On Friday 2 June, B:Music’s own Head of Programming, Chris Proctor, joined in on the annual Whit Friday celebration of brass bands across Saddleworth and Tameside.
For the families and the residents of the villages, this is not just another brass band contest, this is a way of life. Roads are closed, special beer is brewed, and village communities come out to support the musicians. Everyone is welcome, multiple generations of families, school friends, tourists, visitors—all coming together through the power of music.
Bands from Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Norway, all over the UK, and just around the corner all compete in this unique series of contests spread across Saddleworth and Tameside.
Like a military campaign, tactics are vital to the successes for bands. Working out the best route to take in order to maximise their chances of winning monetary prizes, bands monitor social media for updates and piece together their plans for the day.
Starting the day with a service in the square in Dobcross, hymns are sung, prayers are dedicated and the band and supporters are sent on their way with a blessing. The procession down the hill to Uppermill for the massed bands service is a real moment of pride for the village. Applause from locals, cheers from well-wishers and a real sense of community and togetherness. If ever the power of music to bring people together was demonstrated, this is it.
We have to manage our adrenaline so we don’t play too hard too soon! The atmosphere sweeps you up, but you’ve got to remember it is a long day!
Cat (cornet player - Dobcross Silver Band)
After a massed gathering and Whit service in Uppermill, it is back to base for a rest (and a traditional meat pie, of course!) before the contests begin in earnest later in the afternoon.
Walking out of Uppermill, bands have the chance to play with the acoustics underneath the viaduct, with enthusiastic bass drums, wholesome trombones and the crackles of snare drums reverberating as trains pass by overhead.
Audiences gather around the performance areas as bands announce their arrival with a signature march. After the blow of a whistle and a respectful silence from the crowds, each band plays their chosen piece, whilst an adjudicator judges their performance ‘blind’ so as to reduce any bias. We heard bands from Australia and Switzerland amongst many other local bands from Saddleworth.
Wandering past Dobcross Band Club, we paused for a rest (and a pint of Whit Friday beer) and were very lucky to encounter the current British Open Brass Band Champions, Brighouse and Rastrick. Where else in the music world can you merely happen across the best musicians in their respective idiom - and entirely for free too? We were treated to a top-class march from the Open champions as they made their way down the hill into the square for their contest performance.
After winning the British Open at Symphony Hall in 2022, to have the chance to share that success with the local communities of Saddleworth and Tameside through participating in these contests is something that we’re immensely proud of.
David (Brighouse and Rastrick)
Did you know?
The highly-acclaimed film Brassed Off (1996) starring Ewan McGregorwas filmed in Delph. The band finals were staged at the Royal Albert Hall, Knightsbridge—but the interior seen in the film was actually that of our very own Town Hall!
Can you spot Town Hall’s majestic organ in the final scenes of the film?
The walk over from Dobcross to Delph gave way to beautiful vistas of the moors, meanders past derelict mills, before arriving at the welcoming sign of Delph Contest. From the current best band in the UK, to a community band from Diggle playing Sweet Caroline (cue an audience singalong!) as they marched down the hill in Delph.
The ‘calling card’ for bands is the march that they play as they enter each village. Whilst in Delph, we were treated to the likes of Cantina Band from Star Wars (Langley Band), George Ezra’s Shotgun (Dobcross Youth Band) and a whole band dressed as cowboys and girls, the Wild West Band. Back over in Dobcross later on, we were treated to the likes of Bruno Mars, Beyoncé and Chav Brass playing 90s club classics!
Our final part of the long day involved the trek back up the hill back to Dobcross square to watch and support the last of the bands who were still contesting over 6 hours after they’d started.
There are a whole team of unsung heroes on days like these, and I’d like to give particular credit to the contest organisers for running the events so smoothly (Dobcross contest itself had over 60 bands playing in a 6-hour window!), and to the coach drivers, whose remarkable skill of navigating the narrow winding roads and crowded high streets, should be applauded.
As the hosts of one of the other bastions of the brass band world with the British Open and the Brass Gala at Symphony Hall each September, the value of the music, the comradery and the support to the brass band community, is something that B:Music is proud to contribute to. The aim of this year’s Brass In A Day is to nurture the next generation of brass band musicians, from the have-a-go sessions for young children, via the best local and national young musicians, all the way up to the world’s number one band. If Whit Friday is to remain as one of the world’s unique musical experiences, then we need to play our part in supporting and inspiring the next generation of brass band talent.
Coverage and photos by Chris Proctor, Head of Programming (B:Music)