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Whit Friday: A personal account

John James looks back on a very personal experience of the Whit Friday weekend in 2002, whilst 4BR recalls its own day out.

The weather report was not too optimistic when John Kettley on the BBC, being quite sombre, delivered the forecast for the evening “Rain, rain, high winds and more rain.” So it was under broken clouds, an unsettled sky and it has to be said relatively mild temperatures, at 4pm, the band set off in the coach towards the Whit Friday Brass Band Contests. A route, designed to take in 6 venues on the Saddleworth Circuit, took 50 minutes to reach and true to JK’s word the coach began to take a notable buffeting as the winds really got up as we entered the district. It was at this point the entry fee of a £1 coin; the standard amount was readied for the first venue.

Greenacres, a contest in only its 2nd year, where 36 bands played that evening, was first en-route. Having removed the traffic warning sign, the stewarding policeman allowed the bus to turn left off the main road. The coach moved forward a short distance to a point in the road which widened into parking spaces for the residents of the houses which, on any other day, would have been a quiet residential area. Immediately in front of the bus, to the left, was a caravan, which acted as registration come contest control. As the band were only the 6th to arrive we drew up and where able to form up and play without queuing. A policeman and woman watched as the players hastily donned bow ties and silver grey jackets, grabbed instruments and under the ushering of the steward formed up in lines of four.

The rectangular black board stuck on a pole and held by a small boy announced the name of the band and the order of play. As the band neared readiness another coach pulled in behind and their £1 coin was deposited at the caravan.

After the bass drum introduction, the first eight bars of ‘The Pathfinder’ were played and the band strode away as the melody line appeared. This 8 bar routine would be repeated by every band at every venue throughout the evening but the actual duration of the march would vary according to the distance to the contest base. On this occasion the band played through to the double bar before the bass solo before they were knocked off by the double tap.

In a pub car park a caravan, with curtains closed, housed the adjudicator Denis Wilby and this was stationed beside an area marked out with white plastic garden chairs. The band stood in standard formation beside the caravan and following an announcement on a loudhailer, “Band number 6 will play O.R.B.,” the band began its clean and steady but unspectacular performance. So the evening got off to a enjoyable start and it was back onto the coach, which had taken the opportunity to turn around, and within no time progress was made toward the contest at Lees.

Lees and Springhead is always a popular venue usually attracting over 40 bands and as expected there was a queue to play. With five bands already registered it meant a bit of a wait. The coaches queued around the side roads, which went down and to the left edging forward with each subsequent performance. St.Helens Brass (15th) in their blue jackets, Pemberton Old wearing their claret uniform with embroidered crest (16th) both headed Rainford (17th) and soon in black jackets the 18th band appeared, Besses o’th’ Barn.

Being well known to each other and all being from the same or nearby locale the conductors and players mingled together talking and joking. The bands set up in a side street on the left of the main road and when everything was set a policeman held up the steady stream of traffic. The bands all in similar fashion moved forward and turned left on to the main road and marched, playing up to and once through the bass solo before turning off the road to stand on the library car park.

Waiting to be judged by the adjudicator Keith Wardle, who was behind closed bedroom curtains of the house opposite the library, ‘Pemberton Old’ had now formed up. They stood, in formation, in the area enclosed with bunting of red, white and blue. Their choice ‘O.R.B.’ was to be heard three times in succession, as it was also the march selected by ‘Besses’ under the direction of Lynda Nicholson. ‘Pemberton’ moved away having played a well controlled and dynamically shaped performance, which just confirmed the quality, which they had demonstrated in winning the Senior Trophy recently. Their performance was later to be rewarded with a well deserved third prize on the night.

Besses now struck up and started their march down the street while we in the Rainford Band formed up in front of the library. “Band number 17 will play ‘O.R.B.’ Oldham Rifle Brigade,” announced the voice through the megaphone. Giving two bars for nothing, the conductor Neil Parkinson brought out the solo more and taking a little of the edge off the top end our performance was certainly a good notch or two up on that of that at Greenacres.

To enthusiastic applause and with heads held up it was a quick scoot back to the coach and onward to the next contest at Grotton.

Grotton, a well established contest saw 48 bands play and was well under way as the band registered at the table inside a garage of a house in the street. Having again paid the obligatory £1 the coach drew forward to the end of the road where a car park to a countryside walk allowed a three point turn. Manx Silver, Tarleton and St. Helens Brass had all chosen this venue so an opportunity to mingle, listen or the like before the march to the contest stage. Unsurprisingly ‘The Grotton’ public house at the end of the road was attracting a steady custom.

Manx Silver registered 21st and played ‘Castell Coch’ soon to be followed by ‘Tarleton (22nd) and ‘The Field Day.’ St. Helens Brass headed Rainford onto the raised bandstand dedicated to Stanley Ogden, President of the Contest. A plaque in his memory, inscribed with 4 bars of the contest march ‘Ravenswood’, adorned the brick and grassy platform.

Again a caravan provided the accommodation for the adjudicator Roy Roe who, together with a large audience, heard the band play another comfortable and controlled account of ‘O.R.B.’ - perhaps not quite as good as Lees but safe enough. Besses playing ‘The Chieftain’ were now on the street, being next up, having also chosen Grotten. It showed that even the best of players are fallible as a note blobbed in after the double tap and laughing the rest of the band fingered the culprit!

Prior to the contest, bands had been alerted through the grapevine that temporary traffic lights going out of Grotton towards Lydgate were a nuisance. They would have been of less consequence had not our coach driver decided to make a right turn at the lights without asking. The band now found itself driving towards Mossley in the Tameside Section with absolutely no prospect of making a U-Turn on such a narrow road, picturesque as it may be. There was little choice but to change plans and play at the contest at Top Mossley. With 6 bands queuing and it being 8pm, with time to spare, the Mossley Band Club was proving as popular a place as the ‘chippy’ across the road. Ashton-under-Lyne, BMP Goodshaw and Besses Boys Band all performed under conditions where the weather was noticeably a few degrees colder and much windier than before.

The Rainford performance, the 24th of the evening, suffered as a consequence being both rushed with less dynamic quality. The mutterings of the younger members about the temperatures were being heard all across and at least two players lost music through the gusting winds. ‘Whiston Band’ from the Rotherham district, who also took advantage of Mossley Band Club, followed and they also suffered at the hands of the cold weather as both music and a trombone slide found their way to the floor on the march down the street!

It was all back to the coach, a quick decision to skip Lydgate and head on to Delph which meant driving back the way we came . The sharp corner at the temporary lights was an impossible manoeuvre so a u-turn back in Grotton got the coach headed toward Delph.

Passing by Lydgate, where Tyldesley and Radcliffe had both registered, negotiating the sharp right hand junction with a five point juggle we dropped down past the Cross Keys pub and turned left in to the village of Delph which is sealed off to traffic for all but the contestants. As we drove up toward the registration point seven bands were already registered, Walkden Band at 45th, Dungannon Silver, having made the trip across the Irish Sea, 46th which made Rainford the 47th band of the 64 that competed on the night

It was here that we met and had the opportunity to hear Parr Band, who have featured regularly in the prizes for the lower sections. Playing 44th they produced a top draw performance of ‘Ravenswood’ in the unique amphitheatrical like contest setting. Parr certainly relish the atmosphere of the Whit Friday Contest and supported by their ‘Brassed Off’ ‘look-a-like’ supporters complete with purple wigs, they made 2002 a night to remember. It looks like 4BR were right with the Buxton article - in saying it could set them up nicely for Whit Friday.

The road at Delph slopes downward at just the right angle toward the end and as Dungannon Silver now marching down the street, flanked by two mounted police one on a pure white steed, the constant applause from the four deep crowd had the chests on the players visibly pushed out with pride.

The call came and we now formed up and a reminder went out that the knock off for Delph is opposite the phone box towards the end of the street. Last year the bass drummer managed to march through a steaming pile of horse s*** so was the brunt of more than a few jibes. This contest expects anything up to 65 bands and we felt it as we left the arena that the playing was not far short of that at Lees. It was a contented band that left the crowded bars, busy chip shop and bustling streets.

As if one wrong turn weren’t enough another put the top hat on it ! The coach was now heading towards Denshaw in absolutely the wrong direction so it was 10:25pm by the time the coach made the right turn and entered the village of Dobcross. There we were to be greeted with the news that with eleven bands had already registered to play and a decision had been taken to close the contest station. With that we called it a night, much to the delight of the younger members, and the coach dropped down the narrow steep street passed the illuminated grassy knoll where the bands played and parked up. The evening ended at the busy Dobcross Band Club in the company of the players from Greenhalls and Haydock Ogden and at midnight the coach made its way back to St.Helens drawing the 2002 Whit Friday Contest to an eventful but most enjoyable conclusion.

That was how the evening felt and it would have been a cheat to have altered this article after the results were known as it could well have coloured the narrative.

This then is how the band figured :-

Greenacres - 28th of 36 - To be expected : Lees & Springhead - 19th of 47 - Not bad considering the band before us ‘Pemb’ came 3rd and Besses played afterwards. : Grotton - 34th of 36 - A bit lower than we expected : Delph - 46th of 64 - Disappointing as we felt we had performed a bit better than two-thirds down the field. The Mossley result is still to come and last place would be a probably be a good result given that the band played so fast you would have though we were playing for the Gurkha’s. It was only the following day that that the conditions at Mossley really came to light when one of the Bb Basses reported the true damage sustained to his instrument as he was trying to lift it out of the coach. (update 2003 – get out of town ! we came 18th out of 38 bands perhaps I misjudged our performance)

John James.
© 4BarsRest

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!

© 4BarsRest




© 4BarsRest

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