Punishments for banding infractions were harsh in the 19th century. Rules were common, strict and often involved fines and other measures. These three cornet players had split notes during a contest, losing the band their first place. As you can see, the bandmaster is standing guard with his extended baton (shillelagh), while the local mill owner (and band sponsor) sits behind on a gravestone to ensure justice is done. Euphonium soloist George is in the background, enjoying the suffering of his colleagues who dashed his hopes of another winner’s medal for his collection.


Seriously though, the first sentence above is only too true. I have previously posted about the Wylam Colliery Band, Stand Band and Dodworth’s Band School rules here, in June 2019, but I couldn’t resist this image and the “story” it conjured up!

There are many tales of bandsmen and their escapades and the resulting consequences, ranging from fines to expulsion to court cases (even death in one case when a brawl got out of hand). The rules were there to protect the band and its members (even from themselves) from inadvertent, careless or malicious acts. However I have not encountered any “punishment” meted out for bad playing!


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Oh, Listen to the Band – songs inspired by brass bands

wsAs brass bands gained in popularity, composers and arrangers naturally produced pieces to supply the ensembles with the music for their craft. It was not long before some of those pieces became arranged for solo or piano performance, sometimes with words attached. These first appeared in the 1870s through to the early 1900s.

A little later, songs were composed which featured bands, extolling the musicians’ abilities, the “sweetness” of the music, and other aspects of bands and their relation to the singer. These were particularly prevalent in the USA, mainly being produced by the talented songwriters of Tin Pan Alley in New York.

In some cases these were specifically written in relation to a particular band or band leader (e.g. the Ringgold Band, John Philip Sousa, and Helen May Butler), but in most cases they were sentimental or comic songs that found favour in the vaudeville theatres and, later, in the nation’s parlours as sheet music for piano.

Some examples from the golden age of Tin Pan Alley are given in the article below:


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Musical postcards – how to get a tune through the mail

phThe “golden age” of postcards is generally reckoned to be between 1895 and 1914. During that time their popularity increased and many different subjects were depicted on their fronts. These ranged from the purely topographical scenes of various places in Britain and overseas, to photographic representations of people, animals, events; paintings, drawings and cartoon, humorous and sentimental messages for any occasion and more. As time went on the manufacturers strove to innovate, moving from black & white to colour, from printed to photographic, using various mechanical devices to “animate” the card – e.g. having movable parts to show different parts of a picture or alternative text.

From a musical perspective there were many postcards showing various musicians, composers, singers, and musical ensembles – including brass bands – indeed in many cases these were used as promotional items by the organisations or individuals they depicted.

One type of card that appeared in the late 1890s were those that were printed with some music. This was usually a short musical phrase of a popular song or hymn with the appropriate notes and/or words. Some of these were related to brass bands, being tunes “associated” with specific bands. A few examples are given below.

A further musical card that appeared in the early 1900s in Germany, but did not become popular in Britain until the later 1920s, was the gramophone record postcard. This consisted of a single sided miniature disc record, made of celluloid, glued onto a postcard with centre hole punched through both the card and the disc. The disc material could be black, a brownish opaque or colourless translucent, and the discs originally played at 78rpm. The musical snippet recorded on the disc was usually a tune related to the broad subject of the card’s picture – e.g. “Bonnie Banks & Braes of Loch Lomond” with a picture of Pitlochry. A large number of these were produced, but few survive today.

A wide range of musical topics were included on these miniature gramophone records, but I have not found any evidence of brass bands being part of this particular musical offering, as yet!

Some examples I have found are shown in the article below:



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Music of discipline and reform – the bands of children’s orphanages, industrial schools and asylums

elFrom the early 17th century through to WW2, at least, large numbers of institutions were established to provide for various segments of society which did not fit into “normal” life. These included orphans, the sick, criminals the destitute, paupers, and those, that today, we would refer to as physically and mentally handicapped.

Through various local and national initiatives and laws the workhouses, poor law unions, asylums and prisons were established to house and, hopefully, reform or rehabilitate their inmates.

Workhouses, prisons, lunatic asylums, orphanages, and “industrial schools” were just some of these institutions. Some were operated by the state, others by local organisations established by or sanctioned by the state in some cases. Charitable, philanthropic and religious organisations also set up home for orphans and the poor. They were variously funded by local taxes, parent organisations (e.g. the Church), rich sponsors, grants and their own fund raising.

Some elements of treatment and/or education were undertaken to prepare the inmates for their eventual release either back into society or, in the case of children, to make their own way in the adult world.

Brass and other bands were often set up to help educate the children (mainly boys it has to be said), to provide another aspect of discipline, recreation and also, potentially, to give access to a musical career once they left the school. A useful by product at times were fees collected by performances of the bands, which helped the homes’ finances. Other such institutions which had bands included Training Ships, Industrial Homes, Ragged Schools and Reformatory Schools. These catered for “delinquents” as well as orphans.

Similarly, bands were established in some of the adult institutions, to help with discipline, provide entertainment and raise some funds for the institution.

Bandmasters held salaried appointments at the institutions, often responsible for other duties as well as the musical tuition and training. These duties could include teaching (appropriate subjects for the children in “care”), fund raising, maintenance of the buildings and more. On occasions the institution engaged an external musical tutor, instead of a full time in-house bandmaster, usually one with a connection to other bands in the locality.

A descriptive list of such bands is provided in my article “Music of discipline and reform” available from:


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Climb every mountain …

In August 1858, 12 men, including 7 members of the Yreka Brass Band (John Murray, leader; I.G. Murray, W.I. Mayfield, John Garner, A.J. Starling and Louis Detarre) walked to (50 miles or so) and then ascended Mt Shasta, California, with their instruments, playing “Hail Columbia” and other patriotic tunes on the summit at a height of 16,700 feet. The trip, there and back, took three days. Not something the bands of today would take on easily! The picture below is of another, unknown, mountaineering band, c.1870 on Lookout Mountain (a mere 2,389 feet high) on the Georgia/Tennessee border.

For the full story, see: Ascent of the Butte [Chronicling America]


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Unknown bandsmen

There are thousands of photographs of bandsmen, and the occasional bandswoman, that are sadly totally anonymous. Most have no identifying features, either on their uniforms, instruments or the backgrounds, and only a chance comparison with another known picture can give a name. Sometimes a cap badge or other detail gives a clue, but even then it is usually not sufficient to identify the individual. Very few bands (current or extinct) have lists of their historical players to assist in this process, even should you be able to name the band. Here is a selection of British bandsmen, covering most areas of the brass band, and all unknown apart from the last one – Edward Taylor of Barton Hall Band – in a photo that dates from the late 1940’s.





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Bum Notes – a look at some brassy raspberries

I came across the first of these images “Our Prize Band” many years ago, and largely dismissed it as a humorous postcard, poking fun at bands, since then I have seen two other versions, in French and German, so the original image was clearly re-purposed for at least two alternative markets. Then came the series of French “brass-windy” satirical postcards from the Russo-Japanese war, poking fun mainly at the Japanese troops, but also not above ridiculing their allies, the Russians. The article below goes into more detail about these and some others.


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