A Means Of Enlivening The Community

Chapter 2 - The Early Years

Before commencing on the detailed history of the Slaidburn Band, it may be of interest to learn something of the development of the Brass Band Movement in this country. Percy Scholes writing in his "Oxford Companion To Music" describes the Brass Band particularly well:

“The Brass Band is a type of instrumental combination particularly suitable for open-air performance and allowing of amateur cultivation.”

That definition has not altered over the years, particularly its amateur status. A band's demand at outdoor functions still provides much needed income for maintenance of instruments and uniforms.

As mentioned in the introduction the early bands were often formed from redundant players from church bands when organs were installed and in some cases from the abolition of City or Town "Waites" - licensed bands originally created in the reign of James II to provide suitable music for civic or national occasions.

Whatever their origins their instruments were very different from those of today, names such as the cornopean, serpent, and ophocleide being very common in the mid-nineteenth century. The development of today's instruments is largely due to Adolphe Sax and the Distin family.

Adolphe Sax was responsible for the development of piston and valve operated instruments - the "Sax-Horn" - which were enthusiastically promoted by the Distin family who first performed on these at exhibitions around Europe in the late 1840s. When presenting them at the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Crystal Palace they created a sensation and early instrument manufacturers saw the potential in them for creating a new sound and instrumentation in the United Kingdom and the Brass Band was formed.

By the 1880s the Brass Band had become established as a major amateur music-making body with bands being formed by public subscription and particularly by mill owners who found that creating a "works band" with players from the workforce encouraged a sense of loyalty to the company and appreciation from his employees for his public spirited generosity. At the turn of the century it was estimated that there were some 40,000 brass bands in existence, that figure declining to 10,000 after the Great War when many bands found it impossible to continue when many players did not return from the battlefields. Again after the 2nd World War the figure reduced to 3,000 as social changes and the advent of mass transport and alternative entertainment took hold in the country.

Recent attempts to try and calculate the number of bands still in existence have been difficult as there is no formal national registry that all bands join, but it is thought that there are about 1,200 bands still performing in Great Britain. These changes in numbers were seen in this area too. Within a 12 mile radius of Slaidburn there were at one time at least 14 active bands some of whom amalgamated when players became scarce. Today only 4 remain - Longridge, Balderstone, Giggleswick, Settle and of course, Slaidburn.

One important feature of the Brass Band scene is contesting, a tradition going back to the early days when venues such as Belle Vue and Crystal Palace hosted great national competitions and festivals for the bands. These early events were taken very seriously by both players and supporters alike and much money was placed as bets on the outcome of the major competitions. Illustrious names such as Black Dyke, Fodens, Besses O' The Barn, Wingates and many others gained national importance as winners of the major championships. This competitive element could result in great unpopularity for the Judges if they gave the "wrong" decision at a contest regardless of the musical ability of the competitors. A contest held at Barnoldswick in the late 1880's received national press coverage when it was reported that the Judge's decision was so unpopular that the local police and winning band had to escort the unfortunate man from the hall to the railway station to ensure his safe arrival to catch his train and protect him from physical violence from disgruntled bandsmen and their supporters. In the present day there is no such abuse of judges but the Band Press is regularly bombarded by irate letters from band members complaining about the standard of adjudication - some things never change!

To many members of band committees the importance of contests often took second place in their priorities - the management of the band's finances was usually their major source of concern. As it has been said many bands were formed by public subscription and once the necessary funds had been raised from the public to buy the initial set of instruments and uniforms the band had to ensure adequate money kept coming in to maintain the equipment. Even at the turn of the century raising money to start up a band was not easy. A set of instruments would cost about £40-£50 and a bandsmen could be kitted out in a uniform for about £1-12-6d. By the 1930s a set of instruments had risen to about £350 and an individual uniform to approximately £21. With the introduction of Purchase Tax and more recently VAT combined with fluctuations in metal prices the Brass Band of today would have to find at least £30,000 to buy a reasonable set of instruments and another £250 to provide each individual member with a uniform. These dramatic rises over the years resulted in many "works sponsored" bands losing financial support from companies when over-zealous financial directors looked for ways of cutting costs and many of these bands disappeared from the scene, unable to survive without considerable financial backing. For the public subscription bands, like Slaidburn, it was simply a case of continuing to raise money through engagement fees, raffles, coffee evenings and similar events supported by loyal friends and residents. This support from villagers and townsfolk who rally round to support their local band is remarkable and is greatly appreciated by band members who also give of their time and talents purely for the enjoyment of providing "live music".

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