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.

Drummers and drums: perceptions of percussion in early Australian bands

19280000_Concord-Citizens_phot16030
Concord Citizens’ Band 1928 (Source: IBEW)

Introduction:

It ain’t the blaring cornets,
Nor the fussy old bassoon
(Though of course I’m always willin’
To admit they helps the toon.)
Nor yet it ain’t the piccolo what makes your heart go thumpin’
Nor yet it ain’t the croonin’ flutes what sets your pulse a jumpin’:-
It’s the drums!
It’s the drums what makes the band

(Dean in Quickstep, 1921)

When reading and researching material related to old bands, it would be fair to say most of it relates to brass playing musicians in bands.  Of which some have been explored in previous posts on this blog.  However, what of the other musicians in the band, the percussionists and the instruments that they used?  It was a matter of how many mentions could be found.  To adapt an analogy; stories on brass bands are haystacks, stories on band percussionists are definitely needles.

It is very rare to find a photo of an old brass band that does not have the drums of the band featured prominently in the formation.  The photo above of the Concord Citizens’ Band from 1928 shows as much with the drums “posed” and the band crest visible on the bass drum.  The photo was picked at random.  The information it conveys is very typical of band photos in general (especially in the early years).  Photos aside, the sound of a band on parade, then and now, is very much defined by the beat of a bass drum and the patterns of a snare.  Mr Dean in his little ditty above alludes to this!

This post will examine three aspects of percussion in early Australian brass bands starting with some writing on percussion in general.  There are some articles on the drums themselves which was interesting to find, and included is a story on one of the many famous band drummers.  Admittedly there is a vested interest in this topic as I am a percussionist in a local brass band and a community concert band.  This post is dedicated to all those musicians who have made the percussion section their home.

Drumming:

We can see from early photos that percussion in Australian brass bands was limited to a side drum or two, and a bass drum.  This is no fault of the band; rather, it is the limit of the music that was written and what percussion was called for.  Bands did not see fit to expand the percussion section until music called for those instruments and it is only in later years that the range of percussion in a band was expanded to include more orchestral percussion instruments.

It was interesting then to read various mentions of side drums and bass drums (and drummers) in relation to brass bands. The main source of commentary comes from adjudicator comments in band competitions.  Thankfully, the newspapers of the day generally published full adjudicator comments so we can build a picture of their thinking.  Drums had a role to play in band music and some adjudicators comments were specifically directed to that role.

This being said, the number of comments on the drums varied.  Some adjudicators made a point of mentioning the drums in every section, others were more reserved and only mentioned them when they felt they needed to mention them.  One example of a reserved comment comes from the adjudicator of the 1928 Queensland Brass Band Championship Contests which was held over Easter in Townsville.  The article in the Townsville Daily Bulletin summarised the comments, but buried in this we find a succinct mention about the drums of the Brisbane Federal Band when performing their A Grade Oval March, “Red Gauntlett”:

The winning band, Brisbane Federal, made a fine, smart opening, cornets and drums being good.

(“THE BAND CONTEST.,” 1928)

That’s basically all that was said about the drums, which is perhaps understandable. If the adjudicator felt there was something notable, he probably would have said so.

As a complete contrast, we have the comments from Captain Harry Shugg at the 1936 Renmark Centenary Bands Contests where he gave a remark on the drums for every band.  And even when a band was unfortunate enough not to have a side drum like the Loxton Brass Band as these excerpts from the comments show:

(Selection): Tempo di Marcia: No side drum.  Third cornet does not balance.  Side drum much missed.

[…]

(Quickstep): MUSIC – “Victoria”.  No side drum.

(“Bands Contests Adjudicators’ Comment,” 1936, p. 4)

The selection that all bands played was “Songs of Homeland”.

For the most part, Capt. Shugg was firm, but encouraging to all bands as it was a D Grade contest, and this included remarks on the drumming.  For the seven bands that competed, of which came from the towns of Renmark, Moonta, Loxton, Nuriootpa, Waikerie, Mildura and Berri, all of them received some comment on the drums, especially in the Quickstep sections.  Capt. Shugg knew that drums help set the mood of the march so phrases like, “Good beat off by drums” and “Good drums; band begins with smart and crisp style” (“Bands Contests Adjudicators’ Comment,” 1936) were given to two of the bands.  However, if something was very wrong, Capt. Shugg made a mention of it, of which the Berri Brass Band found out in their playing of the march “The Australasian”,

Poor toned bass drum.  Tone of the band a little noisy, cornet’s in particular; side drum much too heavy in P. passages; does not vary tone at all

(“Bands Contests Adjudicators’ Comment,” 1936, p. 4)

Harry Shugg was a perfectionist, he was conductor of the Malvern Tramways Band at the time!

Perhaps the most interesting comments on drums in bands came from a Mr R. S. Kitson who adjudicated the 1933 Adelaide Royal Show Contest.  On a night that was notable for the pouring rain which affected many performances, a comment was made on the use of the bass drum in one of the sections:

Referring to the use of drums in operatic selections, Mr. Kitson said, “The use of the bass drum in operatic selections, especially in ‘lento’ passages, and on such a night, is not advisable.  Brass band arrangements are principally made from orchestral scores, and the kettle drum part is allotted to the bass drum in brass bands.  The bass drum cannot be tuned as a kettle drum, and therefore, except in martial movements, is quite of place.

(Allegro, 1933)

Then we have the writing of Cecil Clarence Mullen, of whom his work was reviewed in a previous post.  In a section of his booklet, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) he took aim at bandmasters for not training their bass drummers properly (Mullen, 1951).  We know from the analysis of his work that Mullen was opinionated and a commentator.  In summary, Mullen was of the opinion that some bass drummers did not know how to read their parts properly, that some conductors did not teach the drum parts properly (or did not care enough), and that some bass drummers used “two sticks on the march” (Mullen, 1951, p. 8) – that is a questionable opinion!

It was not just bandmasters that drew the ire of Mullen, he had criticism for adjudicators as well,

Adjudicators are also open to criticism in not pointing out these faults to bands when doing the quickstep.  The average judge is quick to rush in with his “Out of tune at bar 20” but how many band judges have we known who have written in their notes that “Bass drummer is not playing his part correctly”.

(Mullen, 1951, p. 8)

The opinions of Mullen aside, we can see that the playing of drums was noted in aspects of competition, and performances in general.  To finish this section, here is an excerpt from the first paragraph of a 1914 article published by the Cootamundra Herald regarding the newly formed Stockinbingal Brass Band:

The music loving people of Stockinbingal decided that an up-to-date and progressive town like theirs should not be without its town band; and last Sunday morning late slumberous were aroused by the blast and blare of brass to the accompaniment of the thunderous boom of a drum.

(“STOCKINBINGAL BRASS BAND,” 1914)

The drums are always noted on these occasions!

Drums:

Regarding the instruments themselves, they were a source of pride to a band, and also triggered memories as well.  Often featuring prominently in photos, the drums were sometimes centred, sometimes at the side, sometimes used as a table for trophies.  And it is easy enough to spot the drummers of the band as they would be holding their sticks (and not holding brass instruments!).

Above is a picture of the Kew City Band taken in approximately 1915 when the band was on tour to Northern Tasmania.  While the band is not sitting down in a formation, they have made an effort to place their bass drum and side drum. The band crest is clearly visible on the bass drum where, despite the photo being in black and white, there is a clear distinction in some of the colours.  Fortunately, in a very rare newspaper article from 1910, there is a full description of how the bass drum was painted and what colours were originally used.

The amplification of the arms of the borough of Kew on the shell of the band’s bass drum is an artistic painting from the brush of a local artist Mr. W. D. Wentworth.  […] Two blues have, for many years, been the sporting colours of Kew and royal blue was accordingly adopted as the grounding colour, with linings of light blue.  The arms of the borough of Kew consist of a shield containing six wheat sheaves, and surrounded by the royal arms.  In a scroll at the bottom of the shield is contained the motto of the municipality, “Cresco”.  The body of the shield is in light blue, with gold outline, artistically shaded, and the artistic representation of the golden corn is richly effective.  The artists has discarded any assistance from transfers, and the whole production, with the royal arms in minutest detail, are in brushwork.  Notwithstanding that winter time is, as a rule, a dull period with bands, the Kew organisation keeps in symphony with the borough motto, ‘To Grow’.

(“Kew Brass Band.,” 1910)

This was a very detailed description and there is much to suggest that the bass drum in the picture is the same one that is described here.  The band would have been very proud to parade with this drum.

Not all music involved drums and we can find examples where drummers displayed not only a talent for playing their instruments but also making them.  In 1914, the drummer of the Australian Light Horse Band, a Mr E. Fowler, constructed his own set of tubular bells out of “brass piping cut to various lengths, suspended within an oak encasement, and tuned to concert pitch” (“A DRUMMER’S INGENUITY,” 1914).  The article displayed below from the Goulburn Evening Penny Post also tells us how the said drummer practises on his instrument and that it will be “a most useful addition to the band’s equipment” (“A DRUMMER’S INGENUITY,” 1914).

19140214_Goulburn-Penny-Post_Drummer
Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 14/02/1914, p. 2

We know that bands come and go over the years and in 1937 it was the discovery of the old side drum of the Diamond Creek Brass Band at the local school that triggered some memories.

Memories of the times when Diamond Creek echoed to the lilting strains of its own uniformed brass band marching along the streets were revived this week when it became known that the original side-drum of many years ago is now being used at the school.

For years, the drum and a ‘cello have lain in dust at the school.  Other instruments are to be found stacked away in the hall.  The school committee had a new skin fitted to the drum.

(“DIAMOND CREEK BRASS BAND,” 1937)

Drums and percussion are like many instruments, they provide meaning to organisations and people – they become a part of the musical family.  It is fortunate that we have these windows on the details and memories of these instruments here.

Drummers:

He could become personal, although never malicious.  To a drummer: “I love every hair on your bald head, but when I say roll on the drums — roll!!!

(Cleve Martin detailing the words of Major Adkins to a drummer of the A.B.C. Military Band during rehearsal in “STARS OF THE RADIO,” 1941)

There were many individual drummers who were recognized over the early years for their talent and as such, took up regular engagements with brass bands.  This section will highlight one of these drummers who was renowned throughout Victoria at the time, and also show where drummers were similarly recognized.  To end this section will be some lists reproduced from Mullen’s booklet listing famous side and bass drummers.

19121214_Malvern-Standard_Brassey-Allen-Scott
Malvern Standard, 14/12/1912, p. 4

When researching for this post, there was a drummer who kept standing out, Harold Brassey Allen (“A Famous Drummer Boy,” 1912; Quickstep, 1921).  In his later years, he was famous enough to be written about in one of the weekly Herald columns penned by the colloquial, ‘Quickstep’.  In summary, Brassey Allen was recognized for his talent very early in his musical career.  In the picture here we see him in his early years, dressed in full Scottish regalia, with side drum.  Brassey was no ordinary drummer and displayed a versatility that saw him perform with pipe bands, drum & fife bands, and brass bands (Quickstep, 1921).

Brassey had already been playing side drum for a number of years with the Armadale State School Cadet unit when he joined the South Melbourne District Band in 1910 (Quickstep, 1921).  Upon leaving the South Melbourne District Band a few years later, he joined the Prahran City Band under Mr E. T. Code and five years later joined the Malvern Tramways Band of which his talent was brought to the fore through his xylophone solos and drumming (Quickstep, 1921).  He was also recognized early at the South Street contests for his talent, winning his first prizes at the age of 13 although South Street never had any formal competitions for drummers.  Brassey, and his brothers, were all superb musicians Brassey and his brother Arthur are listed in the Mullen pages below (Mullen, 1951; Quickstep, 1921).

19210917_Herald_Quickstep-Brassey-Allen
Herald, 17/09/1921, p. 5

Drummers were recognized for other reasons as we see in this bold move, for 1941, the Warracknabeal Brass Band admitted two female side-drummers into the band, Misses Bette Clark and Margaret Vaughan (“WOMEN DRUMMERS IN WARRACKNABEAL BAND.,” 1941).  As we can see, The Horsham Times certainly gave the information in the headline, but most of the article was not about their ability as drummers.  Rather, it was about the fundraising for their uniforms and what kinds of uniforms they were going to wear!  No doubt the inclusion of two female side-drummers in a rural brass band was due to the Second World War which was raging at the time.

The Horsham Times, 18/02/1941, p. 2

Below are Mullen’s lists of famous side-drummers and bass drummers who have appeared with bands competing at the South Street competitions.  Given that Mullen’s lists only go to 1951, there were likely to be several more famous drummers after this time.  However, once again we can thank Mullen for his effort in compiling these lists of names.

19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p53-54-BD
Excerpts from pp. 53-54, “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), Noted Bass Drummers. (Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection)
19510000_Mullens-South-Street_p54-56-SD
Excerpts from pp. 54-56, “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), Side Drummers and Kettle Drums. (Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection)

Conclusion:

The early bands clearly valued their drummers and drums and people took notice of them.  We have seen how bands were marked up or down for the quality of the drumming in their playing, and where bandmasters were criticised for not teaching their drummers the correct parts.  We have seen where the instruments themselves had meaning to bands and also where the drummers developed their own substantial reputations.

The percussion section of a band is always a special place to be and no doubt the early drummers thrived in the band environments.  We say thank you to these drummers for their work which set the scene for future percussionists in community bands.

References:

Allegro. (1933, 21 September). BANDS AND BANDSMEN : Show Contest Marred by Heavy Rain. Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47003081

THE BAND CONTEST : Adjudicator’s Comments. (1928, 11 April). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61026813

Bands Contests Adjudicators’ Comments : COMPLIMENTARY REFERENCES TO PLAYING THROUGHOUT : Decidedly High for D Grade, Says Capt. Shugg. (1936, 29 October). Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record (Renmark, SA : 1913 – 1942), 4-5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article109291574

Concord Citizens’ Band. (1928). [Photograph]. [phot16030]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

DIAMOND CREEK BRASS BAND : School Drum Revives Memories. (1937, 12 November). Advertiser (Hurstbridge, Vic. : 1922 – 1939), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56846146

A DRUMMER’S INGENUITY. (1914, 14 February). Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98833598

A Famous Drummer Boy—Master Harold Brassey Allen. (1912, 14 December). Malvern Standard (Vic. : 1906 – 1931), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66391732

Kew Brass Band. (1910, 22 July). Reporter (Box Hill, Vic. : 1889 – 1925), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89698715

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

Osborne, B. (1915?). Kew Band [Photograph mounted on card of the Kew Band while on tour in Tasmania]. [2016.0088]. Victorian Collections, Kew Historical Society Inc. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/58269a46d0cdd11284b9d7ac

Quickstep. (1921, 17 September). BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP : The Art of Drumming. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242423372

STARS OF THE RADIO : Founder of the National Military Band : Picturesque Major Adkins. (1941, 27 November). Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 – 1953), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64402540

STOCKINBINGAL BRASS BAND. (1914, 09 January). Cootamundra Herald (NSW : 1877 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139522962

WOMEN DRUMMERS IN WARRACKNABEAL BAND. (1941, 18 February). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72689341

The unique position the Canberra City Band holds within the bands of the Southern Tablelands of NSW

19140000_Braidwood-Brass-Band
Portrait of Braidwood Brass Band, 1914 (Source: National Library of Australia: nla.obj-137072166)

Introduction:

Canberra is a unique city as it was fully planned and designed wholly to house the seat of Federal Government in Australia.  By Australian standards, it is also a very young city having only been in existence just over a century.  It stands to reason that any artistic groups that are located in Canberra are also very young.

As it is with the Canberra City Band

Having visited Canberra recently, I did some thinking about the other bands that most likely existed in towns around Canberra, and then it was a matter of finding them.  After visiting local libraries, it surprised me that there is not more history on these groups.  However, some historical snippets clearly exist.  It is a matter of putting them all into place.

The purpose of this post is not to redo the history of the Canberra City Band as there is already an excellent history of the band, Mr. Chifley’s Baby: The Canberra City Band written by William Hoffman OAM and John Sharpe.  Rather, this post will provide an overall view of banding in this area of New South Wales and the ACT with the aim of showing the development of the Canberra City Band in context.  Around Canberra in the local towns and regional centers, there were a number of brass bands, so the cultural knowledge of brass banding was already in place when the building of Canberra commenced.  Interestingly, only some of the other bands seem to have the longevity that the Canberra City Band now holds – perhaps this is a benefit of starting at a later date…?

The Southern Tablelands:

Within this region, as can be seen by the map below, there is the typical layout of country Australia with regional centers, rural towns, and other localities.  And then there is Canberra, the seat of the Federal Government and a city in its own right. Quite a few of these towns are famous having gained their reputations for being railway towns, centers of Shires, being near stunning natural geography, or sitting on transport routes and rivers. Nowadays with the main highways bypassing these towns, they are still famous for historical architecture, arts, museums…the list goes on.  The railways had their part to play with many towns located on the Main South railway from Sydney – Melbourne via Goulburn and Yass.  Or they were located on the line from Goulburn to Bombala that went via Bungendore and Queanbeyan.  The only working part of this line is now from Goulburn – Canberra (Gee, 2017).  With this proximity to transport, people traveled, and news spread.  As populations grew, so did the services and with these settlements came local brass bands.

To place a geographical boundary on this post, the focus stretches from the tiny locality of Nimmitabel in the south to Goulburn and Yass in the north and from Braidwood in the east with Canberra roughly in the center.

The bands start up:

Unfortunately, there are no definitive dates on when some of the band started but we can have a general idea when searching the Trove archive. What is evident, and interesting, is that many local bands appear to have started in the late 1800s.  In local papers we see little items about performances and meetings – this gives a general clue.  In 1887, the Goulburn Evening Penny Post reports on the second performance of the Gunning Town Band where they marched through town to their band room at the railway station (“GUNNING.,” 1887).  The correspondent also notes that any future performances of the band “will tend to greatly relieve the dull monotony of things in general” (“GUNNING.,” 1887).  Also in 1887, the first pictures of local town bands start to appear as shown below by this early photo of the Yass Town Band.

18970000_Yass-Town-Band
Yass Town Band, 1887 (Source: National Library of Australia: nla.obj-140366586)

A report from 1890 in the Goulburn Herald newspaper makes mention of a Goulburn Model Brass Band however no less than six years later a new brass band is formed called the Goulburn District Brass Band (“Goulburn Model Brass Band.,” 1890; “NEW BAND.,” 1896).  This new Goulburn band, and another band called the Our Boys Band were noted for playing Christmas Carols around town a years later (“Goulburn Brass Bands.,” 1897).  Further south in the town of Queanbeyan, a Goulburn musician by the name of Harry White was reported to be wanting to start a brass band in the town in 1892 (“Brass Band for Queanbeyan.,” 1892).  Evidently, when musicians travelled, their services were sought after and in some cases their reputations preceded them.

Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 24/04/1890, p. 2

Coming into the new century there are a few more reports of activities of other local bands.  We see there has been a social event to aid the Queanbeyan Fire Brigade Band in 1902 and in 1904 the Bungendore Brass band has been out and about (“BUNGENDORE,” 1904; “Social.,” 1902).  1904 was obviously a good year for bands as a correspondent reported on the creation of a Nimitybelle District Brass Band (“NIMITYBELLE DISTRICT BRASS BAND.,” 1904).  The town of Nimmitabel (as it is now known) lies to the south of Cooma on the road to Bombala and although the band was not very big, it obviously elicited a sense of town pride.  The picture below shows the Nimitybelle District Brass Band in 1910.  Of interest is an article from 1904 reporting on efforts to hold a band contest in Goulburn with the endorsement of the NSW Band Association (“BAND AND MUSICAL CONTESTS.,” 1904).  From reading the article we can see that it was going to be a very proper contest with test pieces, a set march, and monetary prizes.

19100000_Nimitybelle-District-Band
Nimitybelle District Brass Band, 1910 (Source: Monaro Pioneers: 201910)

The bands of the region acted as formally as possible as these rules from the Bungendore Brass Band tell us (“BUNGENDORE BAND RULES.,” 1912).  However, it seems that something had happened to the nearby Queanbeyan Band as they had to hold a meeting to try to get it restarted in 1914 (“QUEANBEYAN BRASS BAND RESUSCITATED.,” 1914).  This meeting had a successful outcome regarding the reformation of the Queanbeyan Brass Band and as can be read, a new bandmaster was appointed, and old instruments and musicians called back into rehearsals.

In 1913 the construction of Canberra commenced which meant that towns on the railway line became very busy places handling the transhipment of materials and workers (Gee, 2017; Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013).  And while the other brass bands in many little towns and regional centres had already established themselves, Canberra’s band was about to get started.

19040000_Bungendore-Brass-Band
First Bungendore Brass Band, 1904 (Source: Canberra and District Historical Society: 14872)

Canberra City Band:

It was not until 1925 that we first see a report outlining the formation of a brass band in Canberra with a set of instruments donated by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne (“CANBERRA’S FIRST BRASS BAND.,” 1925).  The reason for forming a band was mainly out of concern for the welfare of the workers, and to give them something to do in their down time (Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013).  Indeed, as Hoffman OAM & Sharpe write of the first musicians,

The strength of the brass band movement throughout Australia at that time meant there was no difficulty in finding sufficient players of reasonable competence among the workmen in the city. Rehearsals were held in the Acton Community Hall.

(Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013, p. 3)

In a sense, the reasoning for forming a band is not at all different from the many industry bands that have been created for the benefit of workers. Some months after the first article was written, the Canberra Community News published an article on the progress of the new band.

The Band has commenced practice, and residents at Acton, it is understood, live only for Monday and Wednesday evenings, when Bandmaster McGuiness knocks the Band into shape with a view to its first public appearance, which is fixed for an early date.  Mac. is indeed zealous in the Band rooms, and is so intensely interested that it requires all the persuasive powers of Bob Ellis and others to inveigle him into the ‘bus at the end of the evening.  Transportation to and from practices organised by the Commission is working satisfactorily.  It is some undertaking to assemble 20 bandsmen from the scattered suburbs of the City.

(“CANBERRA BRASS BAND,” 1925)

It should be noted that in the early days of Canberra, the Federal Commission ran buses to and from various activities so that residents and workers could travel easily (Ling, 2013).

Canberra Times, 28/10/1926, p. 9

A year later in 1926 the Canberra City Band gained a committee of management to steer the band and it’s written that the band has already presented a number of performances (“CANBERRA BRASS BAND’S CAREER.,” 1926).  However, as can be seen in the article, the band had just appointed its second Bandmaster in just its second year of operation (“CANBERRA BRASS BAND’S CAREER.,” 1926).  It should be noted that in the band’s first eleven years of operation before it went into recess in 1937, the band went through six Bandmasters (Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013).

Unlike many of the other brass bands around the region, of which the history is harder to find, the Canberra City Band came out of recess in 1947 with William Hoffman OAM as its conductor, of whom conducted the band until 1976 (Hoffmann OAM & Sharpe, 2013).  The Canberra City Band survives to this day as a highly successful ensemble.

Conclusion:

The development of the Canberra City Band could be described as fortunate timing or circumstance.  Either way, the city Commissioners recognised that there was a place for a band in Canberra and took advantage of the fact that a culture of brass bands was well-established in many other parts of Australia.  As well as this there was the wider development of brass bands in the towns around Canberra in the preceding years which no doubt helped contribute to the development of musicians and conductors. History will tell that the region had a strong banding culture and it is through the early photos and articles that we can see the musical and community life of the region as it once was.

19260000-19370000_Joe-Lyon-Drummer_CCB
Joe Lyon, Canberra City Band Drummer from 1925 – 1937 (Source: Canberra and District Historical Society: 13842)

References:

BAND AND MUSICAL CONTESTS. (1904, 17 October). Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article100544725

Brass Band for Queanbeyan. (1892, 12 December). Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103402040

BUNGENDORE. (1904, 14 June). Age (Queanbeyan, NSW : 1904 – 1907), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31097058

BUNGENDORE BAND RULES. (1912, 21 May). Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1907 – 1915), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31394162

CANBERRA BRASS BAND. (1925, 14 October). Canberra Community News (ACT : 1925 – 1927), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66061273

CANBERRA BRASS BAND’S CAREER. (1926, 28 October). Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1208213

CANBERRA’S FIRST BRASS BAND. (1925, 20 August). Federal Capital Pioneer (Canberra, ACT : 1924 – 1926), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article36247355

First Bungendore Brass Band. (1904). [Photograph]. [14872]. http://www.canberrahistory.org.au/detail.asp?rID=14872

Gee, S. (2017, 24 July). Why does the Sydney-Canberra train stop in Kingston and not the CBD? ABC News. Retrieved 30 June 2018 from https://www.abc.net.au/news/specials/curious-canberra/2017-07-24/why-does-the-sydney-canberra-train-stop-in-kingston-not-civic/8714866?nw=0&r=HtmlFragment

Goulburn Brass Bands. (1897, 30 December). Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104556444

Goulburn Model Brass Band. (1890, 24 April). Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article102829043

GUNNING. (1887, 15 October). Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98470399

Hoffmann OAM, W. L., & Sharpe, J. (2013). Mr Chifley’s baby : the Canberra City Band. Canberra City Band, Inc. 

Joe Lyon, drummer, Canberra City Band, 1926-1937. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [13842]. Collingridge, Canberra, A.C.T. http://www.canberrahistory.org.au/detail.asp?rID=13842

Ling, T. (2013). Commonwealth Government records about the Australian Capital Territory (Vol. 25) [Research Guide]. National Archives of Australia. https://www.naa.gov.au/help-your-research/research-guides/government-records-about-australian-capital-territory 

NEW BAND. (1896, 23 September). Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article101115900

NIMITYBELLE DISTRICT BRASS BAND. (1904, 08 August). Manaro Mercury, and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser (NSW : 1862 – 1931), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129104564

Nimitybelle District Brass Band. 1910. (1910). [Photograph]. [201910]. Monaro Pioneers. http://www.monaropioneers.com/nimmitabel/musicians/district-brass.htm

Portrait of Braidwood Brass Band. (1914). [1 negative : b&w ; 9.4 x 12 cm.]. [nla.obj-13702166]. National Library of Australia. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-137072166

QUEANBEYAN BRASS BAND RESUSCITATED. (1914, 06 January). Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1907 – 1915), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31400300

Social : In aid of the Queanbeyan Fire Brigade Brass Band. (1902, 07 June). Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1867 – 1904), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31092324

Yass Town Band, 1887. (1887). [1 negative : b&w ; 9.4 x 12 cm.]. [nla.obj-140366586]. National Library of Australia, Whitehurst Yass photograph collection. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-140366586