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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A Musical Prize Fight at Loftus, 1859

In September 1859 a “Grand Village Band Contest” was held in Loftus, a village on the North Yorkshire coast. John Hollingshead reported the event in “All the Year Round” later that year. A transcription of the report, together with some pen & ink drawings illustrating the characters, provided the basis for a couple to get married in 1978. The tale, told by their son Bob Nicholson, is recounted together with report and the illustrations, in the Digital Victorianist –


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Comic Bands – Kazoo and Zobo

During the 1890s and early parts of the 20th century a type of band arose using kazoo-type instruments as an alternative to the more expensive (and harder to play) brass instruments. Zobo instruments, based on kazoo principles, were invented and developed in the USA in the early 1890s, rapidly becoming a new craze for a while. When the instruments spread to the UK the bands that were formed using them were largely “comic” bands, created ad hoc for galas and festivals, occasionally mixing in brass instruments, to entertain the public and raise money for charity. The article below gives a brief introduction to these bands and some examples, mainly from England.

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Otley Splisham Splashem Splushum Comic Band

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Tissue paper commemorative programmes & napkins

I spent a fascinating few hours with Steve Hughes last week, discussing and examining the wealth of Besses o’ th’ Barn historical material he is working on. During that time I came across something I had not seen before – programmes for Besses’ concerts printed on a square of thin tissue paper. There were three example of these commemorative “tissue paper” programmes (about 14″ square), very fragile, looking like the sort of thing you sometimes got in restaurants as place mats. They dated from 1906, 1909 & 1937, and I’ve since found a few other examples – one of the Garde Republicaine visiting London in 190? and another celebrating the 58th anniversary of the Salvation Army in 1923. Further research showed they were a not uncommon “souvenir” for occasions, though their fragile nature means very few have survived. For more details, see:


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Brass Band Archive Recordings

Brass Band Archive Recordings – a brief guide to recordings of brass bands in libraries, museums and other archives

Brass bands are, of course, musical organisations first and foremost, and the bulk of their heritage is bound up in the hundreds of thousands of concerts, marches, contests and other performances they have provided their audiences with over the years. Very few of these live performances were ever recorded, at least until recent years, and we must depend on the formal studio recorded performances to enjoy the music of the bands of the past. Many such recordings still exist in personal collections, music libraries, archives, the bands themselves and, more recently, digital archives which have digitised recordings from older media, cleaned up the sound and preserved them in digital audio files. This paper gives an outline of various sources and resources for archived vintage (and not so vintage) recordings in physical repositories and on-line databases. See:



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