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
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
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
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