Frozen in Time - 1979 European


Three of the best - or worse, from the European Championships of 30 years ago...


Look at this man. He was a crook.

To mimic a well known phrase of the time to describe the execrable entrepreneur and fellow villain James Goldsmith – this was the unacceptable face of 1970’s British brass banding.

This was Robert D. Alexander – one time owner of both the Nationals and British Bandsman newspaper.

In 1979 the cover of the programme for the European Championships held at the Royal Albert Hall, proudly proclaimed; “Robert D. Alexander presents… The European Brass Band Championship”

Underneath in less bold type came the tag ‘Under the gracious patronage of Her Majesty the Queen.”

If only Good Queen Brenda knew just how crooked Chairman Bob was…

This was the man who very nearly ruined the whole National Championships in a way that even fellow look-alike Robert Maxwell would have been proud. He robbed people blind. Not content with that he just about sunk the British Bandsman newspaper too.

He treated other people’s money as his own and as a result, by the time Boosey & Hawkes took over the Nationals, he had racked up over £11,000 of debts just to bands who hadn’t been paid their prize money form the contests. 

What became of him we shall never know?

Some people suggest he fell off the back of a yacht somewhere, others, that he managed to squirrel away a few bob and died a sad and lonely man in a nursing home in the Home Counties. 

SparkeLook at this man. He wasn’t a crook

This is the very young face of a composer who would dictate the musical course of European brass banding for next  30 years.

This picture was taken in 1980 and this man is Philip Sparke.

The earnest look gives him an almost fleeting resemblance to future Tory Prime Minister John Major, don’t you think?  

The neatly combed hair, the casual sweater and open shirt combo. The glasses.

Wow. The glasses…

In 1980 (when this picture appeared in the European programme), Philip had not long written the test piece used at the contest - ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’ – Aotearoa’ – although the piece itself was not written specifically for the European, but for the New Zealand Championships of the same year.

What became of him, we all well know.

This year will see the 69th performance of one of his works as an own choice selection by a competing band, whilst he also went on to provide the set works for the contest in 1991 and 2000. 

Black Dyke

Now this is a band… 

The 1979 European and National Champions of Great Britain: Black Dyke Mills.  

30 years ago things were different. The band was exclusively male, white and most players were approaching, or enjoying, middle age. Even the European Trophy was different too – the famous trophy that bands win today wasn’t made in 1979 and the small cup next to the National Trophy was the European Cup so to speak…
There are a few young ‘uns in the Dyke ranks – Christopher Bacon on cornet and Richard Clough on percussion, but the vast majority were experienced campaigners.

McCann, MacDonald, Whittaker, Turton, Clough, Derrick, Wadsworth, Slinger, Berry, Coupland, Ellis, Ellis, Morgan, Jackson, Pogson, Christian, Payne ….   

Led by Peter Parkes with Resident Conductor David Loukes this was the band that dominated banding during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

A few are no longer with us – Fred Ellis, Jack Brooke and the great Brian Evans to name three, but the memories of their playing are still vivid, and it is arguable if there has been a better band in the European’s history…


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