Two Go Mad in Briggus: The 2015 Brighouse Festival of Brass

East of the M60’s road report from the town’s fifteenth Hymn and March Brass Band Contest

Rainford Band, Brighouse Festival of Brass 2015
With only a few bands to go till the end of the 2015 contest, here’s Rainford Band playing their contest march outside Thornton Square, Brighouse.

It was almost doomed to failure. By 0125, distraught to find only rail replacement buses on the Standedge line and the ‘joys’ of an overpriced off-peak return on a bus older than anything First Greater Manchester have in regular service.

Through Hell, high water, avoiding enforced extortion attempts, we did it! We got to the 15th Hymn and March Content in a more roundabout way.

You could be forgiven for thinking “there’s a Ridley Scott film in this”. I doubt as if one of Middlesbrough’s famous sons would balk at £11.20 return to sit on a bus too old to meet TfGM’s tender requirements. Instead we paid half that and enjoyed ourselves better for doing a more scenic trip into the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Before I continue, sit back, relax, and prepare to be dazzled. It is a story involving pork pies, real cider, and 26 brass bands (though missed the first two).

Two Go Mad in Briggus

  • Starring: Stuart Vallantine;
  • Co-starring: Frank Vallantine;
  • Also featuring: 26 Brass Bands, adjudicators, Craig Whittaker MP, the Mayor of Calderdale, Brighouse Lions;
  • Buses by: First Greater Manchester, First Halifax, Yorkshire Tiger, MCT Travel;
  • Trains by: Northern Rail;
  • Catering by: Café Express, The Old Ship Inn, J.D. Wetherspoon.

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Act 1: The Cheap Sheep Route, Sunday 05 July 2015

0202: A eureka moment: 184 to Huddersfield on the outward journey; 12-reg Enviro400 over a 16 year old coach at next to millions was a no brainer.

1017: 346 to Ashton – well loaded, four minutes late. Connecting 353 in the balance.

1023: Or so we thought: ‘Spoons changeover worked wonders as usual owing to…

1032: MCT Travel’s 353 being a minute late. Which we didn’t mind as we had sufficient time to kill in Uppermill.

1102: Uppermill, sixteen minutes between alighting at The Commercial Hotel and the 184 to Huddersfield.

1117: aboard 184 to Huddersfield. Magical front two seats upstairs already bagged (bah!). Memo to self: boarding at Piccadilly Gardens or Oldham bus station would guarantee the prize spot on one of Yorkshire’s most scenic bus routes.

1117 – 1202: favourable conditions aboard the 184, always busier east of Slaithwaite; the odd sheep on the A62 (as you would expect).

1215: Huddersfield Bus Station, Café Express. With time at a premium we tried their large breakfast. Like you do, bin the baked beans in favour of a second fried egg (memo to self: go for the black pudding next time).

1238: Memo to Self #3: second egg in place of fried bread, black pudding instead of beans. Not overly keen on fried bread. Couldn’t have managed their Big Breakfast, the large one was filling enough to take me up to 6pm.

1255: 363 or 547 to Brighouse? For once, swayed by the smart 15 reg Optare Solo of Yorkshire Tiger’s fleet. The modern bus with its tiger print moquette and faux wood grain flow swayed us away from First Bradford’s Volvo B9TL. Plus the 547 is a more scenic route than the 363 service (which is all right for a fast run to Bradford).

1325: outside The Calder, eagerly awaiting the 2015 Hymn and March Contest. Found we missed the first band and just about heard the second band perform Ravenswood. The second one being South Yorkshire Police Band (who picked up the deportment prize).

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Act 2: On With The Show

This year’s contest saw 26 competing bands. At odds with recent contests, the youth section bands were drawn with the adult bands as only two youth bands entered. The two being Elland Silver Youth and Dobcross Youth.

The 2015 Brighouse Festival of Brass was a pivotal one. Firstly, Glyn Williams’ last contest as musical director for Marsden Silver Band. Secondly, a new man at the mike: BBC Radio Leeds’ Graham Ward in place of Fred Hetherington (Master of Ceremonies since the Brighouse Hymn and March Contest began in 2000). With Independence Day on the same weekend came another debut: an American brass band.

For us, our thirteenth Brighouse contest as spectators. As well as doing our bit for the local economy (especially The Old Ship Inn).

Before the twelfth band came on, Thornton Square was basked with sunshine. Deckchairs flanked the square with the Black Bull selling a variety of cakes outside. Trade from nearby shops was buoyant. Then came a thunderstorm and the mother of all showers. Me and father soaked from the waist down.

1405: first youth band of the contest, Elland Silver Youth conducted by Samantha Harrison. A fantastic performance not only for a youth band but better than some lower section bands we had heard. This was topped by their treatment of Shipley Douglas’ Mephistopheles.

1438: first call at The Old Ship Inn (which if you go to Brighouse is an unmissable pub). As with our previous visit a month ago (for the World War II weekend) they had a good range of ciders and perry on. First pint: Very Perry (5%).

1450: our friends from America, the Lake Wobegon® Brass Band dazzled Bethel Street with Stars and Stripes Forever as their chosen deportment march. Their chosen hymn was Nicaea with National Emblem their favoured contest march.

1530: Glyn Williams’ last performance at the Brighouse contest as musical director for Marsden Silver Band. As usual, On the Quarter Deck as their deportment march. Hymn: Crimond; contest march, Knight Templar. A very good performance we thought.

1540: the heavens started to open as Northop Brass took to the arena. A solid performance from the Section 3 band with Castell Coch their contest march. T.J. Powell’s piece proved to be flavour of the month, also played by Slaithwaite, Huddersfield and Ripponden, and Dobcross Youth bands.

1600: the senior Elland band appeared, this time Elland Silver Band competing with a nascent thunderstorm. At that point, the best performance with Royal Trophy, Love Unknown and The Senator.

1610: thunder and showers – S.V’s waterproof walking shoes tested to the elements as soon as Knottingley Silver Band followed Elland Silver. F.V. and S.V. take shelter in the doorway of Barclays Bank near the adjudicator’s tent, and still got soaked.

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Act 3: Any Pub in a Storm

1620: with the rain still pouring down, this called for some light refreshment. Back to The Old Ship Inn, this time for a medium cider (6.5%) with a distinctive wooden taste (could have sworn my plastic glass had a trace of Cuprinol). Still it was good.

1630: still wet, but back to Thornton Square. Deckchairs and spectators much reduced in number, S.V./F.V. find overhang to stand below. Royal Buckley Town put in a good performance.

Owing to the weather, the contest was delayed for fifteen minutes. On leaving the pub via its back door, we only missed two thirds of Knottingley’s performance.

1640: though still raining, the show continued as if nothing ever happened. Those who left early missed a fantastic performance by Wingates band. Opening with The Army of the Nile for their deportment march, they opted to play the contest march before the hymn. With the weather in mind as well as sorting their percussion section out for the hymn, this confused the next band Hepworth Silver.

After their stunning performance of Knight Templar, the next band began their deportment march with On The Quarter Deck and had to be prompted by Master of Ceremonies to stop playing. After we enjoyed their performance of George Allan’s most famous contest march, their playing of the hymn Love Unknown was faultless.

Following Wingates’ performance we thought there was going to be a new name on the trophy. As it turned out, our predictions were more accurate than Paddy Ashdown’s on BBC’s Election Night programme this year.

1700: Hepworth Silver’s performance was good with (their second attempt) at On The Quarter Deck well played. Their chosen hymn How Great Thou Art and their playing of Knight Templar too was good. This year’s contest seemed wide open.

1720: the turn of Meltham and Meltham Mills band. The cry of ‘not heard that contest march for ages’ was exclaimed by yours truly when they opted for Viva Birkenshaw. A much underrated piece.

1755: our second youth band of the afternoon, Dobcross Youth. Solid performance of T.J Powell’s Castell Coch.

1805: the penultimate Championship section band of the afternoon: Rainford Band, from the Red Rose county. Again there was a possibility of the 2015 contest being close with their playing of The Wizard comparable to Wingates’ performance.

1815: third and final call for alcohol in the White Rose county, back to one of our favoured catering partners on Bethel Street. This time a milder yet sweeter and eminently drinkable cider fused with ginger. At 4.1% Kentish Pip’s Ginger Cider was highly sessionable to a point we could have had five pints of the stuff. It was that good and turned out to be the best drink of the day. Five of which would have sorted our Five A Day out once and for all.

1850: end of contest and start of mini concert by Elland Silver Band. As is tradition prior to the results being announced, the Brighouse Hymn and March Contest has a mini concert.

1925: somehow our resistance to the Overpriced Off-Peak Return from Stalybridge to Huddersfield worked in our favour. The results were announced 15 minutes later than usual. Which, had Transpennine Express ran a normal service, would have meant missing the result or bus/rail connections from Brighouse to Huddersfield.

1940: with a better strike rate than the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, we guessed right about the closeness of this year’s contest. We knew there was no way of Elland Silver going empty handed. The results were as follows:

Overall Prizes

  • Overall Winners: Wingates Band;
  • 2nd Place: Elland Silver Band;
  • 3rd Place: Hepworth Silver Band;
  • Best Youth Band: Elland Silver Youth Band;
  • 2nd Placed Youth Band: Dobcross Youth Band;
  • Best Hymn: Wingates Band;
  • Best Contest March: Wingates Band;
  • Best Deportment March: Marsden Silver Band;
  • Deportment Prize: South Yorkshire Police Band;
  • Youth Deportment Prize: Elland Silver Youth Band.

Sectional Prizes

  • Best Section One Band: Elland Silver Band;
  • Best Section Two Band: Knottingley Silver Band;
  • Best Section Three Band: Slaithwaite Band;
  • Best Section Four Band: Huddersfield and Ripponden Band;
  • Best Unregistered Band: Thurlstone Band;
  • Best Hymn (Section Four bands): Huddersfield and Ripponden Band;
  • Best Trombone Section March: Hepworth Silver Band;
  • Best Basses: Marsden Silver Band.

Individual Prizes

  • Best Soloist: Hebden Bridge Band (Horn soloist);
  • Best Youth Soloist: Elland Silver Youth Band (Cornet soloist);
  • Best Soprano Cornet: Skelmanthorpe Band;
  • Youngest Player: Thurnstone Band (seven years old);
  • Winning Conductor: Paul Andrews, Wingates Band;
  • Outstanding Conductor: Thomas Wyss, Northop Silver Band.

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Act 4: ‘When you go home tonight, you must Take The Long Way Home…’ – John Helliwell (Supertramp and Creme Anglaise saxophonist)

1945: Brighouse bus station for the 549 to Halifax bus station, then a short transfer to the railway station.

2015: on the Manchester platform of Halifax railway station. £6.90 single to Littleborough; passes for the Greater Manchester section from Littleborough and southwards.

2020: Calder Valley line, Class 158 Sprinter Express DMU. Real contrast to fusty coach assuming guise of rail replacement bus in Stalybridge and Greenfield.

2045: passing the birthplace of Keith Emerson, Geoff Love and John Helliwell. In other words, Todmorden.

2100: Rochdale station.

2120: Manchester Victoria. Bloomin’ steps up and down from platform 4 and short walk for tram.

2123: tram? Make that train. A late running 2113 service on platform 2 to Stalybridge. Only downside: Class 142 Pacer unit of the Merseyfailer variety. Still, a suitable trade off for extra drinking time and the 2230 journey of the 346 bus to Chez Vall.

2140: The Ash Tree, Ashton-under-Lyne. No decent ciders. Instead an amicable pint of Wolf Brewery’s Your Granny Wouldn’t Like It (4.8%). A good beer to take one’s time over between buses of 1969 and 2014 leanings (the former referring to the design era of the Leyland National body on Pacer units).

2231: Wright StreetLite on the 346 home to Chez Vall. The end of a fantastic day. Through torrential rain, via a cheaper yet more scenic route. Well worth the effort.

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For anyone who loves their brass bands, you can’t afford to miss the Brighouse Festival of Brass. The high point of which being the Hymn and March Contest. I’ve been going since 2001 and have only missed the 2000 and 2011 events. Always worth the effort, from grappling with Sunday services to standing up for six hours.

Who knows, I might see you in 2016 over a pint of real cider in The Old Ship Inn or enjoying a sponge cake from the Black Bull!

S.V., 07 July 2015.

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