Loyalty and Respect: David James asks if loyalty
and respect have been lost to banding
I read David Read’s article, “The 50s and 60s revisited” with growing
despondency, as it reminded me of a piece I had written a few months
previously which I had shelved because I thought I was looking back
through rose coloured spectacles. Having read the article it only
reinforced my belief that what I had written had some substance
Let me state at the outset that I consider that there has been
an enormous improvement in the technical ability of brass bands,
and there is much to be admired, but I believe there are two aspects
of banding that have sadly diminished hence the following piece.
Loyalty and Respect, are they dirty words?
To me, two aspects of brass banding which seem to have lost their
credence are “loyalty” and “respect”, and for me, and many others
who I believe who are lovers of our great movement, this has been
a great loss and has at times undermined the good things that the
movement stands for.
I believe this to be true, especially with the top bands, and
it saddens me enormously. How do I come to this conclusion?
It has been my privilege to sit and discuss with my father-in-law
Charlie Cook, unfortunately now deceased, banding from when he was
a boy until he retired in the 1960’s. He started in Congleton Town
Band, where his father Clem was the conductor, and as a boy would
busk around the district during the depression to earn much needed
money to keep the family going. He very quickly became principal
cornet, doing so on an Eb soprano cornet, stubbornly refusing to
do so on a Bb cornet, thus demonstrating one of the characteristics
of that elite club that soprano cornet players belong to, (which
is why my wife’s nickname is Charlie).
He was invited by Harry Mortimer to audition with his father Fred,
for the soprano position with Fodens Motor Works Band at eighteen,
passing it with flying colours according to HM himself. Truth be
told, he refused the invitation because it meant earning less money,
but his father Clem intervened by visiting his uncle, whom he worked
for, and telling him to sack Charlie, which he promptly did. Charlie
then moved to Sandbach as it was stipulated that all bandsmen should
live in the village, and was a member of the band that did the double
hat trick in the 1930’s.
He would recount many wonderful stories of his exploits with Fodens,
and banding in general in the days when the band were away from
home from April to the end of October performing at various venues
throughout the length and breadth of Britain. I well remember the
evening that Charlie and Madge came to stay with us as it coincided
with Harry Mortimer visiting to conduct Carlton Main Frickley Colliery
Band at the Harrogate Festival, and we were sharing the programme.
After the rehearsal when we got home I plied them with liberal helpings
of Highland Park, HM’s favourite refreshment, and the stories came
thick and fast. About 3.00 o’clock in the morning HM turned to me,
a little worse from over indulgence with the amber nectar, and said,
“you know too much”. HM was always very wary of me from then on!
I recount the above because during all our conversations, and
that wonderful evening with HM I never heard a word of disrespect
spoken about other people. There were people that they didn’t like,
and were highly critical of, but were never disrespectful about
them. They played in a band where the personnel didn’t change for
over ten years, and Fodens weren’t the only band like that - many
of the top bands held similar positions. When I look back to the
idols of my youth, such as Derek Garside synonymous with the CWS
Manchester Band; Willie Lang with Black Dyke; Norman Ashcroft with
Faireys. In Wales we had Stan Williams with Cory, and the Scottish
CWS had Willie Barr. They believed in loyalty to their respective
bands. How times have changed!
How often do vacancies occur in our top bands, how often do people
change bands? More often than I change my underpants, and that’s
a daily occurrence! Don’t tell me that money has changed the circumstances
as they were paid for playing in those far distant days, and quite
handsomely I’m led to believe. Attitudes have changed, and there’s
the rub. Is it for better or worse? Sad to say bands are the poorer
because of it.
Never a week goes by when we hear of a player moving from one top
band to another, and the same lame excuses being trotted out to
justify the move. Money has something to do with it of course, but
the “sweeteners” on offer really aren’t that much. A few thousand
maybe for the very best and 50 quid a job, but that’s not enough
to pay the mortgage and keep the kids in shoes is it?
No, it’s the attitude that makes people move so often. Players
want success, but are impatient animals, and want the success immediately.
Why work hard and slog with a band when you can up sticks and move
to another which may promise less hard work and perhaps a better
chance of winning a few pots. The top bands appear to offer this
and players like the thought of winning. If you haven’t won a National
in the first twelve months, then move on to the next band who you
It didn’t happen years ago because players had an inner resolve
to want to make their own band the best. Therefore they stayed and
worked hard, usually with a conductor who had the same attitude
and in many cases it proved the right thing to do. That’s why Fodens,
CWS Manchester, GUS, Dyke etc had success with stable bands over
many years. Players stayed and were loyal and in return they appreciated
their successes even more.
This brings me to respect. I love visiting the brass band forum
on the net, and believe it to be a giant leap forward in mass communication,
and good for society. Especially the ability to chat with bandsmen
and women from all over the world, and our love of music shines
through like a beacon of hope. It underlines the one true freedom
that we all believe in, and that is the freedom of speech. I do
however have one problem with it, and that is the use of pseudonyms.
I can understand their use when people do not live in a free society,
and are afraid of the repercussions that might ensue from speaking
out, but surely that’s not applicable to the banding movement. Surely
the basis of a good open society is its ability to encompass as
wide a variety of opinion as is possible. Hiding behind a pseudonym
allows people to be extremely disrespectful to one another, and
damages the image of the movement in the eyes of anyone that may
care to visit. It also speaks volumes for their integrity that they
have to hide in order to give their opinion or make a malicious
I consider entering the band forum and it’s chat room like entering
my favourite snooker club, I know some of the people there but by
no means do I know them all. I am prepared to give anyone a game
be they a young schoolboy or the club hustler, I just take a different
approach to them both. With the youth I would observe his game and
give him any hints that I could to improve his ability, encouraging
his enthusiasm, and passion for the game. With the hustler I would
negotiate what I considered to be a fair start, and then enjoy the
game, win or loose.
I certainly wouldn’t entertain playing someone in a balaclava
that at any moment could turn nasty and mug me; I would regard that
as the height of stupidity. Likewise with the internet I enjoy talking
with one of the young members of the forum whatever section band
they belong to, and encouraging their enthusiasm and love of the
movement. I also enjoy the cut and thrust of good debate with the
more experienced members. We all have one thing in common and that
is our love of the brass band movement.
Respect is something I believe one has to earn by deeds as well
as words, and I’m reminded of my guiding philosophy which I have
always tried to live up to, but have not always succeeded.
I pass this way but once,
Therefore, if there is anything I can do,
Any kindness I can show,
Let me do it now, I shall not pass this way again.
I read and hear so much “slagging off”, a phrase that has only
entered my vocabulary in the last decade, and am deeply saddened
by it’s implications. Music is “the” international language, and
should bring us all together, respecting yourself and fellow musicians.
Which brings me back to my opening statement, are “loyalty” and
“respect” dirty words in brass banding today?
What is your opinion?
© David James