Book: Brass Bands of the British Isles – historical directory

bbbiOf the many brass bands that have flourished in Britain and Ireland over the last 200 years very few have documented records covering their history. This directory is an attempt to collect together information about such bands and make it available to all. Over 19,600 bands are recorded here, with some 10,600 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. This volume supersedes the earlier “British Brass Bands – a Historical Directory” (2016) and includes some 1,400 bands from the island of Ireland. A separate work is in preparation covering brass bands beyond the British Isles. A separate appendix lists the brass bands in each county.

Both the book and appendix are available as PDF downloads from https://gavinholman.academia.edu

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How many brass bands? 19,634!

There have been many estimates of the number of brass bands over the years. These have ranged widely and, in most cases, were greatly exaggerated.

My research to date has identified nearly 20,000 distinct brass bands which existed in the British Isles between 1880 and the present. This is not a final figure and, although there are many bands still to unearth, I would be surprised if there were more than 2,000 to 3,000 to be added, based on my research experiences.

The full details of the analysis and distribution of the bands across the country are available at https://gavinholman.academia.edu/

 

  1800 – 2018 Current
Total bands 19,634 1,234
England 15,588 981
Scotland 1,350 93
Wales 1,239 87
Northern Ireland 531 41
Eire 872 24
Islands 54 8

 

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Researching the History of Brass Bands

A new paper has recently been published and is available at: https://gavinholman.academia.edu/research

Researching the History of Brass Bands – a guide to the resources available

For those wishing to delve into the history of brass bands there are various sources available, both primary and secondary. These are also published histories and individual bands’ memorabilia and records. In addition to British resources, In this paper I also include some relevant details about key resources in the USA and major commonwealth countries where brass bands were/are common.  Aspects covered in this guide include: books, articles and journals, local archives (county record offices and archives), museums and libraries, newspaper archives, digitised newspapers, local history societies, industrial societies, records of individual companies, trade directories, religious organisations, the temperance movement, friendly societies, the volunteer battalions, political brass bands, people – personal memories, people – genealogical resources, children’s homes, institutional brass bands, family bands, professional bands, ladies’ brass bands, geographical resources, and specific archives of brass band materials.

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New brass band research papers

Four new papers have been recently published and are available at: https://gavinholman.academia.edu/research

Damen und Damen – Ladies’ professional travelling brass ensembles of the German Empire 1871-1918

Travelling musicians and entertainers had been a part of European life for centuries. In the German speaking countries of Europe during the German Empire there arose a large number of “Damen Kapellen”, troupes of musical and variety entertainers consisting largely of women, usually led by a man, and occasionally including males as players. This paper looks at the the brass ensembles which made up a significant proportion of these touring entertainment groups.

Keep it in the Family – the Family Brass Bands that entertained the USA and UK in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Family bands were not uncommon in the later 1800s and early 1900s. They were most prevalent in the USA but other countries had their fair share, including the UK and Germany. Some bands were amateur in their activities, and remained resident in their local area. Others adopted the professional mantle and travelled the country giving concerts, appearing at shows, circuses and on the stage. Although the various family bands had different line-ups and instrumentation, they were quite popular as entertainment troupes, sometimes singing, dancing and performing sketches in addition to their, often, multi-instrumental abilities. This paper gives details and pictures of more than 160 such named bands.

Broadcasting Brass Bands: the early years

A look at the pioneers of broadcasting of live brass band music. Starting with the earliest telephone transmission, with a short diversion into the infant recording industry, to the birth of the wireless radio broadcasts.

The poetry of brass bands

A contribution to National Poetry Day 2017. Several brass bands have been immortalised in poetry over the years. From those lauding their heroes to the ones which are critical or even insulting. From the earliest days poets have found something in the music of the bands and the people who play in them to inspire their muse. I think it is fair to say that most of the writers would not have made a career out of their works – some are certainly more William McGonagall than William Wordsworth – but nonetheless they are priceless views of the bands and bandsmen.

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Women Composers for Brass Band

As part of the Women Make Music campaign supported by the Performing Rights Society, the Harrogate Band is featuring the works of female composers and arrangers of brass band music in its concerts throughout the year. The band has a proud tradition of regularly performing contemporary original music for brass, so it’s going to start to address this gender imbalance by increasing the amount of music it plays composed and arranged by women.

The band doesn’t actually know if the brass band movement mirrors the music industry as a whole but a cursory review of their own experience told it it probably is. Until recently their committee was never led by a woman, all their adjudicators for all their contests had been male, they’d only ever performed one piece in competition written by a woman, virtually all the panels that pick competition pieces are male, the two main media outlets for brass bands are run exclusively by men and there are hardly any women conductors. Look through bands’ music libraries and there’ll be almost no music written by a woman and listen to brass band music programmes and women’s voices are rarely heard.

Women are well represented in brass banding but their contribution is rarely recognised, visible and celebrated. Most bands wouldn’t function without the work of women committee members, brass band competitions are kept going by women nearly always tucked away out of the limelight behind the scenes doing vital administrative jobs, women are looking after children whilst their husbands play and 50% of the audiences are female.

But it’s much more than trying to reduce a gender imbalance. The reason is that if we’re wasting the talent of so many people who could be composing brilliant music for brass bands our audiences are losing out and so is the brass band movement.

The campaign has two objectives:

  • to give women the confidence to compose brilliant music for brass band
  • to showcase brilliant composition by female composers to our audiences

More details can be found at Harrogate Band’s Women Make Music

Women composers and arrangers identified so far, and there are relatively few of these:

Elaine Agnew, Katie Bell, Judith Bingham, Evangeline Booth, Anne Boyd, May H. Brahe, Helen May Butler, Cheryl Camm, Anita Cocker-Hunt, Jessica Curry, Kirsty Devaney, Helen Douthwaite, Alice G. Edwards, Estelle Flood, Dorothy Freed, Nancy Galbraith, Dorothy Gates, Evelyn Glennie, Sally Greenaway, Irena Grieg, Agnes Heathcote, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Emily Howard, Liz Lane, Anne McGinty, Eileen Mehegan, Ruth Mellor, Katie Moss, Thea Musgrave, Lynda Nicholson, Celestine Oliphant, Lucy Pankhurst, Lynsey Paterson, Emily Peasgood, Helen Perkin, Laura Pettigrew, Andrea Price, Lauren Redhead, Teresa del Riego, Rhian Samuel, Amanda Sandberg, Naomi Styles, Phyllis Tate, Louisa Trewartha, Joan Trimble, Joy Webb, Maude Valerie White, Margaret Lucy Wilkins, Amanda Wilkinson, Amy Woodforde-Finden,

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Brass Band Cartoons

Brass Band Celebrities of the 1930s

Brass Band Celebrities of the 1930s

As with the previous post on poetry, cartoonists have found the world of brass bands an inspiration, both in comment on the brass band movement itself and also as reflections on the contemporary political and social scenes.

 

 

 

Bandsmen should become combatants

Bandsmen should become combatants

Original cartoons, from publications such as Punch, in the 19th century, are fairly rare but, in the absence of photographs in the press until the later part of the century, cartoons and line drawings were the main method for illustration.

 

 

 

Bands in the agony of final rehearsal

Bands in the agony of final rehearsal

Both humorous and serious portrayals were produced. Caricatures of band “celebrities” were often used in the press in the 1920s to 1950s in particular. Advertisments featured cartoons regularly and they were also used to illustrated articles and news reports. Cartoons and caricatures are still around today, though the photographic and video media far outweigh the line drawn artworks.

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Despondent band

Despondent band

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Brass Band News 1908

Brass Band News 1908

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Wright

Frank Wright

Distin performer

Distin performer

 

Harry Mortimer

Harry Mortimer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brassed Off

Brassed Off

Nezzy's cornet player

Nezzy’s cornet player

 

 

 

 

 

See Nezzy’s cartoons for a current artist portraying the funny side of brass band life today.

For a large collection of brassy cartoon and graphic images – instruments, people and ensembles – see the IBEW Gallery

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Brass Band Poems

Rishworth & Ryburn Valley Band

Over the years several bands have been immortalised in poetry. From those lauding their heroes to the ones which are critical or even insulting. From the earliest days poets have found something in the music of the bands and the people who play in them to inspire their muse. An example of praise is seen in the postcard on the right, which celebrates Rishworth and Ryburn Valley Brass Band‘s success at the Crystal Palace National Brass Band Championships in 1906, when they won first place in the Junior Cup (equivalent to today’s 3rd Section)

Camelon Brass Band
In the Falkirk Mail of 16th November 1907 a poem appeared entitled “Auld Camelon Band“, of which the first verse is:

There’s Auld Camelon Band they’re aye tae the fore;
They started wi’ flutes in the year ’34,
If you had only heard them their music you’d adore,
For always their number was less than a score,
Their auld flutes ha’e been turned into brass
Three cheers tae the friends that gave them the cash,
For we’ve all joined together to gi’e them a hand,
and try and make good members tae the auld Camelon Band

Slaidburn Band‘s tour of the outlying farms and hamlets above the village around Christmas 1903 is documented in the poem “Success To The Slaidburn Band“, by Ellen Cowking. It tells in 34 verses which places were visited and the names of the residents.

The Cup Winners

The Cup Winners

Kate Hall lived in Freckleton at the turn of the 20th century and wrote poems on a wide range of topics. After her death a book of her poems was unearthed which included several about the Freckleton Brass Band. The first few verses of her poem “The Cup Winners” is shown here. For the rest of the poem, and others about the band, see: Kate Hall’s Freckleton Band poetry

 

 

Rothwell Temperance Band

Under the heading ‘The Temperance Band‘ in the Rothwell Times of May 5th 1882, a poem of nine verses was printed, of which the following are two:

Last Christmas as you all well know,
We had the one Brass Band,
Now you see we have got two,
And one ’tis said won’t stand

They say that water cannot
Blow a note so clear
But that is false!
I know a man
That’s proved it many a year


For further examples of brass band poems see the following pages in the IBEW:

Brass Band Poems – which include Harrogate Band, Carnwarth Brass Band, Dunnikier Brass Band, Blanchardstown Band and early contests in the 1860s.

Bramley Brass Band

Also, see Stephen Etheridge’s Brass Band Poems and Working Class Culture

 

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