Winds of Change
The nineteenth century saw great changes in the English pattern of life. Not since the Romans invaded to enforce their ideas of civilisation and the subsequent Saxon settlement with its burning and pillaging and feudal system had change been so rapid.
In the nineteenth century, industry developed in the towns and cities and then rapidly overflowed to the surrounding villages and countryside, changing as it went the whole appearance of the landscape and way of life of the resident population. Every river and stream became the focus of factories large and small with tall chimneys to take the choking smoke above the immediate residents but distributing it over wide areas and polluting the previously clean and fertile land. New dams were built to capture the water for these factories so denying it to the farmers and livestock lower down the valleys until it had been well polluted with the dirt and effluent of the crude industrial processes. Housing developments sprang up around the factories taking up valuable land and ensuring that the locals, who had been used to self sufficiency, no longer had enough land within easy reach to grow their vegetables or keep their pigs and had therefore to either move away or become dependent upon the factory owned shops which blossomed and flourished. This then was the "civilisation" of rural England which achieved by stealth what no previous forcible efforts had been capable of.
Against this background of oppression and depression, however, there came one shining ray of sunshine, one expression of the suppressed joy and hope of the population, one joining together in a cloaked spirit of united rebellion. What was this miracle sent to bring joy and happiness to city and countryside alike? - it was the Brass Band. Founded out of poverty and exploitation the brass band movement spread rapidly throughout the country as workers from every facet of life found that they could meet together and join in a common pleasure which was actually encouraged and often financed by the factory and mill owners. But why did brass bands become so popular so quickly? The reasons were various, who could fail to be stirred by the beautiful melodies or by the stirring marches and the depth of sound produced by the bass section, who could resist marching or dancing happily alongside a parade led by a band? The band gave expression to the pent up emotions of the workforce and called up visions of free and happy times - and yet, this music could be made by all. The clever design of the instruments meant that with very little tuition a beginner could join in with the rest of the band within a matter of weeks and feel he was making a worthwhile contribution and, as all the instruments were of similar design, he could move around the band from instrument to instrument using the same basic techniques and fingering of the valves, until he found the instrument which suited him best.
It wasn't long, of course, before the potential of brass bands was recognised by the influential institutions of the day, particularly the Salvation Army who embraced the idea whole-heartedly and founded their own bands in every town and city, playing in the streets to help swell the membership and funds of their cause. To this day some of the best players in the brass band movement start their training in their local Salvation Army band. The advertising potential of such a popular movement was also not lost upon the employers. Many of the larger factories established bands bearing their own name and from this came the well known bands of Black Dyke Mills, Grimethorpe Colliery, Hammond's Sauce works and countless more.
Mankind being what it is, it wasn't possible for such an idyllic movement to survive for long without a spirit of competition creeping in and soon the various commercial bands were holding contests to try to outperform the bands of their business competitors. This, of course, developed until national competitions were being organised and some bands began to devote much of their efforts into entering or preparing for competitions.
Into this highly charged atmosphere was born the Brassford Silver Prize Band. Founded at the height of this enthusiasm in 1870, the band began life as a mediocre collection of misfits and dropouts who, to while away long winter evenings, began to meet each Wednesday night in the Village Hall to be cajoled by George Parker, the landlord of the Fox and Duck, into producing half recognisable melodies from the motley collection of instruments they had managed to assemble. The only new instrument belonged to Harold Brown. This was a shining silver cornet by one of the best makers which he had bought with a legacy from a long forgotten aunt. Because of the status this instrument gave him he was the obvious choice for Principal Cornet. The fact that he had not yet mastered the notes was of little relevance as all the band agreed that, so long as Harry was going to blow his discords with such gusto, he may as well do so from the front and display his instrumental finery to the band's advantage. Such down to earth common sense has always been a feature of bandsmen. It also, to them, seemed common sense to allow the owner of the local public house to be their conductor as it has always been essential for a band to have a suitable refuge at which to refuel after a hard rehearsal.
Gradually the standard of the band improved and with it it's standing in the local community, achieving, at the same time, a degree of respectability almost on a par with the local church whose sponsorship and tolerance was relied upon to a great extent for public performances. The original bands were largely male dominated but were encouraged by the womenfolk. As some wives were heard to mutter, "at least when they are at band rehearsals you know where they are" - the whole village knew! During these early days practising was, for some, as much of a problem as we find today in our present cramped society. The pressures of space were not so acute but the relentless pursuit of perfection was often something of a trial to other members of the family. One notable case was Huw Jones of Dale Head Farm. You would think that having originated in the musical environment of mid-Wales, his family would have appreciated his efforts but, on the contrary, his wife would have none of it and he was banished from the house with his euphonium. He fortunately had a large barn about two fields away which he used as a cow shed and often the strained tones of 'Myffanwy' could be heard drifting across the dale from this direction. He swore to the end that his music made the cows give more milk.
The village of Brassford sits in a beautiful sleepy valley in North Derbyshire just on the fringes of the steel making areas of South Yorkshire. Its local industries fortunately did not severely affect the landscape and the remaining mill buildings are small and now blend in with their surroundings. Many have gone altogether as the industrial revolution lost momentum and began to focus on larger factories in the nearby cities. Many of the villagers now commute daily into these cities or work away from the area altogether, only returning at weekends and for holidays. So the pace of village life has once again slowed and, apart from its larger size, the village is now much as it was before civilisation marched past. Still going strong, however, is the Brassford Silver Prize Band. No one can now remember where the term 'Silver Prize Band' came from, certainly no silver prize now exists but, just in case one ever turns up again, the name stays and lends to the band that certain class and degree of professionalism which looks so important on the hand-written notices of forthcoming concerts displayed outside the local church hall. Band members are now of all ages and of both sexes and come from a wide area, some from the city and others from surrounding villages up to twenty miles away. The spirit of the band is strong and its members are like an extended family. For many, the regular weekly rehearsal is an event anticipated with the utmost pleasure.
This work is Copyright to Ian W. Wright 1994. You may use it for your own private purposes but reproduction by any means or its use for commercial gain is strictly forbidden without the written permission of the author.