The Joys of Brass Bands Live at the BBC

Sunday night concerts at the Boarshurst Band Club

Boarshurst Band, Armentieres Square, Stalybridge
Boarshurst Silver Band, seen on the 2015 Whit Sunday walks in Stalybridge, Cheshire.

Within its 20,000 population, the villages that make up Saddleworth have a healthy number of brass bands. From the Championship to Youth Sections, they form an integral part of the area’s traditions and livelihoods. Whit Friday is as important as Christmas for its populace.

To help with financing each band’s instruments and entry fees for each contest, is the Band Club. Their role is more than a meeting point and rehearsal facility. It is part of each community, filling a gap which community centres would have otherwise provided. Some are also ports of call for local sports clubs, providing each club with guaranteed custom and the sale of 11 pints of beer at the very least. Some also assume the guise of occasional cinemas.

The highpoint – and showcase – for the club’s own brass band, and other brass bands, is a regular programme of concerts. For the most part of the last four decades, weekly concerts are a feature of the Boarshurst Band Club. With popular local support, Sunday nights at 8pm plays host to a number of local brass bands, of varying sections.

A BBC Session, Saddleworth Style

The Boarshurst Band Club’s Sunday evening concerts start at 8pm. Prices vary according to each brass band’s section. A Championship Section or First Section band, like Hebden Bridge, is slightly more expensive than admission to a Fourth Section brass band, such as Greenfield. Prices range from £4 to £8 with a £1 discount for members of the Boarshurst Band Club.

On a regular Sunday, the doors open for 7pm. For better known brass bands, or the Boarshurst Silver Band Christmas Concert, it is best to arrive early as possible. For the Christmas concerts, it is the norm for its volunteers and players to find every spare chair possible. By 7.30pm, it is standing room only in their Christmas Concerts (though standees have the consolation of abstaining from The Twelve Days of Christmas).

Vernon is the gatekeeper each Sunday night, handling the admission and encouraging guests to sign the visitors’ book. Entry to the concert room is via the club’s rear entrance which backs onto the car park. There is two rooms on the ground floor, with the members’ room the smaller of the two. The concert room is the nerve centre of each gig. Both rooms are served by the bar, which is sandwiched between the concert room and the members’ room.

Each band assembles by 7.55pm before the Master of Ceremonies, John Whittle, takes to the podium and introduces the band. Most of the volunteers, bar staff and John himself, are involved in Boarshurst Silver Band as players themselves. Most of the brass bands which frequent the BBC on Greenbridge Lane are within a 30 mile radius of the club itself.

From my regular visits, there is seldom any duplication of pieces between bands. Many observe the traditional running order of a brass band concert. This is usually a rousing contest march, then an overture followed by the first soloist piece. Following on would be a traditional hymn, then a piece of popular music adapted for brass band, your second soloist, and a rousing piece to round off the first half. Some insist on opening their programme with the British National Anthem.

Then a slightly similar running order in the second half, showcasing another two soloists, and – usually for the last piece of the programme – a more bombastic piece. Then an encore. At Boarshurst Band Club, the halfway point of the second half is marked by its raffle draw. Raffle tickets are sold by the strip during the interval with three or four prizes the norm.

After the encore piece is played, the village’s brass band lovers – bar a few stragglers (myself and my father mostly) – leave the club at around 10.10pm. The bar closes twenty minutes later, by which point the tables and chairs had been moved from the concert room. Everything is done for 11pm, which incidentally happens to be the same time when the Golden House chippy closes for the night. Also (if you add four minutes), the departure time of the last 350 bus to Ashton-under-Lyne.

Getting There

The best way of getting to Boarshurst Band Club on public transport is by bus, with the train a distant second. From Oldham and Manchester, it is First Greater Manchester’s 180 service which provides the village’s link with the two places. Taking the more picturesque route to Oldham (via Uppermill, Dobcross and Delph) or Mossley and Ashton-under-Lyne is the 350 service (First Greater Manchester; Stagecoach in Manchester after 6.30pm).

The bus stop for Boarshurst Band Club is 2 minutes walk away on Chew Valley Road, near to Greenfield Conservative Club. Should you choose the train from Huddersfield, Stalybridge or Manchester Victoria, Greenfield railway station is 7 to 10 minutes walk away. The journey back involves scaling the steep bend on Shaw Hall Bank Road.

Ticket wise, System One Travelcards’ Any Bus DaySaver offers the best value, though an off-peak return from Ashton-under-Lyne or Stalybridge by train still gives you change from a fiver. Towards Manchester, the last Sunday train from Greenfield is 2236, but the last Huddersfield bound train at 2137 is 30 minutes before the concert’s average finishing time.

Please note that scheduled rail services may be subject to change due to engineering works, and their replacement by buses or coaches. (At this time of writing, rail replacement buses are in operation on the Huddersfield line between now and the 17 April 2016).

A Great Night

If you’ve never been to any of the concerts at the Boarshurst Band Club, you are missing a good Sunday night. The atmosphere from its audience and the bands is a joy to behold for its warmth, polite applause and appreciation. It is also an affordable way of seeing some good brass bands a short distance from home.

Whether you choose to catch the 180 or 350 buses, or the train to and from Manchester Victoria, it is within half an hour of Oldham, Ashton-under-Lyne or Manchester city centre. By car, you should get to Boarshurst from Stockport or Huddersfield within 30 minutes drive and car parking is free.

The Boarshurst Band Club opens their 2016 season of Sunday Brass concerts on the 31 January with Marple Band. Doors open at 7pm for 8pm start. Boarshurst Band Club, Greenbridge Lane, Greenfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, OL3 7EW.

Twitter details: @boarshurstband#SundayBrass.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

S.V., 27 January 2016.

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