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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 to it.

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 think can.

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 statement.

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

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