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Whit Marches 2002:

Whit Friday: 4BR at their Whits end

What is Whit Friday? - the greatest free show on earth' is a phrase that is widely used, and one that can not be argued with. Brass Bands from far and wide descending on Saddleworth & Tameside to compete at various venues, playing a quick-step march and for the public, its great, purely because all you have to do is turn up and enjoy it!!!

The weather forecast is bleak for the night, but we at 4BarsRest decided to head for Delph contest in Saddleworth. The village of Delph was holding its 55th contest and it is easy to see why it is a popular venue for both bands playing and the listener. Situated in a side street, the contesting arena is surrounded by a church hall, a club and houses, which acoustically make it superb. In addition, apart from the usual facilities such as food and drink, the organisers produce a 'Whit Friday Magazine' priced at the minimum price of 1 which is fantastic value. It has stories of banding today, memories of by-gone Whit Fridays and is well worth purchasing even if you don't attend the contest.

Unfortunately this year, the Masters at Cambridge fell on the same week-end, which meant that some of the leading contenders for prizes (YBS, Faireys) gave it a miss. Regular attendee's, Grimethorpe, were flying off to Australia, so it gave other bands a chance to take some of the limelight. We weren't to be deprived however, as Leyland, Besses, Brighouse & Fodens all took time out from the rigours of 'Atlantic' to entertain the crowds and hopefully win the prize money available. Both Oldham & Tameside Council offer 2,500 for becoming champions in their 'borough', requesting that they play at a minimum of six contests. It doesn't matter if you are a sponsored band or not, serious money is on offer, for any band that plays well.

The structure though of Whit Friday means that it is very much pot luck as to which bands attend which contest. The advanced planning by a particular band as to which contest(s) to attend, which route(s) to take is as much an art-form as playing. Regrettably, Delph missed out on both Leyland & Fodens (who decided to partake at the contesting venues in Tameside), but nevertheless, a cracking night was in store.

Proceedings commenced at 4.30pm with Rowntree's Band under Billy Rusworth, who blew any cobwebs away with a commendable performance of 'The President'. One of the great things about the contests is not only do you know which bands will turn up, but you don't know what marches they will play either. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that you will hear five bands on the bounce play 'Ravenswood' (making it like the majority of contests we are familiar with), but this year (at Delph anyway) we had a wide-and-varied array of marches.

Old favourites such as Knight Templar and Mephistopheles were played, but add to that 'The Howitzer', 'Pompous Main', 'Victors Return', 'The Black Knight', too name but a few and what a pleasure it was to have some variety! The night was progressing well with a steady flow of bands coming through, and odd (heavy) shower, and then back-to-back Navigation Brass followed by Brighouse. For many years now, The Navigation Inn, Dobcross, has assembled a band for Whit Friday from a variety of sources. In the main, these are players, who have graced top bands in recent years, and in addition, players who might not be actively involved at the top level for family/work commitments.

Regardless of the reasons, you tend to ignore the march being played (briefly) as you gaze round doing some serious spotting as to who is playing this year. As ever, we were not to be disappointed with the likes of Philip Chalk, Brian Evans, Stephen Lord, John Clough (the legendary Brighouse bass player - not the Dyke Euphonium one) and Gilbert Symes under Alan Lawton rolling back the years with Senator. A great performance at Delph was mirrored around Saddleworth as they picked up a handful of prizes - well done boys.

Somehow, you feel a touch cheated if you don't hear Brighouse on the circuit. The band has a very close relationship with Delph, players past, present (and no-doubt in the future) playing for the men in purple. It was not a vintage performance of 'Ravenswood' under David Hirst, but it was the clear leader at this stage. In the end, it gave them second at Delph, but they became Saddleworth Champions for 2002 having competed at the required six venues in the area, and some much needed money in the bank with trips to the Open & The Nationals in London looming later in the year.

One of the delights of any Whit Friday is seeing the amount of youth bands which go on the circuit. Delph witnessed Townley, Wardle High, Rochdale Youth, Smithills Senior Band, to name but a few, but one of the highlights of the whole evening was about to happen. Dobcross Band has always produced many a fine band and many a fine player, and this was evident from Dobcross Intermediate Band. All these players are very young, but gifted, and are extremely well trained. It was interesting to hear the conductor say to them 'concentration please, concentration' and concentrate they did and Peter Roberts (and our very own Iwan Fox) eat your heart out. The young soprano player was simply superb! This person did not over blow, but he made his presence felt in the very appropriately named march 'Joy of Youth' with a delightful tone and some wonderful playing.

The philosophy of the contests of course is that a band can play at a venue if it has 'signed-in' in that time period - at Delph it was 4.30-10.30pm. This in theory (and as it turned out) reality, means that the contest can go on well past the finishing time, and we still hadn't got a winner, as it had gone past 11pm, and CWS Glasgow arrived to perform 'Mephistopheles'. For us, this should have been in the frame, but alas, it wasn't to be as last years winners, Marsden Silver, playing 'Honest Toil' enthralled a large crowd took the spoils once again. When Bakewell Band played Star Lake at 11.52pm we were hearing band number 64 of the night - the legs had gone completely after nearly 8 hours standing and it was a touch nippy. But never mind, Delph Contest had a great night and this was mirrored throughout Saddleworth & Tameside.

As mentioned, Brighouse took the honours in Saddleworth, closely followed by Sunline International Navigation & Marsden Silver. In Tameside, congratulations should go to Millbrook contest which celebrated its 50th year, with Fodens claiming one of their five first prizes on the night under Russell Gray. In addition, they picked up other prizes in Tameside, which enabled them to take the title of Tameside Champions with Leyland coming second and Wingates claiming third prize.

So that was it, another great Whit Friday - regardless of the weather. Having been in Uppermill the morning to watch the Walks of Witness, followed by viewing a couple of hours worth of cricket, it had been a long day by the time the contest had finished, but a very enjoyable one.

Thank you Delph for a wonderful night. Next year, its Friday 13th June, and with any luck, it will be a little bit warmer, but it will be a great night - Whit Friday always is!

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