936 the Palace burnt to the ground. Those first three wins came under the baton of Fred Mortimer on "A Downland Suite", "Prometheus Unbound" and "Comedy Overture" and the band members themselves were awarded, firstly a bronze medal with clasp for their initial win, then a silver medal, and then finally a solid gold medal for their hat trick. These prize possessions are still in the hands of many of the families of the famous players such as Hubert Shergold, the flugel player with the band.

Such was the Fodens band hegemony of the National at this time that even though they were barred from entering in 1935, they were invited to play at the Grand Concert afterwards. A year later though they started their second hat trick (the only band ever to do it) with wins under Fred Mortimer on "Kenilworth" in 1936, "Pageantry" in 1937, and finally, "An Epic Symphony" in 1938 (the latter two at Alexandra Palace) to complete their domination of the event that only Adolf Hitler and the advent of the Second World War stopped from possibly becoming a triple achievement.

Their wins came off draw numbers 4, 23, 10, 18, 18 and 15, so even though they had a bit of luck when the numbers came out of the hat, there as no doubt that they were by far the best band in the land during this period and perhaps the greatest band of all time - it is a record that may never be equalled, let alone bettered.  If only the old man Mortimer would have taken them to Belle Vue and the Open - but by all accounts he disliked the rides and the noise of the zoo and he kept his band away, or they could have won every contest under the sun for a decade or more.

After the War, Fodens were somewhat inexplicably barred from the first contest on the grounds that they had completed their hat trick in 1938, but in 1946 they didn't compete and could only manage 3rd place in 1947 (the last appearance of Fred Mortimer with the band at the contest) and by then, possibly age had wearied the players and their MD, and it was not until 1950 under Harry Mortimer that they won again.

Harry in the meantime had emulated his father by winning the hat trick with Black Dyke in 1947/48/49. The first success (and his second at the contest) came on "Freedom", whilst Dyke retained the title the following year playing "On the Cornish Coast".  The hat trick victory came on "Comedy Overture" - a somewhat ironic twist of fate, as the father had achieved the same thing first time around on the same test piece.     Also ironically, Harry beat himself into second place in both 1947 and 1949 when he conducted both Fairey and Fodens.

Black Dyke were barred from the 1950 contest, but returned again in 1951 under Alex Mortimer when they picked up their fourth title on "Epic Symphony", but in 1952 they could only manage 3rd place and the hopes of the band and Fred's some to emulate his father were gone.

CWS Manchester 1963
CWS Manchester 1963

It seemed then that the exclusive club was to have only two members (and of the Mortimer family as well) as in 1962 CWS (Manchester) won with Alex Mortimer at the helm on "The Force of Destiny" and repeated it the next year on "The Belmont Variations". All seemed set for a third Mortimer to join the club in 1964, but the combination of an early number 5 draw and GUS and Black Dyke playing out of their skins defeated them and their chances.  

No superlative performances, or early draws, but fate played a cruel hand in 1970 to deny Brighouse and Rastrick though.  In 1968 Walter Hargreaves had led the band to a thrilling victory on "The Mastersingers" off an early number 8 draw and repeated the feat again the following year when drawn number 11 they claimed a two point winning margin over Black Dyke for the second year in a row on "High Peak". Surely, the hat trick was theirs for the taking?

Not so - and through no fault of their own as the 1970 Nationals were hived off by the organisers and diluted onto a second rate contest as the World Championships were deemed to be of sufficient merit to require Brighouse to compete in a seven band field for the somewhat hollow title. 

They didn't come anywhere and therefore missed out on the chance to join the "Hat Trick Club" through an ill-timed and misconceived idea. Fate had dealt them a very cruel blow indeed. 

That was it though for the members of the hat trick club until 1977, when Black Dyke booked themselves a second place on the membership list under Major Peter Parkes.

It was the Major's debut with the band (they were barred from the Open in 1975 due to that hat trick at the contest in the previous three years), but what a debut it was. Victory on "Un Vie de Matelot" (by 3 points) was followed the next year by a victory on "Sinfonietta for Brass Band" (by 3 again) and then a final victory on "Connotations" (by a massive 5 points). If that wasn't enough after the barred year of 1978, they returned in 1979 and won again on "Volcano" (by 5 again no less). 4 goes and 4 wins.

There was a real feeling at the time that Black Dyke would and could emulate Fodens and win a second hat trick (they were the dominant band of the time without doubt), but just when they looked like making it a nap hand they were defeated by their arch rivals Brighouse and Rastrick on "Carnival Overture".  Brighouse took to the stage as band number 19 and were awarded 194 points, before Dyke took to the stage as last band on. Some 10 minutes later they were beaten - 193 points and second place - and the end of the dream.

Although Dyke returned the following year to win again, it was a Welsh band in the form of Cory who became the next members of the exclusive club, when they put together a trio of victories under the direction of the great little maestro himself, Major Arthur Kenney. What made this so special was the fact that it coincided with the 100th anniversary of the formation of the band and so the victories of 1982 on "Contest Music", 1983 on "Ballet for Band" and 1984 on "Dances and Arias" were special events indeed.

Cory may not have been the very best band in the country at the time - the Open was barren ground for them during the same period, but at the Albert Hall they were unbeatable, with performances that had a very special hallmark of genius imprinted on them by the man in the middle.

After the enforced sabbatical in 1985 (Dyke took the title back to Yorkshire) they returned in 1986, but by then the powers were on the wane and they could only manage 5th place - but they had joined the immortals.

Desford 1989
Desford 1989

Two years later though and the final member of the club (to date that is) booked themselves in. Up until that first victory in 1987 Desford were seen somewhat as a band brilliant on the entertainment front but lacking that extra spark to gain major honours. That changed ion 1986 when they won the European Championships under Howard Snell, but the following year he had opted for Fodens and  Desford opted for James Watson. The rest is history.

What followed was a trio of victories that possibly changed the way in which modern brass bands played - this was almost orchestral brass ensemble playing of the very highest class, and with tremendous players such as Ian Porthouse, Stephen Mead and Alan Wycherley in the ranks they took the Nationals of 1987/88/89 and 1991 on "Harmony Music", "Seascapes", "Odin" and "Energy".

It remains the last time that a hat trick was achieved (as well as a four in a row), but just as they thought they may have been touched with the Fodens immortality strain they missed out on it by the narrowest of margins when they came runners up to the inspired fantasy that was Grimethorpe and "New Jerusalem" in 1992.

In 1996, Black Dyke were on the verge of becoming the first three time member of the club, when they tried to make it a hat trick on "Isaiah 40". They had won in 1994 and 1995 under the direction of James Watson (who at the time was nigh on unbeatable at the Albert Hall) and so they were full of confidence going for the third title after wins on "Theme and Co-operation" and "Songs for BL".  An early draw possibly undid them (they were drawn 6th) as the two bands who pipped them played last and last but one, but on the day, Howard Snell and his CWS Glasgow band proved worthy winners.

That just left the resurgent Brighouse of 1997 and 1998. Brighouse were really in a purple patch then and had become Masters and European Champions as well as winning on "On Alderney Edge" in 1997 and "Between the Moon and Mexico" in 1998. 1999 saw "Concerto for Band" by Derek Bourgeois as the set work but Brighouse were drawn 13th, and it proved unlucky for them a they couldn't quite match the early pace setter Fodens who won off the early number 5 draw slot.  For the second time in their history, Brighouse and Rastrick had been denied.

The elite group of Fodens Motor Works, Black Dyke, Cory and Desford are therefore the only bands to have made it three in a row at the Nationals, although Fairey FP (Music) can join them if they can repeat the wins on "Masquerade" in 2002 and "Enigma" last year. What are the odds though, with Allan Withington missing and a new, young but talented group of players around the stand? If they do it they will have achieved something that only the very best in the history of brass banding has ever done - and no one will ever be able to take that away from them. Good luck to them.

Iwan Fox. 

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