Ernest T.Wilson (ed. Gavin Holman)
A brass band existed in Widdington in the 1880’s, however this disbanded some time before 1900. This note refers to the successor band founded around 1909.
A few years before the First World War, the Rev. J.W. Court formed a brass band, because, it was said, he liked the music the touring German bands played and wanted to have a village band for Widdington. Memories of that pre-war band are scanty, and its members are no longer with us, but enough returned after the War or remained in the village to form a nucleus and restart a band. Mr. Court conducted practice in the school on Monday and Friday evenings and another session for beginners on Tuesdays. One thing he didn’t have to teach us was to read music. We had been taught this at school.
The youngsters were indeed keen and turned out for the Tuesday practice in all weathers, including one cold, snowy night, when the first two to arrive had been rewarded with a sixpence by Mr. Court who was surprised and pleased that anyone would turn out that night. As others arrived he looked amused and exchanged knowing glances with the rest as he had to find more sixpences to hand out. Sometimes the sounds produced were not very pleasing … and he couldn’t think of a word to describe them, but it reminded him of the limerick:-
There was a young man named Zorobabel
Who played with a big indiarobabel
The robabel bust
And the language he used was indescrobabel.
When the result was fair he likened it to a curate’s egg.
The August Bank Holiday fete held on the rectory lawns, with coconut shies, bowling for the pig, hoop-la and other money-making side-shows, was a regular home engagement for the Band. Marches were the main items in the music book, with selections from the classic symphonies and airs from operas such as “Roberto Devereaux”, popular at the time but not heard now, and arrangements of popular melodies of the day – the famous waltz ‘Destiny’, The Valeta’, Baby Tank’ and ‘Felix kept on walking’. These supplied music for dancing on the lawn in the evening. As darkness fell the fairy lanterns were lit up, and wax night-lights in coloured glass jars were suspended in the trees and shrubs.
The Band provided similar entertainment at garden fetes in various neighbouring villages. Naturally some younger bandsmen liked to dance with girls they knew, and they were given temporary leave of absence, provided sufficient players were left to maintain melody and rhythm. When music for a two-step was called for, Mr.Court said “Play them a march; it is in the same 2/4 time, they won’t know”, but it was all right until the end of the march and the music stopped in the middle of a figure and left the dancers stranded in mid-air.
Another band not far away was the Much Hadham band and a contest was arranged between the two. The test pieces were a march of the band’s own choice and Gounod’s overture to “Mirella”. After commenting on the good and not so good points of each band’s performance and keeping everyone in suspense, the judge finally announced Widdington had won on the set piece, Hadham on the march.
One of the treats looked forward to was the annual visit on the last Saturday of September to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham for the National Band Festival. For some this meant their first visit to London and the walk across London Bridge to the station on the other side of the Thames was their first sight of the capital city. Bands of various grades competed; the championship class where the best and most famous bands competed, Grand Shield, Junior Cup and Junior Shield. …. Generally the Grand Shield would be playing the Championship test piece of the previous year; suites by Gustav Hoist, John Ireland, Sir Edward Eiger and Sir Arthur Bliss come to mind. Some of the younger bandsmen were more interested in the sideshows and found the Hall of Distorting Mirrors a greater attraction than the music.
Only with the addition of players from neighbouring villages was it possible to make up the full complement of 24. With this number assembled the Band was able to compete in the Junior Shield section at the National Festival in 1932 playing “Inspiration of Youth” as the test piece. But there were troubles: the solo cornet was unable to make the journey and a player from another band had to be borrowed to take his place. He misread the instructions regarding the repetition of a passage and became confused.
There was great excitement when it was announced that Widdington had been placed first and the result was published in The News of the World the next day. But a later announcement regretted a mistake had been made. The winning bands should have been given in order of playing, which had been decided by a draw in the morning. Unfortunately some official had given out the number of the band in the programme, which of course was quite different. In the issues for the weeks following the Festival ‘The British Bandsman’ published the adjudicators’ notes and remarks on the bands’ performances and the points considered when placing them in order of merit. These made interesting reading. Amongst the remarks on Widdington’s playing was one to the effect that “This is a piece for Brass Band; there is no need for the conductor to sing the solo cornet part”, a reference to Mr. Court’s long-established habit of singing or humming the melody. The outing was an unfortunate one, because when the instruments were gathered up to go home it was discovered that some covetous rogue had taken away the best E-flat bass, a modern type with compensating pistons, and left in its place a battered thing of unknown make.
In a few years players had moved away and World War II saw the end of the Band. Mr. Court was approached with offers to buy the instruments, but he could not bring himself to part with them, they had been so much part of his life.