1959 And All That! -A reflective look back at the Nationals
of that year - by David James
The results of the National Championships of 1959 at the Royal
Albert Hall with hindsight, holds a special significance for me
- especially the first three prizewinners. It reads:
1. Black Dyke Mills Band, George Willcocks
2. Fodens Motor Works Band, Rex Mortimer
3. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band, Jack Atherton.
What was a contest that will for ever go down in the annuals as
one of the truly great brass band competitions holds great memories,
not only for the performances of all the three prize wining bands,
but because it was a year and contest that shaped my life.
The year began quietly enough, and I was looking forward to the
next NYBB course as principal cornet. The two courses of the NYBB
were the highlights of my year, meeting old friends and absorbing
new musical ideas like a sponge. On the Friday of that Easter course
the band was split into groups for competition, and I was fortunate
to be picked to conduct one. There were two visitors to the course
that day who were giants of the brass band world – a young and precociously
talented Maurice Murphy and Geoff Whitham.
Maurice was and always has been my idol - the greatest cornet
player I’ve ever heard and a man who could make the instrument talk.
Geoff was the finest euphonium player of his day – as the 1959 Nationals
proved - and both had a wicked sense of humour. They suggested that
an extra group should be entered for the competition, a quartet
consisting of themselves with Cliff Edmunds on horn and myself.
What a privilege it was to play with these fine musicians. For
them it was a quick look at all the corners of the piece and they
were ready, for me a bit longer! That we won was no surprise, but
it was the memory of playing with Maurice, Cliff and Geoff that
remains to this day.
Afterwards it was suggested that I might consider joining Black
Dyke and of course, I was overwhelmed at the thought and full of
enthusiasm. My father on my return home was not so enthusiastic,
and it was discussed with the music teacher at school who suggested
that I go and study at the Royal Academy where he had studied. I
was therefore entered for a Glamorgan Scholarship in the May, which
I won and I applied to the Academy in the July, and was enrolled
at the RAM in the September. It was the beginning of a love affair
with brass playing that has lasted all my life.
In the October, now a music student, I found myself at the Royal
Albert Hall listening to the test piece Le Roi d’Ys and guess who
was on the stage with Black Dyke. For a young man from South Wales
it was a truly memorable experience.
Dyke was truly magnificent, and from my seat in the gods they looked
like figures from a Lowry painting, not that one could ever describe
Geoff Whitham as a matchstalk man. The sound that Dyke produced
in those days was something very special, and I’ve not heard it
since. Murphy and Whitham were outstanding and Geoff Whitham was
simply awesome on the famous euphonium solo – it was like hearing
a truly great tenor singer. The whole performance was beautifully
controlled by the Svengali like figure of Major George Willcocks
and to me and the audience alike he was mesmerising.
This was banding of a level that for me could never be bettered.
Carlton Main were superb, Fodens Brilliant, but Dyke…… Ask any person
who was privileged to be there and they will tell you.
And now for the significance of the three prizewinners. You could
say Dyke were responsible for me going to study at the RAM and later,
Maurice Murphy was appointed Principal Trumpet in the BBC Northern
- a year before I was appointed to the same position with the BBC
Scottish. He was the inspiration for a career in music.
As for Fodens - the soprano player that day was Charles Cook, regarded
as the greatest ever and a man who was to become my father-in-law.
I will always be deeply indebted to him for letting me marry his
daughter – without doubt the best ever decision of my life.
And finally, Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band. This was the
band I went to when I left the orchestra to make a bit of a career
in conducting and I have many fond memories of my association with
I’m 59 years young this year and the year 1959 now holds special
significance for me. You can call it fate or coincidence, but one
way or another it was special thanks to Maurice, Geoff and Black
4Bars Rest writes:
David James has long been regarded as one of finest brass teachers
in the country and a man who has given so much to the movement as
a whole as a player and conductor.
He has played with, conducted and taught nearly all of the best
players and bands in the country and has always done so with his
love for bands foremost in his mind.
We are delighted that he has taken time to share his special memories
with us and we are pleased to announce that he will continue to
contribute a column to the magazine in the form of a monthly clinic.
If you want to improve as a player then drop us a line and David
will give you the benefit of his years of experience. You couldn’t
ask for a better tutor.