A road report from the 2014 Whit Friday Brass Band Contest at Stalybridge Labour Club, Acres Lane.
I made a tough decision this Whit Friday. Instead of going to Greenfield, I elected to stay at Stalybridge Labour Club and see out the contest there. There was a multitude of factors that influenced my decision. One was avoiding the once yearly train travellers often seen in a state of inebriation waiting for the 2326 to Stalybridge and Manchester Victoria. Another was the lure of five real ales.
By the end of the night, it turned out to be a move for the better, in spite of the fact most of the Championship and First Section bands were up in the Saddleworth area. Even so, there was a steady stream of bands and a number of brass bands from North Wales, Cheshire and the Midlands who I would have missed at Greenfield.
In the years I have frequented the Stalybridge Labour Club contest, there had often been a lull between bands lasting 10 to 15 minutes. Sticking with the Labour Club, I expect more of the same. How wrong I was: the lull lasted for forty minutes, but that was from 4.30pm to 5.08pm. Then the bands kept on coming, with the same sort of efficiency I was used to at the Greenfield contest. The last band began playing at 11.25pm.
My journey, along with my old man (whose old man played soprano cornet for Tintwistle, Stalybridge Old Band and Mossley) began as with most Whit Fridays: the 1645 to Oldham  of course. On finding no band on at 5pm we thought ‘uh oh, could be a lean spell’. Then came our first band, Mossley.
- Mossley Band (1), High Command;
- New Mills (4), Cross of Honour;
- Whaley Bridge (4), Punchinello;
- Tintwistle (2), Viva Birkenshaw;
- Hawk Green (3), Mephistopheles.
Mossley opened with the contest march High Command. They were led out by three people carrying a banner to commemorate the 130th Anniversary of the first Whit Friday Brass Band Contests in Mossley, Uppermill and Stalybridge. The first five bands came from in and around the Pennine foothills. Band number six would come from the Netherlands.
- Constantijn Huygens (4), Ravenswood;
- Macclesfield Youth (Y), Westward Ho!;
- Greenfield (4), Mephistopheles;
- Audenshaw School (Y), True and Trusty;
- St. John’s Castle Droylsden (4), Castell Coch.
Band number six was an exception to the mainly local nature of the first ten. Macclesfield Youth would continue their successful trail throughout the Tameside contests, minutes after coming in from Bower Fold. Greenfield would become the only Saddleworth band to visit the Labour Club. Making their Stalybridge début was Audenshaw School. The band made their contest début last year at Aldwinians and Denton contests. In Stalybridge, they didn’t disappoint with True and Trusty. After the arrival of St. John’s Castle Droylsden came the Labour Club’s first Championship Section band.
- Rothwell Temperance (C), The Wizard;
- Port Sunlight Lyceum Brass (4), The Senator;
- Yorkshire Traction Honley Band (4), Castell Coch;
- Stalybridge Old Band (3), Mephistopheles;
- East Yorkshire Motor Services (C), Knight Templar.
Rothwell Temperance Band opted for The Wizard, which by the end of the night would be the most popular contest march. Band fourteen was Stalybridge Old Band, being the second third section band to play Mephistopheles. It was a performance which led to them being the second best local band on the night, ahead of Mossley and Greenfield though behind Ashton-under-Lyne. East Yorkshire Motor Services band, second Championship band of the night, was the first to play Knight Templar.
- Eccles Borough (2), The Australasian;
- Bradley Brass (4), Enchantress;
- Gwernaffield Silver (4), Castell Coch;
- Jaguar Land Rover (C), The President;
- The Camping and Caravanning Band (3), Star Lake.
Playing William Rimmer’s The Australasian was Eccles Borough, in a nod to the nationality of their conductor. Two Welsh bands would follow: Bradley Brass (from Wrexham, not a few miles north of Huddersfield as I presumed) and from Mold, Fflintshire, Gwernaffield Silver Band. The former played Enchantress, a march new to my ears written by Henry Maylath in 1884 (ironically the year of Stalybridge’s first contest).
Jaguar Land Rover would be the first band of the night to play The President, a favoured contest march of Fodens. From what I heard of it, very good as I was trying to note down the rest of the bands in my programme. Making their usual visit to the Stalybridge Labour Club contest was the Camping and Caravanning Club brass band, playing the Salvationist piece Star Lake.
- Thoresby Colliery (C), The Senator;
- Penrith Town (4), Westward Ho!;
- Old Hall Brass (3), O.R.B.;
- Wirral Schools (Y), Westward Ho!;
- Fodens (C), The President.
21 years after Grimethorpe Colliery Band saw its pit face closure, another Championship Section band entered the Labour Club in a similar situation. This time, Thoresby Colliery, whose pit is set to close along with Kellingley next April. Their band played The Senator. Penrith Town and Wirral Schools (the latter for whom all four Stalybridge contests proved fruitful) played Westward Ho!. The 25th band would be the ever-dependable and formidable Fodens with The President.
That night’s performance proved the Sandbach band’s dominance in the Tameside contests. More so in Stalybridge Labour Club where they have had a proud run over the last fifteen years. Coming on after the defending champions…
- Besses Boys (2), Honest Toil;
- Wakefield Metropolitan Band (1), Battle Abbey;
- Hazel Grove (2), Knight Templar;
- Pemberton Old DW (C), The Wizard;
- Long Eaton Silver Prize Band (2), Knight of the Road.
Just over half way through the contest, this year’s remained a dependable source for North Western, Midlands and Welsh brass bands. Pemberton Old DW band impressed, and became runners up to Fodens. The next five bands would confirm this pattern.
- Vernon Building Society Poynton (1), The Wizard;
- Nelson Brass (3), High Command;
- Valley Brass (4), Raby;
- Mossley Hollins Band (Y), Pathfinder;
- Lindley Band (2), The Avenger.
Our second Youth band of the second half of the contest, Mossley Hollins School would pick up the Best Youth prize at our venue. Valley Brass surprised us when they played Raby, a favourite contest march of mine that I hadn’t heard for ages.
- Denton Brass (4), The Contestor;
- Holywell (4), Knight Templar;
- The Band of the King’s Division (NC), The President;
- Bollington Brass (C), Knight Templar;
- Northop Brass (4), San Marino.
For a while, it seemed as if Fodens’ crown would have been unchallenged. Band 38 would quash that myth.
Hailing from Preston was The Band of the King’s Division, one of three professional brass bands of the British Army. On deportment, they seemed to be clear winners attracting a standing ovation from spectators. They played as well as they looked, with their mastery of The President equal to – or surpassing perhaps – the defending champions. The musicians from Weeton barracks attracted a standing ovation seconds after finishing. I, a pacifist, was equally lifted to do likewise being impressed by their performance, thinking ‘game on’.
- Northop Silver Band (C), The Wizard;
- Ashton-under-Lyne (1), The Wizard;
- Skelmanthorpe (C), Ravenswood;
- Trentham Brass (3), Ravenswood;
- Enfield and Potters Bar (4), The Black Knight.
Another seven bands after our fellows from Weeton would follow with our last two bands from Wales among the cohort. After Northop Brass and Northop Silver Band (last year’s runners-up) came our last local band: Ashton-under-Lyne. Their mastery of The Wizard would pay dividends, clinching them the Best Local title. There was I thinking ‘that’s it for 2014’ but another three would follow.
Our last band of the night travelled the second farthest distance to the Labour Club. Enfield and Potters Bar closed proceedings with The Black Knight, another contest march I hadn’t heard for ages. Shortly after they finished, we left the Labour Club at about the same time the Greenfield Beerex would have approached Mossley. With raised voices and a drunken atmosphere, on a Sprinter, or a Pacer unit in the very worst case scenario.
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For me, this was the best organised Stalybridge contest of the post-SIDS era. Previously, the 10.30pm cut-off point seemed to have meant no more bands afterwards. Instead, and quite rightly, 10.30pm was the cut-off point for registration – hence the last band finishing for 11.30pm.
There was only one drawback: bar queues. Both the members’ only and public bars had lengthy queues, a problem which could have been alleviated by an outdoor bar. Some spectators circumvented this by bringing their own drinks and having a picnic. Owing to the good weather there was a great turnout, probably a good 50% higher than previous contests.
The mobile coffee shop and Hell’s Kitchen burger van was a good addition to the contest and an improvement on the barbecue they had on one year (no charcoal smell wafting in the direction of the spectators or the band). They paled into insignificance compared with the tasty treat of the night: the home made Meat and Potato Pie with Peas priced at £3.00 each. As for the real ales, absolutely flawless as you would expect from CAMRA High Peak and North East Cheshire Branch’s Club of the Year.
The 2014 contest’s 45 bands was above average on previous numbers at the Labour Club contest – up six on last year’s blustery Whit Friday. Even so, 12 short of the all-time record set in 1987 when 57 bands came to its previous venue at SIDS, Castle Street.
I wonder what next year will bring? Will my verdict be sullied by braving the 2326 Zombie Express, or will I remain loyal to the Stalybridge cause? Not having to do the former could well sway my decision again.
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1. Number of bands by section:
Local fourth section bands dominated this year’s contest, with Championship bands the second highest group in our figures.
- Championship: 9;
- First Section: 4;
- Second Section: 6;
- Third Section: 6;
- Fourth Section: 15;
- Youth Section: 4;
- Unclassified: 1.
2. Numbers of bands by region:
More than half the bands at Stalybridge Labour Club came from the North West of England. Please note that the regions below are based on National Brass Band Championship boundaries rather than European Union Parliamentary Constituencies.
- North West: 24;
- North of England: 1 (Penrith Town);
- Yorkshire: 6;
- Midlands: 7;
- Wales: 5;
- London and Southern Counties: 1 (Enfield and Potters Bar);
- Other, within the EU: 1 (Constantijn Huygens, The Netherlands).
3. Most Popular Contest Pieces:
It was very much a Wizard year, if taking individual pieces into account. By composer, contest pieces written by George Allan and William Rimmer were the most popular. There was quite a variation.
- The Wizard (George Allan): 5;
- Knight Templar (George Allan): 4;
- The President (William German): 3;
- Castell Coch (Thomas J. Powell): 3;
- Mephistopheles (Shipley Douglas): 3;
- Ravenswood (William Rimmer): 3;
- Westward Ho! (Edwin Firth): 3;
- High Command (Wilbur Sampson): 2;
- The Senator (George Allan): 2;
- Cross of Honour (William Rimmer): 1;
- O.R.B. (Charles Anderson): 1;
- Viva Birkenshaw (William Rimmer): 1;
- The Australasian (J. Ord Hume): 1;
- Honest Toil (William Rimmer): 1;
- Punchinello (William Rimmer): 1;
- Battle Abbey (George Allan): 1;
- Raby (George Allan): 1;
- The Black Knight (William Rimmer): 1;
- Knight of the Road (William Rimmer): 1;
- True and Trusty (John A. Greenwood): 1;
- Pathfinder (John A. Greenwood): 1;
- The Contestor (Thomas J. Powell): 1;
- Enchantress (Henry Maylath): 1;
- The Avenger (Karl King): 1;
- Star Lake (Eric Ball): 1;
- San Marino: 1.
First band to play: Mossley Band (High Command, 5.08pm)
First contest for: Audenshaw School (True and Trusty)
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There goes Whit Friday 2014, a truly wonderful date in the calendar. Next year, Whit Friday will fall on the 29 May 2015, so please remember to save the date.
S.V., 16 June 2014.