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The 50s and 60s revisited:
David Read takes us through the two decades that greatly influenced the banding movement of today.

4BarsRest is always delighted when we are able to feature articles from leading personalities from the brass band movement. In recent months we have had interviews with people such as Marcus Bach, Howard Snell, Nicholas Childs and Richard Evans, all of whom have been more than willing to be involved with what we are trying to achieve.

David Read has been one of those foremost figures for many years, both as a player, conductor, and educationalist and latterly as the leading contest adjudicator in the UK. His vast experience means that he has seen many changes, but he believes we have forgotten somewhat the influence on brass banding of the post war period – the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Here he gives his own nostalgic look at banding during the period of the mid 50’s and early 60’s – one of the most influential periods in our movements history.

“Reading books and articles written in the 1980’s about banding in this period, one could be forgiven for thinking that the movement was in the doldrums, stagnating and only awaiting the 1970’s to revive it’s fortunes. I believe that nothing could be further from the truth – and I speak as someone who participated as a player in the Championship Section, but also as someone who kept very much in touch with the lower sections of playing during this time.

The first post war period had ended and with it the dominance on the contest stage of Harry Mortimer and to a lesser extent, Eric Ball, but their influence was as still as great as ever – the former as a conductor and the latter as the movements leading composer.

The National Brass Band Championships with its Regional and National Finals were thriving, as was the Spring Brass Band Festival with it’s six sections held at Belle Vue Manchester and the September Championship (now called the British Open).

Many solo and quartet contests were held in various parts of the country, culminating in the highly organised and successful Great Britain Solo and Quartet Championships sponsored and organised by the Morris Motors Band and held annually in Cowley in Oxford.

BBC National Radio allocated six or seven programmes per week to brass bands and military bands and a new contest called Challenging Brass was started. And although bands found that the traditional park engagements (some up to a week or more long) were declining, Championship bands in particular found new audiences in concerts in school halls, Miners Welfare Halls, Town Halls and the new Civic Centres that had begun to spring up during a period when many towns were being rebuilt and civic amenities given more importance.

Players showed loyalty to their bands and stayed as one-band players usually for the length of their playing careers, whilst resident conductors in the Championship bands in particular stayed and developed their bands over many years. People such as Alex Mortimer (CWS Manchester), Stanley Boddington (GUS Footwear), Jack Atherton (Carlton Main), George Thompson (Grimethorpe), Albert Coupe (Luton), Eric Bravington (Hanwell), Bill Scholes (Rushden Temperence and Kibworth), Trevor Walmsley (Yorkshire Imps), Leonard Lamb (Fairies), Rex Mortimer (Fodens), Albert Chappell (City of Coventry), Eddy Wiliams (St Dennis) and John Childs (Tredegar).

I mention this long list as it may seem a little unfashionable to players and conductors alike today to consider putting in 20 years or more service to just one band, but in the 50’s and 60’s there was a commitment to a band that meant that loyalty was a term that meant something. It is also no coincidence that many of those conductors who stayed and nurtured talent over many years had the greatest successes.

New and younger conductors also began to make their mark and names such as James Scott, Roy Newsome, Kenneth Dennison, Geoff Whitham, Richard Evans and Derek Broadbent became more and more well known and respected.

The National Brass Band Final at the Royal Albert Hall was such a success that tickets for the contest were hard to come by and many supporters could be found outside the hall on the morning of the contest hoping a ticket tout would help! The other three sections were equally successful and were held to large audiences on the same day in Fulham, Kensington and Hammersmith.

As far as test pieces were concerned, no shortage of original works ensued, and among those commissioned to write for the competitions were Vaughan Williams, Sir Arthur Bliss, Herbert Howells, Edmund Rubbra, Gilbert Vinter and Eric Ball, whilst Frank Wright transcribed some of the very best orchestral overtures. On National finals day the two concerts held in the Royal Albert Hall after the contest were tremendously popular with audiences, with only a few tickets available for the first and the second invariably sold out!

The success of the concerts could be attributed to the organiser, Mr Vaughan Morris, who in his autocratic manner planned everything down to the smallest detail that found the perfect recipe for a successful concert and gave the paying customer just what they wanted in terms of the music and the spectacle. They were visual and aural treats.

The massed bands appeared in their uniforms onto a beautifully flowered stage, the proceedings would start with a splendid opening fanfare by Trumpeter’s of the Life Guards Band and Frank Phillips, the famous BBC announcer would be the compere for the evening. The bands would play an unashamedly popular programme – probably including a Gilbert and Sullivan overture and items such as “Trombones to the Fore”, featuring at last twelve trombone players from the assembled ranks or twelve cornets playing “Cornet Carillon”. Many fine soloists were featured, including one year, John Berryman playing “The Lost Chord” with organ accompaniment and on another the imperial Derek Garside performing “A Brown Bird Singing”. The first half would finish with perhaps a “Slavonic Rhapsody” and the guest conductor for the evening would bring the proceedings to an end with an item such “Finlandia” or “1812”. The players grumbled a little, but loved the full hall and the audiences loved the music.

The 1960’s saw the rise of instrumental teaching in schools through peripatetic teachers and many youngsters joined new youth and Junior bands such as the famous Besses Boy’s Band, Tredegar Junior Band and St Dennis Junior Bands, whilst Butlins and Pontins initiated new contests to attract the new younger players.

In addition there was the start of an explosion of young talent ready and willing to write for bands and composers such as Edward Gregson, Dalby, Tate and Musgrave all wrote substantial music.

However, bands were not immune to economic and social change, and in the mid 1960’s high pitched instruments ceased to be viable and bands were forced to change and spend hard earned cash on the new low pitched instruments which in many ways were forced upon them.

Percussion finally raised its head and gave bands a new and exciting colour, although it wasn’t until 1969 and “Spectrum” at the Open that it finally and irreversibly made it’s mark – a mark that would revolutionise the way in which bands performed.

In brief then to conclude, the economic climate affected many works bands and many collapsed, closed or had to seek alternative sponsorship or change their names to survive during this period. The decimation of the coal industry had already started by now and many bands would disappear because of this.

Finally, the introduction of the entertainment contest and television changed the way in which bands were perceived by the public and it was a worrying trend that radio broadcasts in particular diminished. Professional musicians became more involved in the banding scene and brought new ideas and approaches to the way in which bands performed, whilst women made a welcome introduction to mainstream banding that has had a profound effect. Colleges opened their doors to brass players and the future was starting to be secured.

However, even though the 50’s and 60’s saw many changes for the better, the greatest sadness was that loyalty, he bedrock of good banding seemed to disappear.

We have much to be grateful for in banding today, but we should never forget the importance of a past that encouraged and developed the movement so that it can stand proud and secure into the 21st century.

© David Read.

David Read has long been associated with the brass band movement, since he first played at Belle Vue in 1949 with Carlton Main Colliery Band conducted by Eric Ball.

A Welshman, he forged a reputation as being one of the finest cornet players of his era (an era of some of the greatest brass band cornet players) and secured his reputation with the famous Munn and Felton’s Band, which later became the equally famous GUS Footwear Band.

During this time he led the band to four National Titles and a World Championship title at the Royal Albert Hall in 1971. He was also a member of Harry Mortimer’s “All Star Brass” and the “Virtuosi Band of Great Britain” under Eric Ball, whilst during his military service he was a member of the Welsh Guards Band. In addition he became a three-time winner of the title “Champion Cornet Player of Great Britain” and also on one occasion the overall Solo Champion of Great Britain.

In 1983 he was awarded the Iles Medal from the Worshipful Company of Musicians in recognition of his services to the banding movement.

For over 25 years he has been regarded as one of the leading adjudicators of brass band contest and has judged at every major contest both in the UK and Europe. He has gained immense respect from bandsmen and conductors alike for his constructive and insightful remarks and it is no coincidence that he remains at the top of the list of judges that the bands themselves want when given the chance to vote!

He is currently the Chairman of the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators.

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