An easy to digest guide on the Whit Friday march pieces
Newcomers, and even some hardened visitors to the Whit Friday brass band contests may be at a loss as to which piece is which. East of the M60‘s crib sheet will help you with reference to each piece and its composers.
* * *
Knight Templar: a firm favourite among higher section brass bands and listeners, it was a favourite piece of the Black Dyke Mills Brass Band. The piece is named after the Knights Templar. It was written by the New Shildon born composer George Allan (1864 – 1930). Outside of brass banding, Mr Allan spent his professional life as a wagon painter at Shildon Works. Other works of his include:
The Wizard: a rousing piece which has seen a rise in popularity over the last decade. It has been a favourite piece of Hepworth Silver Band which has gained them much success at competitive level.
Battle Abbey: a favoured contest march piece among third and fourth section brass bands. Often overshadowed by The Cossack or The Contestor. It is named after a partially ruined abbey in East Sussex originally known as the Monastry of St. Martin of Battle.
Raby: a favoured contest march among second and third section bands. It is named after a castle in County Durham, not a million miles away from George Allan’s birthplace.
The Senator: as melodic as Knight Templar, though with less fluctuation in notes. Popular with second and third section bands.
Barnard Castle: popular with third, fourth and youth section bands, this piece was composed by Goff Richards (1944 – 2011). It is named after the County Durham town and its eponymous castle.
Cornish Cavalier: written by W.E. Moyle, this too is popular with third, fourth and youth section bands.
O.R.B.: often referred to in its acronymous form, the full title is ‘Oldham Rifle Brigade’. Composed by Charles Anderson, it was written for the Oldham Rifle Brigade band whom he conducted. The band had great success in the Whit Friday contests during Edwardian times. It is a popular contest march among first to third section bands.
Roll Away Bet: written by J. Ord Hume, it was originally written as a challenging piece for Lindley Band (whom in 1900 were British Open Champions).At the turn of the 19th century, they were the best brass band going – on a similar level to Black Dyke and Brighouse and Rastrick bands are today. It was thought that any band could walk the contest if they played Roll Away Bet perfectly. It is an often overlooked piece, though one played by section one and two bands. In the last decade, another J. Ord Hume piece has gained popularity…
The Elephant: popular with second to fourth and youth section bands, it is a more rousing piece. Whilst The Elephant was being written, J. Ord Hume was working with Newtown Silver Band. He was staying at The Elephant and Castle Hotel, on the banks of the River Severn at the time. Therefore, the hotel he stayed in was also the title of his piece.
B.B. and C.F.: J. Ord Hume was commissioned by John Henry Iles to write this piece to commemorate the merger of two brass banding magazines. ‘B B’ stands for ‘British Bandsman’ whereas ‘C F’ stood for ‘Contest Field’. Besides being a major player in the brass banding scene, J.H. Iles was also synonymous with the development of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens and Amusement Park.
Castell Coch: Tom (TJ) Powell (1897 – 1965) was a prolific writer of brass band marches and his most revered marches were based around Welsh castles. Dubbed ‘The Welsh Sousa’, Castell Coch was his best known piece, and overlooked his house at one time. Other pieces in the series included Castell Caerphilli, and Castell Caerdydd. All three pieces are popular compositions among third, fourth and youth section bands.
The Contestor: equally popular among lower section bands, this too came from the pen of TJ Powell.
Mephistopheles: along with Knight Templar, Mephistopheles (written by Shipley Douglas), is another firm favourite among brass band fanatics and Championship section bands. Increasingly, second and third section bands have discovered Mr Douglas’ piece, but it was the Yorkshire Imperial Metals band which made it their favoured contest piece in the 1970s. The march gets its name from a demon in German folklore, or in some sources as the Devil itself.
Pompous Main: Shipley Douglas’ more famous contest march often overshadows this number. The reason is, Pompous Main has been out of print for several years and that Whit Friday Brass Band Contest rules insist entrants only play published pieces still in circulation. It was popular among first and second section bands (back before the formation of a Championship section), though later adopted by third and fourth section bands. Time to campaign for its re-release? Wholeheartedly, yes.
Ravenswood: William Rimmer’s pieces are well represented on a typical Whit Friday contest. His best loved piece is Ravenswood, one popular among all sections. For several years, it had been a favoured contest piece of Brighouse and Rastrick’s, though they have now opted for Knight Templar. A fair number of Rimmer’s pieces have been popular with lower section and youth bands, hence:
The Harlequin: a jaunty number which has been for the last decade Elland Silver Band’s favourite contest piece. They have also found much success with The Harlequin on Whit Friday and at Hymn and March Contests in Brighouse and Hebden Bridge. The Harlequin which inspired the piece refers to a type of clown.
The Black Knight: popular among fourth section bands, it is a stirring piece. It takes its name from Arthurian folklore. It is often overlooked in favour of another Rimmer march…
The Cossack: strident in timbre, it is popular among third section bands. It takes its name from a group of mainly East Slavic people.
Slaidburn: takes its name from the Lancashire town. Popular as a deportment piece among first and second section bands, though often a contest march for fourth and youth section bands. Also featured in the first five minutes of The Full Monty, played by Stocksbridge Band.
Punchinello: as with Slaidburn, popular on deportment for first and second section bands, and as a contest piece for fourth and youth section bands. Like Harlequin, Punchinello has clown based roots, being the English translation of Pulcinella, an Italian clown depicted with a black mask.
Honest Toil: a popular contest march among Championship section and first section bands, it was popularised by Marsden Silver and Marple Bands. Popular in the late 1990s to early 2000s though often overlooked.
The Australasian: equally overlooked, The Australasian is a favoured contest march among third section bands. It refers to anyone who’s a citizen of the titular continent.
Viva Birkenshaw: whereas pieces have been honoured after fictitious characters or brass bands themselves, Viva Birkenshaw was written in honour of George Birkenshaw, a one-time cornet player for Black Dyke Mills Band. It is a popular contest piece among first and second section bands.
Victors’ Return: a rousing piece by William Rimmer which is recommended as a ‘good concert opener’. Popular among lower section bands.
The President: both Fairey and Fodens bands have made this piece their favoured contest march. It is a policy which has paid dividends with the latter band, having won the Stalybridge Labour Club contest with this over the last fifteen years. The President was written by William German and remains a popular piece among Championship section bands.
Star Lake: popular among youth section bands, Eric Ball’s piece was written whilst he was Guest of Honour at an American camp. As with The Elephant, the location inspired the piece’s name. A follow-up, entitled Star Lake 2, would be written on Mr Ball’s second visit.
Simoraine: a recent addition to the contest march scene, it has established itself as a popular piece among first section bands. The piece was written by Clive Barraclough. The title is a portmanteau of his two children, Simon and Lorraine, with the first four letters of Simon and the last five letters of Lorraine.
Great Little Army: a military march, though one which has made a seamless transition to the brass banding world. Written by Kenneth J. Alford, it has been a popular contest march for youth section brass bands.
Bramwyn: popular among second and third section bands, it was written by John R. Carr. The name ‘Bramwyn’ is another portmanteau, this time of two personal friends, Bramwell and Wyn (first four letters of former).
Centaur: in mythology, a centaur is half man half horse. This inspired a piece penned by Derek Broadbent, one popular among first and second section bands.
High Command: written by Wilbur P. Sampson in 1942. The timing of the march’s arrival couldn’t have been better, with the end of the Second World War three years off. It is a rousing, melodic piece with healthy doses of bombast for good measure. On Whit Friday, it is popular with Section 1 and 2 brass bands.
* * *
Please note, this is not a complete list. I have focused on the marches which are often played in the arena/auditorium/field. Feel free to discuss your favourite marches, or add to this already exhaustive list.
S.V., 18 May 2013 (updated on the 16 May 2016).