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Thanks for the Memory No 9:
Arthur Oakes Pearce
The Prime Minister of Bandmasters
By Chris Helme

Arthur O Pearce
Arthur Oakes Pearce 1872 - 1951
Bandmaster of the world famous Black Dyke Mills Band 1912-1948

Elderly gentlemen lined the streets and doffed their hats in the pouring rain and heavy sleet as an expression of respect for a man many of them had known since childhood. Women stood and grasped their prams, pausing momentarily for a few moments reflection on the icy pavements. They all stood transfixed at the sight of the cortege of one of the brass band world’s most famous sons. A man known by many as the Prime Minister of Bandmasters, everyone looked on with quiet dignity as the funeral procession of the legendary Arthur Oakes Pearce passed through the hill top village of Queensbury, the home of the famous and his beloved Black Dyke Mills Band, following his death on Saturday 13th January 1951, aged 79 years.

Despite the rain the normally quiet streets of Queensbury were lined on both sides with both locals and visitors, all having turned out to pay their last respects to someone who had been a legend, not only in his own community but throughout the world of brass bands.

In their navy - blue uniforms with red and gold hat bands members of the Black Dyke Mills Band attended the private funeral service at his home at Sunny Bank in Queensbury. As the ministers words came to an end the band played ‘Abide with me’ and then to the ‘Dead March of Saul’ they led the cortege through the village to the Chapel. The band was led by its conductor Alex Mortimer, along with Mr John Paley the former principal cornet player of the band, Civic representatives, executives from Black Dyke Mills, workers, former colleagues and a veritable who’s who from the band world all stood in respectful silence, reflecting on a man who had been linked with Black Dyke since 1912.

At the Chapel the band played the ‘Solemn Melody in F’, ‘Nimrod’ (Enigma Variations), and Mr Pearce’s favourite hymn tune ‘Crimond’. No doubt as the mourners sat in the Chapel many would have quietly reflected on the remarkable life and career that Arthur Oakes Pearce had, particularly during those 37 years as the bandmaster of Black Dyke Mills Band.

Arthur Oakes Pearce was one of twelve children and was born on the 16th of October 1871 at Lupset Park, Thornes, Alverthorpe, Wakefield and was the son of Peter and Caroline Pearce (nee Oakes). Whether it was Peter Pearce’s employment as a gardener that forced him and his family to move away from Wakefield to seek work elsewhere is a story that has long since been lost in the mists of time. However, it was shortly after Arthur had reached his twelfth birthday that the family had packed up and moved house out of the area.

Little did young Arthur or his family know or realise at the time of the move how it was going to change his life and ultimate destiny.

He came from a musical family with two of his brothers being horn players. It was following this move that his own introduction to the band world began a year later shortly after his thirteenth birthday when he took up playing an old side drum for the Bethel New Connexion Band at Ovenden in the Yorkshire mill town of Halifax, their new home.
Becoming quite proficient he left this band to join the Halifax Band of Hope Brass Band which in later years went on to become known as the Halifax Victoria Band.

After a short while the band committee began to notice that young Arthur was quite good and in particular his enthusiasm to do well - this saw him being given what was considered to be a promotion back in those days from playing the side drum to playing the Baritone. By this time he was coming on in leaps and bounds, once again promotion was not far off with the band’s officials describing him as a ‘promising instrumentalist’ he then found himself as the band’s new Solo Horn player.

His baptism into the contesting world came as the Solo Horn player with the Halifax Temperance Band when they performed their test piece ‘St Paul’ at the local skating rink. They were awarded second prize and the judge’s remarks included a special mention of the Solo Horn player, even in these early days Arthur O. Pearce was being noticed.

He stayed with the Temperance Band until he was twenty with his final year being spent as the band’s Soprano Cornet player. He was described in those early days as a competent all rounder and was in regular demand by other local bands in being asked to join them or to be a guest at some of their concerts.

His introduction to conducting came when he left the Temperance Band to join Copley Mills Brass Band, as their Solo Cornet player, another local band on the outskirts of Halifax. As the band’s principal cornet player he led them to what was described as the most successful period of the band’s history during his eighteen months as its leader - it then followed that he was elected to the position as the band’s conductor. He was soon to be in great demand in that area as well by many other local bands in the Halifax district as his reputation as a skilful band trainer grew.

During this period he was combining his talents as a Solo Cornet player at contests and concert engagements with many of the local bands including: King Cross, Lee Mount, Sowerby Bridge and the Friendly Band. He soon gained the reputation as a player who gave his ‘all’ irrespective of the band’s overall capabilities he was helping out at the time.

Local orchestral societies were regularly seeking his services as well but it was during this period that he suffered a set back when he became seriously ill and for a time had to stop all his musical activities.

Once on the mend the world of brass bands was already in his blood and it as was reported in the local press at the time, ‘the old fire began to burn once more within him’.

There were to be many important events and appointments in Arthur’s life but none more so than his appointment at the St John’s Wesleyan Chapel on the 28th December 1895. He was then a fine young man of 24 and left his home in Railway Place, North Bridge, to marry his 22 year old sweetheart Lucy Ellen Harvey, a worsted coating weaver who lived not far away in Armitage Road, King Cross, Halifax.

The requests from other bands to join them or just help them out were becoming more and more frequent - eventually he did join another band the 1st V. B. Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regimental Band (which in later years became the 4th Battalion Territorials) as their principal Solo Cornet. He stayed with the ‘Dukes’ for the next three years during which time as a Volunteer Bandsman he was promoted to Deputy Bandmaster and Band Sergeant. His unassuming manner and ability as a trainer was well appreciated and he was respect by everyone.

Arthur’s middle name Oakes was the maiden name of his mother Caroline who died at the comparatively young age of 48 on the 31st of May 1898 and was interred in the family grave at Stoney Royd Cemetery in Halifax.

It was during his days as a Volunteer that he was asked on a number of occasions to conduct the Brighouse and Rastrick Temperance Band and after leaving the ‘Dukes’ was offered the position on a full time basis.

He was joining Brighouse at a difficult time when they were at a very low ebb both financially and with players but the band committee along with the tact of Arthur O. Pearce and his driving determination managed to pull the band completely around. By the end of his three-year contract he had helped to put the band into a very sound position. Not only was he a sound band trainer but he was always bursting with ideas and schemes how the band could make money. During his time at Brighouse he and the band were very successful in the contest field and he was rightly very proud that their success had been achieved without the help of a professional conductor, a practice that most of the bigger brass bands had always adopted.

He was described on many occasions throughout his time at Brighouse and later in his life as a man of sterling musical abilities, always demanding strict attention to detail thus ensuring the respect of everyone. This for someone who was said to have never had a music lesson in his life was quite remarkable. He was often asked to take private pupils and on occasions he was known to refuse a good paying pupil to help those youngsters whose parents could ill afford to pay.

A parting gift from the members and committee at Brighouse was an engraved gold medal - I wonder what ever happened to it……?.

Brighouse and Rastrick Temperance Band 1902
Brighouse and Rastrick Temperance Band 1902:
on the front row to the right of the drum can be seen Harry Hodgson, who was the licensee of the Rock tavern at Elland Upper Edge.
Back Row (left to right): W.M.Barraclough; H.Crowther; J.L.Dyson; J.H.Hardy;
M. Findlater; H.Slater; T.Jagger; S. Crowther; H.Nuttall; J.Squire; H.Rushton and
Front Row: B.Robinson; F. Firth (treasurer); J.Tarlton; Arthur Oakes Pearce; H. E .Dyson (secretary); E.Ripley; Harry Hodgson (conductor); A.Bentley; P.Hions and Ward Barraclough.

Having left Brighouse it was on October 1st 1909 that he took the position of Bandmaster at the then famous King Cross (Halifax) Band with William Rimmer as the band’s professional musical director. Whilst being a prestigious appointment for Arthur it was also a convenient one with his home in Armitage Road being a few streets away after only a few months it was said that William Rimmer complimented him on the rapid progress the band was making.

They entered the prestigious Crystal Palace National Band Contest which was to be held on July 30th 1909 but two weeks before the big day William Rimmer informed the band committee that owing to insufficient dates available for him to rehearse the band for the contest he asked to be relieved from his engagement for the this contest.

The band members were extremely disappointed but as a show of confidence in their own Bandmaster decided to go to the contest without the services of a professional and ask Mr Pearce to take the band. Putting the band through hours of extra practice and putting the final touches to what was a difficult piece in its day. No doubt by the time the big day arrived on Saturday September 25th the band were ready to play their best for him playing, Wagner’s test piece ‘The Flying Dutchman’. The results showed that the Shaw Band came first under the baton of non other than William Rimmer and in sixth place came King Cross (Halifax) Band and shows them also to have been under the baton of William Rimmer - however we know that was a misprint and the band were conducted by Arthur O. Pearce.

Throughout the band’s preparation he was assisted by Mr Booth Sharp A.R.C.O. of Queensbury and following William Rimmer’s departure King Cross then appointed J.A.Greenwood of Birkenhead as their professional conductor. For the efforts of Mr Pearce the band presented him with an oak writing cabinet.

Another momentous occasion for the band and their bandmaster was in the summer of 1911 when Arthur O. Pearce had the distinction of conducting the band playing a programme in the presence of King George V at Buckingham Palace on the eve of the King’s Coronation. It was at this event that he was considered to be both the band’s bandmaster and professional conductor following the band’s decision not to engage a professional conductor for that 1911 season.

His philosophy to a performance was that the same degree of effort and dedication should be displayed at a concert as would be at a contest…….a philosophy that was to later be reflected at the Black Dyke Mills Band throughout his 37 years as their bandmaster.

Looking back on that momentous trip to the nation’s capital was something none of the players was ever likely to forget. The band had left Halifax Railway Station on Tuesday June 20th 1911 on the 9.15pm train arriving in London’s Kings Cross Station at 3.15am the following morning and even at this time the band did not know what time they were to perform for their majesties at Buckingham Palace. As the clock struck eleven a telegram was received at the Great Northern Hotel where they had assembled - the telegram indicated they were to attend and perform for their majesties over the luncheon period in the forecourt at the Palace at 1.15pm.

Ensuring they were not to be late the band was ready at 12.45pm at the Victoria Monument and after a slow but precise march they paraded in the quadrangle to the cheers of a large crowd. This was something new for the band - yes they had played before large crowds in the past but this was something different. The crowds around the Victoria Monument were something else the spectators were packed solid – it was said they were ten rows deep at the palace railings.

Music stands used in the morning by the Guards for their earlier performance were cleared away when it was seen that King Cross had brought their own. The band opened their command performance with the National Anthem playing below an open window where their majesties were taking lunch. It was not long though before they could be seen taking a peek at the band below.

The crowds who were used to these occasions were shouting out ‘what regiment are you’ and ‘where are you from’. One old wag thought when Halifax was mentioned they meant Halifax Nova Scotia. A specially printed programme had been printed in purple and the King made a special request for three copies of it and on the programme for this special lunch time concert was:

The Grand March - ‘The Soldiers Chorus’ (from Gounod’s Faust)
The Selection - ‘The Flying Dutchman’ (Wagner)
Selection - ‘Patience’ (Sullivan)
Selection - ‘Il Travotore’ (Verdi)
March - ‘Military Church Parade’ (J.Ord Hume)

Included on the commemorative programme was a photograph of the band and their names that included:

Cornets: J. Robertshaw; Arthur Grace; C. Pollard; Harry Grace; A. Brearley; E. Fletcher; J. Brown; H. Watson and W. Simonds.
Horns: Herbert Abraham; C. H. Pearce and E. Connew.
Baritones: J. Midgley and H. Stott
Euphoniums: L. Stead and H. Ashford
Trombones: W. Webster; E. Barstow and W. Briggs
Basses: Joe Schofield; E. Shaw; J. Threlfel and C. Brearley
Drums: H. Mitchell and H. Whittell
Librarian: J. Clayton.
Other representatives with the band included: G.T.Ramsden (Deputy Mayor of Halifax); A.R. Pollitt (Band President); W. Morton; A. Peel and J.W. Alderson.

The band’s performance was for one hour between 1.30pm and 2.30pm and on completion of their performance Mr Ramsden was summoned to see their majesties. It was reported that the King was very impressed by the band’s performance and particularly so when he learned that all the members were workmen who had travelled down for the one performance and had to be back in Halifax the following day. Once they were ready the band marched off to another part of the palace where they too had their lunch.

Leaving Buckingham Palace about 3.30pm the band had plenty to talk about and to tell their families when they arrived back home. Before setting off back home they spent the rest of the afternoon sight seeing around London something they had never done before and in most cases something never likely to be repeated. The band left the capital on the 10.45pm from Kings Cross Station arriving back in Halifax at 5.50am the following morning. With only a few hours sleep over the two days sojourn to London they were soon back home in their stride preparing for a concert in Savile Park later that afternoon. Once the band had arrived back at Trafalgar Street they marched down the street to the bandroom playing a march to let all the neighbours know they were back.

The King Cross Band had undoubtedly prospered under the direction of Arthur O. Pearce through both its enhanced performances at contests as well as concerts. His reputation as a band trainer placed him in constant demand by other bands both to perform as a guest conductor and with tempting offers to take over permanently.

On January 1st 1912 he finally agreed to become the bandmaster of the Black Dyke Mills Band a position he was to hold until his retirement on December 31st 1948. His first public engagement with the band was at the Victoria Hall in Halifax where a new feature of the band was introduced at this and at all future concerts as he walked on stage the band members would spring to attention acknowledging the audience and Mr Pearce.

The period from 1912 through to Black Dyke winning the National Championship’s in 1928 was without doubt the great days of the legendary St Hilda Colliery Band when they were awarded the honour of Champion Band of Great Britain in 1912 1920, 1921, 1924 and 1926. It is generally accepted that if it were not for the war years when the contest was suspended St Hilda’s would have been a difficult band to beat.

Although throughout the glory days of St Hilda’s Black Dyke were rarely out of the top six but 1928 was the bands turning point when on Saturday 29th they lined up against fourteen other bands to take on Gustav Holst’s ‘A Moorside Suite’. Playing off number four and under the baton of their professional conductor William Halliwell the band had to wait until after the evening massed band concert and a performance of ‘Alpine Echoes’ by guest soloist Jack Mackintosh to find out they were the winners with Harton Colliery, Carlisle St Stephen’s Band, Foden’s Motor Works, Callender’s Cable works and Creswell Colliery Band taking the runners up prizes. William Halliwell conducted six bands in the Championship Section with three of them taking home prizes.

Black Dyke Mills Band after their 1928 win at the National Championships
Black Dyke Mills Band after their 1928 win at the National Championships

It was in Hull some 72 years earlier that Black Dyke under the baton of Samuel Longbottom had entered their first contest and awarded the second prize. From that first tentative outing the band achieved an unprecedented level of success in the contesting field. It is often asked how do they do it……….?

Looking down the names of the members of the band, continuity, rare changes in personnel particularly the principal positions including the Bandmaster and professional Musical Director does seem to have played a significant part in the bands success.

As was tradition Black Dyke returned to a heroes welcome when they arrived back in Bradford and their home base of Queensbury - with some of the crowd still able to remember the last time they shout and cheered home their conquering heroes back and that was in 1902 after John Gladney had taken them to a fine Crystal Palace win.
“…You have in this country that superannuated obsolete, beastly, disgusting, noisy, horrid method of making music in sheer abundance known as the brass band…“, that comment was attributed to Sir Thomas Beecham a few days after the contest. The October 6th issue of the British Bandsman answered that charge with their correspondent Broadacre saying “… A lot of people considered him a crank for sometime; they will be sure they are right now. I think he has never heard a good brass band or he would not talk in such a daft way…”

The same issue also carried the following letter to the editor:

Dear Mr Editor

Thank you for inviting me to write this year’s test piece - I hope you will ask me again some time for I thoroughly enjoyed doing so and was both impressed and delighted with the performances I heard last Saturday. Although, I have heard occasional brass concerts from time to time it is over thirty years since I was in close touch with brass bands and the contrast was most interesting. The improvement that I noticed was all in the direction of real musicianship. In the old days there were many bandmasters who were excellent at teaching the technique of each instrument and there were many bands whose soloists were capable of wonderful feats of agility.

But last Saturday I listened to musicians conducted by musicians - there were different ideas of interpretation but they were all musical ideas. I heard no interpretation that did not grow out of the music itself and perhaps my greatest joy was in the flexibility of the rhythm of the best bands. I was a little disappointed that certain Cornet and Euphonium soloists still indulge in a vibrato when the music calls for a calm, smooth cantabile and I noticed another weakness that - unlike the vibrato - I do not remember from the old days. When certain soloists had four even quavers to play slowly they made the last two a dotted quaver followed by a semi-quaver. This was occasionally a serious blot on what was otherwise beautiful playing.

These were my only disappointments and there is much to be said on the other side. I have mentioned my greatest delight - the flexibility of rhythm as compared to the rather heavy wooden playing. I have heard sometimes in former years. To this I would add the power of steady crescendo from ppp to ff or vice versa and variety of tone colour.

Having been a Trombone player myself I can appreciate all I heard very thoroughly and while congratulating the many players I heard that afternoon I also congratulate myself having a new work produced with such enthusiasm, understanding and musicianship…….

Yours sincerely


John Henry Isles the founder of the Crystal Palace contest answered Sir Thomas Beecham when he presented the 1000 guineas trophy at the Victoria Hall, Queensbury by saying, “…England stands supreme so far as brass bands are concerned and that is something of which Sir Thomas Beecham, if he is an Englishman in his heart should be proud of as we ourselves are…“, comments that were greeted with rapturous applause from a pack audience. Arthur O. Pearce had sent a challenge to Sir Thomas to come to the presentation and listen to the band – needless to say he was conspicuous by his absence – his comments were largely dismissed as a tantrum.
Whilst Mr William Halliwell was presented with a fountain pen every player received a medal and Arthur O. Pearce was given a gold watch by the Foster family. The band closed the evening with a performance of the test piece with the last few bars being drowned out once again by the rapturous applause. Only recently I was able to transfer a rather scratchy old 78 of this performance on to CD and enjoy the performance once again without the fear of losing the performance by damaging the delicate original recording.

In 1933 Arthur celebrated 21 years as Black Dyke’s bandmaster and during that time had led the band to winning over £16,000 in prize money, including 29 challenge trophies, 14 instruments, 39 gold medals, 35 silver medals. The band was placed first on 18 occasions, second on 19 occasions, third 5 times and fourth 5 times. Included in this remarkable record was winning the World’s Championship once and second 4 times, two years in succession the £1,500 Gold Shield at Glasgow when each player was also awarded a gold medal, the £250 challenge bowl at Newcastle twice in succession, Firhill, Glasgow in 1931 when they won the International Contest Challenge Cup and £100.

Under Arthur O. Pearce the band had an unprecedented success on the contest platform but the band were also carrying out an equally unprecedented number of prestigious concerts the length and breadth of the country a number which has been estimated to have been between 100 and 150 annually. In the summer 1933 he led the band on a 4000 mile tour which had only been beaten in the 1906 when the band went on their America and Canada trip when on that occasion they travelled 15,000 gave over 200 performances in five months. On that memorable trip one concert in Montreal was performed in front of over 40,000 people - comparisons between Black Dyke and the great John Philip Sousa was talked of.

This exhaustive series of concert performances throughout the United Kingdom had to be completed in eight weeks. For travelling purposes this particular tour also saw the band using a motor coach for the first time. Their first port of call after leaving was Southend where they were engaged from June the 25th to the 1st of July. From the following day through to the 4th of July they were performing at Grays in Essex, from there they were at Reading; Chippenham, Wiltshire; Sidmouth in Devon and on the 7th of July they were performing at Camborne some twenty miles from Lands End. Between the 8th and 13th of July they were engaged at Plymouth. They came off the concert platform at 9.30pm at their last Plymouth engagement and within the hour were on the move again, this time back to Leeds. At Leeds they left their motor coach behind and travelled by train to Glasgow where they were booked to perform a concert on the 16th. Between the 17th and 23rd of July they were performing a series of concerts in the Princess Street Gardens in Edinburgh. From Edinburgh they travelled to Dunfermline performing concerts from the 24th through to the 29th. The following day they were on the move again back south to York where they once again joined up with the motor coach and travelled south to Hyde Park in London where they had been booked to perform daily concerts from the 30th July to the 5th of August.

From London they travelled back north to perform in Stoke and then on to Liverpool where they joined the boat for Dublin. I suppose you might be left thinking how did they deal with the more mundane matters of laundry on this almost non-stop journey. Well, all their laundry requirements were sent back to Queensbury and once washed, cleaned, ironed and presses they were sent on to a advanced destination where it would be there waiting for their collection. How many pieces of music would you play on this length of tour?, a band of Black Dyke’s standing would not be playing the same programme all the time but just how many pieces they took with them I can only begin to estimate or guess - I can say however, that the media reported at the time the music they did take weighed in at six hundredweights. On the 8th of August the band were playing at the Royal Horse Show, Dublin where they had been booked to perform daily through to the 11th. Once again timing was crucial – leaving the Dublin stage at 7pm they were back on the boat by 11pm and arriving back in Liverpool by 6am the 12th. No sooner had they disembarked than they were off again by motor coach to Hastings where they arrived twelve and half-hours later. Concerts were performed in Hastings daily through until the 19th. On the 20th the band performed in Kettering and on the following day the last day of the most hectic tour the band had embarked on since 1906 the band performed in Derby and then what must have seemed the comparatively short journey back home to Queensbury.

Arthur and Lucy had one daughter Edith Oakes Pearce who was born on the 24th of December 1902 and in April 1929 – she married Ernest Walker the eldest son of Mr and Mrs Albert Walker of Shelf. The Pearce family lived at 25 Lyon Street Queensbury at the time and Arthur accompanied his daughter to the Holy Trinity Church, Queensbury and after the service the two families held a luncheon at the Assembly Rooms before the couple travelled to Southport for their honeymoon. They were to later make their home at Wade House Avenue, Shelf in Bradford.

Tragedy struck the young married couple four years later when on the 16th of September 1933 Edith died of heart failure whilst under anaesthetic at the Bradford Royal Infirmary. The funeral took place on the 20th of September when she was interred at Queensbury. Some twelve months earlier she had given birth to Arthur’s first grandchild but sadly the child died shortly after its birth and was interred at Coley Church Cemetery on the outskirts of Halifax.

It was a rare event for Arthur to miss an engagement but in 1936 the band’s Euphonium player Percy Shaw had to stand in for him because he was admitted into hospital for major surgery for a serious illness.

On a happier note Arthur celebrated another milestone in 1937 on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as conductor when he was given a warm tribute at the Granby Hotel in Queensbury where a number of presentations took place in his honour.

In reply to the warm words of gratitude and thanks he told the assembled gathering that it had been J. Weston Nicholls who had first recommended that he consider the post – and it was not until sometime later that Colonel Herbert Foster informed him of Mr Nicholls intervention. During his 25 years he had won the band £10,584 in prize money – 24 first prizes, 26 second prizes, 11 third prizes, 7 fourth prizes and 4 fifth prizes. At Belle Vue the band had completed 15 times and been unplaced only four times and had been placed first twice (1914 & 1935), second three times (1917, 1922 & 1934) and third three times (1916, 1921 & 1937). In a total of 19 contest at the Crystal Palace twelve prizes had been won which included first prize once (1928), second five times (1923, 1924, 1930, 1932 & 1936). At the four Glasgow International contests they took the first prize three times and the second prize of the fourth.

On this special occasion the band members presented him with an inscribed clock ‘…Presented to Arthur O. Pearce by members of the Black Dyke Mills Band in recognition of 25 years service as Bandmaster 1912-1937…’

The band personnel present at the auspicious occasion included - Soprano: Bernard Burns who joined the band in 1931; Principal Cornet: Harold Jackson; Solo Cornets; Willie Lang who had been a member since 1938, Albert Brown a member from 1928 and G. MacDonald; Repiano: Owen Bottomley who had joined at the age of 12 in 1915 and who’s father Tom had played for Black Dyke for 30 years; Flugel: A. MacDonald; 2nd Cornets: H. Smith and Harry Nelson who had also joined the band in 1931; 3rd Cornet; Arthur Oldfield who had joined in 1916 and who’s grandfather took part in the first Crystal Palace contest back in 1860 and was a member of the band until 1882): Solo Horn: Joe Wood; 1st Horn: Leslie Langford; 2nd Horn: Lewis Swingler; First Baritone: T.H. Beckwith; 2nd Baritone: E. Hey; Solo Euphonium and tenor vocalist: Rowland Jones; 2nd Euphonium: Percy Shaw; Solo Trombone: Hayden R. Robinson a member from 1926; 2nd Trombone: Ronnie Fawthrop; Bass Trombone: E. Clegg; Eb Basses: Herbert Avery and Ernest Keaton who joined the band in 1918 five years after his father; Bb Basses: Wilfred Kershaw a member since 1933 and Harry Atkinson and Drums: H. Burnley.

William Halliwell the band’s professional conductor for the past fourteen years said “…It was not an easy task being a bandmaster. A band is not only a musical organisation but a social organisation as well, containing men with different temperaments and it needed a good bandmaster to know when to step in and when to step out – Arthur O. Pearce was a personal friend of each member of the band and for that reason had never found it necessary to put his foot down harshly…”, with those words and the applause that followed he presented him with an inscribed silver safety razor and Colonel E.H. Foster J.P. on behalf of the company presented him with an inscribed silver casket.

Arthur O. Pearce’s family still have those gifts today...

At the 1939 Royal Albert Hall massed band concert an audience of 5000 were treated to an event led by the 75-year-old founder of the annual Promenade Concerts Sir Henry Wood. He was conducting a massed brass band concert for the first time and the first he had conducted for over forty years.

His comments after the concert were in complete contrast to the remarks made by Sir Thomas Beecham back in 1928 and described the whole performance given by Black Dyke Mills, Foden’s Motor Works, City of Coventry, Fairey Aviation Works, Enfield Central and Luton bands as pure velvet.

William Halliwell held the professional conductors’ post from 1922 through to 1940, on his retirement it was decided the role of the professional conductor would cease and Arthur O. Pearce would take on both roles. However, in 1947 this decision was reversed with the appointment of Harry Mortimer who for the three previous years had been the BBC’s director of Brass Band music.

At the National Brass Band Championships of 1947 playing off number 15 Black Dyke took to the stage as the penultimate band in the contest playing Hubert Bath’s test piece ‘Freedom’ – as his first outing with the band he led them to the first prize - two points ahead of the Fairey Aviation Band who he also conducted and following his success again in 1948 and 1949 he completed the ‘hat trick ‘of wins with Black Dyke Mills Band.

January 1949 saw the last public appearance of A.O.P. leading his beloved Black Dyke at the age of 77 he had decided it was time to retire with the Victoria Hall at Halifax being the most appropriate venue as it was here where it all started 37 years earlier when in 1912 he led the band in public for the first time.

During in the war years of 1939 to 1945 he was the conductor of the Halifax Special Constabulary Band when he led the band at over 178 concerts where an entry fee was never charged and also leading the band at many broadcasts. However, between 1925 and 1948 he led Black Dyke through a total of 205 broadcasts for the BBC alone.

Looking through some of the many gifts he received on his retirement with Joe Wood in 1950 who had the unenviable task of stepping in AOP’s shoes following his retirement.

During the 37 years he was at Black dyke he was estimated to have won £12, 561 in prize money a total of 51 first prizes, 37 second prizes and 17 thirds, 8 fourths and 5 fifths. He led the band through well over 225 BBC broadcasts between 1925 and 1948.

The Iles Medal is awarded by the Worshipful Company of Musicians for significant contributions to the brass band movement it seemed fitting that Arthur O. Pearce was chosen to be the first recipient of the medal and it on the 11th of January 1948 when he was presented with the medal at the Temperance Hall in Huddersfield during one of the band’s broadcasts.

On Saturday the 17th of January 1951, aged 79 years Arthur O. Pearce died – during his 37 years with Black Dyke he had conducted before some of the country’s leading musicians notably Sir Edward Elgar who in 1930 had visited Queensbury to witness a performance of his composition ‘The Severn Suite’, Sir Granville Bantock and Joseph Holbrooke but to name three.

The Reverend Eric Bilton who officiated at his funeral summed up the whole of the band world’s thoughts at the conclusion of his final address by saying “…That through his work with the Black Dyke Mills Band Mr Pearce had revealed the quality of his heart and his ability. He and the band had uplifted millions of people. The attainments of Mr Arthur Pearce will serve as a spur and an incentive. We will always remember the West Riding maker of music…” He was laid to rest at Queensbury Cemetery in the family grave – along side his wife who had died in 1945 - Mr Pearce left a son. On his death certificate dated January 13th 1951 his occupation is shown as a textile mill maintenance engineer (retired) and the Bandmaster of Black Dyke Mills Band.

Well, there is one thing for sure, it is highly unlikely that any other brass band personality will have a reference to their band included on their death certificate. Although he will not be remembered for his maintenance engineering skills he will never be forgotten for the dedication and success he brought to the Black Dyke Mills Band over his 37 years as their Musical Director and the dignity he brought to the brass band movement to a whole - Arthur Oakes Pearce was the Prime Minister of Bandmasters….

On that rain swept day in 1951 amongst those players taking part at the funeral was a young Geoffrey Whitham who on reflection has vivid memories of that day and of Arthur O. Pearce.

“…Arthur Pearce was a strict disciplinarian but a very fair man, everybody in the band was treated as equal – his only aim was always for the good of his band. In 1947 I was a young boy working in the Spinning Office at John Foster’s and Sons when a call came on the internal phone for me to go and see Mr Pearce at his place of work. On my arrival he said “Last night I sacked the 2nd Baritone player- not for his playing but because we wouldn’t help with the kit, I am offering you the job on a month’s trial…” Of course I accepted but he made me ring my father for his permission, of course he gave it and I was told to pick up the baritone after work at the bandroom – he went on to say that should I slip up either playing or in my behaviour I too would be out.

At my first rehearsal with the band I wanted to do everything right – I was tapping my foot for the timing he yelled at me”…keep it still…” and scared me to death. We young ones had to be at the bandroom at 7.00 o’clock on Monday and Thursday evenings to help with putting the music out for the rehearsal. He would then tell us the history of the band until everyone else arrived and the rehearsal started at 7.30pm, exactly – not a minute before, not a minute after he’d finish at 9.30pm, on the dot. For the last 15 minutes of a rehearsal we would rehearse part of a test piece or one of the many manuscripts that the band owned. The reason for this was that for broadcasting there was always an original in rehearsal.

In the October of that year the band won the National Championships for the first of a ‘hat trick…’ of wins. Harry Mortimer conducted the band at the Royal Albert Hall, although the programme notes indicated A.O. Pearce as conductor. It was after the 1948 win that Mr Pearce retired.

I played at Arthur Pearce’s retirement concert which was held in Halifax, a concert that Brighouse and Rastrick also took part in as he was one of their former cornet players in his younger days. A lasting memory from that concert was when Willie Lang and Harry Mortimer played the cornet duet ‘Ida and Dot’ together with both bands being conducted by Fred Mortimer.

I am of the opinion that Arthur O. Pearce has been the best bandmaster throughout the brass band movement…”

© Chris Helme

Previous 'Thanks for the Memory' articles:

• No. 8: James Scott - more...
• No. 7: Sounds of the 70’s - Yorkshire Imps - more...
• No. 6: David Read - more...
• No. 5: Derek Southcott - more...
• No. 4: Rowland Jones - more...
• No. 3: Louis Allison - more...
• No. 2: Willie Barr - more...
• No. 1: Derek Garside - more...

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