Brass Bands of Warwickshire

Band-Book-Cover-12-Mar-2019A new book has just been published covering brief histories of the bands reported to have existed in the county (based on the current county boundary in 2018). In over 380 pages, with numerous photographs, Kenneth Owen has distilled the results of his six years of research in the libraries of the county into this excellent reference book, and guide to bands of the past and present.

From Alcester Victoria Silver Band to Wood End Silver Band, over 130 bands are covered, ranging from the earliest formed around 1840 to the latest in 2006. It also includes a chapter on bandstands in Warwickshire. This work is a successor to Kenneth’s previous book on the history of Leamington Spa Brass Bands.

“Brass Bands of Warwickshire” is available by post (£10 + £2 p&p) from Kenneth Owen, 167 Kinross Road, Leamington Spa, CV32 7ET.  If you wish to contact Kenneth by email, then let me know (see my “Contact” on the right) and I will put you in touch.

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South Street Mission Brass Band

The South Street Mission was located in Macbeth Street, Hammersmith, Middlesex and was founded in 1901 by Sister Lizzie (d. 1949). The band was founded in May 1909, and was active through to the mid-1950s, competing in a few contests in its later years.

The band supported the work of the mission, as did many similar bands in London and across the country around that time – combining their music, marches and crowd-pulling assets to attract people to the services, various events and demonstrations, and to raise money. Many of these bands were attached to missions, or other religious groups that promoted their (usually) Christian messages and also did “good works” amongst the poor, destitute, orphaned, sick and otherwise needy masses. They were very successful as musical ambassadors and helped these organisations significantly to change the lives of many people over the years – including some of their players, who were “brought into the fold” at various times.


A collection of episodes from the history of the South Street Mission Brass Band, together with an explanation from its founder, Sister Lizzie, can be found in my latest paper – “South Street Mission Brass Band”

This document is available for download at

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Conductors’ batons of the past


Do you know of any interesting or historic batons? Particularly those associated with brass bands? Ebony and other hardwood batons, often adorned with silver embellishments, were just the thing for conductors – particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Given as tokens of appreciation, or bought as status symbols, few still exist, and even fewer have an inscription or detailed provenance, although those with silver can usually be dated through their hallmarks.

baton1I have been corresponding with Joanna Gul at the University of Wroclaw, who has been working on establishing a database and website for the collections of conductors’ batons in Polish museums. The “Baton in Polish Collections” is now available (see: and this provides a fascinating insight into the conductors of a range of ensembles, from orchestras to brass bands (mainly from Europe) through their batons. These are often presentation batons, inscribed as gifts from the relevant band, orchestra or sponsor, and are made from a variety of materials, ranging from the plain to the ornate in style. The two batons shown here, from the Polish collections, are those of James Parker (Jamestown & Vale of Leven Silver Band, 1927), and John Pemberton (Catford Diamond Jubilee Band, 1901)

Joanna hopes that a project to collect similar records for the historic brass instruments in Polish museums will take place sometime in the future.

Ever curious, I found an inscribed baton for sale on Ebay, presented to J.E. Reynolds of the Sheffield Comrades of the Great War Band, at the Blackpool Contest on October 30th 1920.  A little research shows this to have been a military band contest promoted by the Blackpool Comrades of the Great War. Bands that competed (presumably all under the COTGW banner – there were quite a number of these formed after WW1 by returning veterans of the conflict – most were military in format/instrumentation, but there were a few all-brass bands) included Manchester, Staveley, Carlisle, Derby, Pontypool, Nottingham, Wallsend (3rd place), Sheffield (1st place), York (2nd place) and Middlesbrough – adjudicator was Colonel J. Mackenzie Rogan – the test piece was a selection from Verdi’s Aida and the march “Colonel Ward” by Cheeseman.

Baton- contest 30-oct-1920

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The first American band contest?

A brass band contest was held at Indianapolis in February 1853.

Was this the first such contest in the USA? Do you know of any earlier competitions?

“A musical State Convention was held at Indianapolis, on Tuesday of last week [22nd February 1853]. Nearly a score of brass bands turned out, besides a large concourse of spectators. An address was given by Lieut. Gov. Willard, and a grand concert of the United Bands was given in the evening. The performers numbered one hundred and thirty persons. The competition for a prize banner, after a very exciting struggle, between the Bloomington and New Albany Bands, finally terminated in the success of the latter.”

A brass band contest was held at Chillicothe, Ohio on Thursday 4th August 1859. Seventeen bands competed (although only 13 were named in the newspaper report).

A second contest was held at Chillicothe the following year, with Hillsboro Cornet Band taking first prize out of 19 bands.

Here is the newspaper report of that event – from the Meigs County Telegraph, Pomeroy, Ohio, 9 August 1859

“Harvest Festival” at Chillicothe

It had been very generally announced, by posters, and “small bills”, all along the Marietta and Cincinnati R. R., for a week or two previous, that such a festival was to be holden on the 4th inst.; but as Pomeroy has the misfortune to be located in the “rural districts,” it was not known, and consequently not attended by many that would otherwise have gone.

It was our good fortune, however, to be in the locality of the Railroad the day previous, and “run a-foul” of a barn-door ornamented with one of these posters. The consequence was, we were taken with an inclination to go, and go we did.


A later incarnation of the Goshen Band – one of the competitors

By the way, as many of our citizens go to Athens to take the cars, we would state for their benefit and convenience, that, seven miles north of Albany, there is a station called “Marshville,” which is a much more eligible point, especially for the western portion of Meigs, inasmuch as it is nearer, and the cars do not arrive till 1½ P.M., and then wait 20 minutes for dinner. The trains pass each other here. On arriving at Chillicothe at 5 P.M. on Wednesday, we found nearly all the rooms in the spacious “Valley House” already occupied, and guests constantly arriving. The prospects were truly encouraging.

The morning, however, was lowery, and it was feared the affair would “fizzle,” but vehicles of all possible kinds, loaded to their utmost capacity, soon began to arrive, and by twelve o’clock the city was literally swarming.

The feast was to commence at two, in a beautiful grove a short distance from the city. At the time appointed the crowd was pretty generally there, but it was discovered that not a basket of provisions had been brought to the ground. It was soon ascertained, however, that the feast was of a different nature. The epicures soon arrived, and immediately commenced serving up the “sweetest of all sweets,” in brass instruments! It was to be a “feast of music,” and seventeen bands were there to serve it up. There were four prizes offered, and the following bands competed:

Lebrand’s National Band of Tarlton, Ohio; Martinsville Band; Brennon’s Band of Marietta; Beverly Band; Montgomery Band; Goshen Band; Waverley Band; Rainsboro’ Band; Lynchburg Band; New Market Band; Level Band; Lexington Band; and Centrefield Band. Each band executed two pieces of music.

The committee was equally divided between Lebrand’s Band of Tarlton, and the Beverly Band of Beverly, Washington county, Ohio, for the award of the first prize, of one hundred dollars. They finally decided the matter by giving the award to Lebrand’s Band, they judging that the pieces performed by that band were more difficult of execution than those performed by the Beverly Band. The second prize of fifty dollars was awarded to the Beverly Band; the third prize of thirty dollars to Brennan’s Band of Marietta, and the fourth prize of twenty dollars to the Rainsboro’ Band.

Menter’s celebrated Cornet Band of Cincinnati, was present, but as it is universally acknowledged to be superior to others in Ohio, did not complete for the prizes. It gave a concert in the evening.

Another contest was held in September 1861. A report announcing it stated:

Band Tournament – For the purpose of encouraging the Amateur Brass Bands, of this State and that Musicians from different sections may be brought together and become acquainted with each other, and interchange views of the popular branch of music, it is proposed to hold a Musical Festival of Brass Bands, at the county Fair Grounds, in the city of Marshall, on the 12th day of September next [1861], to which all the Amateur Brass Bands of the State of Michigan are respectfully invited. As a further inducement the citizens of Marshall through their committee, will offer the following premiums to be awarded to the 1st, 2nd and 3d best Bands, in attendance on that occasion. 1st premium: 1 silver E flat cornet and purse of $40; 2nd premium: purse of $60; 3d: purse of $40. Three judges, skilled in music, will be appointed by the Mayor of the city of Marshall, in no manner connected with any band in this State, and we trust free from any prejudice for or against any Band. Each Band will be called upon to perform three pieces of harmony of their own selection. ‘I’he Marshall Cornet Band will not compete for premiums”

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Brass bands of Ireland


A collection of information about brass bands in the island of Ireland over the last 200 years.

Following the suggestion of a friend, whose great-grandfather had played in a brass band in Eire in the early 1900s, I have extracted a subset of my earlier “Brass Bands of the British Isles – a Historical Directory” (2018). Over 1,370 bands are recorded here (93 currently active), with some 356 additional cross references for alternative or previous names.

bboi1This covers both Northern Ireland and Eire. It excludes (as does its parent volume) fife/drum bands or bugle bands, but it does include some brass/reed bands, particularly from the earlier years when instrumentation was much more variable. There are also a greater number of bands which had political affiliations – something that was rare in Britain.


This document is available for download at

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Brass Bands of the World

Following my historical directory of the brass bands of the British Isles, the companion volume, covering the rest of the world is now available. Again, it is far from complete, even more so given the range and extent of possible research sources for such bands. However, I regard this as a starting point, with over 9,500 bands identified (with some further 2,700 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. In addition, the availability of information, and some language issues, has meant that a fewer number of bands have anything more than basic existence and/or an extant date for them.

Certainly this is not the end of the story – increasing amounts of historical material are available online (digitised newspapers and archives, for example), which will allow more in-depth research for further bands and further details for known ones.

As always, I welcome any information about such bands, which will go towards the next edition.

This document is available for download at

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Earby Brass Band History

A new book – The History of Earby Brass Band – has been written by Stephanie Carter. Copies are available from Earby & District Local History Society (£10 + £3.50 p&p) – email for details.

Earby Brass Band can be traced back to c.1847, and this book records the history of the band and it’s players from then until the present day. It has lots of photos to chart the band over years.

book launch Band book 2018 poster (1)From Stephanie Carter’s preface: “I hope this short history of the band to recount some of the triumphs, achievements and frequent contest successes of former days and to document a whole range of accomplished performances down the years. As in all aspects of life there have been high and low times but Earby Band has long been a showcase for talent both young and old from families with a long history of performing in brass bands who played not only for their love of music but for the camaraderie of the band family. Earby can claim world class players with legendary status but so many bandsmen have contributed to the enjoyment of many people in the local area and beyond. Earby folk all know or knew of someone, relative or friend who played in the band and it is their legacy and the important they played in preserving the community tradition that is recorded here. We must support the current band and not allow this tradition to wane.”

To contact Earby Band, e-mail or telephone Tracey Fairhurst on 0781 3609648

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