A Christmas Carol - A Festive Tale - with apologies to Charles Dickens


With a bit of help from Charles Dickens, 4BR tries to warm the cockles of your hearts, with a story of the true meaning of a banding Christmas...

Christmas Carol

There was a crisp frost underfoot as Ebenezer Fox walked slowly through the deserted streets of the drably lit Welsh valley town back to the imposing mansion he called home. 

As he turned the final corner he was startled to hear the sound of a small group of brass players cheerfully playing a selection of tuneful carols.

“Help for the local band Mister?” came the chirpy plea from a waif like figure holding a battered cornet, his frozen hand outstretched in desperate hope of a bit of financial Christmas spirit.

”What’s your name young man?” Ebenezer sneered.

“Tim Lovatt-Cooper, or ‘Tiny’ to my friends,” came the reply.

“The credit crunch has meant that we have all lost our jobs at the local Mill, but playing in the band keeps us happy, especially my uncle, Rod Cratchit-Newton. I even wrote the carols myself, ” he added, as if to try and reinforce his well meaning request for a tax deductible charitable donation from the town’s richest yet most reviled resident. Surely it would be more forthcoming if he was made aware that his own under paid and over worked employee was providing the music.   

”Humbug!” retorted Ebenezer.


The sight and sound of people enjoying playing in a brass band had filled him with miserly contempt ever since his business partner Jacob Crookston had died some seven years before.

Both had played in the same local band; happy days of lower section contesting, raising funds through sponsored blows and jumble sales. Happy that is, until Jacob was poached by the leading top section band in the country, to win countless National Championships and British Opens, whilst Ebenezer was left to struggle with a band that couldn’t play the test pieces at the Regional Championships. He had become bitter and cynical, the sound of a brass band a reminder of his missed opportunity of contesting glory.

”If brass bands cannot survive the realities of financial life, then they should rather die and decrease the surplus population,” he cheerfully hissed as he slammed the door on the poor urchin and made his way up the stairs to his bed.

Within minutes he had sank into the arms of Morpheus, his conscious as clear as a Roger Webster run of semi quavers. As the clock ticked with metronomic certainty towards a new day of financial hardship for the countless masses of out of work cornet players outside his window, Ebenezer slept contended. 

Woken by chains

He was woken by the sound of dragging chains.

At first he wondered if the local band had been supplemented by a percussionist with a brand new piece of expensive exotica that cost a fortune only to be played the once in a new work by one of those ‘modern composers’ (always a pet hate of his). But no.

In front of him stood the ghost of Jacob Crookston. He chalk like complexion was waxen and cold (no change there then he thought), whilst he spoke in his usual guttural Glaswegian accent that Ebenezer found as hard to understand as the latest test piece for the European Brass Band Championships.

“I’m so disappointed in you Ebenezer,” said the ghost. “I walk this earth a tortured soul, my only hope of redemption, the possibility that one day you will see just how much pleasure can be gained from brass band contesting. It is time to witness the error of your ways!” 

Christmas Past

And with a strange feeling of queasiness and the sound of the tinkling of a distant xylophone, Ebenezer Fox found himself transported back in time over 100 years to the British Open at Belle Vue.  

There in front of him stood some of the greats of ‘contesting past’: Owen, Swift, Gladney and Rimmer. Over the next timeless hours he sat near the adjudicators tent with Jacob at his side as the conducting giants put the likes of Black Dyke, Besses, Kingston Mills and Wyke Temperance through their paces.

Ebenezer was transfixed; this was what he always thought perfect contesting to be like – a battle of the leviathans of the banding world, locking horns on music from the great operas; lyrical tunes, sonorous solos, artistic arias - and no percussion.
Was it too good to be true? A small, almost imperturbable smile creaked across his sullen face as the results were announced. It was.

“No wonder brass bands are in such a state,” he cackled. “Mossley Band beating Dyke and Besses to win the British Open – what a fix. I’ve always said you can’t trust judges. There’s no future for contests if the big name bands don’t win. Open adjudication that’s what I’ve always said it needs – then you won’t get any dodgy results.”

Contesting Present

Jacob Crookston rolled his eyes and sighed. This was going to be hard work he thought to himself. Time then to transport the pair to the ‘contesting present’.

”What’s this all about?” Ebenezer asked as he and Jacob sat high in the top tier of the auditorium of The Sage in Gateshead. “You know I haven’t been to a brass band contest since you died, so why bring me here?”

”Just watch and listen,” Jacob added with a sense of anticipation that he hoped would perhaps send the tiniest fission of warmth into the stone cold heart of his former friend.

Six hours later Ebenezer was apoplectic. “Call that a brass band contest? Why the dancers, singers, guitars and keyboards, fancy dress and even a zombie in a coffin? Where was the music in all of this?”

”But this is brass band musical entertainment Ebenezer,” Jacob stuttered, knowing far too well that any charitable thoughts Ebenezer had about entertainment was to demand that his local band played for three hours in the freezing cold outside his house so that he got full value for his 50p tax deductible yearly contribution to their hard pressed funds. 

“Entertainment – humbug! Brass bands are not in the entertainment business, they are in the contest winning business. Nothing else matters – prize money, ranking points and silverware, that’s what counts. What are we doing trying to make people come and listen to us anyhow? They only get in the way and make a noise eating their sandwiches.”

Things were not going to Jacob’s well thought out plan.

Contesting Future

Jacob held Ebenezer’s bony hand and with the sound of a well placed celeste flourish the duo were sat in a small room in Stavanger in Norway, some 30 years into the future.     

The pair then witnessed a very strange scene. The man in front of them put on some headphones and listened intently for 25 minutes to music that to Ebenezer sounded as appealing as the noises that came from the local abattoir.

Then he turned on his computer and tapped away, writing a message to two other men who Ebenezer observed, lived in London and Tokyo.  The process was repeated ten more times. After a short break, the man returned with a cup of tea in hand, placed on his headphones again and listened to more music – all of which Ebenezer thought sounded technically impressive but left him yearning for something quieter, more lyrical and without so much of that infernal percussion.

”Why on earth have you brought me here, Jacob?” Ebenezer asked with undisguised contempt. “What has this to do with brass band contesting?”

”But this is the ‘contest future’, Ebenezer”, said Jacob dolefully.

“This is what major contesting will be like in years to come. With carbon footprints to consider and expensive petrol prices, bands will record their performances in their own bandrooms, put them on a digital file and e-mail them to three separate judges who can listen to them in the comfort of their own homes, anywhere in the world.”

”You cannot be serious?” Ebenezer croaked.

“Oh yes I can. Why bother with hiring a hall, forking out for a bus, buying a programme or spending the day in the pub not listening to a single band play, when all that will be needed is a floppy disk and someone with a GCSE in computing to make sure they ‘delete’ the mistakes before sending your performance off to be judged.” 

With that even Ebenezer’s stoney heart missed a beat. “But if this is the future, what of Rod Cratchit and Tiny Tim? Will he ever compose a test piece for me to hear?”


With a deep-seated sense of foreboding, Ebenezer watched as Jacob pointed to a small house near the local bandroom close to his mansion. There, by the open fire in a small front room lay a broken baton and empty score. Rod Cratchit sat weeping into the gold braided sleeve of his band walking out jacket.  

Now, even Ebenezer shed a tear. “Take me back,” he wailed. 

New Day

Strangely it was the sound of a brass band that woke Ebenezer from his troubled sleep. Pulling back the curtains and lifting up the sash window he leaned out and bellowed to man carrying a bass into the local school hall. He felt uplifted.

”What day is it my good friend?”

”It’s the morning of the Regional Championships sir. Come and join us and enjoy some fine music making. We always welcome a new signing and we can report it on 4barsrest too!”

And that is just what Ebenezer did. He found his old band jacket and registration card that allowed him to play with his old band once more (the liberal interpretation of the registration rules was always something he found puzzling at times) and by the end of the afternoon he had once again performed on stage in a brass band contest.

“God Bless us one and all,” said the little impresario Tim Lovatt-Cooper as he strode onto the stage to lead Ebenezer’s old band on the own choice test piece he had written himself called ‘The Dark Side of Where Eagles Walk with Heroes in Donegal Bay’.

The bells rang out, the hall was full, it seemed as if everything that old Jacob Crookston had hoped and longed for since shifting his mortal coil had come to pass.

Happy ever after

Happy ever after? Fat chance.

After coming 15th on a piece that featured far too much percussion for his liking and forced him to stand up and play a Peruvian nose flute cadenza before having to listen to an adjudicator telling him that ‘everyone was a winner today’, Ebenezer dumped his cornet in the nearest bin, burnt his band jacket, ripped up his registration card, and headed for home.

As he was about to slam shut the door to his mansion he allowed himself a quick glance over his shoulder as the hordes of happy bandsmen and women raced towards the pubs to celebrate their victories and debate their contesting fates long into the cold, dark night.

”I never believed in ghosts or modern test pieces anyway,” Ebenezer said as he disappeared into the stygian gloom of his lonely home once more.

Happy Christmas indeed…

Iwan Fox
(A version of this article appeared in British Bandsman newspaper on 19th December)


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