How Stalybridge Old Band wowed a full house at the Royal Exchange’s pop-up theatre

In the last few days, the Royal Exchange’s Den pop-up theatre has taken up residence in Stalybridge Civic Hall. It has played host to a number of original productions which reflect the borough’s rich history with encouraging support. There has been family-friendly workshops and social gatherings with more performances and workshops to come till the 24 August 2019.

Stalybridge Old Band is one of two brass bands that were around at the time of the Peterloo Massacre. The other band is Besses O’ Th’ Barn brass band, formed a year before. Stalybridge Old Band played during the event at St. Peter’s Fields. They were fed and watered near St. Peter’s Field and on 10/- per man to perform.

When the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry intervened, the band made their way back to Stalybridge via the canal towpath. Even with the strains of jeering Tory supporters in Ashton-under-Lyne, they returned home in one piece. Though to a financial cost (no 10/- fee for each player and in debt to the coach carrier who took them there), they were local heroes.

Shortly after the Peterloo Massacre, the band grew in popularity. Their links with this seminal moment in English history led to their invitation to subsequent concerts marking the Peterloo Massacre. Last night, Stalybridge Old Band had the honour of performing in The 200th Anniversary of Peterloo concert. As well as being a very special concert, it was a rare home gig for the band.

Like Peterloo, 200 years and two days from now, they were able to carry their equipment on foot. A mere 200 yards away instead of eight miles. The first half of the concert reflected their usual concert programme. The second half included commentary of the Peterloo Massacre between carefully chosen pieces.

First Half

  1. Signature March: Ridgehill (Sam Sykes);
  2. Overture: A Country Scene (Goff Richards);
  3. Flugelhorn Solo (performed by Malcolm Tyner): For Your Eyes Only (Bill Conti, arr. Darrol Barry);
  4. Light Concert Music: The Shepherds Song (French Traditional, arr. Goff Richards);
  5. Popular Music: Ticket to Ride (Lennon/McCartney, arr. Alan Fernie);
  6. Hymn: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind (Charles Hubert Parry, arr. Cecil Bolton/Eric Banks) – dedicated to Trevor Hamilton;
  7. Light Concert Music: It’s a Long Way to Tipperary (Jack Judge, arr. David Ashworth).

Second Half

  1. March: Cottonopolis (Charles Anderson);
  2. Hymn: Manchester (How Sweet The Name) (Richard Wainwright, arr. Andi Cook); followed by
  3. Introduction and Journey to Manchester (read by Colin Cheshire);
  4. Classical Piece: Hallelujah from Messiah (George Frideric Handel, arr. J.A. Greenwood); followed by
  5. Arrival into Manchester (read by Kaz Colton);
  6. Popular Music: Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs (Michael Coleman/Brian Burke, arr. Derek Ashmore); followed by
  7. The Attack of the Yeomanry (read by Pat Barr) and
  8. The Retreat from Peterloo (read by Matt Williams);
  9. Hymn: Eventide (William Henry Monk, arr. Leigh Baker); followed by
  10. Poem for Peterloo (Oliver Lomax, read by Colin Doran), set to
  11. Classical Piece: Tom Bowling from Fantasia on British Sea Songs (Charles Dibdin, arr. Denis Wright);
  12. Classical Piece: Finale from Fantasia on British Sea Songs (Henry J. Wood, arr. Denis Wright).


  • Light Concert Music: It’s a Long Way to Tipperary (Reprise) (Jack Judge, arr. David Ashworth).

Part One: A Peek at the Present Day Repertoire

To ease the audience into the concert, our first half opened with Ridgehill. Also the band’s signature march, it depicts the Ridge Hill area of Stalybridge noted for the housing estate along Springs Lane and the Hague Estate. Sam Sykes’ march never fails to get anyone ready for the world’s oldest brass band. Last night’s performance was no exception.

This was followed by A Country Scene by Goff Richards. Written in 1985 by Goff Richards, this could epitomise Heyheads and Moorgate before the first SHMD trams made their presence known. Or the freedom from drudgery away from the mills, thanks to paid holidays and the opening of the Peak National Park in 1951. Though the band cited the testing acoustics in the Den, our view from the audience gallery was favourable. Another fine performance.

Our third piece of the night was a film theme: a piece from 1981 (which, fact fans, is a numeric anagram of 1819). This time, Bill Conti’s theme from For Your Eyes Only. The title track from 1981’s James Bond film (starring Roger Moore) was sung by Sheena Easton, a year after appearing on BBC’s documentary The Big Time. As for Stalybridge links, John Stuart Downs would have shown For Your Eyes Only in the Palace Cinema that year. On flugelhorn was Malcolm Tyner whom for our eyes (and ears) only, gave us a good performance.

This was followed by our second Goff Richards arrangement of the night. Based on a French Traditional song from the Auvergne is The Shepherds Song. It is otherwise known as Bailero, the best known work from Chants d’Auvergne. The original lyrics are set in the Occitan language, and have been covered in various languages by Katherine Jenkins, Sarah Brightman and Eddi Reader. The Auvergne region is noted for skiing and hiking, and 675km away from Stalybridge’s twin town, Armentières.

After another fine performance, we moved to Liverpool for our next piece: The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride. With Alan Fernie’s arrangement, this popular concert standard captures the atmosphere of a steam train ride. In Stalybridge terms, redolent of steam-hauled Liverpool to Newcastle trains. Express trains rather than tank engines to Stockport. Or the more new-fangled Trans-Pennine diesel units to Hull Paragon which were state-of-the-art in 1965. As for Stalybridge Old Band’s performance, first class without the need to wipe off any soot with a handkerchief.

The next piece demonstrated one thing that brass bands tend to do better than any other musical group: hymns. Therefore, our penultimate piece of this half was Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. Also the first hymn of the night and a tribute to Trevor Hamilton, who passed away earlier this year. The hymn’s lyrics are taken from a larger body of work known as The Brewing of Soma and, as with last night’s performance, set to Charles Hubert Parry’s Repton.

Following their splendid performance of the Charles Hubert Parry piece, we finished the first half with It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. Written only yards away from Stalybridge Civic Hall by Jack Judge (at the Grand Theatre), it is Stalybridge’s other well known musical landmark. Last night’s piece was arranged by David Ashworth, one-time Musical Director with Stalybridge Old Band. His vivacious arrangement was another successful performance which took us into the second half.

Part Two: Where The Past Meets The Present Day

Whereas the first half gave us a snapshot of a present-day Stalybridge Old Band concert, the second half commemorated the 200th anniversary of Peterloo.

We opened the second half with Cottonpolis by Charles Anderson. If you know your local history, Cottonpolis was the nickname for Manchester – due to dominance of the cotton industry. A few miles north east of the city centre, Oldham too was built on cotton. It also had a good brass band from the Oldham Rifle Brigade. Its conductor? Charles Anderson, who wrote Cottonpolis and ORB. As for Stalybridge Old Band’s performance, a good start to the second half.

Taking us to the more recent past was Andi Cook’s arrangement of Manchester (How Sweet The Name). The Richard Wainwright hymn was arranged by Mr Cook to help victims of the Manchester Arena terror attack on the 22 May 2017. Within a year, it was picked up by many brass bands across the UK and beyond. Another sensitive performance.

After the second piece of the second half, we came to the first part of our five part commentary on the Peterloo Massacre. First on the podium was Colin Cheshire with his reading of the Introduction and Journey to Manchester. This part focused on the events leading up to Peterloo – the Corn Laws and the local gatherings leading up to that fateful day.

This was accompanied by George Frideric Handel’s Hallelujah from Messiah. The Messiah was composed in 1741 and has 53 movements in all. The Hallelujah features in the second part of the oratorio. It is also known as See The Conquering Hero – or as the hymn entitled Thine Be The Glory. This was also played by Stalybridge Old Band on the way back from St. Peter’s Fields.

For the second part, Arrival Into Manchester, Kaz Colton told of the arrival of crowds into St. Peter’s Fields. Apart from, perhaps Tory supporters in Ashton-under-Lyne, crowds walked from numerous parts of Tameside. Many of which travelling to the demonstration from what is now part of Greater Manchester. If you saw Mike Leigh’s film, one couple said they travelled from Wigan, leaving at 6am (Who would walk from Wigan to Manchester nowadays?).

Whilst on the subject of famous Salfordians, L.S. Lowry, Robert Powell and Anthony H. Wilson top many a list. Our next piece was inspired by Pendlebury’s most famous artistic export. A Number One hit single for Brian and Michael in 1978 in the form of Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs. We were treated to Derek Ashmore’s jaunty arrangement which, alas, lacks the opening snatch of Punchinello. Still, another solid performance.

This was followed by the third and fourth part of our commentary of the Peterloo. First up was The Attack of the Yeomanry, read by Pat Barr. During Henry Hunt’s speech, Henry is interrupted by a reading of The Riot Act, which leads to the Yeomanry’s advances towards the spectators. In Mike Leigh’s film, this is captured in the last twenty minutes in heart-wrenching detail.

Next at the podium was Matt Williams, who read the fourth part entitled The Retreat from Peterloo. This focused on Stalybridge Old Band’s retreat from St. Peter’s Fields, who took to the relative safety of the Rochdale Canal towpath. Thwarting the Yeomanry they continued along the Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne, and Huddersfield Narrow canals with their instruments. In spite of losing their 10/- per man stipend and a return journey on their coach, they were hailed as local heroes. Well, apart from the Ashton Tories that jeered at them on their outward and return journeys.

As a mark of respect for those who lost their lives at the Peterloo Massacre, this was followed by a performance of Eventide. Written by William Henry Monk, you may recognise this as Abide With Me. Or as the hymn for the F.A. Challenge Cup Final Tie. It is a popular choice for funeral hymns to this day, and Stalybridge Old Band reflected this with a solemn, fluent performance.

To the background music of Tom Bowling from Fantastia on British Sea Songs was our final part of the five part commentary. This time, Colin Doran’s recital of Oliver Lomax’s Poem for Peterloo. The poem cites how Peterloo changed Manchester’s identity and inspired electoral reform across the UK. In 1819, Manchester (still to get city status at the time) didn’t return a Member of Parliament to Westminster. If you wanted to know anything about Peterloo over a loo break, Oliver Lomax’s piece is worth a peek.

To finish the concert was Finale from Fantasia on British Sea Songs arranged by Sir Henry Wood. If you are familiar with The Last Night of the Proms, it includes Rule Britannia, inviting its promenaders to wave flags before Land of Hope and Glory. Besides its contextual use in The Peterloo Set of last night’s concert, don’t be surprised if you hear this rousing number in a future Proms type concert of theirs. A rousing finish enough to leave the audience asking for more.

As for the encore, the reprise of an old favourite. A song which has put Stalybridge on the musical map for eternity. The one piece you would expect from Stalybridge Old Band in the same way you would expect The Floral Dance from Brighouse and Rastrick Band. Once more, David Ashworth’s arrangement of Jack Judge’s It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. A great piece to get us all in fine fettle for the pub or the No. 2 Conservative Club next door to Judge’s Bar.

* * *

All in all, Stalybridge Old Band gave us a memorable concert. The programme was accessible for anyone with only a cursory interest in brass bands. A programme suitable for Mr Smith on Springs Lane, Ms Patel on Buckton Vale Road, young Freya on Forester Drive, or not-so-young Mr Gordon on Blundering Lane. A better use of £6.00 than a beer or two.

Forthcoming Events

At the Boarshurst and Glossop Old band clubs, the 01 September will see the return of their autumn concert programmes.

First up at Glossop Old Band Room is The Fairey Band. With one of Stockport’s foremost bands descending on Glossop Old Band’s humble abode, this concert will be a popular one. Last year, they filled the place to its rafters.

Doors open at 1pm for a 2pm start. We strongly recommend arriving as early as possible to be sure of a seat. Though entry is free, please give generously to the collection and spend as much as you can on raffle tickets, or take part in the auction.

Then, at 8pm at the Boarshurst Band Club, Pride Brass will be heading to Greenfield’s most iconic brass banding venue. Pride Brass is a collection of LGBTQI brass band players and their allies. It also celebrates fifty years of progress in LGBTQI rights, and a proportion of that night’s takings will be going to Stonewall.

Doors are open at 7pm for the usual 8pm start. Details of admission prices have yet to be announced at this stage.

Buses and trains from Stalybridge

To Glossop

  • 237 to Glossop town centre (Stagecoach Manchester – please note that Sunday journeys of the 236 route have been withdrawn from the 01 September).

If you cannot handle the strenuous uphill walk to the band club on Derby Street, a taxi from The Norfolk Arms is your best bet.

To Greenfield

  • Hourly Transpennine Express trains to Greenfield;
  • Any bus to Ashton-under-Lyne (237, 348, 389) then 1838 350 route (Stagecoach Manchester) to Greenfield (please note that the 355 route from Stalybridge bus station finishes at 6pm).

Please be wary of the steep climb from Boarshurst Band Club to the railway station. An Oldham-bound 350 or 180 bus could be a useful ally.

S.V., 18 August 2019.

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