4BR Time Team - November 2007


This month we look back to November 1978 and the second running of the then Rothmans Brass in Concert Contest.

ProgrammeThis month we go back in time to 1978 and the second running of the then Rothmans ‘Brass in Concert’ Championship that took place in Darlington at the Carreras Rothmans factory. 

The inaugural contest in 1977 was initially seen as a ‘one off’ event, but such was the success that it returned the following year and took place on Sunday 19th November 1978 – the same day in history as the infamous Jonestown massacre in Guyana when 900 followers of the so called Reverend Jim Jones and his ‘Peoples Temple’ committed suicide.

1978 may not seem that long ago, but Britain was a different place. The championships were sponsored by the tobacco giants Rothmans, makers of such delights as the King Size filter tipped cigarette – ‘The best tobacco money can buy’ as the promotional blurb on the back of the 1978 programme stated. The introductory message to the programme from Rothmans Chief Executive John Clinton was even accompanied by a picture of him in relaxed pose with fag in hand.

There was also active support from the Tobacco Workers Union and their General Secretary Dougie Grieve, who confessed his liking to a broad range of personal musical tastes but excluded in his own words, ‘Punk Rock’. The union presented the trophy for the Best Soloist whilst senior officials from the union were present at the contest.

Apart from adverts for the lung busters there was also support from the ubiquitous Hammonds Sauce Owl with his bottle of Chop Sauce accompanied by the cringing by-line, ‘Hammonds: source of good music and source or great sauces.’ A sign of times perhaps was the advert from Patons - ‘For Perfect Knitting’, Ever Ready batteries – ‘For longer Life!’ and Grosvenor Records at £2.99.

The programme itself cost the princely sum of 25p and featured a picture of the solo baritone part of the test piece ‘Cushy Butterfield’ on its cover.

The draw for the contest had taken place some time before at the House of Commons by the then Leader of the House, Michael Foot MP, and was broadcast on ‘Listen to the Band’. The compere for the event was John Dunn and the judges were Captain Donald Carson, Derek Davis and Stan MacDonald (Entertainment & Presentation), Denis Carr and James Langley (Music) with Time Keeper Stan Morris.

The music judges had 100 points each to allocate whilst the entertainment judges had 20 points each to give a grand total out of 260. Meanwhile, the 12 invited bands and their conductors in 1978 were an eclectic mix.

Left Foot forward: Michael Foot MP makes the draw

Reigning champions Grimethorpe (Frank Renton) headed the list and draw and were followed on stage by City of Coventry (Kenneth Dennison), Desford (Howard Snell), Carlton Main (David James), Ransome Hoffman (Stephen Shimwell), Morris Motors (Walter Rees), Dalmellington (Richard Evans), William Davis (John Berryman), Hammonds Sauce (Geoffrey Whitham), Tredegar (David Thomas), Ever Ready (Eric Banks) and Wingates Temperance (Dennis Wilby). 

The prizes up for grabs were a top prize of £1,000 followed by £750, £500 and £250 with each of the bands getting £ 50 each for their efforts. Meanwhile BBC Radio 2 broadcasted an hour long programme the following week all about the contest.

The 1978 rules were quite specific with a playing time between 20 and 22 minutes in duration, and with each bands programme to include what was euphemistically called ‘…a traditional Northern Song’, which in this case was an arrangement by Gordon Langford of ‘Cushy Butterfield’.

The contest

The contest itself got off to a good start with Frank Renton and the lads at Grimey putting in a performance that eventually gained them 3rd place. That was the marker for the rest of the field to beat and it wasn’t until William Davis appeared under John Berryman that it was pushed off its pedestal.

They couldn’t hold onto their lead for long though and the next band on, Hammomds Sauce conducted by Geoffrey Whitham took the honours by a six point margin from the judges to claim the first prize and the title (as stated in the rules) to be called ‘Carreras Rothmans Brass in Concert Champions 1978’.

It is not recorded however if they obliged the organisers by sticking to the rules and returning to the stage after the announcement of the results to play a programme of its own choice (not the winning programme mind you) lasting about 10 minutes!

 Hammond’s winning programme that day featured the march ‘Senator’, the test piece ‘Cushy Butterfield’, Fred Muscroft’s arrangement of ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’, ‘Malaguena’ and the soprano solo ‘Stranger on the Shore’ played by Steven Fielden.

The winning soloist that day was a young lad aged 17 called William ‘Billy’ Millar of the Wingates Band who rather craftily performed ‘Blaydon Races’.

RothmansReports of Hammonds win didn’t exactly set the world on fire, although British Bandsman headed their 25th November edition with ‘Hammonds win Rothmans Title’ – saying they ‘turned in a fine performance’ whilst the British Mouthpiece called them ‘a fine concert band’. 

30 years on

So nearly 30 years what became of everyone?

Well Rothmans, despite the downward turn in smoking habits in the UK is still going strong, although it would now seem rather strange and inappropriate that a cigarette producer would now be considered as a potential sponsor for such an event. Their involvement continued as sponsor until 1984.

The Canadian firm is still producing the ‘King Size’ cigarette though so there may well be a few old puffers still enjoying their fags despite the fact that they didn’t do their lung capacity much good over the years. 

No information on what happened to the fag wielding Chief Executive John Clinton, but the Trade Unionist Dougie Grieve died about 15 years ago. His Union also died too, dating back to 1834 it was eventually consumed by the TASS, then MSF and is now a small part of the huge Unity Union. 

Michael Foot on the other hand is still going strong. Now aged 94, he went on to become Leader of the Labour Party and is till seen as one of the last true greats of the Labour movement. He is also still a very active support of the brass band movement, whilst in 1997 he listened all day to the European Championships in the Barbican in London as a paying member of the audience! 

DunnThe broadcaster John Dunn, a great supporter of the banding movement was associated with Brass in Concert until 1992 and died in 2004. He is still fondly remembered.

The composer of ‘Cushy Butterfield’, Gordon Langford is till going strong in East Devon. Now aged 77 he was awarded the Gold Badge of Merit by the British Academy of Song Writers, Composers and Authors in 1994.

Of the judges we know little, although a couple are still with us we are sure. Most notably, James Langley dies in 1994 but a Memorial Trust in his name ensures the popular musician is not forgotten in Birmingham where talented young players receive help from the Trust each year.

That young tyro Billy Miller who had recently won the Alexander Owen Scholarship went onto become one of the great euphonium players of his generation and now still plays with the Fodens Richardson Band, who will take part in this year’s championship.

Fred Muscroft who arranged part of the winning programme for Hammonds Sauce died this year.

The bands

And what of the bands?

Saucy lot: Hammomds Sauce Band show off their 1978 style uniforms...
Click for larger image 

Of the 12 that took part that day, two have gone to the banding graveyard in the sky – Morris Motors and William Davis, with some doubt still over the exact state of health of the City of Coventry Band.

Three of the bands continue under different names: Hammonds became YBS or course, whilst Ransome Hoffman is now just the Ransome Band and Ever Ready is now Reg Vardy.

Grimethorpe, Desford, Carlton Main, Dalmellington, Tredegar and Wingates are all still strong championship bands with varying degrees of success from 1978 onwards.

And finally – the conductors. Not too sure if Walter Rees is still with us, but the rest we feel are still alive and kicking and also enjoyed varying degrees of success after their 1978 appearance.

As for the contest? Well this year it celebrates its 31st birthday and is now the premier brass band entertainment contest in the world. This yea’s event takes place at The Sage in Gateshead on Sunday 18th November, hosted by Frank Renton and now featuring two overseas bands as part of the contest line up. 

A different place indeed.  

Iwan Fox

The results of the 1978 Brass in Concert Contest can be viewed at: http://www.4barsrest.com/results/details.asp?id=1804&Submit2=Go&comp=1


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