There has always been an ecosphere of activity surrounding brass bands, then and now ranging from retail to journalism and people who take a general interest in day-to-day activities. This level of interest varies among people, and especially in the bands of old, there was an amount of engagement in these ensembles. One only has to read past newspapers as a measure of this engagement. Most readers of this blog know I dwell in the Trove archive to find information for these posts; it is through these newspaper articles that the life and atmosphere of these bands can be fully appreciated.
This post is different from previous posts where the focus is not on bands per se, but on a bands person who described himself as very involved in the brass band movement, Cecil Clarence Mullen. I am very thankful to have been gifted one of his rare booklets, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951). He wrote another article on the history of Victorian bands in 1965 for The Victorian Historical Magazine. However, there is more to explore in his writing, including some of the opinions on the band movement and the work he did as a brass band statistician.
Mullen had a role to play documenting the band history of Victoria and it is unfortunate that his work is not really well known. We will see where Mullen’s work was at its most valuable, but also where some of his work could be questioned – this post will be taking a subjective view of some of his writing and opinions. It must be recognised that at the time, Mullen did not have the information resources at his disposal like we do now. However, what he did do was make an effort to record and compile results in a way that was unique.
C. C. Mullen (1895-1983):
It was difficult to build a full picture of Mullen’s life as some resources were not comprehensive. Through the research of State records (Public Records Office Victoria and Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria), it is found that he was born in 1895 and initially lived in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. For much of his further life, he lived in the nearby suburb of Abbotsford and was still residing in that suburb when he died in 1983 at the age of 88 (Mullen, 1983). As for employment, it is listed in some records that he worked as a Clerk at the Argus newspaper and various other local newspapers (Ruddell, 2010)
Mullen’s amateur interests were extensive and varied including music, sports, local history and it seems youth and education as well (Ruddell, 2010). He was complimented on his work with local youth groups of which he made every effort to prepare youth for further work and education (“Richmond Boys’ Club,” 1932). It is through further research in the Trove archive that we see a fuller picture of Mullen’s mindset as he was an avid contributor of letters to the newspapers. He wrote on all sorts of topics; youth, education, transport, parks, library opening hours, manners at the opera, sports, politics, etc (Mullen, 1937, 1946, 1947, 1952a). The articles displayed below are only a tiny sample of his letter output.
Regarding his letter writing, it seems he did not write to the papers on one of his favourite topics, brass bands, except for one instance when he requested photos of the Kalgoorlie brass bands for his brass band history collection (Mullen, 1951a). It is also in this letter that we see that Mullen has described himself as a “statistician and historian of brass and military bands” (Mullen, 1951a).
This post will not dwell on Mullen’s interests in other subjects however they do provide some clues as to how Mullen went about doing things, and what his personal attitudes were like. He gives the impression of being an egalitarian person and was a firm advocate for youth groups (Mullen, 1952b). He did not like some of the aspects of competition, taking aim through one of his letters at “the selfish competition of mankind, instead of the co-operation of mankind” (Mullen, 1940). In another one of the newspaper letters he advocates for the abolition of school sports, and in his booklet, he advocates for the abolition of grades in band contests (Mullen, 1937, 1951b). In saying so, Mullen still supported the aims of the Royal South Street Society band competition sections and sponsored trophies for “Best Drummer” in 1958, another trophy in 1959, and a trophy in 1964 for “Bandmaster showing Best Deportment” (Royal South Street Society, 1958, 1959, 1964). As for his historical work, we will examine his band history research in the next sections, however, it should be noted that there is an amount of conjecture over the accuracy of his sports history writing and statistics (Hay, 2010).
An enthusiastic commentator is probably an apt description of Mullen given his penchant for writing on all manner of subjects. His band history work is what provides the most interest (for this post) and we will see a person who clearly enjoyed his statistics.
C. C. Mullen: Historian of Brass & Military Bands:
There is no doubt, through reading his works, that Mullen was an enthusiastic advocate, documenter and historian of brass and military bands. Both his main works on the subject, his booklet and his later article attest to this. This section will review his booklet first, then his article from 1965.
1951: “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”:
The first impression that is given about the booklet is that he clearly wrote this booklet as an outlet for his interest in brass bands and musicians. The aim of this booklet, as Mullen notes in the preface, was to publish
…for the first time in the history of brass bands in this country, a condensed history of bands and players who have taken part in most important annual band competitions in Australasia – that of South Street, Ballarat, Victoria. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 1)
With this aim, he achieved his goal and the book contains the names of musicians, the bands they were associated with, and which instruments they played. Below is small except from one of the lists which makes up many of the pages of this booklet.:
In the preface, Mullen outlines his life in the brass band movement. In summary he:
- was a pupil of Edward Code,
- apparently knew all the famous bandmasters of the day,
- was embedded in the administration of the early Victorian Bands’ Association, and later the Victorian Bands’ League,
- was a contributor of articles to all the famous band magazines (Mullen, 1951b).
He notes that the famous Bandmaster Edward Code was a great influence on his early life and that he felt honoured as a former pupil to have published this booklet (Mullen, 1951b). Interestingly, both Edward Code and Mullen are buried in the same cemetery in Melbourne, the Coburg Pine Ridge Cemetery in Melbourne’s north – although 65 years apart.
Mullen was not afraid of expressing his opinions on bands and the administration of bands. On page four of his booklet is a one-page treatise on the importance of brass bands to the community, with a paragraph (below) on his thoughts of bands in schools (Mullen, 1951b). A previous post has touched on the historical discrepancies with the starting of school bands in Victoria and Mullen adds his own discrepancy when he declares “I had the first band in Victoria composed of schoolboys” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 4). When reading this paragraph, it brings to mind a piece of writing in one of the old brass band magazines where the writer had some choice words for the headmasters of the day about not starting bands (“THE EDITOR’S BATON,” 1929). Perhaps it was Mullen himself who wrote the article in this 1929 issue of The Australasian Band and Orchestra News, but we may never know for sure.
In finishing his one-page treatise on the importance of brass bands, Mullen laments that the State and National controlling bodies have not done enough to promote bands. He states,
It is up to our band controlling bodies and the Australian Band Council to take this matter up seriously and see that more cannot be done to keep the importance of brass bands before the people of Australia. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 4).
The main aim of this booklet, as mentioned, was to document the prize-winning brass band musicians and bands who had participated in the South Street competitions over a number of years. Two pages of the booklet are devoted to a poem Mullen wrote on South Street. Another section of the book was written by a contributor, “Baton” who wrote a history of the band sections at South Street (Baton, 1951). This contribution is comprehensive and valuable and adds to the existing histories of the band sections at South Street.
Mullen also wrote other small sections in the starting pages and ending pages of the booklet, where, we still see that he is using the booklet to express his own opinions – which is understandable. Some section headings in the starting pages are telling;
- “Test Selections need revising” (he felt that operatic works instead of technical works made better test pieces),
- “Band grading should be abolished” (he felt the grading system had outgrown its usefulness)
- “Bad drumming of class marches” (Apparently Bandmasters were not teaching or paying attention to the drummers about learning their parts properly) (Mullen, 1951b, pp. 6-8)
In the later pages of the booklet, Mullen provides some useful historical information on the South Street competitions, South Street judges, how Britain developed band music in Australia, the Quickstep section and the formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (Mullen, 1951b). Still, he is wanting to express his opinions in these pages and makes comment on how “Grand Opera assists bandsmen” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 61). Mullen, as we’ve seen, is also a great advocate for the young and has used a section to advocate for young band conductors. Also, in another section, while he congratulates young soloists for participating in South Street, he also took aim at their onstage deportment – Mullen obviously did not like young soloists who sat down while playing and he gave a serve to bandmasters “who encourage this sort of thing” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62).
In one of the final sections of the booklet titled “High Cost of Running Brass Bands” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62), we read that he is trying to advocate for more monetary support for the brass band movement. He levels criticism at various entities such as the Federal Government on tariffs on musical instruments, the State Government on the money being spent on the upcoming Olympic Games, and the Australian Band Council for not talking to governments on behalf of brass bands (Mullen, 1951b). Mullen takes a singularly myopic viewpoint, well-meaning, but possibly futile. Of course, this is all in relation to his support for young musicians and their access to instruments and the expense of obtaining such instruments. He laments that,
Unfortunately Australia is so “sports minded” that it is a much easier proposition to conduct a boy’s cricket or football team than to form a junior band and give youngsters the chance of a musical education or at least a musical mind. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)
Meaning, that if all things were ideal in Mullen’s viewpoint, money would be better spent on the brass band movement.
Would it not be a good investment for the future education of this country for our Governments to spend something on band music in order to help Australia to have a cultured mind – something she lacks at present. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)
In this section about the monetary challenges faced by brass bands and lack of support, Mullen has managed to draw in his other points of interest in sports, politics/government and education of youth!
In finishing a review of Mullen’s written paragraphs and opinions in this booklet, it is as has been mentioned; he used this booklet to express is many opinions, ideas and advocacy. His writing was well-meaning, but one wonders how much effect it had on the powers that be? I personally feel that the lists of bandsmen, instruments and bands provide much more historical interest and meaning in this booklet.
1965: “Brass Bands have played a prominent part in the History of Victoria”:
In 1965, fourteen years later after publishing his booklet, Mullen published another article in The Victorian Historical Magazine with the above title. Mullen is aged 70 in 1965 and his wealth of historical knowledge about the brass band movement is evident in this article. The richness of historical information about bands, conductors, adjudicators, the South Street competitions and Victorian musical life can be fully appreciated here – possibly more so than his previous booklet which contained a limited range of historical writing (Mullen, 1951b, 1965).
Mullen provides an amount of context in this article. To build the narrative, he starts off with the large and then brings focus. In the opening paragraphs, this means tracing brass instruments from biblical times to the development of bands in England and then to Victoria with a focus on immigration (Mullen, 1965). In this article, Mullen also draws in some historical information about Victorian bands and events, and he has quoted large parts of various band magazines. For example, the next section after the introduction is about bands playing at the Eureka Rebellion of which he used information from “The Australian Bandsman. 26th October 1923” (Mullen, 1965, p. 31). This section on the Eureka Rebellion is useful as it focuses on the band history of Ballarat – which became home to the famous Royal South Street band competitions.
Progressing through the article, we can see that Mullen provides lots of detail throughout various sections while continuing his historical narrative. When reading, there is an impressive list of bands, bandsmen, competitions and little stories to be discovered. He has written a section on the “Famous Band Families” such as “James Scarff, Samuel Lewins and Thomas E. Bulch” and the “Codes” – brothers “Edward, John, Alfred and William” and sons of Edward, “Percy” and brother “Samuel” (Mullen, 1965, pp. 36-39). The South Street band competitions were a subject that had a special interest to Mullen and he devoted another whole section to them, again, listing memorable bands, bandsmen and adjudicators (Mullen, 1965).
In the later writing of this article, there were some notable historical events that Mullen mentions such as the early tours of Besses o’ the’ Barn Band and the Sousa Band, the formation of the Victorian Bands’ League, the impact of the World Wars on local bands, radio broadcasting and in the band world, the activities of the ABC Military Band (Mullen, 1965). The final section of the article gives praise to the Victorian brass bands for maintaining a high standard of playing, although Mullen attributes this to,
…bandmasters setting a fine example in teaching young players a love for classical works of the of the great composers relating to Grand Opera, Ballet, Symphonies, Oratorio, Sacred and Religious works, and good songs that have been set to music. (Mullen, 1965, p. 46)
In other words, music that was not originally written for brass bands.
Mullen was ever fond of lists (which will be evident further in this post), and in this final section he has listed a number of notable brass band conductors, in addition to others previously named in his article such as “Harry Shugg” (Geelong Harbour Trust, Malvern Tramways & City of Ballarat) (Mullen, 1965, pp. 11, 43). (The list below has been ordered into a bulleted list which is different from how it is presented in the article):
- Sharpe Brearley (Geelong Town)
- Tom Davison (Coburg Municipal and Box Hill)
- John Dyamond (Richmond District, who was deputy conductor of the Victorian Police Band for many years)
- John Booth Gore (Hawthorn City)
- H. Graves (Geelong Garrison, Geelong Harbour Trust and St Augustine’s)
- Thomas Hellings (Collingwood Imperial and Richmond City)
- Hugh Niven (Wonthaggi Union, Echuca Rangers, Brunswick City, Eaglehawk, Royal Australian Air Force)
- William Ryder (Prahran and Malvern Tramways)
- Alfred Rowell (Ballarat Soldiers’ Memorial, City of Ballarat)
- William Saville (Fitzroy)
- Charles Smith (Melbourne Vice-Regal, Preston Citizens, Victoria Police Band)
- Norman Uren (Hawthorn City)
- Albert Wade (Ballarat City, Wanganui Garrison)
- Frank Wright (Ballarat City, Ballarat Memorial)
- Tom Campbell (Kingsville-Yarraville)
- William Philpott (South Melbourne and Malvern Municipal)
(Mullen, 1965, pp. 9-11, 47)
If there is one criticism of this article it is the way that Mullen has finished it, there is no real conclusion. It just…ends. Mullen leaves the article hanging by making mention of the most recent overseas visit of an international military band (prior to the publication of this article) in 1965). The final paragraph reads:
The most recent visit of an overseas musical combination to Victoria was that of Her Majesty’s Scots Guards, under Captain James Howe, in March 1964, when it played at the Moomba Carnival in Melbourne. (Mullen, 1965, p. 47)
It is admirable that Mullen wrote an article such as this given that lack of historical writing on the band movement in Victoria as a whole. What this article does do is create many links between bands, bandsmen and historical context, which is no doubt due to Mullen’s interests in these subject areas. We should thank Mullen; despite this article being written fifty-five years ago to this date, it is still relevant and serves as a useful guide to much of the band movement history in Victoria.
C. C. Mullen: Statistician:
Returning to Mullen’s publication on brass bands, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), we will see what can be considered to be the real historical value of this booklet, the lists of names and bands. Mullen was meticulous in the way he compiled his lists. No doubt he had access to the names and competition wins through his work at the newspapers, but to compile the lists covering fifty-one years is quite remarkable. All of the bandsmen and bands can be cross-referenced with the Royal South Street results database (Mullen, 1951b; Royal South Street Society, 2020).
A small excerpt of one of the lists has been displayed earlier in this post. The way Mullen has compiled these lists is quite logical. He has started with all the conductors and then listed all the prize winners for every instrument of a brass band. Interestingly, although South Street never held any solo competitions for Side or Bass Drummers, Mullen lists the bandsmen he considers notable on these instruments. In the closing pages of the statistics, he lists all of the bands from every State and New Zealand that have participated in South Street over the time frame of this booklet (Mullen, 1951b). Below are samples of some of the lists, and they are fairly self-explanatory.
As we can see above, Mullen clearly had an eye for statistical detail. No doubt he felt he was doing the band movement service by publishing all of this, and to some extent he was. This is the only booklet of its kind to emerge from this era. Nowadays we can access all of these results through the South Street results database and find names in the Trove archive. Mullen did not have these electronic means, and even though the lists do not include the competition scores and rankings of bandsmen, the lists are still very informative. Another reason to thank Mullen for his work.
Mullen has made a great contribution to the history of the band movement in Victoria through his own personal interest, dedication, and knowledge. In the absence of any other work of this nature, both his booklet and later article provide an overall picture of the band movement. Yes, his opinions were controversial when viewed in a new light. However, I feel he meant well, and I also feel that Mullen’s work on the history of the band movement needs to be more widely known.
Baton. (1951). South Street band competitions have achieved world wide fame. In Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) (pp. 5-6). Melbourne, Vic.: Horticultural Press.
THE EDITOR’S BATON: Bringing up the boy to the band. (1929). The Australasian Band and Orchestra News, XXV(2), 1 & 3.
Hay, R. (2010). Cec Mullen, Tom Willis and the search for early Geelong football. The Yorker, Spring(42), 3-5.
Mullen, C. C. (1937, 17 December). Sport in Schools. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11133645
Mullen, C. C. (1940, 16 July). Voluntary Service. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204409992
Mullen, C. C. (1946, 08 January). NORTHERN TRAMWAY ROUTES. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22221100
Mullen, C. C. (1947, 18 December). School Holidays. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 15. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243844022
Mullen, C. C. (1951a, 13 January). Goldfields Brass Bands : To the Editor. Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article256809482
Mullen, C. C. (1951b). Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951). Melbourne, Vic.: Horticultural Press.
Mullen, C. C. (1952a, 03 January). LETTERS (in a nutshell) : Too old. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23155399
Mullen, C. C. (1952, 03 January). Youth in the Wrong Jobs. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204978021
Mullen, C. C. (1965). Brass bands have played a prominent part in the history of Victoria. The Victorian Historical Magazine, 36(1), 30-47.
Mullen, C. C. (1983, 01 January). This is the last will and testament of me…. Will and Testament. Wills and Probates, (919/613, VPRS7591/P9 Unit 22). Public Record Office Victoria.
Richmond Boys’ Club : Fine Work by C. C. Mullen. (1932, 17 December). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189122433
Royal South Street Society. (1958, 25 October). 1958-10-25 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1958-10-25-brass-band-contests
Royal South Street Society. (1959, 23 October). 1959-10-23 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1959-10-23-brass-band-contests
Royal South Street Society. (1964, 24 October). 1964-10-24 Victorian Brass Band Championship. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1964-10-24-victorian-brass-band-championship
Royal South Street Society. (2020). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au
Ruddell, T. (2010). Introducing Cec Mullen: pioneer sports historian. The Yorker, Spring(42), 2.