Morpeth Band Festival 1895 – almost the end of a great tradition

The discovery of a letter, requesting the use of a field for a band festival in 1895, led me to recall details I had read of the Morpeth Monstre Band Festivals of the 1860s and 1870s. A non-competitive event with between 8 and 15 bands, it featured massed band performances as well as those of the individual bands. A revival of the Festival in the 1890s was not so successful, being largely affected by adverse weather. See the following article for further details:


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Explain masculine & feminine rhythms

65393194_10156289923341961_6582377714328535040_nWhat is a “climax”? What is often the cause of sticky valves? Explain masculine and feminine rhythms? Name a common fault with trombone players?

No – these aren’t elements of a Cosmopolitan agony aunt’s page, but four of the 340 questions that make up “Viva Voce Questions for Brass Band Candidates”. This is a booklet produced by Alfred Ashpole in 1936 to assist those preparing to sit theory exams on brass bands. A companion booklet “Model Answers to Viva Voce Questions” provides the suggested responses to each question.

In case you are wondering the answers to the above are:

  • “The moment when the greatest intensity of sound effect is produced”
  • “Pushing them out of alignment by faulty fingering”
  • “A feminine rhythm starts on an unaccented beat, whilst a masculine rhythm starts on an accented beat”
  • “They often try to make the mouth and slide do what should be done by the tongue, also the movement of the slide from one position to another is often too sluggish”

See the full set of questions here:

and the answers:

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Alternatives to marching & hazardous journeys

As it is the marching season – with Whit Friday, various march contests, Durham Miners’ Gala, local parades, walking days etc. I’m sure that many players (especially bass players) would like to revert to the old days when bands processed in their bandwagons, which were quite often brightly decorated – especially those involved with circuses and travelling shows. There are historical precedents for some alternatives in the absence of a wagon – roller skates or bicycles! Of course these would probably be even worse for the teeth going over cobbles, but it would certainly save on the shoe leather. Perhaps we could have Chris Froome or Bradley Wiggins as deportment judges for the “marches”…


Dunfermline Skating Rink Band


The perils of roller-skating while playing


Christchurch (New Zealand) Cycle Band c.1895


unknown Dutch band c.1910


unknown penny-farthing band


another “cycle” band


who needs two wheels ?


Stephen Hughes provided the above picture of Besses o’ th’ Barn Band preparing to travel in a charabanc to a concert at the BBC c. 1924.


Not all such trips are successful, as evidenced by the above picture of the Bristol (Connecticut) Band’s bus when it ran off the road into the river.

There are many accounts of mishaps occurring to bands as they went about their business – a couple of examples are:

Forth Brass Band (Lanarkshire) – In 1893 a brake containing the members of the band met with an accident while passing through Motherwell, the vehicle split in two spilling the passengers to the ground – the back portion were left while the horse took fright and bolted down the street with the other portion. Several members of the band were injured and the horse ran down two children before being brought to a standstill.

Suckley Excelsior Band (Worcestershire) – On one occasion the band was returning from an engagement at Broadwas Court, and had to cross the River Teme, and when the whole band stepped onto the ferry boat it sank. The bandsmen grabbed the cords on the side of the big drum and sailed across under their own efforts, reaching the bank damp but undaunted.

While we are on a morbid note – the Canadian Territorial Staff Band of the Salvation Army, formed in 1907, consisted of around 40 members. In the early hours of May 29, 1914, while on its way to the Army’s International Congress in London, the ship on which they were travelling – The Empress of Ireland – was struck by the Norwegian collier Storstad and sank in 14 minutes. Only eight bandsmen survived. 1,012 people perished in the accident, which remains the worst maritime disaster in Canadian history.



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Band minute books

Band minute books – a forgotten but valuable source of historical information. I am sure many current bands, especially those with long histories, will have minute and account books of their early years, but I suspect that most other bands’ records are long since lost. A few have made their way into local or county archives, but the majority were probably dumped when the bands folded. If you know of any such documents that are orphaned (i.e. not belonging to a current band) I would be interested to hear, if only to see what steps can be taken to preserve them.

Many years ago I acquired two minute books of the Llangollen Town Band. Having recently unearthed them, in the process of digitising other historical band material, I felt they should be returned to the Band as it is still active (unlike most of the other items I have). Llangollen Silver Band, as it is now known, was formed in 1904, succeeding a previous Llangollen Brass Band that was active from the 1850’s to the 1890’s. I don’t have any other information about the band’s history other than what is in the two books, which cover a period from 1925 to the mid-1950’s. The pages have been scanned to pdf files and a copy of the files has been sent with the physical books to the Band. Like most bands, Llangollen enjoyed and suffered the good and bad times, had players who were a challenge and dealt with the day to day issues of obtaining new instruments, maintaining the band premises and finding new and replacement players.



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More rules – Stand Band (Lancashire) 1828

The band was formed in 1828, with Thomas Lee as its leader. It established a set of 16 Articles (rules) that members should abide by, with various monetary forfeits if they did not. Some additional rules were added after the original members signed the document.


To be duly and strictly observed by the Members of the Stand Music Society

Article 1st – that there shall be a meeting of the members of this Society every Saturday evening to begin at seven o’clock, and at any other time the Leader thinks proper for practice.

Article 2nd – that any member not present at seven o’clock shall forfeit the sum of one penny, and at 8, 2 pence, to the club, but if any member absents himself the whole of the night he shall forfeit threepence unless he be prevented by sickness or some other lawful excuse in case he shall send word to the members on or before seven o’clock, at the meeting room, or before seven o’clock at the meeting room, or pay the above mentioned fines.

Article 3rd – that if any member hath any Book or Books belonging to the Society and shall neglect to bring or send them before seven o’clock to the meeting room he shall for every Book forfeit the sum of one penny.

Article 4th – that every member shall contribute one penny each week for the support of this Society in Books, Candles, etc.

Article 5th – that if any member suffers his contributor money and fines to run in arrears four nights he shall pay one penny extra, and one penny extra for every night after till the eight night, and if all arrears are not then paid off, such member shall be excluded all share of benefit of this Society, unless he can give some satisfactory reason to the Committee.

Article 6th – that there shall be five in number chose from out of this Society to act as a Committee, the first 5 shall serve 6 months and then 2 of them shall retire and 2 fresh one elected in their stead, and so on every 6 months.

Article 7th – that there shall be a Treasurer appointed to keep the Money Books etc., in his possession and he shall keep a regular and plain account of every member’s fines and of the whole of the income and expenditure of this Society. Any of the members may inspect his Books to see if the accounts are kept regular and plain.

Article 8th – no books to be bought without the consent of the Committee.

Article 9th – any member using any abusive language to any of this members saying anything that may injure or depreciate his character using any immoral or indecent language, taking God’s name in vain, offering to lay wagers or promoting gaming of any kind whatever in Club room, during Club hours, shall for every such offence forfeit the sum of one penny to the Society.

Article 10th – no member to take any Books from the Club room without acquainting the Treasurer first, in order that he may know where it is should he absent himself the following meeting night, any member taking books without leave shall pay one penny of a forfeit to the Club for every Book.

Article 11th – if at any time more than one half of this Society has an opportunity of hiring themselves to thereof, and if cannot all agree those that goes shall pay to those members who stays away as much as shall make their share equal to one fourth of those that goes.

Article 12th – that there shall be a President chosen whose business it shall be to call to order and if any member raised a dispute, sounds any other of the members instruments or his own betwixt times in any way so as to disturb the peace and order of the meeting and refuse to keep silence, after he has been a second time requested by the President, for every such offence he shall forfeit the sum of one penny to the Club.

Article 13th – any person wishing to become a member of this Society may attend any of the meeting nights and signify his intention to the Society, the Leader, or some other member shall then read over the rules and then if the members are willing to accept him he may, on paying if it be before the 9th of January 1s 3d, but if it be after that time 2s 6d for his entrance become entitled to a share of the books etc., the same as the rest.

Article 14th – should any dispute arise at any time respecting any of the above mentioned fines it shall be put to the Committee and decision shall be final.

Article 15th – that this Society shall not be broken up as long as there is 5 members willing to carry it on, any member withdrawing himself from this Society shall forfeit all claim to the Books or other effects belonging thereunto.

Article 16th – any member refusing to comply with any of the above mentioned articles after having signed his hand thereto, shall forfeit all claims whatever upon this Society. Anyone that’s out of this room 15 minutes during Club hours must forfeit one penny.

We whose names as hereunder mentioned do fully agree to the above mentioned articles. So witness our hand this day.

James Farrar; John Collier; Hiram Riley; John Lomas; Richard Bourton; Jack Foyle; James Melling; William Thornley; Richard Taylor; James Snape; John Alton; James Head; Peter Alton; Thomas Buckley; Thomas Riley; John Kirkman; Arthur Alton; Samuel Holt; John Sandiford; William Lomas; Robert Hilary; Moses Butterworth; Charles Cranshaw; William Davenport; Thomas Lomas; James Hollander; William Booth; Henry Rothmans; Jonathan Prestwich; John Ramsbottom; Charles Entwistle; John ?; Sam ?; John Priest

Rule 17 – any member of this Society striking any of his the other members he shall be fined 2/6d. Should his pupil attack him he shall be fined 1/- and then left to the Leader.

Rule 18 – any member being absent from the body at large 15 minutes, 3d, or 30 minutes, 6d, without the consent of the leader

Rule 19 – that the band walks out every monthly night and at any other time when the majority think proper.

Rule 20 – that if the Chairman does not attend his fine will be double, and when out, fourfold.

Rule 21 – any one upbraiding another person with over playing him and not playing his own part shall be fined for the first offence 1d, and for the 2nd, 3d.

The Committee which was chosen August 2nd 1828 was John Collier, William Thornley, James Taylor, James Melling, John Lomas.

The Committee which was chosen November 1st 1828 was James Melling, John Lomas, Richard Taylor, Nathan ?, Hiram Riley.

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More brass band rules – from the USA in 1853

Rules for Band Practice – Allen Dodworth’s Brass Band School 1853

Written by James Rice – “Teacher of Brass Bands”

  • 1st – Tune all instruments by the 1st Soprano.
  • 2nd – First tune but two at a time.
  • 3rd – Finally tune in a body.
  • 4th – No blowing or practicing between the pieces; that should be done at home.
  • 5th – Begin together.
  • 6th – Obey the leader or director, in every particular, in relation to the performance of the music; a Band to play well must be governed by one mind.
  • 7th – Let the drums beat VERY softly, otherwise it will be impossible to hear the defects.

Practicing in Concert, or Band Playing

rfbpEach member of the Band, having practiced all that has been laid down, will next take his part of the first lesson, practice that until perfectly familiar with it, so that he may be able to play it without its absorbing the whole of his attention, for it often occurs, with beginners, that they are so engaged with the difficulties (or beauties) of their own part, that they are scarcely conscious that any but themselves have been playing this; this should not be so; every member should be familiar enough with his own part to be able to pay some attention to what is doing without him, and although it is praiseworthy to play his part as if the whole effect depended upon the proper execution of that part, yet, at the same time, he should remember that band playing is not simply a number of men playing certain notes with great correctness and precision, it is, in addition to all that, a number of instruments harmonizing and sympathizing with each other, as if the same sensitive soul governed all, as one; let every member play his part and nothing more; if this is not difficult enough to show his abilities, let him play a solo; do not mutilate the arrangement of the music. Before beginning a new piece, look closely to the signature, observing what notes are made flat or sharp, what time it is in, and how fast it is to be played. Attend closely to the pianos; it is an old and very true saying, that “the fortes always take care of themselves”; there are many shades of forte and piano, which should be carefully attended to; then there are the forzandos, crescendos, diminuendos, staccatos, slurs, and all the other little marks connected with the music, the attention to which evinces the excellence of a Band’s training.

Rules Recommended for the Band Room

  • 1st – Use no profane or vulgar language.
  • 2nd – Keep your rehearsal room clean and orderly.
  • 3rd – Have good music stands and suitable lights.
  • 4th – Do not take pride in being the last one at the band meetings.
  • 5th – Do not attempt to lead the leader.
  • 6th – And finally, remember that noise is not music.

James Rice

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Wylam Colliery – Rules of a band

The band was founded in 1850 and was supported by the colliery owners, the Blackett family, and also by subscription. A set of rules were drawn up which, by today’s standards, were quite strict in their forfeits and fines, though the issues they foresaw in their members’ behaviours are still relevant today!


The  band was administered by a committee comprising the colliery viewer (manager), the master of the band and a nominee of ‘the subscribers of five shillings and upwards per annum’. The band met at 8 p.m. each Saturday evening for practice (when it was formed it rehearsed twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays). It performed in the village square on the first Thursday in the month. The band was still active in 1863. The  rules have been transcribed from the original handwritten 1850 manuscript, and are documented in the article below.

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