Influences from Britain: James Ord Hume and “The Besses Effect”.

Postcard: Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1908) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

Introduction:

The visit of one of the premier bands of Britain to Australia would be an event of great interest, and Mr. Hume, speaking on the matter, said that if the railways would guarantee to grant free passes to the members, he could almost promise that either the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, of Lancashire or the Black Dyke Band, of Yorkshire, would come out.  That the venture would be a success Mr Hume says he has not the slightest doubt, and he considers that the playing would come as a revelation to Australians.

(“MR. J. ORD HUME.,” 1903)

Australian bands, to put it simply, are an extension of the movement started in Britain and bands are one of Britain’s great cultural exports.  As has been noted in other posts, the influx of people from the British Isles and other places carried their music with them.  It is no surprise that in the early years, bands were established in localities across Australia. 

There was no shortage of enthusiasm for starting a band, and no shortage of budding musicians willing to learn.  However, training them, supporting them and giving them inspiration was at times problematic.  Musical training was sometimes left up to those willing to take the job of bandmaster, whether they had brass band skills or not.  This was the case in some places but not others as some bands became very proficient, very quickly. 

Not that this mattered to some untrained ears.  Many towns and localities were simply glad to have a band (a source of civic pride).  Although the bands that were founded in the late 1800s and early 1900s possibly realised that their playing was not up to English standards.  Bands were willing to learn, it was just a matter of whom to learn from.  It was not until the advent of organised competitions and visits from English bands that the standard of playing was given a critical ear and adjudicators provided bands with helpful comments on how to improve.

This post will examine what was probably the greatest shift in musical standards amongst Australian bands that took place over the period of two to three decades.  This rapid improvement was partly inspired by the visits of the eminent Scottish band adjudicator James Ord Hume and the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band from England.  Thankfully, for the purposes of this post, we can see the comments of James Ord Hume over the course of his two visits as he judges the bands.  We will also see that while the tours of Besses were significant in themselves, it is the lasting effect these visits had on Australian bands that deserves attention.  This is a combined story; a story of how British band musicians did their best to inspire and help Australian bands to be the best they could be.

James Ord Hume, 1902-1903:

National Advocate, 13/11/1902, p. 5-6

Lieutenant James Ord Hume was an “eminent English and Scottish bandmaster, composer, critic and adjudicator” (Mullen, 1965, p. 40).  A lifetime of musical training in the British Army and civilian bands had provided him with a unique connectedness with all sorts of musicians, and he had utilised his opportunities to the full by learning to play all band instruments and study musical theory (Thirst, 2006).  His reputation as a musician preceded him and he was highly sought after as an adjudicator and clinician.  As Thirst (2006) writes in his bookJames Ord Hume 1864-1932 : a friend to all bandsmen : an account of his life and music’,

He was a popular adjudicator throughout the British Empire, and frequently visited Australia and New Zealand to judge in the famous contest at Ballarat and elsewhere

(p. 47)

This was not an idle statement as many accounts of James Ord Hume show him to be a very forthright person with his adjudications and opinions, and he was appreciated by bandsmen all over Australia and New Zealand (“Bathurst Band Contests.,” 1902).  One might say that with his attitude he was a bit free with his advice.  Nevertheless, Ord Hume acted with the best intentions and sought to bring the standards of Australian bands up to where he thought they should be and provided solutions on how Australian bands might achieve this.  Certainly, his foretelling that Australian bands would view the “playing” of Besses o’ th’ Barn Band as a “revelation” came to fruition some years later (“MR. J. ORD HUME.,” 1903).

When Ord Hume talked, Australian bandsmen listened and there are some notable examples of his advice being applied literally and quickly.  He greatly followed developments in the brass band world, and it is because of him that Australian bands stopped using valve trombones – Ord Hume could not stand them.  The article below published by the Molong Argus is testament to his comments, and it seems James Ord Hume was quite happy to repeat this mantra to whomever asked him about it (“About Trombones.,” 1902; “Bathurst Band Contests.,” 1902).

Molong Argus, 28/11/1902, p. 15

James Ord Hume first visited Australia in 1902-1903 where he adjudicated at various eisteddfods around the country, starting with the South Street band sections in Ballarat.  Ord Hume was greatly impressed with the concept of the South Street and before the competitions had even begun, he had given them praise – and also a taste of what to expect.

He said he had always had a desire to visit Australia, and only demurred on receiving the invitation from the South-street Society to adjudicate at this year’s contests because of want of time.  However, the musical people of England wanted to know how they stood with Australia in competitive work, and the mission he entered upon was to give a candid opinion of all that occurred in a general report.  The musical contests of South-street were certainly the greatest in the world.

(“SOUTH-STREET COMPETITION’S,” 1902)

It would be fair to say that, barring some exceptions, he was not overly impressed with what he heard in the band contests and was quite clear about this in his comments (“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902).  His parting comments were a measure of contrast.  Of the good bands he said…

…had given splendid performances which would compare favourably with the best heard at contests in the old country.

(“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902)

And he was scathing about bands at the other end of the scale…

On the other hand some were distinctly bad.  Their principal fault was a lack of tone; the men had not blown out their instruments as they should have done.  If a player just obtained a good loud tone he could easily subdue it without losing breath and character.  In the constant effort to play softly this was all lost.

(“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902)

This being said, he also offered practical advice on how bandsmen could improve.

To obtain tone he advised bandsmen to practise slow scales, and plenty of steady moving psalm tunes.

(“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902)

Timothy Thirst (2006) did note in his book that Ord Hume was “known to be sometimes rather sarcastic and outspoken in his comments.” (p. 55). 

Ord Hume provide similarly forward comments when adjudicating in Bathurst, Sydney and New Zealand for various competitions, such was the hectic schedule of his visit.  However, there are some indications that Australian bands were beginning to pick up their musical standards.  After adjudicating in Sydney at the end of 1902, Ord Hume provided some observations.

He said that since he had been in Australia he had noticed an improvement in the playing of the bands.  He had observed at Ballarat and Bathurst, and now here.  He was about to proceed to Castlemaine (Vic.), and thence to New Zealand, and on his return the results of his observations would be published.

(“CHAMPIONSHIP BAND CONTEST.,” 1902)

When Ord Hume returned to Ballarat in 1903 prior to his travel back to England, he was asked what Australian bands needed to do to achieve a more excellent standard of playing.

“They require tuition” he said.  “In many cases it has come to this, that the men have to come to know as much as the conductor himself, and in such a case the progress made is not very great as you may imagine.  In New Zealand this fact is not so noticeable and it explains the reason why their bands, generally speaking, are much better than those here.  They possess over there many instructors who have come out from the old country, but here it seems to be ‘Australia for the Australians,’ and that will not do in music at any rate.”

(“MR. J. ORD HUME.,” 1903)

As mentioned, Ord Hume was appreciated for his direct commentary and aside from his work adjudicating he was afforded all kinds of civic receptions at the conclusion of events.  Perhaps this is understandable given his status as an eminent musical authority, but it was also for his honesty – what he said, he said with conviction.  Granted, some bandsmen might have been offended.  But in his own way he was trying to educate.  Band Associations were very pleased to have someone of that calibre adjudicate which is why, after the 1902 Ballarat event he was made an Honorary Life Member of the Victorian Bands’ Association (“SOUTH STREET SOCIETY.,” 1902). 

Frank Wright, the great Australian-born bandsman, summed up the first visit of Ord Hume to Australia when he wrote an appreciative article in the June 15th, 1935 edition of British Bandsman after Ord Hume’s passing.

No other event in band history, except, perhaps the tour of the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, can be compared with his visit, as having equal influence in setting the standard for Australian bands.  He encouraged the young ambitious bandsman, and it was this personal interest that endeared him to the Australian people.

(Wright, 1935, p. 4)

If Ord Hume was an instigator of change in the way Australian band did things, the tours of Besses fanned further improvement as they provided a practical example of how an elite band sounded and operated.  The Besses band was no stranger to Ord Hume and it appears there was some mutual admiration and respect.  Ord Hume even arranged a Polka for Besses which can be heard below (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band Channel, 2021).  This radio broadcast recording from 1940, played by the City of Ballarat Municipal Band was provided to the Besses band by the Ballarat Band historian Bob Pattie, and uploaded to YouTube by the historian of the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, Stephen Hughes – thank you both!

“Besses o’ th’ Barn” Arranged by J. Ord Hume. Played by the City of Ballarat Band. Soloist: Jack Allan. 1940 Radio Broadcast.

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 1907 & 1910:

The welcome parade of the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band to Melbourne. The parade is being led by a combined 22 brass bands under the direction of Edward Code and is turning the corner from Collins St into Swanston St in front of the Melbourne Town Hall. (Source: Manchester Digital Music Archive, 13953)

The tours:

Much of the particulars of the two Besses tours were detailed in a previous post (de Korte, 2018a).  In summary, the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band from Lancashire undertook two massive tours in the space of three years which took them all over the globe (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018).  While in Australia, they were afforded concerts and engagements in towns and cities all over the country and never failed to please audiences – such was their reputation (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907a; “BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907c).  Civic welcomes were par the course and the photo above of the parade turning the corner from Collins Street to Swanston Street at the Melbourne Town Hall is a case in point.  Besses were greeted at Spencer Street Station by a combined twenty-two bands directed by Edward Code which led them in a procession up Collins Street to the Town Hall (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907e).  It is said that 70,000 people turned out to watch this procession, which would have been an amazing sight to see! (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907).

Herald, 23/10/1920, p. 4

Besses toured Australia again in 1910 and during this tour, lead Cornetist William Ryder left the band to join a local theatre ensemble and then became the first bandmaster of the then Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band in 1911 (de Korte, 2018b; Quickstep, 1920b).  Cornetist Percy Code, son of Mr Edward Code, took his place on the tour (Quickstep, 1920a).  The Herald weekly columnist ‘Quickstep’ provides some insight into this development through separate articles which detail the band lives of William Ryder…

Leaving England as principal cornet soloist with the famous Royal “Besses o’ th’ Barn” Band on their second world tour, Mr Ryder left the band on the completion of its Victorian trip and settled in Melbourne.  He was immediately engaged to play solo cornet in a picture theatre orchestra.

(Quickstep, 1920b)

…and Percy Code.

At the time the famous “Besses o’ th’ Barn” Band was touring Australia and Percy Code was offered an engagement which he accepted.  While he was abroad, his brilliant playing was favourably commented on by British press.  One leading band journal styled him “Percy Code the golden-toned,” also crediting him as one of the finest cornetists in England.  Study in orchestration and composition was undertaken, under the guidance of Mr Alexander Owen, of Manchester, known as the greatest authority on brass band music in the world.

(Quickstep, 1920a)
Herald, 11/09/1920, p. 14

Mr Alexander Owen at the time was the conductor of Besses during the first tour and part of the second tour and he was highly regarded in Australia and around the world – newspapers of the day were effusive in their praise, the Evening Telegraph newspaper from Charters Towers being one of them (“Mr. Alexander Owen.,” 1907).  After the tour, the Assistant Conductor of Besses, Mr Christopher Smith accepted a position as conductor of the Adelaide Tramways Band (Seymour, 1994).

Herald, 25/07/1907, p. 3

By all accounts, the two tours of the Besses band were huge successes and they opened up the ears and eyes of all who heard them. 

The influence:

Postcard: The Royal Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907) (Jeremy de Korte collection)

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band made a lasting impression on the Australian band movement.  Notwithstanding their reputation prior to their visits to Australia, they certainly grew in stature on this unique part of their tours.  One hallmark of their visits was the fact they were very much a band full of critical listeners, teachers, advocates and gentlemen who were always willing to offer advice and help.

Hundreds of newspaper articles were published during the two Besses tours, so it is impossible to reference them all.  Buried in these articles are hints of information as to how the visits were perceived by Australian bandsmen, and what they learnt from the visiting band.  In July 1907 the Besses band were giving a concert in Goulburn, New South Wales and after the concert they were entertained by the local Australian Horse Band.  The Mayor of Goulburn was also present at this supper and his comments were noted in an article published by the Goulburn Herald.

He welcomed then not merely as bandsmen from the old country, but as brothers, and hoped their stay here would be a pleasurable one.  He was sure it would be great value from an educational point of view to the bands in Australia.  […] He hoped with all sincerity that the visit of the Besses would be crowned with the success it deserved, and that they would be able to say that the Australians were a loyal and patriotic people – which they were right up to the hilt – and pleased to accord their support to organisations such as the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, which came so far to educate them.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907a)

It is interesting to note the language here from the Mayor of Goulburn, not so much for the comments on patriotism but the words on education.  Besses were not really touring to educate Australia bands per se however, that was an inadvertent effect of them being in Australia.  Further comments were made by Mr. Cody, Bandmaster of the Australian Horse Band in the same article.

The visit of Besses could have none other than a good effect on band music in Australia.  The various bands would be moved to do greater things than in the past, and they result would be beneficial all round.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907a)

Besses visited Adelaide in August 1907 and comments made in the Register newspaper were equally full of expectation on what the Besses visit would mean for Australian bands.

…the Besses’ performances must unquestionably stimulate band music in the State, which has been the case of every town they have visited on the Australian tour.  The artistic methods employed by Mr. Owen in conducting the Besses in their playing are said to be a revelation in technique and phrasing, and have been described by a leading Sydney bandmaster as being “an entirely new musical language for colonial bands to study”.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907c)

After touring Australia for a couple of months, in September 1907, Besses were in Bendigo and in an article published by the Bendigo Advertiser, perhaps, we can see some real analysis and insight into the benefits the Besses visit would bring to Australian bands.

There are two things which especially distinguish the Besses.  In the first place the high degree of finish that characterises their playing, so that all bandsmen that have heard them have confessed that something new in band music had been revealed to them, possibilities in brass that were previously undreamed of, and in the second place, the courteous and obliging urbanity in which the conductor, Mr. Alexander Owen, and members of his corps, have done whatever they could to help those colonial bands which have appealed to them for advice and instruction.  The present generation of bandsmen will never forget their impression of the Besses, which will more or less in the future influence their aspirations and efforts, and when a young generation of Tubal Cains grow up, whose lips are not yet too tender for the resounding brass, they will hear abundant reminiscences of how this or that passage was taken up by the Besses, until not impossibly, they will wish that at last that the Besses had never toured through Australasia.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907b)

As mentioned, Besses undertook a second world tour and in 1910 they were back in Australia.  Alexander Owen stepped down from his conducting duties during this tour and Mr Christopher Smith took over to no less acclaim from audiences, such was the ability of this ensemble.  Australian bands were also changing, and this had been noticed by various writers, which was attributed by the visit of Besses three years before.  Said a writer in an article published by The Ballarat Star newspaper in June 1910.

It might truthfully be said that the standard of band music underwent an appreciable change for the better as the result of the visit of this celebrated combination.

(“AMUSEMENTS.,” 1910)

Mr. W. Bogle, manager of the Besses band during their second tour provided some interesting comments comparing band movements of the U.K. and Australia in a wide-ranging interview which was published by the Evening News newspaper in August (“THE MUSIC OF THE BAND.,” 1910).  While his interview is too much for this post, the advice he provided was obviously valuable to the Australian band movement.  And again, there were indications that Australian bands were heading the right way.

They had no doubt that the public of Australia would encourage the improvement of brass bands, and it was particularly pleasing to see they were assisted by the municipal bodies.

(“THE MUSIC OF THE BAND.,” 1910)

The legacy:

The influence of the Besses tours should not be viewed as just bands and band members attending their concerts or being instructed, advised and then feeling very much inspired.  It can also be seen in other ways.  William Ryder, Percy Code and Christopher Smith, bandsmen who had all been associated with Besses at high levels brought the Besses influences with them to their own bands, playing and adjudication.  Australian bands began to rapidly improve after the first Besses tour and inspiration from the band itself.  Instruction and adjudication from these men helped carry things further.  Mr Christopher Smith, once a deputy conductor of Besses, gave high praise to certain bands and was in no doubt that Australian bands could compete with the best (“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922).  He adjudicated at South Street in 1922 and gave a general comment on the standards that were set.

“The standard was appreciably higher than when I judged bands here two years ago.” He said, “and what is pleasing to me is to find the unsuccessful bands more closely approaching the standard set by the victorious bands in all the grades.”

(“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922)

He left his highest praise for the famous Malvern Tramways Band which had just won all the A Grade band sections of the 1922 South Street competition.

Malvern Tramways Band is such a cultured musical combination that it would capture English audiences by its playing.  It would do so by sheer merit.

(“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922)

And in a final remark he highlighted advancements of bands in the lower grades.

Mr Smith went on to say that marked advances had been made by the “B” grade and “C” grade bands in their contest pieces.

(“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922)

High praise indeed and this provided a good indication of where Australian bands were at, and where they were going just over a decade from the last Besses tour.  The bands were definitely improving!

Interestingly, the tours of Besses were still being talked about in the early 1930s as the legacy of the visits still resounded in the band movement.  The Daily News newspaper in Perth published an article in September 1930, essentially on Mr Hugh McMahon, the genius Cornetist but also mentions the state of brass bands in Western Australia as a whole.  The article also had this to say about the legacy of the Besses tours.

Most memorable had been the visit of the Besses of the Barn Band which had shown what a brass band could do in the way of interpreting certain classes of music.  The visitors had given a revelation of the playing of hymn tunes equal to that of any organ and had set a new view before Australian players.

(“EMPEROR OF CORNET,” 1930)

To finish this section on the Besses tours and the influence they left behind, we have these comments from a person speaking at the annual banquet of the Queensland based Howard and Torbanlea Citizens’ Band in December 1933. 

After a loyal toast, the toast of the Howard and Torbanlea Citizens’ Band was proposed by Mr. G. J. Edmunds who stressed the many advantages of having a band in the community.  Mr. Edmunds declared that the visit of the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band many years ago was the running point in the standard of band throughout the Commonwealth, and today, quite a number of bands had reached that standard.

(“BAND BANQUET,” 1933)

Australian bands had begun to reach the pinnacles set by Besses.  And in the 1920s, with tours to England by the Newcastle Steelworks’ Band and the Australian Commonwealth Band, both conducted by Albert Baile, Australian bands proved they could match the much-vaunted English bands and win their competitions (Zealley & Ord Hume, 1926).

A side note, Mr John Dixon, Agent for Boosey & Co.:

James Ord Hume provided much advice to the Australian band movement on how to improve, and the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band clearly displayed an excellence in musicianship.  One aspect that could be considered is that Australian bands needed the best of instruments and British instrument manufacturers saw opportunities in Australia & New Zealand for additional sales.  Travelling with James Ord Hume in 1902 and on the first Besses tour in 1907 was an agent for the Boosey & Co. instrument manufactures, Mr John Dixon (“MUSIC ADJUDICATOR,” 1929).

Near the end of the 1800s and into the 1900s, Boosey & Co. “was flourishing, supporting a staff of 100 employees” (Howell, 2016, p. 61).  John Dixon was one of their agents and he travelled the world to create find new markets and build contacts, so when James Ord Hume and Besses went on their respective tours it presented an opportunity for John Dixon to go along as well. 

Unfortunately, not much is known about John Dixon’s life, but from brief range of articles we can see that he made extensive contacts in the band world (“An Exhibit of Musical Instruments,” 1906; “MUSIC ADJUDICATOR,” 1929; “Personals,” 1903).  Writing a long letter to Wright & Round’s Brass Band News on February 1st from New Zealand (published in their April 1st issue), he noted of his experiences,

…In Coolgardie I met John Cox, late of Lassodie, now bandmaster Coolgardie City Band.  He has a son a good cornet player.  He asked me about a great many Fifeshire bandsmen, and I was able to tell him something about all.  He asked me specially to remember him to Mr. James Carmichael of Cowdenbeath, Mr. George Peacock of Fauldhouse, Geordie Pemann and all the Penmans, muckle fat Geordie in particular said he, to Archie Carmichael of Glasgow, and many more.  I met an old Bury lad full of the Lancashire love of contesting at Kalgoorlie, where he is bandmaster of the Town Band.  Mr. Richard Weber is his name, and a fine fellow he is.  He sends his best regards to all his old friends in the Bury, Radcliffe, and Besses districts, not forgetting “Trotter,” whom he says is a “corker.” (He must have meant an uncorker.)  At Boulder City I met and heard Mr, Hugh McMahon, the Alex Owen of Australia who took his band 4000 miles to compete at Ballarat and at Bathurst.  He is a wonder on the cornet and deserves his title.  At Adelaide I found the Loco. Band very good and in charge of an enthusiastic viz., Mr. Charles Allison. […] I have had a very successful tour so far in a business sense, and have established a good many agencies.  Give my regards to all old friends and tell them I shall be with them again when the flowers bloom in the spring tra-la.  I leave Auckland on February 25th and travel via., Fiji, Honolulu, Canada, New York, and Glasgow.

(Dixon in “Personals,” 1903, p. 7)

It is clear that John Dixon was good at his job and certainly found lots of band friends throughout Australia.  His comments on the standards of Australian bands and bandsmen were certainly interesting.  It could be debatable whether the sale of Boosey instruments to bands made them any better.  However, Boosey (like numerous other instrument companies), milked the fact that certain bands and bandsmen were using their instruments to win competitions – a strong selling point in those days (Boosey and Co., 1919).  

The Australian Band News, 12(10), 26/06/1919, p. 18

James Ord Hume, 1924:

In January 1924 there was much excitement in the band community as it was revealed that James Ord Hume would be making another visit to Australia to adjudicate, twenty-two years after his last visit in 1902 (“MR. J. ORD HUME,” 1924).  The Ballarat Star newspaper published a long article full of praise for the work of Ord Hume in 1902 with a brief record of what he did in Australia in his first visit, read out by the President of the South Street Society, Mr Scroucher.

…There is no need for me to tell you who Mr J. Ord Hume is, for with the exception of the very young members of the club, all bandsmen will remember him.  He came to Australia some twenty-odd years ago.  He judged the South street contest, asked for more tone, told the bandsmen to throw the valve trombone on the scrap heap, gave the prizes to the right persons, and then skipped across to Bathurst.  In Bathurst he judged all the musical items from piano right through the list, including all instruments, except, possibly, the bagpipes.  He didn’t judge the pipes because there were none to judge.  From Bathurst he went to New Zealand, did a lot of work there, created a breeze and skipped back to Sydney, where he judged a big contest.  He also did other work, and good work too.  Through his criticism and acting on his advice, many bands became better musical organisations.  And now, after all these year he is about to visit us again.

(“MR. J. ORD HUME,” 1924)

Part of the rest of the article comprised of a ditty, which will not be written here for the sake of brevity.  Needless to say, the ditty highlighted the delight in knowing that Ord Hume was coming back to Ballarat.

Frank Wright also eloquently wrote of the second visit in his memorial article for the British Bandsman in June 1935.

But since those early days a new generation of Australian bandsman had sprung up.  A generation to whom the name of J. Ord Hume is no less magical than it was to those enthusiasts of 1901.  It is little wonder then, that his second – and last – visit in 1924-5 was hailed as an even greater event than the first.

(Wright, 1935, p. 4)

Given that Ord Hume visited in 1902 and had provided advice to bands on how to improve, Besses toured in 1907 and 1910 and cast a lasting legacy over Australian bands, the fact that Ord Hume visited again in 1924 provides us with expert assessment on which standard Australian bands had reached.  We need to only look at his words which were published in an Argus article in October 1924 upon his welcome to Ballarat.  This was the only competition Ord Hume was to adjudicate in Australia this year.

Mr. Hume referred to the successes of the Newcastle Band in England, and said that it could rank with the cream of British bands.  Australian bands had improved wonderfully, but he could not say the same of the English bands. […] His object in visiting Ballarat was not only to judge, but also to advise.  If he could do anything to further raise the standard of band music in Australia it would be done.  When in Melbourne on Sunday he had heard the Malvern Tramways Band, and he had been delighted with its excellent tone.  It should always be the aim of a brass band to develop a good tone.

(“AUSTRALIAN BANDS.,” 1924)
Famous Bands of the British Empire‘, 1926, p. 6

Ord Hume was always one to make further comments and in 1926 he teamed up with Canadian Lieut. Alfred Edward Zealley to write a book, ‘Famous Bands of the British Empire’.  This book was essentially a list of the best bands, military and brass, that they perceived to be the finest of the time.  Four Australian bands made the list: New South Wales Lancers band, Malvern Tramways Band, Newcastle Steelworks Band and The Australian Commonwealth Band.  It is in the section detailing the exploits of the Malvern Tramways Band thus far that we can find more of the story on Besses and Ord Hume in Australia.  What is written here is a perfect response to his prophecy from 1903 at the top of this post.

Famous Bands of the British Empire‘, 1926, p. 60

Conclusion:

There is enough evidence to suggest that the visits of James Ord Hume and the Besses band to Australia were the great catalysts in boosting the standards of Australian bands.  It is a fascinating story, and there is much that could have been added as there are always side stories that link into this central theme.  It could be argued that there were other influences that were working on Australian bands.  Certainly, in the early 1900s, there was a crop of highly skilled bands people coming through the ranks that were gaining notice in the band movement.  However, help was provided from these British experts and their legacy, and memory, lives on.

References:

About Trombones. (1902, 28 November). Molong Argus (NSW : 1896 – 1921), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article144160543

AMUSEMENTS : BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : THE BALLARAT SEASON : OPENING PERFORMANCES. (1910, 04 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216365174

AUSTRALIAN BANDS : GREATLY IMPROVED : Visiting Adjudicator’s View. (1924, 15 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 22. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2050652

BALLARAT COMPETITIONS. (1902, 08 November). Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), 36. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161788993

BAND BANQUET : Howard Function : ANNUAL MEETING. (1933, 21 December). Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149267526

Bathurst Band Contests : A Warm Sort of Judge : His Remarks at Ballarat. (1902, 06 November). Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157697522

Bathurst Musical and Literary. (1902, 13 November). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), 5-6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157251693

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band Channel. (2021, 05 February). “Besses o’ th’ Barn” – Cornet Polka Solo [Video (1940 Radio Broadcast)]. YouTube. Retrieved 05 February 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvWYJnCblRI

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1907a, 24 July). Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article100454780

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907, 09 August). Quiz (Adelaide, SA : 1900 – 1909), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166338966

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1907b, 06 September). Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 1855 – 1918), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89858023

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1907c, 10 August). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56528158

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907). [Photograph]. [13953]. Manchester Digital Music Archive. https://www.mdmarchive.co.uk/artefact/13953/BESSES_O’_TH’_BARN_BAND_PHOTOGRAPH_1907

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : A NOTABLE CONDUCTOR. (1907d, 25 July). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243298679

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : WELCOME TO MELBOURNE. (1907e, 29 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10125983

Boosey and Co. (1919). A Famous Soloist [Advertisement]. The Australian Band News, 12(10), 18.

CHAMPIONSHIP BAND CONTEST : INTERESTING COMPETITIONS. (1902, 29 December). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14480823

de Korte, J. D. (2018a, 14 October). International band tours of the early 1900’s: bringing music to Australia. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/10/14/_international-band-tours-of-the-early-1900s-bringing-music-to-australia/

de Korte, J. D. (2018b, 02 March). William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

EMPEROR OF CORNET : Some Triumphs of Genius : AUSTRALIA’S BAND MUSIC. (1930, 20 September). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article79474044

An Exhibit of Musical Instruments. (1906, 13 October). Star, 7. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TS19061013.2.94.5

Howell, J. (2016). Boosey & Hawkes: The rise and fall of a wind instrument manufacturing empire (Publication Number 16081) [PhD, City University of London, School of Arts, Department of Creative Practice & Enterprise – Centre for Music Studies]. City Research Online. London, UK. http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/16081

Mr. Alexander Owen : THE GREATEST BRASS BAND CONDUCTOR IN THE WORLD. (1907, 01 July). Evening Telegraph (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1901 – 1921), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214932270

MR. J. ORD HUME : AN INTERESTING INTERVIEW : WHAT AUSTRALIAN BANDS LACK. (1903, 25 February). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208462723

MR. J. ORD HUME : POPULAR WITH BANDSMEN. (1924, 26 January). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213955763

Mullen, C. C. (1965). Brass bands have played a prominent part in the history of Victoria. The Victorian Historical Magazine, 36(1), 30-47.

MUSIC ADJUDICATOR : Death of Mr. J. Dixon. (1929, 22 July). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129174877

THE MUSIC OF THE BAND : AUSTRALIA’S FUTURE : CHAT WITH BRITISH EXPERTS. (1910, 12 August). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115252341

Personals. (1903). Wright & Round’s Brass Band News(259), 7. http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/45510/

Prestwich, M. (1906). Besses o’ th’ Barn Band [Postcard]. Martin Prestwich, Manchester, United Kingdom.

Quickstep. (1920a, 11 September). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Australia’s Great Soloist. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308980

Quickstep. (1920b, 23 October). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Celebrated Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242245731

The Royal Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band : The Finest in the World. (1907). [Postcard]. Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band.

Seymour, C. (1994). Adelaide’s Tramway Band. Trolley Wire, 35(4), 3-10. https://www.sydneytramwaymuseum.com.au/members.old/Trolley_Wire/259%20-%20Trolley%20Wire%20-%20Nov%201994.pdf

SOUTH STREET SOCIETY : A SOCIAL FUNCTION : TO MR J. ORD HUME. (1902, 04 November). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208361692

SOUTH-STREET COMPETITION’S : Inaugural Concert. (1902, 03 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9062176

Thirst, T. (2006). James Ord Hume 1864-1932 : a friend to all bandsmen : an account of his life and music. Timothy Thirst.

WOULD CAPTURE LONDON : Malvern Band Praised : “CONDUCTOR A GENIUS”. (1922, 30 October). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243776990

Wright, F. (1935). The late J. ORD HUME : An Appreciation. British Bandsman, 4-5.

Zealley, A. E., & Ord Hume, J. (1926). Famous Bands of the British Empire : Brief Historical Records of the recognized leading Military Bands and Brass Bands in the Empire. J. P. Hull.

Australian bands, gramophones and wireless: adapting to new technology

19290722_Argus_Wireless-Broadcast
The Argus, 22/07/1929, p. 18

Introduction:

The Old Town Band
(Written for “The Land”)

The band was the life of the old town
The zest of its great events
When the great Pooh-Bah himself came down,
Or the prize merinos brought renown
Or the circus raised its tents.

There was music in the trombone
A martial note in the drum
And the boom of the bass was on its own
In the days before the gramophone
Ere the wireless craze had come.

Those were the day when the township band
Filled a place in pioneer life:
Cheered the struggle with virgin land
And gave the old battlers a helping hand
When droughts or plagues were rife.

Today the baton is laid aside
And the bandsmen rest in their graves:
They played their way o’er the great divide,
And are bandsmen now on the other side
In paradisian naves

And o’er the earth in tones forlorn
The saxophone raises its call.
The engines start their shrieks at dawn
The gramophone laughs the band to scorn,
And the wireless mocks them all.

(Excerpts from “The Old Town Band”, James, 1929)

So wrote Mr. A. A. James in 1929 for The Land newspaper in response to an article published in the Riverine Grazier which lamented the fact that the town of Hay in Southern New South Wales had lost its town band.  His prose was published in several other country newspapers at the time, as many town bands faced the same challenges.  Mr James singles out the gramophones and wireless as contributing factors, but was he right in suggesting so?  Was this new technology which proliferated during the early 1900s detrimental to our bands? It depends on the perception of the history at the time.  And thankfully, there is much history to examine.

In this post, the effects of new broadcasting technology on Australian bands will be looked at.  The early 1900s were a period of rapid technological change and our bands were nominally affected by these changes.  Throughout this early time from 1900 – 1950, and Mr James’s poem sits roughly in the middle, a new life of music and entertainment was brought into the homes of Australians – enthusiastically so.  With this adoption of gramophones and wireless sets came the start of commentary and opinions from citizens which were written up in the newspapers.  Radio program notes published in newspapers became essential reading.

Through this all we find the relationships between audience and bands being rapidly changed.  Perhaps this is the deeper meaning of Mr James’s poem – he identified that people were more enamoured with sounds coming out of a box of wires than live instruments and musicians.  Both sides of this issue will be explored as some bands took advantage of the radio and found new audiences, while other bands could not compete.

Early transmissions:

Live performance was very much the norm of Australian brass bands in the early 1900s and engagement with audience was centred around this type of performing.   As well as this, the popularity of brass bands was obvious through their music and the crowds that they attracted.  Reports of 70,000 people cramming the streets of Melbourne to see the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band in a parade and 20,000-30,000 people watching the South Street marching sections were not uncommon (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907; Greaves, 1996).  Later in the 1920s there are stories about 5,000 people attending community song nights in local gardens, as was the case at Central Park in Malvern where the Malvern Tramways performed every week (Young, 1923).

In amongst the many accounts on live performances are a couple of unique stories.  In an earlier post regarding bands on Australian islands, the remarkable story of a performance by the Kingscote Brass Band (Kangaroo Island) was highlighted.  On the 20th of November 1906, the band performed a lunchtime concert which was transmitted via telephone to lighthouses at either end of Kangaroo Island – one seventy miles to the West of Kingscote and the other thirty miles to the East (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906).  According to the article in the Register, the concert was “very much appreciated” by both lighthouse keepers (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906).

However, this was not the first brass band concert broadcast via telephone in Australia.  According to an article published in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, this took place in the preceding century, although the exact date is unclear.

A band conducted by Mr Edward Brown was practising at the old fire brigade station […] when the late Messrs Harry Batchelor and W. Pummell, compositors of the “Morning Bulletin” suggested that the playing be put “over the phone”.  Mr Rosenads, then in charge of the Rockhampton Telephone Exchange, agreed to the proposal.  There was a function at the School of Arts that night and the band was heard there “by quite a few who took turns at the earphone”.  Later the band was playing outside the Oddfellows Hall in Denham Street and by means of a “link-up” was heard at Mount Morgan.  “And very well, too” said Mr Brown.

(“Band Music “Broadcast” Here Last Century,” 1945)

No doubt transmitting a performance via telephone would have seemed innovative and inventive, especially in these early times.  However, these were extremely rare and were not substitutes for live performances, they were mainly done out of opportunity – a way to see whether it could be done.  The major changes that were taking place were the recordings of bands on gramophone records, and the beginnings of radio broadcasts.

The band movement is cautious:

In Australia, the pace of change from predominantly live music to a mix of live music, recorded music and broadcast music took place within the space of a couple of decades.  There were many commentators at the time who saw fit to try to warn of a decline of community bands and one or two had their voices repeated through many regional newspapers.  One of them was a Mr Will Lewis formerly of the Toowoomba Municipal Band who expressed a pessimistic attitude:

He was of the opinion that the day of the amateur brass band was waning, and gave as a reason the fact that the gramophone, by which one could hear the world’s greatest bands and orchestras – jazz and otherwise, was creating serious inroads upon the brass band, and further, that the advent of the radio was also having much to do with the decline of brass band popularity.  Even band contests were becoming less popular every year – at least with the general public – and the wireless and the gramophone were the two disturbing elements.  Bandsmen, naturally, would be the last persons to recognize this serious fact.”

(““DAY OF AMATEUR BRASS BANDS WANING.”,” 1927)

Some might consider Mr Lewis to be alarmist, he could not predict the future, but he was commentating on the present.  For the brass bands it was a time of upheaval and some of them were rightfully concerned.  It could be said that many bands went defunct at this time due to the technological change however it is hard to document this at this time of writing.

The worry of band people was not helped by this small snippet of news in 1930 about the Royal Melbourne Show dropping the brass bands in favour of recorded music being played through loud speakers – and saving £140.00 (“MELBOURNE SHOW.,” 1930).

19300409_Brisbane-Courier_Melb-Show
The Brisbane Courier, 09/04/1930, p. 24

In 1938 a passionate call to old times was made by the Committee of the Sunshine Brass Band, based in western Melbourne.  While the crux of the article published in the Sunshine Advocate was to solicit funds and support, they also lamented the fact that times had changed, and that local brass bands were victims of change.  Below are some excerpts from the article:

Most old-established customs and usages have felt the influence of modern times, and not the least of these are district brass bands, which have had to fight against canned music retailed hourly over the wireless.  Gramophone recordings of the world’s best bands are sandwiched in between talks and appeals to buy somebody’s pills to improve health.

[…]

The older generation was a music loving people.  The possession of a piano was a hall-mark of respectability, and the education of the children was not considered complete unless music was included in the curriculum.

[…]

To hear a local band in the gardens on a Sunday afternoon and a warm evening were events that were looked forward to by the older generation.  They were delightful times, and people held communion with one another to the strains of pleasant and beautiful music, which acted as a tonic to their nervous system.

The Sunshine band committee realises that a return to the customs of other days is due, and propose to play near the railway station on warm Sunday evenings.

(“Sunshine Band Needs More Public Support,” 1938)

This article was interesting in its sentiment and information.  We have here a brass band from the Melbourne environs trying to bring back former times through playing quality live music in a local place.  By this time however, music broadcasts were well and truly accepted so their words might have struck some memories amongst parts of the population. They were telling it as they saw it.

A similar sentiment to Mr. Lewis and Mr. James was also expressed in 1938 in an article published in the Sydney Mail by a contributor with the initials of W. P. T.  This article was more of a reminiscence of times gone by and he mentions several brass bands.  The opening of his article reads:

The brass band of the small country towns plays a very important part in the social life of the country, although such bands are not nearly as common as they were before the days of radio.

(W. P. T., 1938)

It is an interesting observation to make and clearly some connection had been made in the minds of people that radios were somewhat to blame for the demise of smaller bands.

The other side to these views is that several bands had begun exploring what the new technology could do for them from the very beginning.

The band movement adapts:

In 1996, noted band historian Jack Greaves assisted in the compilation of several old recordings into a two-CD set titled “The Great Bands of Australia” (Greaves, 1996).  This CD set is remarkable not only for the breadth of recorded music from full band works, marches and solo items, performed by a large selection of famous Australian bands.  From reading a catalogue entry of this work (linked), we can see that the recordings date back to 1912.  Some of the music can still be heard thanks to the work of the National Library of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA).  Below is a link to one recording which is on the NFSA website:

The Newcastle Steelworks Band (1924) playing the “Honest Toil March” by William Rimmer

The gramophone meant that people could acquire recordings of music groups and play them in their own homes at a time of their choosing.  They did not have to go out to concerts or community events, or the band competitions.  It was one cause of alarm for the band movement, but some bands obviously saw fit to record their work and bring their playing to new audiences.  Recordings by many of the top bands of the day still exist and enthusiasts have made digital copies of old recordings.

Aside from the gramophone, the utilisation of the radio probably brought about the greatest change to society and to the band movement.  Referred to early as the wireless, Australia followed developments out of America and the United Kingdom and set up its own network of stations.  It is in the early 1920s when this was happening.

19230800_Box-Hill-Band_Radio-Studio
Newspaper unknown at the time of writing (Source: Box Hill Historical Society)

The year is 1923 and in the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill the first transmission of a live brass band over the wireless took place on the 1st of August (Elsum, 1924).  The picture above is reputed to be the Box Hill Brass Band sitting in the home of Mr H. Beattie, a wireless enthusiast who resided in Box Hill.  However, in some newspapers the band that participated in the first transmission was named as the Nunawading District Brass Band (“NUNAWADING BRASS BAND,” 1923).  This conjecture can be easily explained as Nunawading and Box Hill are near neighbouring suburbs and the then Parish of Nunawading encompassed Box Hill.  (The Box Hill Historical Society shares my confusion as the newspapers were not forthcoming as to the true identity of the band that was actually broadcast (Harris, 2020)).  Despite the confusion in the newspapers, the fact remains that a brass band of the local area had their music transmitted via wireless.

This first transmission was actually a modulation test and the band was heard over all of Melbourne, parts of Victoria, and even interstate!  Much of the article published in the local Reporter newspaper listed the locations where the transmission was heard and the praise that was given:

For the next few days letters arrived from all points of the compass congratulating Mr Beattie and the Band, and expressing appreciation also of a speech by Cr. W. Young.  From Footscray to Armadale, from Sandringham to Camberwell, Essendon, Hawksburn, and wherever else in the metropolitan district, receiving stations listened in, the unanimous opinion expressed that it “was the best music ever heard by wireless”.  Wonthaggi sent a tribute, and the amateurs of Ararat wrote “Encore, we want more”, while far away Terang announced that the enthusiastic listeners in there were delighted.  The most interesting letter came from Strathfield, Sydney, 592 miles from the spot the Band played, stating that a number of visitors sat around a three-valve set with a loud speaker, and heard the performance from start to finish, announcing the strength and modulation to be perfect, and stating that after the Band had concluded with the National Anthem, local transmitters around Sydney could be heard enthusiastically discussing the test.

(“NUNAWADING BRASS BAND,” 1923)

An achievement indeed!  Although this achievement had to be defended.  In early 1924, the Vice-President of the Nunawading District Brass Band, a Mr. W. M. R. Elsum wrote a letter to the Argus newspaper disputing that the Newcastle Steelworks Band was the first full band to have broadcasted a concert via wireless (Elsum, 1924).

Once people in Australia realised that music of this nature could be transmitted successfully, there was no stopping the progress – it is to say, in colloquial terms, the horse had well and truly bolted!  Radio stations and transmitters were set up all over the country and within years, much of the population could listen to a variety of programs (““Listening In”,” 1923).  The Queensland Government for example, started setting up a State based broadcasting service in 1925 (“STATE RADIO.,” 1925).  In New South Wales, innovation in programming was highlighted with the organising of a Radio Eisteddfod by the New South Wales Broadcasting Company which involved a section for brass bands (“RADIO EISTEDDFOD.,” 1928).  Although, the articles of the day were not clear as to who competed and if brass bands made it to the finals.

For the brass bands, radio stations seized upon them as a ready-made musical item and for some of the bands it led to new popularity – some, because radio stations were tending to use the same top-quality brass bands over and over again.  Additionally, as explored in a previous post, in 1930 the A.B.C. Military Band was established (“MILITARY BAND AT 3LO.,” 1930).  Initially conducted by Harry Shugg, it was further strengthened in 1933 and quickly became a stalwart of A.B.C. radio programming alongside the brass bands (“A BRASS BAND RECITAL.,” 1940; “Radio Programmes,” 1939).

S6.2_20180609_19310000_ABC-Military-Band_Postcard
1930 Postcard of the A.B.C. Military Band in a studio, conducted by Mr Harry Shugg. (Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

The Advertiser newspaper in Adelaide noted that “Brass band concerts have been remarkably popular” and one of the brass bands that station 5CL presented was “Holden’s Silver Band” (“5CL FEATURES,” 1930).  A highlight in Victoria of station 3LO’s programming was the “State Schools’ Brass Band contest, which was won by Wonthaggi.”  (Armadale came second and Princess Hill was third with Northcote awarded an honourable mention) – a contest which was adjudicated by the famous Percy Code (“RADIO SHOW.,” 1930).

Of course, like the concerts mentioned earlier in the post that were broadcast via telephone, there were other broadcasts that could be classed as novelty events.  In November 1932, thirty members of the Young Australia League band were taken up in the “Southern Cross” aircraft flown by Charles Kingsford-Smith where they were to “broadcast music at a height of 5000ft” (“MUSIC IN THE AIR,” 1932).

Now that radio broadcasting was fully entrenched and brass bands were a seemingly popular item, there were times when radio through it would be in the best interest of the band movement to have their events transmitted to the world.  The Victorian Centenary celebrations of 1934 were a case in point.  The Herald newspaper took aim at the Victorian Bands’ League for not being ambitious enough with their proposed event:

From the point of view of broadcasting, it is regrettable that the Victorian Bands’ League does not see its way to conduct at the Centenary celebration its proposed international brass band championship.  This would have been an event of exceptional interest, extending to distant peoples who know little of Australia and its progress.  More than that, good band music will be an influence joyous and vital.  If an international contest cannot be arranged it should be possible to provide an Imperial one.

(“Broadcasting And Brass Bands,” 1933)

Through better technology and transmission, Australia was also exposed to performances from around the world.   Perhaps one of the more unusual concerts that was received was in 1935 when the Imperial Ethiopian Brass Band was heard via short-wave radio in Brisbane (“IMPERIAL ETHIOPIAN BRASS BAND,” 1935).  The transmission was reported to have been heard with “remarkable clarity” (“IMPERIAL ETHIOPIAN BRASS BAND,” 1935).  Over in Western Australia, the Kalgoorlie Brass Band conducted by Mr. Ted McMahon made history in 1937 when it was broadcast and relayed nationally through stations 6GF, 6WF and 6WA as part of a program to highlight local artists (“Kalgoorlie Band For National Broadcast,” 1937).

These formative years of radio shaped the way Australians heard and digested music.  Clearly the brass bands were a useful addition to radio programs, and they presented some quality music.  Obviously, some bands, namely country bands, had been left out of this success.  What were the feelings of the listeners?

Too many bands or not enough bands?:

As mentioned, the first wireless transmission of a brass band took place in 1923 so another part of this story is the opinions of listeners, and there were many opinions.  Most accounts were diplomatic about the popularity of brass bands, but some listeners and commentators asked whether there were too many bands, or could the broadcasters play more bands.  Opinions were divided; Australians clearly had their choices.

As early as 1925 letters were seen in newspapers criticising the musical choices of radio stations.  Some of the language was blunt as this letter signed by “Condensor” and published in the Herald shows:

Sir,  – We quite agree with your correspondent “Radio” who complains of the number of brass bands broadcast from 3LG.  Night after night we have to put our phones down, sick and tired of brass.  Surely one night a week is enough to satisfy anyone.

(Condensor, 1925)

Interestingly we also see opinions from commentators.  A Mr Robert McCall, writing for the Australian Women’s Weekly column, “Music Radio” asks a question at the head of one his columns, “Band Music On the Air Will it be Overdone?” (McCall, 1933).  He asked the question because of a decision by the A.B.C.:

Is the Australian Broadcasting Commission overdoing band programmes?  Next week there will be bands on the air on six nights – one night the popular brass ensemble from the Malvern Tramways and on five the newly-formed A.B.C. Military Band.

(McCall, 1933)

He went on to write:

Bands, both brass and military, always have been popular in Australia and the commission will find a vast and most receptive audience for its several months season by the band conducted by Captain Adkins from Kneller Hall.

[…]

The bands’ programmes are sure to stimulate the already widespread interest in band work, but I feel that their greatest service should lie in lifting the usual band repertoire out of the ruck of the commonplace.  It is about time that such hardy perennials as “Zampa,” “Poet and Peasant,” “Light Cavalry,” and those ill-sounding selections from grand and light operas were given a rest.

[…]

At the same time it should not be forgotten that in recent years some of the most important composers of the day have been seized with the possibilities of bands.  Men such as Holst and Elgar have written compositions specially for them.  Nor are these works complex and unlistenable.

Band music gives pleasure to thousands.  It can still do so, and yet be artistic and original.

(McCall, 1933)

McCall provides an interesting opinion.  It seems he was not against the idea of bands being programmed six nights in a row.  Rather, he was taking the view of a music critic and expressing concern that the usual repertoire played by bands per se was not palatable to the ordinary listener.

To counter some of the detractors, there were always people who liked the regularity of brass and military bands on the radio.  The target of their letter writing was the radio stations themselves and certain listeners scolded the A.B.C. in particular for altering the programming of regular band programs (Breynard, 1934; Mounsey, 1939).  One of the stronger responses came from Mr J. L. C. White, then Secretary of the Victorian Bands’ League of which his words were quoted in an article published in The Argus newspaper in March 1951:

Victoria’s 3,500 registered brass bandsmen and their fans were receiving no encouragement from the A.B.C. or commercial broadcasting stations, Mr. J. L. C. white said yesterday.

[…]

He was commenting on a letter to The Argus pointing out that packed houses for the Black Watch band had proved that good bands were still popular.

The letter asked why radio listeners were not given more band music.

Mr. White said: “A poll would show that 90% of radio listeners enjoy band music.”

“More bands than ever are being formed now, and their music is as popular as ever.”

(“He wants more band music broadcast,” 1951)

It is of course some months after this article was published that the A.B.C. Military Band was made redundant in October 1951 (“A.B.C. Band’s Farewell,” 1951).

After these formative times, the status quo of brass bands had changed.  Live performances continued, but radio and recording also occupied the bands.  Some bands found a new market by producing small recordings of marches for use in schools and marching groups of with three such recordings are cited with details of the recordings linked here (Malvern Municipal Band, 1958, 1970; Preston Municipal Brass Band, 1956).

Conclusion:

In the course of these years it is possible to follow divergent streams of opinion.  Firstly, there were the bands who were concerned by the impact of new technology and were worried about the erosion of their traditional ways of doing things.  Then there were the bands that embraced recording and broadcasting.  And of course, the second divergent opinion was evident regarding the content of radio programs and programming.  It was not exactly win-win situations for everyone.  Strength of feeling in the band movement was strong.

It is doubtful to see whether the same debate would take place nowadays regarding new technology.  There was a time past in the early days of the internet when community bands could not see the use of a website or email.  It would seem that history keeps repeating itself whenever there is a new technological development.

To finish this post, it would be remiss not to end with another old recording.  Here is a YouTube with the Newcastle Steelworks Band of 1924 playing the piece “Zelda” by Percy Code with famous Cornetist Arthur Stender as the soloist (Vintage Sounds & Code, 2019).

References:

5CL FEATURES : Brass Band Concert. (1930, 23 August). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30503444

A.B.C. Band’s Farewell. (1951, 15 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205334832

A.B.C. Military Band – Conductor: Harry Shugg. (1930). [Postcard : L13.8cm – W8.8cm]. [0016]. Victorian Collections, Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b39988221ea6d0008c461a6

Band Music “Broadcast” Here Last Century. (1945, 16 October). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56391096

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907, 09 August). Quiz (Adelaide, SA : 1900 – 1909), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166338966

A BRASS BAND RECITAL. (1940, 28 May). Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW : 1885 – 1907; 1909 – 1910; 1912 – 1913; 1915 – 1916; 1918 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234489582

Breynard, S. (1934, 10 August). RADIO SERVICES : Brass Band Music : To the Editor. Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), 24. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74106904

Broadcasting And Brass Bands. (1933, 21 February). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243056460

Condensor. (1925, 27 August). TOO MUCH BRASS. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243624609

“DAY OF AMATEUR BRASS BANDS WANING.”. (1927, 14 September). Casino and Kyogle Courier and North Coast Advertiser (NSW : 1904 – 1932), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233826047

Elsum, W. M. H. (1924, 23 February). BROADCASTING BY WIRELESS : To the Editor of the Argus. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 20. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1934742

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia [sound recording] [2 sound discs (CD)]. Australia, Sound Heritage Association. 

Harris, H. (2020). Re: Brass band 1st radio broadcast. In J. D. de Korte (Ed.).

He wants more band music broadcast. (1951, 13 March). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23036508

IMPERIAL ETHIOPIAN BRASS BAND : Heard by Short Wave Wireless. (1935, 29 November). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35923328

James, A. A. (1929, 25 January). The Old Town Band : (Written for “The Land”). Land (Sydney, NSW : 1911 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article117237132

Kalgoorlie Band For National Broadcast. (1937, 16 July). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87578534

“Listening In” : The Wonders of Wireless. (1923, 04 September). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72734927

Malvern Municipal Band. (1958). On One Fine Day [Vinyl, LP, 10”]. W & G Distributing Co. Pty. Ltd. https://www.discogs.com/Malvern-Municipal-Band-Under-The-Direction-Of-Bandmaster-WJ-Philpott-One-Fine-Day/release/8933573 

Malvern Municipal Band. (1970). On Marching with Malvern [Vinyl, LP, Album]. W & G Distributing Co. Pty. Ltd. https://www.discogs.com/Malvern-Municipal-Band-Marching-With-Malvern/release/11048679 

McCall, R. (1933, 23 December). MUSIC RADIO : Band Music on the Air : Will it be Overdone? Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51189093

MELBOURNE SHOW : Brass Bands to be Superseded. (1930, 09 April). Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 24. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21518117

MILITARY BAND AT 3LO. (1930, 29 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4214065

Mounsey, T. B. (1939, 20 December). Brass Band Broadcasting. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205593992

MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA. (1906, 21 November). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56693536

MUSIC IN THE AIR : Y.A.L. Band at 5000ft. Will Broadcast. (1932, 19 November). Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article230575146

Newcastle Steelworks Band. (1924). Honest Toil March [This 1924 gramophone recording of W Rimmer’s ‘Honest Toil March’ is performed by the Australian Newcastle Steelworks Band.]. Aeolian Company. https://aso.gov.au/titles/music/honest-toil-march/clip1/

NUNAWADING BRASS BAND : Unique Wireless Demonstration. (1923, 10 August). Reporter (Box Hill, Vic. : 1889 – 1925), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article257201010

Preston Municipal Brass Band. (1956). On Under the Baton [Vinyl, LP, 10”, Album]. Cyril Stevens Recording Studios Pty. Ltd. https://www.discogs.com/Preston-Municipal-Brass-Band-Conducted-By-Charles-Smith-Under-The-Baton/release/4595545 

RADIO EISTEDDFOD. (1928, 05 October). Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW : 1885 – 1907; 1909 – 1910; 1912 – 1913; 1915 – 1916; 1918 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234464548

Radio Programmes : A.B.C. Highlights for Next Week : Brass Band Recitals. (1939, 03 February). Nambucca and Bellinger News (NSW : 1911 – 1945), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214648292

RADIO SHOW : Schools’ Band Competition. (1930, 25 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202468625

STATE RADIO : World Range : Erecting the Station. (1925, 21 January). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61570872

Sunshine Band Needs More Public Support : Committee’s Plan to Stimulate Interest. (1938, 21 January). Sunshine Advocate (Vic. : 1924 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75199111

Vintage Sounds. (2019, 25 October). Australian Newcastle Steelworks Band – Zelda (Percy Code) (1924) [Video (Recording)]. YouTube. Retrieved 27 April 2020 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Fn8VgZK9Yc

W. P. T. (1938, 28 December). Brass Bands of the Bush. Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166525297

WIRELESS BROADCASTING : New Service Begins. (1929, 22 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4023301

Young, G. (1923). The Malvern Tramways Band : An Appreciation. In Community singing : St. Kilda Esplanade every Wednesday evening : words of songs & program (pp. 24). Malvern Tramways Band. 

Cecil Clarence Mullen: Enthusiastic commentator, historian and statistician of brass and military bands

19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p0-FC
Front Cover, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)

Introduction:

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 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.

19371217_Argus_Mullen-Sport-Schools
Argus, 17/12/1937, p. 10
19401607_TheAge_Mullen_Volunteers
The Age, 10/07/1940, p. 6
19471218_Herald_Mullen-School-Holidays
Herald, 18/12/1947, p. 15
19520103_Argus_Mullen-Letter
Argus, 03/01/1952, p. 6

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).

19510113_Kalgoorlie-Miner_Mullen-Letter
Kalgoorlie Miner, 13/01/1951, p. 2

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.:

19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p15
Excerpt from p. 15, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, Bb Cornets. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)

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.

19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p4
Excerpt from p. 4, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)

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):

(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.

19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p19
Excerpt from p. 19, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, Bb Cornets. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)
19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p41
Excerpt from p. 15, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, “Bass (G) Trombone”. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)
19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p63-64
Pages 63-64, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, “Bands which have competed at South Street Competitions 1900-1951”. (source: Jeremy de Korte’s personal collection)

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.

Conclusion:

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.

References:

Baton. (1951). South Street band competitions have achieved world wide fame. In Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) (pp. 5-6). 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), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11133645

Mullen, C. C. (1940, 16 July). Voluntary Service. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204409992

Mullen, C. C. (1946, 08 January). NORTHERN TRAMWAY ROUTES. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22221100

Mullen, C. C. (1947, 18 December). School Holidays. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243844022

Mullen, C. C. (1951a, 13 January). Goldfields Brass Bands : To the Editor. Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article256809482

Mullen, C. C. (1951b). Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951). Horticultural Press. 

Mullen, C. C. (1952a, 03 January). LETTERS (in a nutshell) : Too old. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23155399

Mullen, C. C. (1952b, 03 January). Youth in the Wrong Jobs. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 2. 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, XXXVI(1), 30-47. 

Mullen, C. C. (1983). This is the last will and testament of me…. In Wills and Probates (Vol. VPRS7591/P9 Unit 22). North Melbourne, Victoria: Public Record Office Victoria.

Richmond Boys’ Club : Fine Work by C. C. Mullen. (1932, 17 December). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), 4. 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 27 January 2020 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 27 January 2020 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 27 January 2020 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1964-10-24-victorian-brass-band-championship

Royal South Street Society. (2017). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved 13 October 2017 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au

Ruddell, T. (2010). Introducing Cec Mullen: pioneer sports historian. The Yorker, Spring(42), 2. 

The poetry of brass bands

Introduction:

While undertaking research for my blog posts thus far I have come across all manner of writing describing brass bands, their members and competitions.  Much of the writing is very useful in finding the “little stories” behind people, places and events.  Occasionally I have come across some oddities in the mix and this post is going to highlight an aspect of writing; poetry.

In this context of brass band history, penning up a poem about musicians, bands and competitions might seem very colloquial.  And in some respects, it is.  One only has to look at the style of writing and while the poems might not have won any literature awards, they were helpful in bringing to life some little stories in a unique style.

Below are just three of these brass band poems.  I have not been actively searching for these.  However, if while searching for material on other topics and they appeared, I have made a note of them for the novelty.  These are defiantly the needles in haystacks!  Two of the poems were published in local newspapers by writers using pseudonyms while the third poem was composed by brass band writer C. C. Mullen in his rare book, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900 – 1951).

I am quite sure there are other brass band poems in other newspaper articles so this post might be expanded in the future.  Please enjoy the language and stories that are being told here and remember that they were for another time.  Perhaps this blend of artforms might be used again one day.

“A Welcome” by ‘Bannerman’ (1918):

Herald, 23/10/1920, p. 4

One of the first blog posts in Band Blasts from The Past was about the famous Cornetist and Conductor William Ryder who travelled to Australia in 1910 with the renowned Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band (de Korte, 2018).  Just eight years later, after stints with bands in Victoria and New South Wales, he arrived in Maryborough, Queensland to take the reins of the Maryborough Naval Band and we found that an enterprising contributor, under the pseudonym of ‘Bannerman’, had penned a poem to welcome him to town.  No doubt this would have been perceived as a very friendly gesture, and it gave the town some insight into the prowess and reputation of Ryder as a musician.  This poem was published in the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser on Wednesday, 8thMay, 1918.

A WELCOME

Here’s a hearty welcome “Billy”,
To our pleasant country town,
And may Fortune every lead you,
And misfortune never frown.
We are pleased to have you with us,
And we hope you long may stay
To encourage local talent
In the latest style and way.

When you played the “solo cornet”
With the finest in the land,
You were classed as England’s champion
In the famous “Besses Band.”
And here in fair Australia
You can show us all the way
As the Champion of the Champions
From the South to old Wide Bay.

“Because” we all remember
When you played it at New Year,
When the silvery notes were finished
How the crowd did clap and cheer.
May our town and climate suit you,
May your notes prove ever true.
Here’s good-luck to wife and kiddies,
And long life and health to you.

(Bannerman, 1918, p. 6)

“Back to South Street” by Cecil Clarence Mullen (1951):

There is one brass band musician and writer among many who is significant to early Victorian brass band history, Cecil Clarence Mullen (C. C. Mullen).  His writing might be rare and hard to find now, however, being a band journal representative he had a unique insight into the workings of brass bands and was associated with many famous bands, conductors and administrators (Mullen, 1951).

It is in his little book, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900 – 1951) that we find his poem, “Back to South Street”. In this piece of writing Mullen has cleverly highlighted the nostalgia of the South Street event while noting many of the famous names of bands and bandsmen.  It is a worthwhile poem to read for the sake of history.

19510000_Mullen
Front Cover Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) (Source: Jeremy de Korte Personal Collection)

BACK TO SOUTH STREET

Just let me go back to South Street
For a week with the famous bands,
And take with me others who would compete
In Australia’s Golden City of renown.

Just let me alight at the station
With cornet, trombone and drum,
And meet bandsmen from all over the Nation,
To whom South Street once more come.

Just let me line up in the station yard
And play through Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,”
Or “The Heavens Are Telling” by Haydn – just as hard,
As bands played in the days before us.

Just let me march along Sturt Street
With gay crowds lining the way,
With step by step and beat by beat,
Is South Street just the same to-day?

Just let me see who is judging again,
Is it Stead or Bentley with ears for tune?
Short, Beswick, Sutton or Morgan – men of fame,
Or King of them all – J. Ord Hume.

Just let me go through Inspection
As we did when we dressed with much care;
With the gayest uniform in our section,
That made all our rivals stare.

Just let me compete in the solos again
From the grand old Coliseum stage,
With “Adelaide” or “Gipsy’s Warning” – or “Pretty Jane,”
“Zelda” and “Miranda” of a later age.

Just let me mount he platform
And play through “Beethoven’s Works.”
Or any Alexander Owen’s selections
That South Street bands would not shirk.

Just let me play through the Test piece,
Be it “Mercandante.” “Mozart” or “Liszt,”
“Wagner,” “Chopin” of “Meyerbeer,”
The tests that were tests on our lips.

Just let me march in the Quickstep
With Ord Hume’s “B.B. and C.F.”
“The Challenge,” “Cossack” or “Ravenswood”
Or was the “Twentieth Century” the best?

Just let me see the others swing past,
Code’s, Prout’s, Rozelle and Boulder.
Wanganui, Newcastle and Bathurst Brass,
Great names that come dear to the older.

Just let me see those fine Geelong bands,
St. Augustine’s, Municipal and Harbour Trust.
Also Collingwood, Malvern, Richmond, Prahran,
Perth City – all great power among us.

Just let me see Geelong Town again
With Sharpe Brearley at the head of affairs.
They ranked with Prout’s in quickstep fame,
First in marching honours was often theirs.

Just let me see the giants of the baton,
Riley, Code, Bulch and Prout,
McMahon, Barkel, Jones and Hoffman.
Many, alas, have gone out.

Just let me see others again,
Partington, Shugg, Johnston, Bowden.
Men who kept time in South Street’s fame;
Wade and Baile must be among them.

Just let me think if I missed any,
Yes, there was Davison, Niven, Lewins – any more!
Hopkins, Ryder, Billy May among many,
Not forgetting Frank Wright and J. Booth Gore.

Just let me see the best of officials
And critics like Davey, Gartrell and Hellings,
Humphreys and Boyce – Kings of staff and whistle,
May march us again – well, there’s no telling.

So to-day just let me go back to South Street,
Most famous contest in the land,
Where many old timers I will heartily greet,
And yarn over years that were so grand.

(Mullen, 1951, pp. 2-3)

“Dungog Brass Band” by ‘Mad Mick” (1954):

19120000_Dungog-BB_phot16862
Dungog Brass Band, 1912 (Source: IBEW)

Above is a picture of the Dungog Brass Band from around 1912 and unfortunately, this is one of the only pictures I could find of them.  However, some thirty years later this prose was published in the Dungog Chronicle : Dungog and Gloucester Advertiser newspaper by a member of the band writing under the pseudonym of ‘Mad Mick”.  One may wince at some of the language, but this was the 1950s.

From reading the poem it appears that ‘Mick’ is a third cornet player.  This poem is quite good in describing who the band is, what it does and where it goes, but the prose hints at some problems like attendance issues.  We can appreciate that this was a local town band, and this was the way they did things. I think every band has a ‘Mick’ in their midst and we can thank him for highlighting the Dungog Brass Band in the way that he did.

DUNGOG BRASS BAND

I’ve heard it said that Old King Cole was happy, gay and free,
And he liked music sweet and low, played by his fiddlers three,
But in Dungog we’re luckier than King Cole in his day,
We have a band of 25 with band-master, Bob Gray;
And of this band we all feel proud, a mighty job they do,
They play in aid of charities, and spastic kiddies too.
Some Saturdays they entertain at each and every pub,
They finish off the evening playing at the Bowling Club.

Now I would like to tell you all the names of those who play,
And how old Bob the baton waves, and gets them on their way;
Soprano cornet heads the list and that’s I. Kennedy.
That solo cornet it is played by little Johnny Lee;
Keith Kennedy is downstairs for he is baritone,
And forwards, backwards, goes Stan Leayr upon the old trombone;
Now solo tenor horn Barry Schofield plays alone,
Toot! Toot! Toot! Toot! Don Redman goes upon his saxophone.

First tenor horn’s Wal Arnold, third cornet Mick Neilson,
Johnny Schofield’s second cornet, Hector Robson the side drum;
Ken Wade with his euphonium, gets down to bottom D,
While second solo tenor horn is little Barry Lee;
Then there’s E bass Freddy Schofield and Ted Mathews is the same,
And there’s one more solo cornet, Artie Redman is his name;
The secretary is Jack Kerr, he’s also big bass drum,
While tenor horn number three is played by “Butch” Neilson.

There’s only six more instruments and players for to pen,
For to conclude the roll call of Bob and his merry men;
And Bob calls them “some-timers,” they don’t attend a lot,
Sometimes they’re there for practice and sometimes they are not.
There’s the E bass and the B bass, and repiano cornet too,
And they’re played by Tommy Ferris and Keith Lean and Shelton, Blue,
Well now I’ve two trombonists whose attendances are poor
And they are “Sambo” Neilson and offsider Dennis Moore.

Well, those are all the players who go to make this band,
But there are two more people who lend a helping hand;
First of them the Drum Major, he makes them look so fine,
And that of course is Perry, Bill, he sees they march in line.
Then last of all is Paddy with collection box in hand,
You’ll always find him snooping round somewhere behind the band,
He sticks his box beneath your nose and thinks he’s doing right.
No wonder folks have christened him the “great Australian bite!”
P.S. – Sorry folks I missed one out, it’s Ray Monaghan I’m sure,
He plays quite well, but still in all, attendances are poor.

(Mad Mick, 1954, p. 3)

…and something from me:

In concluding this next blog post in Band Blasts From the Past,
Some tales of bands and bands people, but they won’t be the last.
For as we know from history, stories wait until they’re found,
Of the many tales of bands people who were there to make a sound.

References:

Bannerman. (1918, 08 May). A WELCOME. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article151083205

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 02 March). William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

Dungog Brass Band. (1912). [Photograph]. [phot16862]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Mad Mick. (1954, 29 September). DUNGOG BRASS BAND (By ‘Mad Mick). Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140539879

Mullen, C. C. (1951). Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951). Horticultural Press. 

Quickstep. (1920, 23 October). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Celebrated Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242245731

Trans-Tasman connections: the lure of competition and performance. Part Two – Australian Bands in New Zealand.

Introduction:

In comparison to the first part of this series of posts, the Australian bands were not quite as proactive as crossing the Tasman as their New Zealand counterparts.  When the Australian bands did go to New Zealand, they tended to do very well in competition and performances gained rave reviews.  This part of the post will detail the trips that four Australian bands made to New Zealand between 1900-1940.

1907: Newcastle City Band – Christchurch International Exhibition Contest:

19070213_New-Zealand-Mail_Newcastle-Picture
1907, Newcastle City Band visiting New Zealand. New Zealand Mail, 13/02/1907 (Source: PapersPast)

It took a little bit longer for Australian bands to start reciprocal visits to New Zealand and in 1907 the then champion Newcastle City Band traveled to Christchurch via Wellington to participate in the International Exhibition Contest (“NEWCASTLE CITY BAND.,” 1907).  By all accounts, this was a huge event with no less than twenty-nine bands participating (Newcomb, 1980).  Also in attendance at the Exhibition was the world-famous Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band from England who performed to great acclaim (Newcomb, 1980).  Code’s Melbourne band was also intending to take part in the event however they did not end up going due to some of their bandsmen being unable to take time off work (Trombone, 1907).

The Newcastle Band achieved a very credible third placing against some top-ranking New Zealand bands and some of their soloists also achieved good placings (“BAND CONTEST,” 1907).  However, soon after the contest finished, questions were being asked over the judging with Newcastle and others feeling that Newcastle should have been placed higher.  In an article published in the Wanganui Herald, a Mr. Edgar Nicholas from Ballarat who was visiting was asked about the adjudicating at the contest by Lieutenant Bentley, formerly of England.  Mr. Nicholas said in his interview that,

I have been at all the band contests in Ballarat, where the principal bands in Australia compete.  We had had Messrs Ord-Hume, Wade, and Beard from England, but, speaking generally, Mr. Bentley has given equal satisfaction in Ballarat with these gentlemen”.

(“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907)

Speaking pragmatically in the interview, Mr. Nicholas noted that an adjudicator sometimes fails to please everyone given that Mr. Bentley had to judge 30 bands.  Also, as Mr. Nicholas suggests, some bands may not have been at their best given the late hours that some of them competed (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907).  Mr. Nicholas kept drawing comparisons with the Ballarat South St. Eisteddfod, the first being that that in the case of large sections, Ballarat employed up to three judges and that in Australia there were separate gradings which, at the time, were not used in New Zealand (“THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST,” 1907).

One Newcastle bandsman was quite firm in his comments which were published in a Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate newspaper article,

When our band-master tells us we played well I am satisfied.  He tells us often enough when we don’t play well; but we never played better than in the competition.”

(“THE CITY BAND.,” 1907).

Aside from this issue over the placings, most accounts note that the Newcastle City Band had an enjoyable trip and were welcomed in various locations.  On the ship home, they played for an appreciative audience and were welcomed home with a civic reception (“THE CITY BAND.,” 1907).

Band:Own Choice:Test:Total:
Wanganui Garrison158147305
Kaikorai Brass158145303
Newcastle City156146302
(source of table data (Newcomb, 1980, p. 40))

1923: Redfern Municipal Band – South Island Brass Band Association Contest, Dunedin:

Some sixteen years after the first Australian band traveled to New Zealand, it took until 1923 for the next Australian band to arrive.  The Redfern Municipal Band, conducted by Mr. W. Partington, was a formidable band at the time and they undertook a short tour through the South Island of New Zealand on their way from Wellington to Dunedin.  Upon arriving in Wellington, along with a contingent of N.S.W. Bowlers, they were given a large civic reception by the Mayor (“BOWLERS AND BANDSMEN,” 1923).  The arrival of Redfern had generated an amount of excitement throughout New Zealand, suffice to say that their conductor Mr. W. Partington had conducted one of their own champion bands, The Wanganui Garrison Band for a while (“ENTERPRISING BAND,” 1923; Newcomb, 1980) – the band from Redfern was not unknown in New Zealand.

Redfern Municipal was ultimately triumphant in Dunedin by winning the A Grade section and Aggregate.  This was no easy feat given that a number of New Zealand’s A grade bands were in the section, including Mr. Partington’s former band, Wanganui.  Newcomb (1980) wrote of Redfern and the A Grade contest,

In Dunedin, it competed against seven of New Zealand’s top A grade bands.  After a week of intensive rehearsal in the “Edinburgh of the South” Redfern was rewarded for its painstaking efforts when it took out the A grade title 12 points ahead of Invercargill’s Hiberian Band. The 1st Canterbury Mounted Regiment Band was third.

The talking point of the contest was the poor performance of the Wanganui Garrison Band, under Mr. J. Crichton.  The veteran Wanganui conductor’s ambition was to thrash the Redferners…”

(p. 44)

Of course the triumph was noted in Australian and New Zealand newspapers, and rightly so, it was a great win for the Redfern band (“BAND CONTEST,” 1923; “REDFERN BAND,” 1923).  However, the backstory of the two conductors was intriguing and written up as part of an article published by the NZ Truth newspaper:

There is an interesting story (perhaps) behind the crossing of the Redferners.  Bandmaster Partington was over here for a while, and had charge of the Wanganui Band.  Within a very short period of training under his baton he made champions of them, winning the N.Z. honors last year.  Then there arose a controversy between Partington, of Aussieland and Jim Crichton, of Wanganui, the ex-bootshopman who knocked off trade to become a musician, undergoing a special course of study in London for the purpose of pursuing his brass-bound hobby.  He told P. that if he (C.) had the Woolston Band under his baton for a month he could beat anything that P. could bring against it.  There was such a heated argument that it was leading to something like a £1000 wager.  But P. left for Aussieland again, and took charge of the Redferners.  Now the question is: Did he bring the Sydneysiders over to compete against anything that Jim Crichton had under his wing? Well, Jim took the Wanganui cracks down to Dunedin to play against their old leader – and Wanganui was nowhere in the final!

(“Brass Bands and Bandsmen,” 1923)

When returning to Australia, there was a snippet of thought that the Redfern Band might head to England to compete (“REDFERN BAND,” 1923).  However, this evidently did not eventuate.  Their conductor, Mr. Partington, went on to other activities and formed a representative band that travelled Australia with the aim of heading to England.  But as detailed in a previous post, that tour ended up running out of money upon arrival in Perth.

1925: Malvern Tramways Band – New Zealand National Band Championship, Auckland:

19250305_Auckland-Weekly-News_MalvernTB_
Malvern Tramways Band, Auckland. Auckland Weekly News, 2/03/1925, p. 46. (Source: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections: AWNS-19250305-46-1)

Just two years later, another crack Australian band made the trip to New Zealand to compete.  The Malvern Tramways Band was renowned throughout Australia as one of the elite bands of the Commonwealth having won numerous competitions by this time.  So much so that the Malvern Band, like many others, tried to get to England however they too were unable to raise sufficient funds.  To compensate, they did arrive in New Zealand early in 1925 to commence a six-week tour culminating in the championships in Auckland (“Malvern Tramways Band,” 1925d).

The reputation of Malvern preceded them to New Zealand and all manner of hospitality was afforded for the band including, special observation cars on trains, reduced rail fares and free travel on New Zealand trams! (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925b).  They sailed from Melbourne to Invercargill and from there travelled up to Auckland giving concerts in all the major towns on the way (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925a).  By late February they had reached Auckland and commenced competing in the band sections and solo sections.  In competition, the Malvern Tramways band was formidable and they won just about every section except for the Quickstep where they achieved third place (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1925b; “MALVERN WINS A GRADE TEST,” 1925).  Newcomb (1980) wrote of the contest:

After many years of bickering, common sense prevailed when the North and South Island associations joined forces to stage the 1925 national contest in Auckland.

It was made doubly interesting by the presence of the Malvern Tramways Band from Australia under the conductorship of Mr. Harry Shugg.

New Zealand’s top A grade bands proved no match for the highly fancied Australian combination which won both tests, the hymn and the championship aggregate.

(p. 45)

After this astounding success in New Zealand, the Malvern Tramways Band sailed for Sydney where they performed their competition repertoire in concert to rave reviews (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND,” 1925c).  Traveling back to Melbourne, the success of their New Zealand venture was written up a couple of months later by the local Prahran Telegraph newspaper (“MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1925a).

1936: Cairns Citizens’ Band – New Zealand National Band Championships, New Plymouth:

19351123_Evening-Post_Cairns-Band
Cairns Citizens’ (31st Battalion) Band. Evening Post, 23/11/1935. (Source: PapersPast)

In October 1935, the Cairns Post newspaper published the news that the Cairns Citizens’ (31st Battalion) Band would compete at the 1936 New Zealand Band Championships in New Plymouth (“MAKING HISTORY.,” 1935).  Conducted by James Crompton, a person that was not unfamiliar to the New Zealand brass bands, the band was nominally the first band from Queensland to compete in New Zealand and the first from Australian Military Forces (“MAKING HISTORY.,” 1935).

The Cairns Citizens’ Band won the New Zealand Championship that year, although they did not win the Test selection.  However, their aggregate points were enough that they could win the championship (“Cairns Band.,” 1936; Newcomb, 1980).  The New Zealand press was also impressed by the standards set in New Plymouth and an article published in the Evening Post newspaper praised the marching – the Cairns Citizens’ Band achieved 2nd place in the marching section (“GOOD MARCHING,” 1936).

Conclusion:

There was a similarity of experiences for bands crossing to either side of the Tasman; with civic receptions, a very interested and informed public and commentary from the newspapers.  The excitement generated by viewing a visiting band was also interesting to note – and there were plenty of other articles that were written about bands (but too many to list in these posts)!  It was interesting to note just how close the Australian and New Zealand brass band movements were in terms of standards and rules, so much so that any band crossing the Tasman could expect near similar conditions of competition.  The best bands of each country could match the other and in the spirit of competition, this was plain to see.

It is the collegial nature of band movements that enabled these visits to happen and to this day, the friendly rivalries remain, and visits continue to take place.  Kudos to the bands that made these early trips as they set a foundation for other bands to build on.

<- Part One – New Zealand Bands in Australia

References:

Auckland Weekly News. (1925). AUSTRALIAN BAND’S SWEEPING SUCCESS : MALVERN TRAMWYS (MELBOURNE), WINNERS OF ALL THE A GRADE SHIELDS AND THE McLED CUP [Digital Image AWNS-19250305-46-1]. Ngā Pātaka Kōrero o Tâmaki Makaurau / Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Auckland, N.Z. https://digitalnz.org/records/38490933/australian-bands-sweeping-success-malvern-tramways-melbourne-winners-of-all

AUSTRALIAN BAND FOR NEW ZEALAND CONTEST. (1935, 23 November). Evening Post. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19351123.2.26.1

BAND CONTEST : Redfern Win The Aggregate : Wellington Watersiders Third. (1923, 24 February). Evening Post. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19230224.2.68

BAND CONTEST : Winners of Competitions. (1907, 16 February). New Zealand Times. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTIM19070216.2.61

BOWLERS AND BANDSMEN. (1923, 08 February). Evening Post. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19230208.2.25

Brass Bands and Bandsmen. (1923, 03 March). NZ Truth. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230303.2.2.4

Cairns Band : Wins Championship. (1936, 02 March). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172909750

THE CITY BAND. (1907, 27 February). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136605589

ENTERPRISING BAND : Sydney Competition Band Likely to Visit Wanganui. (1923, 12 January). Hawera & Normanby Star. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/HNS19230112.2.17

GOOD MARCHING : Port Nicholson Band : Recent National Contest. (1936, 09 March). Evening Post. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19360309.2.25

THE JUDGING AT THE CONTEST. (1907, 15 February). Wanganui Herald. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/WH19070215.2.32

MAKING HISTORY : Band For New Zealand : Cairns to Cross Tasman. (1935, 02 October). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41708070

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND. (1925a, 20 February). New Zealand Herald. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZH19250220.2.132

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND. (1925b, 20 January). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243874312

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND. (1925c, 10 March). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16207234

Malvern Tramways Band : Leaves for New Zealand. (1925d, 13 February). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165132427

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND : Recent New Zealand Tour : Success in Competitions. (1925a, 22 May). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165141099

MALVERN TRAMWAYS BAND : Wins Championship of New Zealand. (1925b, 06 March). Prahran Telegraph (Vic. : 1889 – 1930), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165137387

MALVERN WIN A GRADE TEST. (1925, 27 February). Evening Post. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19250227.2.83.1

New Zealand International Exhibition. (1907, 12 February). Star, 3. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TS19070212.2.57.2

The Newcastle (N.S.W.) City Brass Band; Champion Band of Australia, At Present Visiting New Zealand. (1907, 13 February). New Zealand Mail. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZMAIL19070213.2.235.6

NEWCASTLE CITY BAND : Going to New Zealand. (1907, 29 January). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136608558

Newcomb, S. P. (1980). Challenging brass : 100 years of brass band contests in New Zealand, 1880-1980. Powerbrass Music for the Brass Band Association of New Zealand. 

REDFERN BAND : New Zealand Triumph. (1923, 09 March). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931) ,8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118834570

Trombone. (1907, 09 February). The Exhibition : The Band Contests. Lyttelton Times. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/LT19070209.2.71

International band tours of the early 1900s: bringing music to Australia

Introduction:

It is a massive undertaking to take any musical group on tour which stands true even today.  But let’s examine these undertakings from another time.  When we look back at the grand tours of brass and military bands in the early 1900s, we can only marvel at the schedules they set for themselves, the places they visited, and the effect they had on local populations.  Australians it seemed had an insatiable appetite for viewing the best in the business and visiting bands were not disappointed when they toured here.

Visiting bands did not come all the way to Australia just to return home again.  Often, Australia was just one stop on a world tour.  From reading the Trove archive we can see that the movements of the bands in foreign countries was eagerly reported on because Australians knew they were next to see them.  And when the bands did arrive in Australia, each concert was widely advertised.

This was a great age of band movements in Australia and around the World.  It must have been quite a sight too when each band was alighting from ships and trains which were eagerly awaited on by an adoring crowd.  Parades of massed bands, dinners, receptions, concerts, photographs, articles and other events all greeted visiting bands when they stepped upon our shores. Thankfully our libraries hold some ephemera and newspaper articles from those tours, so we can imagine just what it would have been like.

This post will highlight some of the visiting band tours and will see that some bands had vast reputations which preceded them. However, the famous bands were not the only groups to visit.  This post will not cover all tours or bands.  Undoubtedly there might have been other bands that visited that are buried in time (more stories to uncover).  However, for the bands that did visit, their tours last in memories, and even in some of the local bands that were beneficiaries of the expertise of visiting bandsmen.  There are some fascinating stories that surround these tours.

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band travels around the world, twice:

18900000-19200000_Tour_Besses_Card
Postcard: Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 1907 (Source: National Library of Australia: David Elliot theatrical postcard collection: nla.obj-145704095)

The reputation of this unique brass band is well-deserved. Besses o’ the’ Barn Band from the Manchester area, England is one of the oldest brass bands in the world and has been an ensemble of excellence since its establishment in 1818 (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018a).  So it was with a great deal of excitement the world over (and from the band itself) when Besses commenced its first world tour in 1906 (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b).  This first tour took them to “North America, Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b).  For each performance they attracted vast audiences and it is written in their history that their visit to Melbourne was most notable with no less than “twenty-two of Australia’s finest brass bands” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018b) preceding them in a parade along Collins St.  This must have been quite the spectacle and sound!  Before they arrived in Melbourne they had been in Sydney and an article from The Sydney Morning Herald in 1907 gave an enthusiastic review of their performances (“BESSES O’ THE BARN” BAND,” 1907).  In July 1907 the Argus newspaper published an article which gives us an amount of detail about the parade and the massed bands that led it:

Immediately they alighted from the Sydney express the visiting bandsmen stepped across the platform into the railway yard and as they did twenty-two bands, under the conductorship of Mr. E. T. Code, commenced to play an inspiring march.  Each man in those twenty-two bands contributed his full share to the volume of sound the like of which has rarely been heard in Melbourne. […] A procession was formed and heralded by the twenty-two local bands, the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band were drive up Collins Street in two drags.  The street was crowded with citizens whose curiosity had prompted them to see the famous bandsmen at first opportunity.

[…]

The bands which took part in the ceremony of welcome were as follows: St Kilda City, Prahran City, Code’s Melbourne Band, South Richmond Citizens, Collingwood Citizens’, Richmond City, Malvern City, Williamstown Premier, Footscray City, Stender’s, Doncaster, South Melbourne City, Brighton City, Brunswick City, Warneeke’s, Bootmakers, Camberwell, Box Hill, Fitzroy Military, Clifton Hill, Fitzroy Citizen’s, Kyneton City, St Vincent de Paul Orphanage, St. Arnaud, Castlemaine, Maryborough, and Ballarat bands were also represented.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907)

Regarding the huge crowds, an 1907 article in the Quiz newspaper from Adelaide which reported on the progress of the Besses tour thus far, noted that 70,000 people lined the parade route in Melbourne, which is a staggering amount of people for this kind of event (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907).  Such was the popularity and reputation of this ensemble.

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band welcoming parade turning from Collins Street to Swanston Street, Melbourne, July 1907. The massed bands are led by Edward Code. (Source: Manchester Digital Music Archive: 13953)

However, Besses did not finish touring after this first monumental effort.  Not one year after they had arrived back in England, the band embarked on another world tour (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND,” 1909).  As noted in their band history (2018b), “Both trips lasted an incredible eighteen months.” (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band) which was a very long time for bandsmen to be away from home. Needless to say, Besses had not lost any popularity on their next world tour and again drew large crowds wherever they went.

Interestingly it was on their second tour where there were some changes in the Besses personnel due to one bandsman staying on in one city, and another bandsman joining them on their tour.  In a previous post, we can read the story of Besses Lead Cornetist William Ryder who absconded from the tour in Melbourne and joined the Wests Theatre Company before becoming the first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band in 1911 (de Korte, 2018; Stonnington City Brass, 2018).  This being done, it appears that Besses invited one of our most famous bandsmen, Percy Code to join them on the rest of the tour (Bradish, 1929; Gibbney, 1981).  The conductor of Besses during this world tour was Mr. Christopher Smith and after the tour ended he was secured by the Adelaide Tramways Band for his services in 1911 (Seymour, 1994).

Postcard: Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 1906 (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

There is no doubt that Besses left their mark on Australian banding and were adored by audiences.  Certainly, in the succeeding years, many fine Australian bands dominated the landscape and as we saw some ex-Besses musicians now called Australia home.  Besses was one of the first bands to include Australia in their tour, but they were not the last.  Next to tour was the famous Sousa Band from the USA!

Sousa heads South:

18900000-19200000_Tour_Sousa-Card
Postcard: Australia welcoming the Sousa Band (Source: National Library of Australia: David Elliot theatrical postcard collection: nla.obj-145695597)

The band of John Phillip Sousa was no less famous than the Besses band, although much bigger with sixty musicians and some additional soloists in their touring party.  They toured Australia and New Zealand from May 12th to August 23rd, 1911 and like the Besses band generated huge excitement wherever they went (Lovrien, 2012).  In fact, the excitement had started brewing before they had even arrived with newspapers reporting expected arrival dates and schedules (“SOUSA’S BAND.,” 1911).  As with the Besses tour that had just finished, the Sousa band was feted with ceremony, functions, awards, parades and large audiences – upon arriving in Sydney there was a grand parade featuring twenty NSW brass bands (“SOUSA AND HIS BAND,” 1911).

Inevitably, given the timing of the Sousa tour to the previous Besses tour, questions were asked as to which the finer band was.  In an article from May 1911, the World’s News newspaper sought to answer this question from a reader (“Sousa’s Band,” 1911).  The article reported on the differences between both bands and diplomatically opens the article by declaring that: “Comparisons are odious in connection with bands, as well as with politics” (“Sousa’s Band,” 1911).  However, it came down to the fact that one was a brass band as opposed to a military-style band and one band was much bigger than the other.  Musically, they were both very fine ensembles.

The Sousa band was a very different ensemble and they enthralled Australian audiences.  However, there is no real indication that the Sousa band had an influence on Australian bandsmen, and if they did, it was not reported.  One could assume the reason was that Australian bands, which were mostly brass at the time, were very much tied to the band tradition of England, not the USA.

Postcard: Sousa Band at the Glacarium, Melbourne, 1911 (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

From Australia, the Sousa Band traveled to New Zealand where they again delighted audiences and received rave reviews (White, 2018).  And after this swing through the Southern Hemisphere, they returned to the mainland USA via a visit to Hawaii (Lovrien, 2012).

The Sousa tour, despite the number of places that they visited and the largeness of the audiences, did not generate a huge financial windfall and it was very expensive to take the band around the world (Lovrien, 2012).  However, in 1913 a court case was heard regarding the profits from the Australian leg of the Sousa tour.  From the brief flurry of newspaper articles that were written at the time, it appears that a series of contracts were entered into by the promoter of the tour, Mr. Branscombe with a Mr. Quinlan, and later a Mr. Singer over £30,000 in profits (“SOUSA’S BAND IN AUSTRALIA,” 1913).  It is interesting that this case was heard two years after the tour had finished, and that these profits were not intended for the Sousa band itself.

Bythell (2000), writing on the band tours and exchanges between countries during this time says that “…the logistics and high costs or international tours and exchanges made them exceptional” (p. 229).  Certainly, it was noted in the New Zealand article on the Sousa visit that the tour (through Aus. & NZ) was costing “over £2,000 per week” (White, 2018).  Given the logistics of moving a sixty-piece band plus soloists around Australia and New Zealand, this figure is hardly surprising.

Despite this, the Sousa tour appears to have been a success for the band and audiences as Sousa was a renowned conductor and composer.  The time frame between this tour and the previous Besses tour had not dimmed the enthusiasm of the Australian public in wanting to see these kinds of entertainments.  The Sousa band did not disappoint.

The visit of a Belgian Band during the First World War:

Postcard: Belgian National Band, 1915 (Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

The Besses and Sousa bands were undoubtedly famous, but that did not stop other promoters searching for bands that might tour, which is exactly what happened during the early stages of the First World War.  In 1915, a band from Belgium visited the country and apparently went on tour through Australia and New Zealand. (“MUSIC.,” 1915).  A paragraph in a Leader newspaper article from May 1915 provides some detail on this band, but the band had no name – they were simply known as the Belgian Band:

A Belgian Band comprising some of the finest instrumentalists in Belgium, has been engaged by J. and N. Tait for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, commencing in June. […] After considerable trouble, many cables and much correspondence, the band has at last been got together, and will prove on its arrival one of the finest aggregations of talent that have yet visited Australia.  The band comprises of 28 instrumentalists, recruited from the foremost bands of Brussels, Antwerp and Ostend, and augmented by half a dozen English players, and will be conducted by the brilliant M. Phillipe Meny, a remarkable musician, whose reputation is not only Belgian, but European.

(“MUSIC.,” 1915)

The reaction of the Australian press to this visit was understandable.  A number of articles expressed admiration that the musicians had actually left Belgium, while also expressing sympathy and solidarity with the Belgian people under German occupation.  An example of this kind of article was from the Daily News in Perth (“THE BELGIAN BAND.,” 1915).  Notwithstanding the circumstances of this visit, the band drew the interest of an Australian public and received good reviews for their performances (“Visit of Belgian Band,” 1915).  In an act of decency, the band promoters donated all profits to “…the Belgian Relief Fund and the Wounded Soldiers Fund” (“BELGIAN BAND VISITS AUSTRALIA.,” 1915).

First came the Royal Marines, then came the Guards:

After the war, visits from overseas bands resumed quite early on with a visit from the Royal Marine Band, H.M.S. “Renown”.  This band was brought to Australia by J. and N. Tait, the same promoters who engaged the Belgian Band in 1915 (“RENOWN BAND.,” 1920).  The Royal Marines actually visited twice; their first visit was in 1920 and they followed up with another visit in 1927.  The concerts of 1920 received some very favorable reviews with one article printed in the Argus praising the sound and playing of this ensemble, and making a comparison of conducting styles with the great Sousa (“Concert by Renown Band.,” 1920).  On the second tour, a concert in Melbourne was presented as a massed bands concert in combination with the “Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial  Band” and the “Victorian Railways Military Band” with the Lord Mayor’s Hospital Appeal Fund the beneficiary of the proceeds from the concert (“FOR MAYOR’S FUND,” 1927).

19270508_Massed-Mil-Bands_Green-Mill_FC
Programme (front cover), featuring: Royal Marines Band H.M.S. “Renown”, Victorian Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Band & Victorian Railways Military Band. (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League)

In 1934 the Band of the Grenadier Guards visited Melbourne as part of the Centenary of Victoria celebrations, with a subsequent tour of Australia as well.  There was some initial confusion as to which Guards band was going to visit with the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Welsh Guards being mentioned in some press (“GUARDS’ BAND VISIT.,” 1933).  It seems there was also some objection to the tour on the part of the Musicians’ Union. A letter to The Herald in September 1933 berated the Union for their stance with the writer stating that “Their visit will be education and beneficial to our unemployed musicians.” (Musician, 1933).  A visit to Australia by a band of this caliber was beneficial to all who witnessed them (not just unemployed musicians).  The band made a special appearance at the South Street competition of 1934 with a concert presented to an appreciative audience which included the Duke of Gloucester who was also visiting Australia (“South-street Band Contests.,” 1934).

19341101-19341103_South-Street-Centenary-Contest_p6
1934 South Street “Centenary” Brass Band Contest program, p. 6 (Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

These two British military bands were highly regarded, and it appears that their tours were more genuine with concerts in combination with Australian ensembles and presenting inspirational performances.  There was no comparison with the previous tours of Besses and Sousa as these were again, very different groups.  However, Australians were no less enthusiastic about the visits of these bands and made them feel very welcome.

Conclusion:

What we have seen here is only a small sample of the bands that visited Australia within a shorter time frame.  Each group was very different, yet they elicited an amount of excitement from the Australian audiences, bandsmen and public authorities.  Yes, they were expensive undertakings.  But musically they were invaluable.  This truly was a great age of banding.

References:

Australia extends the glad hand of welcome to Sousa and his band. (1910). [1 postcard : col. ; 9.6 x 13.9 cm.]. [nla.obj-145695597]. National Library of Australia, David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145695597/view

THE BELGIAN BAND. (1915, 24 May). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81173645

BELGIAN BAND VISITS AUSTRALIA. (1915, 20 June). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120796314

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907). [Photograph]. [13953]. Manchester Digital Music Archive. https://www.mdmarchive.co.uk/artefact/13953/BESSES_O’_TH’_BARN_BAND_PHOTOGRAPH_1907

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907). [Postcard]. [nla.obj-145704095]. National Library of Australia, David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145704095/view

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907, 09 August). Quiz (Adelaide, SA : 1900 – 1909), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166338966

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1909, 04 November). Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 – 1939), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145853191

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (2018a). A Glorious Past. Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. Retrieved 04 October 2018 from http://www.besses.co.uk/about/blasts-o-th-past/history-of-besses

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (2018). From Whitefield to Wellington. Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. Retrieved 04 October 2018 from http://www.besses.co.uk/about/blasts-o-th-past/history-of-besses?showall=&start=1

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : WELCOME TO MELBOURNE. (1907, 29 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10125983

“BESSES O’ THE BARN” BAND. (1907, 15 May). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14867586

Bradish, C. R. (1929, 05 September). Prominent Personalities : PERCY CODE | CONDUCTOR OF NATIONAL BROADCASTING ORCHESTRA. Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 – 1939), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146712994

Bythell, D. (2000). The Brass Band in the Antipodes : The Transplantation of British Popular Culture. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 217-244). Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press. 

Concert by Renown Band. (1920, 04 June). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1708206

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 02 March). William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

FOR MAYOR’S FUND : Renown Band Concert. (1927, 06 May). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243915027

Gibbney, H. J. (1981). Code, Edward Percival (1888-1953). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 20 April 2018, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/code-edward-percival-5707

Glanville Hicks, E. (1927). MASSED MILITARY BANDS : (Including Band of H.M.S. “RENOWN”) : GRAND RECITAL  [Programme]. City of Melbourne. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5caad8b321ea6703e46303f4 

GUARDS’ BAND VISIT : Centenary Tour Almost Certain. (1933, 10 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205104515

Lovrien, D. (2012, 13 June). The Sousa Band 1910-11 World Tour. John Philip Sousa. https://sousamusic.com/sousa-band-1910-11-world-tour/

MUSIC. (1915, 15 May). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918), 35. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91368715

Musician. (1933, 11 September). GUARDS’ BAND VISIT. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243423748

RENOWN BAND. (1920, 05 July). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62924146

Royal South Street Society. (1934). South Street “Centenary” : Brass Band Contest : A, B, C and D Grades  [Programme]. Royal South Street Society. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5d425e0c21ea6b1a84382033 

Seymour, C. (1994). Adelaide’s Tramway Band. Trolley Wire, 35(4), 3-10. https://www.sydneytramwaymuseum.com.au/members.old/Trolley_Wire/259%20-%20Trolley%20Wire%20-%20Nov%201994.pdf 

SOUSA AND HIS BAND. (1911, 14 May). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120777076

Sousa Band – Immense Audience, Glacarium, Melbourne. (1911). [Postcard]. Sousa Band, Melbourne, Victoria. 

SOUSA’S BAND. (1911, 09 February). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10877792

SOUSA’S BAND IN AUSTRALIA : Question of profits : Writ for £7926. (1913, 01 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196234795

Sousa’s Band : An interesting question asked by readers. (1911, 13 May). World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128266800

South-street Band Contests. (1934, 02 November). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205082990

Stonnington City Brass. (2018). Band History. Stonnington City Brass. Retrieved 13 May 2018 from https://www.stonningtoncitybrass.org.au/history.html

Visit of Belgian Band : An enjoyable concert. (1915, 10 August). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954),7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121995771

Walmsley Bolton. (1915). The Great Belgian National Band. Conductor – – Mons Jules Ardenois (of Antwerp) [Postcard]. Walmsley Bolton, Nottingham, U.K. 

White, T. (2018, 13 July). Memory Lane: A famous musician brings his band to town. Manawatū Standard. https://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/lifestyle/105412732/memory-lane-a-famous-musician-brings-his-band-to-town

William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran and Malvern Tramways Employees Band

19150000_William-Ryder_front
Postcard: William Ryder (source: Stonnington City Brass photo collection)

 Mr. William Ryder is mentioned in the Stonnington City Brass centenary book, “Bold as Brass”, yet is mentioned as a mere footnote in a long line of conductors of the band.  He probably would have passed attention even further had it not been for a donation of photos to the band.  These photos were not only remarkable for their condition but for the portion of the history of Stonnington City Brass they have now filled in.  Discovering the story of Mr. Ryder has been very rewarding, and has reinforced old ties with one of the most famous brass bands in the world, the Manchester Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band.

Some particulars of Williams Ryder’s life are unknown but we do know that he was born and raised in England.  He apparently started out learning the Violin but switched to the Cornet soon after.  By all accounts, he became a very gifted musician and was tutored by the great William Rimmer, a very famous conductor of the time.  Mr. Ryder even played in the company of royalty on one occasion.

We know that William Ryder came to be in Australia when he was included in the Besses O’ Th’ Barn band on their worldwide tour in 1909-1911 as their lead Cornet.  However, his reputation had preceded him and in 1910 he joined the Wests Theatre Company in Melbourne and in 1911 became the first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band.  This is only a small tie with the famous Besses band and they were very interested to find out about Mr. Ryder’s whereabouts – Besses apparently joke at concerts about the bandsmen who went on tour and never came back!

Postcard: Besses o’ th’ Barn Band (source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

Mr. Ryder’s prowess as a musician can’t be discounted.  Like the vast majority of bandsmen, he was active in competition and in 1912 he achieved 2nd place in the Open Bb Cornet section at Royal South Street (Ballarat).  What is more remarkable is that in 1914 he not only won the Open Bb Cornet title but the Open Eb Cornet title as well at South Street in two days of competition!  He also conducted the early Malvern band to competition wins.

According to an early history of the Stonnington City Brass (Malvern Tramways) compiled by Mr. Charles Selling, Mr. Ryder left the band in July 1914.  Mr. Snelling wrote that “With the change of Bandmaster, several of our men left us, and another Band was formed in Malvern under Mr. Ryder.  This combination was short-lived, however.”.  Which, I might add, was a situation not unheard of in these times.  Succeeding Mr. Ryder as a conductor was Mr. McAnally however he only had a short tenure and in early 1915 the great Mr. Harry Shugg was appointed.

19180508_Maryborough-Chronicle_William-Ryder
Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 8/05/1918, p. 6

After his stint in Malvern, Mr. Ryder traveled to NSW to take up an appointment with the Rozelle District Band, then transferred to the South Sydney Band.  From this point up until the end of the First World War, Mr. Ryder was part of the AIF forces as an acting bandmaster.  After the war, he proceeded to Queensland and according to articles from the Queensland Times (Ipswich) 1926 and the Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 1931, he had been associated with the Maryborough Naval Band, Maryborough City Band, the Rossendale Band, the Ipswich Vice Regal Band, and the Rockhampton City Concert Band.  As a Cornet soloist, he also kept up his competing thrice winning the New South Wales Championships and winning the Queensland Cornet Championship. The last time he won this championship was in 1936 when he was 54 years of age.  Wherever Mr. Ryder went he was warmly welcomed.  A journalist from the Maryborough Chronicle in an article from 1918 even penned an enthusiastic poem to welcome Mr. Ryder to the town and the band.

Mr. Ryder did not slow down in the later years of his life having been appointed to the Gympie Band in the 1930s and in 1938 he took the band down to Sydney and won the D Grade competition against 16 other bands.  While in Gympie he also established the Gympie Boys’ Band and eventually handed over the reins of this band to his son, William Jnr.  In 1941 he joined the Military forces and conducted a Battalion band and was subsequently posted to New South Wales.  However, in 1942 he returned from New South Wales and entered a Brisbane military hospital where he died at the age of 60.  He was survived by his widow, three sons, and three daughters.

19150000_William-Ryder_back
Postcard: William Ryder (source: Stonnington City Brass photo collection)

Much of the story of Mr. Ryder’s life is anecdotal having come from the resources of the Trove archive and some of the Stonnington City Brass history.  I must acknowledge the active interest that representatives of the Besses O’ Th’ Barn band have in their own history as they were very forthcoming with material regarding Mr. Ryder, to which I thank them.

Mr. Ryder’s story is but one of many bands people who have played or conducted the Stonnington City Brass.  As I wrote in the opening paragraph, Mr. Ryder is a mere footnote in the Stonnington City Band history, however, he set a course for the early band and the band continues that legacy.

References:

Bannerman. (1918, 08 May). A WELCOME. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article151083205

NOTABLE BANDSMAN : Mr. William Ryder : Vice-Regal Band’s Conductor. (1926, 18 December). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115649816

CITY CONCERT BAND : To contest in Sydney : Mr. W. Ryder As Conductor : A Distinguished Career. (1931, 14 January). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54688441

LATE MR. W. RYDER : Well-Known Band Conductor Passes. (1942, 20 May). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954),5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115078488

Lawson-Black, P. (2010). Bold as brass : the story of Stonnington City Brass then and now. Pat Lawson Black, Stonnington City Brass. 

Prestwich, M. (1906). Besses o’ th’ Barn Band [Postcard]. Martin Prestwich, Manchester, United Kingdom. 

Stonnington City Brass. (2018). Band HIstory. Stonnington City Brass. https://www.stonningtoncitybrass.org.au/history.html

Tesla Studios. (1915). William Ryder [Postcard]. Tesla Studios, Q. V. Markets, Sydney, Sydney, N.S.W.