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The 2002 Great Northern Brass Arts Festival:

Manchester is to play host to one of the largest brass band festivals anywhere in world, with the second Great Northern Brass Arts Festival taking place at The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on Saturday 7th September 2002.

This year's festival will be looking at the famous years of the CWS (Manchester) Band and Alex Mortimer, their conductor in the 1950s, sixties and seventies, and the incomparable Harry Mortimer, whose name is synonymous with Brass Bands and brass playing around the world.

See our news item for more details and programme of events

Harry Mortimer CBE

Harry Mortimer was born in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, the son of the famous band conductor Fred Mortimer. In 1913 the family moved to Luton, where Fred was to train The Luton Red Cross Band. 1923 saw Luton, with Harry on Principal Cornet and William Halliwell the conductor, become the only southern band ever to win the National Championships.

In late 1924 the Mortimers moved to Fodens and it was here, playing under the baton of Fred, and alongside brothers Alex and Rex that Harry as Principal Cornet really flourished, playing a tremendous part in this magnificent band's glorious triumphs in the 1930s (seven National wins). He was credited with introducing a new lyrical and singing style of cornet playing - everyone wished to hear him.

During this period he also played Trumpet with the Halle Orchestra, Liverpool Philharmonic and the BBC Northern Orchestra and through his friendships and contacts among classical musicians he persuaded such conductors as Sir Hamilton Harty, Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Malcolm Sargeant to conduct brass bands. He also encouraged the leading composers of the time to write for the medium and did so much to break down the hauteur with which "serious" musicians regarded brass band players!

In 1942 he was appointed Supervisor for Brass and Military band broadcasts at the BBC and further advanced the cause of brass bands, a position he held for 22 years.

He became the professional conductor of the very best of Britain's brass bands including the Fairey Aviation Works Band, Fodens Motor Works, Black Dyke Mills, Munn and Feltons and Morris Motors and was practically unbeatable on the contest stage. The eighteen wins he gained conducting in the British Open and National Championships is a post war record.

In the mid 1950s Harry Mortimer retired from competition conducting and he then concentrated on the brass orchestra he had formed which included Fairey, Fodens and Morris Motors Bands. This combination gave popular concerts to packed audiences throughout the country.

In his later years he took full responsibility for the organising and administration of the British Open Contest in Manchester and with the enormous support of his wife Margaret was able to maintain the high standards of this long established event which this year itself celebrates its 150th birthday.

He was awarded the OBE and later the CBE for his services to the brass band movement. In 1978 a television programme Harry Mortimer's World of Music proved so popular that it had to be repeated within six months. BBC television produced a special programme to celebrate his 80th birthday and EMI issued Man of Brass - a collection of his recordings between 1926 and 1950 also to mark his 80th birthday - such was the esteem in which he was held.

He was particularly proud to be the president of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and it was fitting that when he died he left a considerable sum of money to be placed in trust (The Harry Mortimer Memorial Trust) to help promote brass band music and in particular young brass players.

© David Read 2002

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