Names and status: the rare National and State bands

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The Australian Imperial Band, 1924. (Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)

Introduction:

For the most part, the naming of bands is fairly logical based on location, type, or business association. It stands to reason that if a band was associated with a town, then that would be the town band, however there were a number of exceptions  – the naming of some of the early private bands comes to mind. Likewise, if a band was in a locality and associated with an industry, similar naming convention would follow, such as Newcastle Steelworks or South Australian Railways.  This gave the bands an identity and a purpose.  Where two bands existed in the same area, there was undoubtedly some disagreements, although not generally over naming but over status and prestige…and performances!  If a band was given an Australian or State name, that lifted their reputations almost immediately, yes?  Possibly, but there were other factors involved.

The focus of this post is to explore a level up from the local bands where we delve into the rare State and National bands.  Granted, there were not many of them.  In fact, in the time period that is being focused on in this post, these types of bands were thin on the ground.  In a previous post the life of the ABC Military Band was explored, a unique ensemble in its own right and one that included bandsmen from all over Australia.  This was a representative band but different to the more common brass bands in that it included woodwind and percussion.  In this post we will highlight brass bands.

Admittedly, there was some difficulty finding material on these rare bands due to their short periods of existence.  That being said, there were other bands in Australia aside from the more notable ones and mention will be made of them.  We will also see how a certain State band raised the ire of the governing body of its home State.

There is no doubt that being part of a National or State band was one that bandsmen aspired, and for the National bands, the best bandsmen were picked for a proposed or grand world tour.  The one State band that was set up did so in unusual circumstances and the naming of them as a State band brought them much recognition and pride.  With this in mind, National and State bands did exist and although they were sporadic and formed mainly for tours, they developed reputations in their own right and gave more bandsmen another musical outlet.

Early attempts:

State and National bands were mainly set up by organisations that had the resources to undertake such ventures.  Remembering that this was an older Australia where the distances between places was sometimes very vast, and it was not easy to move people anywhere. Yet in the first instance, we can see that the Salvation Army pulled this off in 1898 with the formation of a Federal Band.  An article which was published in the South Australian Register on the 14th of February 1898 is very informative and details the formation of the band and the tour it had undertaken thus far:

There is now in Adelaide an interesting band of clever musicians picked from the ranks of the Salvation Army.  It is styled “the Salvation Army Federal Band” and has twenty-five playing members, exclusive of Major Taylor (Victoria), who is their director.  The bandmaster is Ensign Cater (New Zealand), who takes up an instrument.  Counting in Major Taylor, the seven colonies of Australia are represented in the following order: – Victoria, eight; South Australia, five; Western Australia; four; New South Wales, three; New Zealand, three; Queensland, two; Tasmania, one; total, twenty-six. (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898)

The Salvation Army had begun planning for this band twelve months in advance, with the aim of the band being “the kind of which should tour the colonies and encourage the members of the Army, and by producing music of a high order raise funds for the work in the different parts of Australasia” (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898).  By the time the band had reached Adelaide it had already toured from Melbourne to Western Australia, back to South Australia and from there had been to the Yorke Peninsula and Broken Hill (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898).  According to another article published in The Advertiser, the Federal Band was a very fine combination of musicians and presented a wonderful concert (“SALVATION ARMY.,” 1898).  As it is ever thus with Salvation Army bands.

19080401_SMH_Com-Brass-Band_Newtown
Sydney Morning Herald, 01/04/1908, pg. 8

In 1908 a tiny article was published in The Sydney Morning Herald in which the title is misleading. As you can see in the article (pictured), there is no “Commonwealth Brass Band” that has been formed.  Rather, it is a proposal to secure the services of the Newtown Brass Band to perform at the Anglo-French Exhibition (“COMMONWEALTH BRASS BAND.,” 1908).  By all accounts the Newtown Brass Band was very famous having won numerous competitions by this time, and could have probably served as the Australian band at the exhibition (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  However, the Prime Minister apparently rejected this proposal for reasons unknown.

The Australian Imperial Band:

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Morning Bulletin, 09/01/1924, pg. 8

In terms of true Australian brass bands, the main one that is spoken about is the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ which was conducted by the great Albert H. Baile on two world tours – but more will be talked about this band in the next section (Sharp, 1993).  However, preceding the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ was another ensemble which was known as the ‘Australian Imperial Band’ (AIB), formed by Mr W. M. Partington in 1924 (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND.,” 1924).  Mr Partington is mentioned in some references –  he did conduct the Ballarat City Band from 1909-1910 (Pattie, 2010).  However, he is not really noted amongst some of the more famous bandsmen of this time.  That did not stop certain newspapers like the Ballarat Star waxing lyrical about his musical and organisational abilities (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND COMING.,” 1924).  Nevertheless, it is evident that in much later years he managed to form a true National band and while it seems he never took the band to England, he did take it on tour throughout Australia.

1924 was an interesting year for Australian bands.  Perhaps the most notable event was the tour of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to England where it achieved astounding success in competition under the baton of Albert H. Baile (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  Other bands wanted to emulate this success and the newly formed AIB was no exception. Hindsight can tell us that this was a noble ideal, and certainly the AIB tried to raise money over the months of their tour to fund this aim.  We see in an article from the Daily Telegraph in June 1924 that there was an amount of work going on to try and secure more funds:

In Sydney, the Lord Mayor (Ald. Gilpin) now is issuing an appeal for funds, which should meet with a good response, as it is necessary for each State to provide a proportionate amount of expenses to send the band to Wembley and to compete in the Crystal Palace contests. (“AUSTRALIAN-IMPERIAL BAND,” 1924)

However, as discussed in a previous post on bands that went on tour, it is a very expensive undertaking and the picture of the AIB (below) published by the Mirror newspaper in Perth is telling.  One could assume that by the time the AIB reached Perth, their general touring money had run out.  Which is probably a reason why there is no mention of the band travelling to England.

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Mirror, 09/08/1924, pg. 1 (“WE WANT SOME MONEY-GIVE US SOME, DO!”, 1924)

The length of time this band was in existence was short however they managed to get themselves together and go on a grand tour of Australia, to some very favourable reviews.  There is not much mention of the personnel of the band but given there were many quality bandsmen in the country at the time, finding gifted musicians was probably not a problem.

At least they tried.

The Australian Commonwealth Band:

19240000_Aust-Nat-Band_World-Tour_phot5293
(Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)
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Daily Mail, 29/09/1925, pg. 10

Albert H. Baile was one of the most famous band directors of this time and he had a masterful way of conducting his bands (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  No sooner had Baile returned to Australia in 1925 with his Newcastle Steelworks Band, he made moves to reform the band in Sydney as the Australian Silver Band and apparently included some Queensland bandsmen in the new ensemble (“AUSTRALIAN SILVER BAND.,” 1925).  Including some bandsmen from another State could probably justify the name change an Australian band. However, given the huge reputation of the Newcastle Steelworks Band after their competition wins, the name change stuck and the band proceeded on their first international tour to wide acclaim (“AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1926).

The band name seems to have begun evolving into the Australian Commonwealth Band in various media with the dropping of the world ‘Silver’ from it, hence the more recognizable name being etched in history.  We see in the various photos and ephemera included in this post that they were a very smart looking ensemble, and that they had a distinctly Australian look with slouch hats.

Aside from the way the name of the band continually evolving in the newspapers, this did not discount the fact that it was an extremely fine ensemble made up of the best brass soloists and led by Baile himself.  Certainly, reviews from Australian newspapers as well as those from overseas, gave high praise to the sound of this band likening it to an “organ” or an “orchestra” (“Australian Silver Band,” 1925; “VISIT OF AUSTRALIAN BAND,” 1926).   The newspaper article published by the Todmorden & District News (UK) in 1926 was very informative as to the concert it gave in their area, attended by 5,000 people, and the quality of the soloists in particular the Solo Cornet player, Mr Arthur Stender (“VISIT OF AUSTRALIAN BAND,” 1926).  Below is a list of the band members as published in the book, “Legends in Brass : Australian Brass Band Achievers of the 20thCentury”:

19240000_Aust-Nat-Band_World-Tour_phot5292
(Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)

Front row: Len Ryan, Norm Forbes, Alf Cornish, Fred Myers, Vern Beacroft, Albert Baile, Clarrie Collins, Jack Stokes, Tom Bennett, Ossie Forbes
Middle row: Bob Gibson, Joe Clay, Len Atkinson, George Robertson, Stan Ryan, Albert Ovenden, Bill Murphy, Jack Murphy, Harold Hewson
Back row: Archie Moore, Harold Collins, James “Scott” Armour, Arthur Stender, Alfred Paxton, Joe Hardy (Greaves & Earl, 2001, p. 51)

The Australian Commonwealth Band undertook two Australian/World tours, the first from 1925-1926 and the next from 1926-1928.  As in their first tour, they received rave reviews during their second tour, of which an article in New Zealand’s Evening Post  from February 1927 provides a brief summary (“COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1927).  This second tour was not all plain sailing.  While the band was travelling around Australia, the Australian Musicians’ Union was up in arms about a boycott of the Commonwealth Band while it was touring America (“COMMONWEALTH BAND,” 1927).  The Union started lobbying for retaliatory action against musicians visiting from overseas.  It is unclear how this action was resolved however it is interesting that despite the reputation of the Commonwealth Band, there was this hiccup while on tour.

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Figaro, 03/12/1927, pg. 1 (THE AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH BAND, 1927)

The Australian Commonwealth Band was disbanded in Sydney in early 1928 after they had finished their last tour of Australia (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  There is no doubt that this was a truly remarkable ensemble, started from the players of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to become a unique band in its own right. And it certainly boosted the reputation of Australian bands in general.  The legacy of this fine ensemble was felt for years to come.

The Queensland State Band:

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Northern Herald, 09/09/1933, p. 19

In the early 1930’s, we see the formation of the one and only State band, the Queensland State Band.  This was formed in unusual, but possibly well-meaning circumstances as the musicians were notionally “unemployed” (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND.,” 1933b).  The other aim of the band was to try to emulate the success of previous tours by the Newcastle Steelworks Band and the Australian Commonwealth Band by touring overseas and competing in England.  Nevertheless, the band formed in September 1933 and included previous members of the Australian Commonwealth Band (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND TOUR.,” 1933).

Almost immediately this band raised the ire of the Queensland Band Association (QBA) of which sent an annoyed letter to the Courier Mail published on October 9th, 1933.  In the letter, the QBA Secretary of the time, Mr J. R. Foster made some forceful points about the State band not being “tested for proficiency” under QBA rules, and the fact that the State band was professional yet had excluded some Queenslanders by bringing in bandsmen from Southern States (Foster, 1933).  In addition, apparently the Lord Mayor of Brisbane had allowed the State band to perform in a park while excluding other Brisbane metropolitan bands (Foster, 1933).  It is fair to say that this letter (and the QBA) failed to have much impact on the operations of this band.

After being brought together, the Queensland State Band commenced a tour of Queensland where they visited many towns and rural centres north of Brisbane. The receptions they received were enthusiastic and many a town newspaper gave them favourable reviews of their playing (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND.,” 1933a).  Indeed, they also inspired many local town bands and schools, and it is noted that they played for a combined total of 20,000 people over the course of the tour (“STATE BAND DOGGED BY RAIN,” 1933).  After this part of the tour ended, they were supposed to tour through Northern NSW and also raise finances for a trip to England, of which either activity does not appear to have happened.

As mentioned, this is one of the only instances during this time where a State band was formed.  It is unclear why other States did not form their own representative bands.  However, it does indicate that where there is a drive, things will happen even if all the aims are not met.

One more band:

There was only one more band to carry an Australian name during this time period, a band that was very short lived – the ‘Australian Girls’ Brass Band’ which was formed in 1934.  We know how rare female bands were through a previous post, so perhaps this was a tokenistic ensemble.  However, they were formed and presented one concert in Sydney where they were not exactly complimented for playing, but apparently looked very smart in green & gold uniforms (“Australian Girls’ Brass Band,” 1934; “FIRST CONCERT,” 1934).  There is no more record of this band doing anything else beyond this one concert.

Conclusion:

If there is anything show from the stories of these ensembles it is a distinct similarity between them.  They were all formed basically for the one activity, which was touring.  Except that this aim was obviously dependent on having enough money.  That being said, the Australian Commonwealth Band took things a few steps further by acting on their aims to compete in England and tour around the world, and it was a band that was in existence for the longest time.  Certainly, the fact that the Commonwealth Band undertook two world tours in quick succession is testament to the organisation and prowess of its manager and conductor, no doubt both well-honed from the previous Newcastle tour.

In any case, once again we see that these bands added to the reputation and life of Australian banding and through them, we have seen some interesting histories.  Perhaps there are lessons to be learned and no doubt there are further stories to be unearthed.  We do have a unique history of bands in this country and having bands that carried the Australian name or a State name gained for themselves a distinct historical legacy.

19240000_Aust-Nat-Band_World-Tour_Soloists_phot5294
(Source: Internet Bandsman Everything Within)

References:

5292: Australian National Band (World Tour) [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot5292.jpg

5293: Australian National Band (World Tour) Concert Position [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot5293.jpg

5294: Australian National Band (World Tour) Soloists [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.satiche.org.uk/vinbbp/phot5294.jpg

13310: Australian Imperial Band, Perth [Online photograph]. (1924). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot13310.jpg

13640: Australian Commonwealth Band [Online photograph]. (1925). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot13640.jpg

THE AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH BAND. (1927, 03 December). Queensland Figaro (Brisbane, Qld. : 1901 – 1936), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84901454

AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND. (1926, 02 February). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232244596

Australian Girls’ Brass Band. (1934, 24 January). Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), p. 19. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166103727

AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND. (1924, 09 January). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54107997

AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND COMING. (1924, 03 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214257314

AUSTRALIAN SILVER BAND. (1925, 29 September). Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218269176

Australian Silver Band. (1925, 27 November). Te Aroha News. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TAN19251127.2.15.1

AUSTRALIAN-IMPERIAL BAND. (1924, 24 June). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245712884

COMMONWEALTH BAND : Retaliatory Proposals. (1927, 01 November). Western Argus (Kalgoorlie, WA : 1916 – 1938), p. 13. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article34420586

COMMONWEALTH BRASS BAND. (1908, 01 April). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14917036

COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND : What others think. (1927, 09 February). Evening Star. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19270209.2.93

FIRST CONCERT : Girls’ Band in Gold and Green. (1934, 18 January). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248959700

Foster, J. R. (1933, 09 October). QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : To the Editor. Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1128247

Greaves, J., & Earl, C. (2001). Legends in brass : Australian brass band achievers of the 20th century. Kangaroo Flat, Vic.: Muso’s Media.

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.

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : Brilliant Conductor. (1933a, 28 October). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41230080

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : Six Months Tour : Trade Propaganda. (1933b, 09 September). Northern Herald (Cairns, Qld. : 1913 – 1939), p. 19. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article150003898

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND TOUR. (1933, 29 September). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 20. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1124687

SALVATION ARMY : The Federal Band. (1898, 14 February). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35105401

SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION : A Capital Band. (1898, 14 February). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54519628

Sharp, A. M. (1993). Baile, Albert Henry (Bert) (1882-1961). Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baile-albert-henry-bert-9402

STATE BAND DOGGED BY RAIN : Northern Tour Ends : Successful Results. (1933, 30 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181171770

VISIT OF THE AUSTRALIAN BAND : Magnificent playing to big crowds. (1926, 20 August). Todmorden & District News, p. 2. Retrieved from https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0001940/19260820/182/0002

“WE WANT SOME MONEY-GIVE US SOME, DO!”. (1924, 09 August). Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76437154

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