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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 them.

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 Dyke Mills.

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.

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