The first South Street band contest in October, 1900

Introduction:

If there is one longstanding event that has been synonymous with bands, it would have to be the South Street competitions.  There have been whole generations of bands people who have made the journey to Ballarat to participate in competition, and when the bands sections were introduced, they were extremely popular with the crowds.  Such is the reputation of South Street that the first band contest in 1900 attracted two bands from other colonies.

Remembering that this was Australia in 1900.  The separate colonies had contingents over in South Africa for the Boer War, cities and towns were much smaller, transport networks consisted of railways, ships and mostly dirt roads.  Yet brass bands thrived where they were established due to otherwise limited entertainment.  Ballarat at the time was lucky to have three!

While the story of this first South Street contest will focus primarily on the bands and results, there were some other stories to come out of this event and newspaper articles of the day reported on all sorts of angles – reactions from townspeople, travel, and even the voices of local Churches contributed opinion.  Thankfully we can see these early articles through the Trove archive.

What started from this modest event is still evident today with bands travelling to the South Street event and carrying on the history of the bands people before us.  Many of the most famous brass band composers, adjudicators, conductors, musicians, and bands from around Australia are associated with South Street in some way. Their legacy will not be forgotten.

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Metal button showing the Geelong Town Band c1900 (HistoryInPhotos)

The beginning of South Street:

  The South Street events were famous even before the band sections were added to the program.  The origins of the competitions can be traced back to 1879 when eight young men, none over the age of seventeen decided to form a debating society (Blackman, 1966).  The society was very successful in gaining members and funds, and were eventually able to own their own building (Blackman, 1966).  However it wasn’t until 1891 when the first debating competition was held, and from this first event, subsequent competitions were held and other sections were added (Royal South Street Society, 1979).

In terms of music, the early Society started holding Monday night concerts in 1893 where many songs were sung and they audiences were extremely appreciative (Blackman, 1966).  In 1896 the final concert for the competitions in that year were held in Her Majesty’s Theatre for the first time (a venue bands people know very well) and in 1897 the first choral competitions were held (Blackman, 1966).  A year later solo singing was added as a section and with these new sections, the time period for the competitions was extended and three venues across Ballarat were used (Blackman, 1966).  In 1899 Alfred Hall brought into use as a dedicated venue because of large and appreciative crowds (Royal South Street Society, 1979).  And in 1900, the first brass band sections were introduced into the program with immediate success (Royal South Street Society, 1979).

South Street Society adds bands to the program:

There was nothing new about having brass bands in Ballarat as they were popular for ceremonial and recreational music.  Indeed, as Royal South Street Society (1979) has noted:

By the 1870’s, bands were features of the Ballarat scene.  However, it was the German combination known as Baulch’s Band which first brightened the local processions and played at important functions.  Then came Apps Soldiers’ Hill Band, and a couple of other minor combinations.

Interest slackened in the 1880’s, and at the turn of the century the musical reputation depended on the famous Prout’s Band and the City of Ballarat Band.  Later the Ballarat Orphanage and St. Joseph’s Home Bands had brief periods in the limelight (pp. 6-7).

With this in mind, the progression of the South Street Society was to add brass band and brass solo sections to the programme of events with sections to be held on Friday the 5th of October and Saturday the 6th of October (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900).  The competition was divided into four sections; the first part of a Selection Contest and a Solo Cornet contest to be held on the Friday and the second part of the Selection Contest and a Euphonium Solo contest held on the Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2018d).  An aggregate score was calculated to decide the winner of the selection contests with the leading band declared on the Saturday (Royal South Street Society, 2018b).  All full band sections were held at the City Oval while the solo sections were held at Albert Hall.  Nine bands competed with seven coming from Victoria, one from Tasmania and one from New South Wales (Greaves, 1996).  In the history of the Royal South Street Society, it is written that “15,000 people thronged the City Oval for the closing scene of the Band Contest” (Royal South Street Society, 1979, p. 6).

Ballarat welcomes the bands:

Well, not entirely.

It is known that the first band contest at South Street was a huge success but despite this, there were some pockets of resistance to having it held in the first place.  Although not directly related to the competition itself, the churches were not happy about bands occupying the City Oval two Sundays in a row which was perhaps understandable for the time (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900).  On the weekend before the competition, the resident Ballarat band Prout’s Brass Band had played at the City Oval to provide support for a statue to be built commemorating the soldiers from the Boer War.  The Reverend of the Scots Church complained bitterly of this event, but in the same article took aim at the fact that some participating bands would be again taking to the City Oval on the Sunday 7th of October for another commemorative event.  The performances on the Sabbath, as he “pointed out, was for a purely secular purpose, and like all of its kind of the Lord’s day was inimical to the welfare of the community, and had a very bad effect on Sunday school children” (“BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY.,” 1900).  The fact that this first event was attended by 3000 people and raised over £50 obviously escaped the notice of the churchmen.

A more pragmatic letter was published in The Ballarat Star newspaper on the 4th of October 1900 by a G. H. Smith.  He concedes that not all in the local Chamber of Commerce were happy about a public holiday being granted on the Friday for the purpose of the band competition. However, he waxes lyrical about the very positive effect bands have on the populace due to their sound and the many benefits the South Street Society brings to Ballarat on a whole (Smith, 1900).

Notwithstanding the grievances of a few, the reaction from Ballarat residents and visitors was extremely enthusiastic.  Greaves (1996) has written on the reaction of people to the arrival of the bands in this year and subsequent years:

On arrival in Ballarat it was quite usual for visiting bands to find swarms of people crowding the railway station awaiting their appearance and, after listening to speeches of welcome by civic dignitaries and contest officials, these crowds would then follow the bands to their respective hotels.  Sometimes the bandsmen would avail themselves of transport in the form of horse-drawn drags made available to carry them to their hotels or other places of accommodation. On most occasions though, the bands would elect to form up and, as the Adelaide Observer reported in 1902, “march to their hotels, to the strains of lively music, that attracts a customary following, brought up in the rear with a miscellaneous assortment of small boys and a stray dog or two.  Even the latter possess a sort of musical instinct in Ballarat (p. 31).

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Herald, 05/10/1900, p. 2

It seems Ballarat had no shortcomings in accommodating and promoting the band competition, not only for the bands, but for the people themselves. The enthusiasm was palpable, and Ballarat was festive.  As mentioned, huge crowds flocked to the City Oval to watch them march and play.  And just to make sure people arrived in Ballarat and enjoyed themselves, The Herald reported on October 5th, 1900 that, “A public holiday has been proclaimed and is being generally received.  Excursion trains have been run for thirty or forty miles round, and these are being well patronised” (“HOLIDAY AT BALLARAT.,” 1900).

The Bands:

Of course, the competition would not have been a competition without the bands themselves.  The nine bands that took part were – Ballarat Militia Band (3rd Battalion), Bathurst District Brass Band, Bulch’s Model Brass Band, Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band, Geelong Town Band, Hopetoun Brass Band, Launceston Garrison Brass Band (2nd Battalion), The Lord Nelson Mine Band & Prout’s Ballarat Brass Band.  Three of the bands were based in Ballarat which gave them a distinct home town advantage, and home town rivalry.  Two were from interstate while one came from Geelong, one from St. Arnaud and two from the Bendigo area.  It made for a full competition for the times.  In addition, there were two solo contests which attracted entrants from the aforementioned bands including a Cornet player by the name of John. F. Code from the Albert Park Band (more commonly known as Code’s Melbourne Band) (Royal South Street Society, 2018c).

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Bathurst Free Press & Mining Journal, 04/10/1900, p. 3

It was known quite early on which bands would be attending due to details of the South Street events being published in newspapers (“THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1900).  Interest in the bands was high, so in the days before the competition took place it was not unusual to read little snippets of the arrival of bands and the reception they received.  An example of this (pictured) appeared in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal on October 4th (“To-Day’s Telegrams.,” 1900).  Interestingly, there appears to be no mention of the Launceston band arriving in Ballarat in the Tasmanian papers although details of the competition were published in their local newspapers.

The details of the competition itself are covered in the next section, but the reputation of some of the bands were enhanced due to their participation, especially the praise given to the Bathurst District Brass Band.  Bathurst travelled the furthest distance to arrive at the competition and as noted by Greaves (1996)

Bathurst District Band, the only entrant from New South Wales, and a runner up in the quickstep contest, found themselves to be quite popular in Ballarat and they were asked to return the following year.  Their conductor Sam Lewins, had to decline because of the expense and distance involved but suggested that the society contact the Newcastle City Band a much better combination, he assured them, than the Bathurst Band (p. 29).

Bathurst Band also won praise for participating in the services at the City Oval on October 7th with other bands that had participated in the competition (the same service that was criticised by the Church).  A letter was sent by J. W. Nedwell and W. D. Hill, the Honorary Secretaries of the Soldiers’ Statue Fund to the Bathurst National Advocate newspaper, published on October 22nd where they thanked Bathurst Band and the other bands for their performances (Nedwell & Hill, 1900).

Unfortunately, a boundless rumour took hold after the competition about the conduct of the Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band.  Said the opening of an article in The Bendigo Independent newspaper on the 19th of October:

We were informed that it has been rumoured in certain quarters, especially in Eaglehawk that the Eaglehawk Brass Band while in Ballarat last week competing for the band prizes, were guilty of conduct which incapacitated them from winning the prize.  One allegation was that they found Ballarat ale so enticing as to imagine that it had been specially brewed for them. (“A BAND THAT FAILED.,” 1900).

The article goes on to say that the rumours were unfounded and that various officials praised the demeanour and behaviour of the Eaglehawk Band in and out of competition.  A Colonel Williams of the 3rd Battalion was quoted as saying in the article:

…he observed the men of the Eaglehawk Band on several occasions, and he heard nothing but praise for them all the time, and whoever started the slander ought to be “ducked” in a horse trough.  The people of Eaglehawk, he says, should feel very pleased with the behaviour of their bandsmen on their visit to Ballarat (“A BAND THAT FAILED.,” 1900).

It appears that there was no instance when the Eaglehawk Citizens’ Brass Band was inebriated while competing, or in any other occasion.  The headline of the article is unfortunate and misleading.

In 1900, travel around the Nation cannot have been easy or cheap, so just getting to Ballarat was an achievement in itself.  The early railways were a lifeline which enabled bands and spectators to descend on Ballarat.  The Bathurst band were probably over travelling and trains when they finally arrived back home.

The competition:

The results of the competition were widely published in the newspapers of the day.  Indeed, many newspapers relied heavily on telegraphs direct from Ballarat and these were published a day or two after the competitions were held.  An article published in The Ballarat Star on Monday October 8th was particularly detailed as all adjudications were shown (“THE CONTEST.,” 1900).  The three adjudicators were; “Ernest Wood, T. E. Bulch…and Captain Tom Riley” (Pattie, 2010, p. 13).  Bulch was an adjudicator however his former band was one of the competitors.  Thanks to the excellent resources of the Royal South Street Society results database, we can see how the bands and soloists fared on each day and the final results of the Aggregate.  The full lists of results located on the can be found via the links below – the Lord Nelson Mine Band (St. Arnaud) won the contest for this year:

As can be read in the cited article from The Ballarat Star, October 8th, criticisms were mixed about the playing of the bands.  Given that these were early days of Australian bands, with instruments that were not the quality they are now, the playing can only be imagined.  Greaves (1996) writes that “…with the exception of the winning combination, “untunefulness”, according to the judges’ reports, was a common fault in the playing of all the competitors.” (p. 29).  The selection of music was the norm of the day with many bands playing arrangements of Operas for their selections and early marches for the Quickstep.

After the competition there was undoubtedly some comment on the music and playing of certain bands that came from the competitors themselves.  The conductor of the Launceston Garrison Brass Band (2nd Battalion), Mr George Harrison, was effusive in his comments by giving praise to some bands but criticising his own band.  In some respects, he was also biting the hands that fed him! In an article published in the Launceston Daily Telegraph on October 11th, Mr Harrison conceded that yes, “undoubtedly the best bands won” although he questioned the amateur status of the “St. Arnaud (Lord Nelson mine) band” (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).  However, when reminiscing on the playing of his own band he went on to say,

Of the Second Battalion, I have only to say that they deceived me in saying they could play their parts in the quickstep without the music, and which is verified by the judge’s remarks, vis., that the music was wrongly interpreted.  Outside the music they could have got but few points for their general appearance, the stained and worn-out state of the Government uniforms being severely condemned by the military judge (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).

Not much comment is made on the solo Cornet and Euphonium competitions aside to note that they took place – the newspaper articles of the day merely listed the results.  Although Mr George Harrison, commenting on the Cornet contest said that. “The contest was most farcical, not a single competitor giving an acceptable performance of the test piece.” (“THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).  Duly noted, however the comment was a bit harsh for the time – I’m sure all soloists played to the best of their abilities.

One must give credit to these early bands for competing at Ballarat and establishing and early benchmark in competition for subsequent years to follow.  Perhaps the early conductors saw this as a learning experience but there is no doubt that rivalry was entrenched in the early bands, despite there being a level of comradery as well.

Conclusion:

It would have been an amazing experience to step back in time and view this first competition.  No doubt that we would have been astounded by the crowds and festive atmosphere, the bands, the playing and the whole spectacle.  For a first contest it was a huge success with everyone in Ballarat, and beyond, making it a success.  Giving that it was billed as ‘The Intercolonial Band Contest’, it probably didn’t live up to its full potential given that only two interstate bands played. Yet it set the scene for future competitions and the reputation spread.  It is a credit to these early organisers that it happened and gave us what we now know today.

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A later photo of the South Street Band contest on the City Oval. Date and bands unknown (IBEW)

References:

7343: Band contest, City Oval, Ballarat [Online photograph]. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot7343.jpg

BAND PLAYING ON SUNDAY : Protest by a Presbytery. (1900, 03 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188644789

A BAND THAT FAILED : Groundless rumors contradicted. (1900, 19 October). Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181024463

Blackman, L. A. (1966). A history of the Royal South Street Society of Ballarat. The Victorian Historical Magazine, 37, 5-21.

THE CONTEST. (1900, 08 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206978024

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia. Australia’s heritage in sound [sound recording .]. Australia: Sound Heritage Association.

HistoryInPhotos. (1900, 13 March 2009). 3350805372 Metal Button Showing Geelong Town Band c1900 [image]. flickr. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26421213@N08/3350805372

HOLIDAY AT BALLARAT : The Band Competition : To-day’s Doings. (1900, 05 October). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241475579

THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST : Return of the Second Battalion Band. (1900, 11 October). Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153769022

Musicus. (1902, 08 November). BALLARAT COMPETITIONS: October 29. Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), p. 36. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161788993

Nedwell, J. W., & Hill, W. D. (1900, 22 October). CORRESPONDENCE : Soldiers’ Statue Fund at Ballarat. National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156776396

Pattie, R. (2010). The history of the City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band 1900-2010 : one hundred and ten years of music to the citizens of Ballarat (Rev. ed.). Ballarat, Vic.: City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band.

Royal South Street Society. (1979). Royal South Street Society, 1879-1979. Ballarat, Vic.: Royal South Street Society.

Royal South Street Society. (2018a). Brass Band Contest (First part of Selection Contest). Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-05 Brass Band Contests. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (2018b). Brass Band Contest (Second part of Selection Contest) / Brass Band Contest – Aggregate. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-06 Brass Band Contests. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (2018c). Cornet Solo (with piano accompaniment) – “My Old Kentucky Home”. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-05 Brass Band Solos. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-05-brass-band-solos

Royal South Street Society. (2018d). Euphonium Solos (with Piano Accopaniment) – “The Pilgrim of Love”. Royal South Street Society: Results: 1900-10-06 Brass Band Solos. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1900-10-06-brass-band-solos

Smith, G. H. (1900, 04 October). THE BAND CONTESTS : To the Editor. Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206977765

THE SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS : Features of the demonstration. (1900, 05 September). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206975326

To-Day’s Telegrams : THE BATHURST BAND IN MELBOURNE. (1900, 04 October). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63874689

International band tours of the early 1900’s: 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 1900’s, 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 in a round the 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 Australian and World banding.  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:

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Early 1900’s Postcard showing the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band (from the National Library of Australia: David Elliot theatrical postcard collection)

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.

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 whenever they went.

Interestingly it was on their second tour where there were some changes in the Besses personnel due to a bandsmen staying on in one city, and another bandsmen 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).

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:

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A postcard that was issued to honour the visit of the Sousa Band to Australia (from the National Library of Australia: David Elliot theatrical postcard collection)

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.

From Australia, the Sousa Band travelled 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 amount 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 was 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 the 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:

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 favourable 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 being the beneficiary of the proceeds from the concert (“FOR MAYOR’S FUND,” 1927).

19270508_Massed-Mil-Bands_Green-Mill_FC
The front cover of the concert program for the 8th May, 1927 concert featuring the Royal Marine Band, H.M.S. “Renown” and two local bands. (from the Victorian Bands’ League archival collection)

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 the 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 calibre 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
Page 6 of the 1934 South Street “Centenary” Brass Band Contest program showing the events of the day, including the concert from the visiting Grenadier Guards Band. (from the Victorian Bands’ League archival collection)

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:

145695597 Australia extends the glad hand of welcome to Sousa and his band [postcard]. (1910). David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145695597

145704095 Besses o’ th’ Barn Band [1] [postcard]. (1907). David Elliott theatrical postcard collection. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145704095/view

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

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

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

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

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

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (2018b). History of Besses: From Whitefield to Wellington. Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. Retrieved 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), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10125983

“BESSES O’ THE BARN” BAND. (1907, 15 May). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 13. Retrieved from 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), p. 13. Retrieved from 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). Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press.

Concert by Renown Band. (1920, 04 June). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 9. Retrieved from 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. Blog Post Retrieved from 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), p. 19. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243915027

Gibbney, H. J. (1981). Code, Edward Percival (1888-1953). Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/code-edward-percival-5707

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

Lovrien, D. (2012, 13 June). The Sousa Band 1910-11 World Tour. Blog post Retrieved from http://sousamusic.com/sousa-band-1910-11-world-tour/

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

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

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

Seymour, C. (1994). Adelaide’s Tramway Band. Trolley Wire, 35(4), 3-10.

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

SOUSA’S BAND. (1911, 09 February). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 7. Retrieved from 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), p. 8. Retrieved from 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), p. 18. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128266800

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

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

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

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