Australian bands, gramophones and wireless: adapting to new technology

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

And o’er the earth in tones forlorn
The saxophone raises its call.
The engines start their shrieks at dawn
The gramophone laughs the band to scorn,
And the wireless mocks them all.
(Excerpts from “The Old Town Band”, James, 1929)

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

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

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

Early transmissions:

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

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

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

A band conducted by Mr Edward Brown was practising at the old fire brigade station […] when the late Messrs Harry Batchelor and W. Pummell, compositors of the “Morning Bulletin” suggested that the playing be put “over the phone”.  Mr Rosenads, then in charge of the Rockhampton Telephone Exchange, agreed to the proposal.  There was a function at the School of Arts that night and the band was heard there “by quite a few who took turns at the earphone”.  Later the band was playing outside the Oddfellows Hall in Denham Street and by means of a “link-up” was heard at Mount Morgan.  “And very well, too” said Mr Brown. (“Band Music “Broadcast” Here Last Century,” 1945)

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

The band movement is cautious:

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

He was of the opinion that the day of the amateur brass band was waning, and gave as a reason the fact that the gramophone, by which one could hear the world’s greatest bands and orchestras – jazz and otherwise, was creating serious inroads upon the brass band, and further, that the advent of the radio was also having much to do with the decline of brass band popularity.  Even band contests were becoming less popular every year – at least with the general public – and the wireless and the gramophone were the two disturbing elements.  Bandsmen, naturally, would be the last persons to recognize this serious fact.” (““DAY OF AMATEUR BRASS BANDS WANING.”,” 1927)

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

[…]

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

The Sunshine band committee realises that a return to the customs of other days is due, and propose to play near the railway station on warm Sunday evenings. (“Sunshine Band Needs More Public Support,” 1938)

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

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

The brass band of the small country towns plays a very important part in the social life of the country, although such bands are not nearly as common as they were before the days of radio. (W. P. T., 1938).

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

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

The band movement adapts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the next few days letters arrived from all points of the compass congratulating Mr Beattie and the Band, and expressing appreciation also of a speech by Cr. W. Young.  From Footscray to Armadale, from Sandringham to Camberwell, Essendon, Hawksburn, and wherever else in the metropolitan district, receiving stations listened in, the unanimous opinion expressed that it “was the best music ever heard by wireless”.  Wonthaggi sent a tribute, and the amateurs of Ararat wrote “Encore, we want more”, while far away Terang announced that the enthusiastic listeners in there were delighted.  The most interesting letter came from Strathfield, Sydney, 592 miles from the spot the Band played, stating that a number of visitors sat around a three-valve set with a loud speaker, and heard the performance from start to finish, announcing the strength and modulation to be perfect, and stating that after the Band had concluded with the National Anthem, local transmitters around Sydney could be heard enthusiastically discussing the test. (“NUNAWADING BRASS BAND,” 1923)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the point of view of broadcasting, it is regrettable that the Victorian Bands’ League does not see its way to conduct at the Centenary celebration its proposed international brass band championship.  This would have been an event of exceptional interest, extending to distant peoples who know little of Australia and its progress.  More than that, good band music will be an influence joyous and vital.  If an international contest cannot be arranged it should be possible to provide an Imperial one. (“Broadcasting And Brass Bands,” 1933)

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

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

Too many bands or not enough bands?:

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

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

Sir,  – We quite agree with your correspondent “Radio” who complains of the number of brass bands broadcast from 3LG.  Night after night we have to put our phones down, sick and tired of brass.  Surely one night a week is enough to satisfy anyone. (Condensor, 1925)

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

Is the Australian Broadcasting Commission overdoing band programmes?  Next week there will be bands on the air on six nights – one night the popular brass ensemble from the Malvern Tramways and on five the newly-formed A.B.C. Military Band. (McCall, 1933)

He went on to write:

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

[…]

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

[…]

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

Band music gives pleasure to thousands.  It can still do so, and yet be artistic and original. (McCall, 1933)

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

“More bands than ever are being formed now, and their music is as popular as ever.” (“He wants more band music broadcast,” 1951)

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harris, H. (2020, 22 July). [Re: Brass band 1st radio broadcast].

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

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

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

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

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

Malvern Municipal Band. (1958). On One Fine Day [Vinyl, LP, 10”]. Melbourne, Victoria: W & G Distributing Co. Pty. Ltd. .

Malvern Municipal Band. (1970). On Marching with Malvern [Vinyl, LP, Album]. Melbourne, Victoria: W & G Distributing Co. Pty. Ltd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preston Municipal Brass Band. (1956). On Under the Baton [Vinyl, LP, 10”, Album]. Thornbury, Victoria: Cyril Stevens Recording Studios.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Choosing music and grading bands: The unenviable tasks of band associations and their music advisory boards

Introduction:

Administering band associations was, and is even now, never an easy task.  Granted, the first focus of early band associations was managing the affiliations of member bands, forming rules and running competitions.  These tasks aside, there was little else they did.  In this arcane and insular world of administration, decisions that the early band associations made were at times difficult to understand and criticism was rife.  It can be seen in previous posts on the history of the National Band Council of Australia and the experiences of bands in South Street just how peculiar some administrative decisions could be.  In their defence however, we can also see that the associations were acting on the information that they had available at the time, and that some questionable decisions can simply be attributed to a lack of communication.

This post is focusing on aspects of band administration where the difficult decisions of band grading and choices of music were made by sub-committees known as Music Advisory Boards.  These noted groups of bands people, often adjudicators and conductors, made recommendations to band associations.  While some records are not as informative as they could be, the Trove archive gives us some clues as to how they operated.

It is an interesting portion of band history where some bands people desired more of a focus on the music but recognized the value of association.  Balancing these two ideals was a challenge!

Music Advisory Boards and Choosing music:

19330706-(19330714)_VBL-AGM-P1
A section of the Victorian Bands’ League Annual Report 1933, pg. 1 ( Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)
19200814_Herald_J-Booth-Gore
Herald, 14/08/1920, pg. 16

Above is part of the first page of an annual report presented by the Victorian Bands’ League at their second Annual General Meeting on 14th July 1933.  Prominently displayed on this first page are all the officers of the League; Delegates, Administrators, Conductors and Adjudicators, representing country, regional and metropolitan areas.  A good mix of people at the time to run the fledging League!  There is one group of musicians listed on this page that warrants special mention and is nominally the focus of this post – the Music Advisory Board.

It was not always possible to discern why the Music Advisory Boards existed in the first place.  Through research in the Trove archives, it was mentioned that they did exist, but their exact purpose in assisting the Associations was harder to find – however their contemporary counterparts operate in much the same way so we can apply this knowledge back over the years.

This post is not trying to dismiss the operations of other State band associations and their MAB’s.  However, the Victorian Bands’ Association and Victorian Bands’ League provided the most information through newspaper articles as to who was included in their MAB’s over the years.  Which means it presents a perfect case study of how the personnel changed (or did not change) over the years.  Below is a table detailing the members of the Victorian MAB over a time period of thirteen years.  Knowing Victorian band history, we can see that these musicians were all eminent conductors/adjudicators who displayed an extensive knowledge of brass band repertoire.  And they were all conductors of Victorian A Grade bands.

1920 – VBL 1922 – VBA 1927 – VBA 1933 – VBL
P. Code J. Booth-Gore P. Code J. Bowden
P. Jones L. Hoffman F. C. Johnston J. Booth-Gore
H. R. Shugg F. C. Johnston P. Jones F. C. Johnston
P. Jones R. McCaskill A. H. Paxton
H. Niven H. R. Shugg H. R. Shugg
H. R. Shugg

(Source of table data: “BAND ADJUDICATOR,” 1920; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; Drummer Boy, 1922; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; Victorian Bands’ League, 1933)

19200807_Herald_J-Bowden
Herald, 7/08/1920, pg. 17

What is obvious here is the consistency of some of the appointments namely Percy Code, Percy Jones, Frank “Massa” Johnston and Harry Shugg.  Some pictures of these bandsmen are on the side of this post.  We could assume that with the passage of time, if the same people were well-regarded in that role then they would continue to serve.  The interesting fact about the Victorian MAB members is that they carried through the changeover from the VBA to the VBL.  On a side note, given that many of these conductors were working with metropolitan bands at the time they would have been the instigators of the VBL in the early 1930s.

There were some occasions regarding band competitions where MAB’s were not involved in choosing music.  We can see articles published in the Advocate newspaper in 1921 and 1927 that Percy Jones was the adjudicator of the popular New Year’s Day Burnie carnival band competition (“BURNIE.,” 1927; “BURNIE CARNIVAL.,” 1921).   However, it is in the 1927 article where we can see that Percy Jones himself made recommendations to the Burnie Athletics Club on the choice of music for the next carnival band competition:

Last year’s band adjudicator, Mr. Percy Jones, wrote recommending that “Gournod (Rimmer)” and “A Garland of Classics (Rimmer)” be chosen as test pieces for the B and C grade contests respectively, at the next carnival.  The recommendation was adopted, on the motion of Messers Southwell and Trethewey.  It was also decided to continue negotiations with a view to obtaining an adjudicator from New South Wales for the next carnival.  Last year’s rule that the own choice selection be made from National Airs was again adopted.” (“BURNIE.,” 1927)

One notable criticism of the music choices made by MAB’s came from Cecil Clarence Mullen in his booklet, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951).  We know from a previous post that Mullen was very opinionated, and it is not clear how much influence he wielded through his writings, especially his booklet.  He wrote:

Some years ago the Advisory Board of selectors introduced a new type of Test Selection for South Street band contests.  These are mostly technical works and appreciated by bandmasters and players, the musicianship point of view has only been taken into consideration.  Our contests promoters and managers have been overlooked the fact that one party – the public who pay to attend contests – have been left out.  Statistics show clearly that all the largest crowds at the South Street competitions were in the years from 1900 to 1924, when the operatic brass band arrangements were chosen for Test Selections. […] Technical works are all very well for those of us who understand them, but they are cold and colourless to the general listener as he cannot follow them and does not know what they are all about. (Mullen, 1951, p. 6)

19200911_Herald_P-Code
Herald, 11/09/1920, pg. 14

Now while Mullen might be right about the years when the largest crowds attended the brass band competitions at South Street, it must be recognized that he was merely expressing his opinion and it might be a short stretch to link crowd numbers with choices of music.  He went on further in this section of the booklet to explain his reasons for wanting more operatic arrangements in the band competitions with the implied belief that they were far more musical than what current brass band composers were providing, and that they were more pleasing to the ears of the audience (Mullen, 1951).  He was especially taken with the operatic arrangements of Alexander Owen and he also wanted a sight-reading section to be introduced (Mullen, 1951).  This was not the first time Mullen wrote with favour on operatic works being played by bands.  In a later article he attributed the fine playing of bands in the early years to their playing of operatic works (Mullen, 1965).

Aside from Mullen, there appears to be a distinct lack of criticism in early newspapers regarding the choices of music made by the MAB’s.  Which contrasts with the criticisms levelled at State Band Associations and MAB’s regarding grading of bands.  Grading was a vexed issue, and this will be explored in the next section.

Music Advisory Boards, State band Associations and Grading:

To understand why grading does or does not work, it’s important to know a little history on how Associations applied grading to bands.  The first competition that included grading of some sort was in New South Wales at the 1896 Intercolonial Band Contest held in Sydney in November where bands were grouped into “first division” or “second division” (Greaves, 1996, p. 23).  In Victoria, the first five years of South Street from 1900-1905 were ungraded and, Mullen (1951) has provided some history as to how grading developed from 1905:

In 1905 the first “B” grade contest was arranged owing to some bands having progressed so much from the experience and tuition of former English bandmasters that it was thought younger combinations and country bands would have a better chance in a second class contest.  So fast did the better class bands progress, however, that it was thought that with many new bands starting that a “C” grade was held in 1909. (p. 7)

Having only three grades was the status quo in Victoria until, according to available resources, a D grade was introduced in 1922 (“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922).

19210108_Herald_L-Hoffman
Herald, 8/01/1921, pg. 11

Let us take a look at how bands moved up or down grades over some years.  Below are links to files that show the grades in certain years from Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.  The Victorian dataset is more condensed as they show the grades in the years 1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926 & 1927.  For Queensland, the dataset is more spread due to limited information and the files are based on information from the years 1913, 1919 & 1937.  Included is an example of grading presented by the Western Australian Band Association in 1932, which is very limited, however there’s an interesting discussion from the WABA meeting that took place that year.  All band lists were obtained from newspaper articles held in the Trove archive and can be accessed from the links in the citations.  The grade files will appear as PDF’s and can be downloaded.

Victorian Grades – 1920-1927:

(Source of Victorian grade data: “BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1923; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; “CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS.,” 1926; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1924; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; “Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

Queensland Grades – 1913, 1919 & 1937:

(Source of Queensland grade data: “Band Association.,” 1919; “GRADING THE BANDS.,” 1913; “NEW GRADING LIST,” 1937)

Western Australian Grades – 1932:

(Source of Western Australian grade data: Delegate, 1932)

19200828_Herald_P-Jones
Herald, 28/08/1920, pg. 19

The Victorian context is possibly a better example of grade history given the range of years.  Here we see a bulge– a smaller number of bands in A Grade and D Grade while B Grade is larger and C Grade having the most numerous amount of bands  Taking a look at the C Grade in particular, while the D Grade was introduced in 1922, in 1924 there is large expansion of bands in C Grade.  Whether this is down to the number of bands that affiliated that year, or general musical standard is open to interpretation.  1924 was certainly a golden year of bands, except for perhaps the A Grade where there were only three bands.  Regarding the A Grade, once the top bands were placed in that grade, they tended not to leave.  In 1926 and 1927 we see a jump in that number due to bands moving up from B Grade.

In Queensland it is a little more difficult to interpret the grading history given the lack of information, so a reliance on the available years is necessary.  However, there are some similarities with Victoria, especially in the middle grades.  In 1919 there is a large expansion in the number of bands in C Grade.  We also see some innovation on the part of the Queensland Band Association in 1937 where there is a D Grade, but there are also grades to cater bands that are from specific locations or age groups.  Here we see a “Sub D Grade (Country)” and a “Boy’s Band (Under 15 years)” (“NEW GRADING LIST,” 1937) which no doubt helped more bands participate in events.

The example from Western Australia is obviously small, but the list originates from an article published in the Sunday Times regarding a wide-ranging meeting held by WABA.  The regrading of bands was included in the discussion as an agenda item:

The matter of regrading the bands affiliated with the association was then proceeded with.  There are 17 in all, and prior to the 1931 contest these were graded as B or C.  This grading has since remained unaltered officially, but for the purpose of giving the 1931 contest a high “tone”, the grades were officially announced as A and B.  The question raised on Wednesday evening was whether to create a D grade from the smaller C grade bands or raise the status generally and make them A, B or C.  The latter course was eventually decided upon and each band was, after submission to the meeting, graded by a majority vote.  A suggestion that they should be graded according to the points awarded them by the adjudicator at the last contest was not accepted, though the idea found a good deal of support. (Delegate, 1932)

Victoria offers more information on the roles of the MAB in the regrading process as the Queensland Band Association seems to have undertook this role themselves (there is no mention of a Queensland MAB).  The role of the MAB’s in advising on regrading is evident although it seems, at least in the early stages, that the VBA undertook the regrading process with their MAB offering limited advice.  We see in 1920 that,

A report was submitted from the executive of the association dealing with the regrading of bands.  It contained replies from Messrs H. Shugg and P. Code, two of the advisory committee who both concurred in the proposed regarding as submitted by the executive… (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920)

However, in 1922, the Victorian MAB was responsible for the regrading process:

The advisory board of the Victorian Bands’ Association, the headquarters of which are at Ballarat, has regraded bands for the ensuring year as follows… (“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

And mention of the role of the MAB in regrading bands is again mentioned in articles from 1926 and 1927 (“BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; “CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS.,” 1926).

This is not to say grading was always a smooth process and there were always levels of criticism from various parties, as well as disagreements between States – the rules were never fully unified.  As early as 1914 we can see letters in the papers regarding the grading of bands.  One letter from Mr S. E. Hambleton, then Secretary of the Collingwood Citizens’ Band stood out for its candidness.  Part of his letter was criticism while contributing his own ideas:

The band of which I am secretary has not won a cash prize for five years, and although I have made applications to be re-classified (claimed on two years’ rules), I am told that the Victorian Band Association would not listen to it as we are an A Grade band.  The other bands know this, and, of course, will not enter for the higher grade, with the promise, perhaps of a life sentence hanging over them.

Our band of 24 could be divided into three parts and absorbed by B Grade bands and allowed to play in B Grade.  Why not classify the individual players and thus stop good players in A Grade bands from becoming members of a lower grade through better inducements.  Collingwood and Prahran are the only two bands classed as A Grade, although there are four or five others advanced enough to compete in this grade.

Bands that have won C or B Grade contests should be placed in the class higher up and stay there for the stated time.  If they fail to secure a cash prize, allow them to go to the next grade down again.  Bands will not enter for a higher grade than they are classed in, for fear of winning a cash prize in it, being thereby debarred from competing in the grade that they had been classed in. (Hambleton, 1914)

Again in 1914, a letter was published in Brisbane’s Daily Standard newspaper lamenting the grading process carried out by the Queensland Band Association after the Maryborough contests.  The writer, Mr W. Jackson, a Delegate of the Childers band, was obviously annoyed at the whole process and made this quite clear in his letter.  He wrote (in part),

…We were promised that the matter of grading the bands would be thoroughly gone into at an early date by the Q.B. Association.  What is the result?  Here we are three months before the August contest, and still in the same sorry plight.  Is it encouragement for the small country bands to go to Brisbane to contest against bands from the large cities as at Maryborough when the “C” grade championships was won by a band that probably should have been graded “B” at least?  I am afraid the same thing will occur again.  What I contend is that the “C” grade should be open for bands from the small country towns only, thus giving them some encouragement for them to fight on to better class music. (Jackson, 1914)

It would be fair to say that both Mr Hambleton and Mr Jackson made some fair points re grading problems in their respective states.  They both knew their bands and how the administration worked.  We could assume that the State associations were trying their best in trying to please everyone but in some respects, it was never a perfect process.  Perhaps this was the reason MAB’s were formed to advise on grading.

As mentioned above, at times the rules and administration of different State associations came into conflict with each other regarding registration and grading.  One notable example was highlighted in Tasmania after another one of the contests in Burnie.  At a meeting of the Tasmanian Band Association in 1930, this was raised as an agenda item:

Very grave concern was expressed by the committee relating to the methods of grading and the registering of members of mainland bands which compete at the Burnie contests.  It was discovered by the delegates at the recent Burnie contests that one of the competing bands from the mainland had been able, only a few days before the closing date of registrations, to register no less than nine prominent players of other bands, and perhaps of a higher grade.  The regrading of bands on the registration for every contest might overcome the somewhat unfair aspect of this matter, but what is more desirable is uniform contests rules for all the States.  The T.B.A. is approaching the State association concerned on this occasion, with a view to a general tightening up of grading and registrations. (“BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1930)

19210219_Herald_H-Niven
Herald, 19/02/1921, pg. 16

…which is fine in theory but as discovered in the history of the National Band Council of Australia, unification of rules was an ideal that never really reached fruition despite the best intentions of State associations.

What we have seen in this small history are situations where the grading process was fraught with difficulty, did not please everyone and criticism was rife.  And it was a thankless task as the reputations of the early bands hinged on success in competition and the decisions of the State associations.  Most of the time it was done correctly.  On occasion there were problems.  With the influx of bands starting up and wanting to participate in events, grading them was a necessity that called upon the State associations to try to find solutions.  When this went wrong, the administration was generally found to be lacking.

Conclusion:

For the MAB’s involved in the processes of choosing music and advising on band regrading, generally they did the right thing and all they could really do was offer advice.  Thankfully, the reputations of the MAB members carried them through some of the decisions made by State associations.  Evidently the fact that many of the Victorian members held their positions for many years is a testament to their authority as prominent bandsmen.

We should thank these early members of the MAB’s for the foundations that they laid as the members of the modern MAB’s carry out their tasks in much the same way as they did back then.

19200724_Herald_H-Shugg
Herald, 24/07/1920, pg. 11

References:

BAND ADJUDICATOR : For Newcastle Contest : Mr. Percy Jone’s Career. (1920, 04 December). Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162621130

BAND ASSOCIATION : Deciding Championship. (1923, 21 August). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213824101

Band Association : Grading for the Contest. (1919, 20 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176840373

BAND ASSOCIATION : Registering and Grading. (1930, 24 January). Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29151289

BRASS BANDS REGRADED. (1927, 18 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 13. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3885887

BURNIE. (1927, 17 June). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68241846

BURNIE CARNIVAL : New Years Day : Bright Prospects. (1921, 16 November). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69316043

CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS. (1926, 18 May). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3782670

Delegate. (1932, 21 August). BRASS BANDS : W.A. Association News : And General Notes. Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58669392

Drummer Boy. (1922, 21 October). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93411340

GRADING THE BANDS. (1913, 27 October). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118654062

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

Hambleton, S. E. (1914, 13 January). EFFECT OF GRADING. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241657411

Jackson, W. (1914, 08 May). BAND GRADING : (To The Editor). Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld. : 1912 – 1936), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178879778

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

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

NEW GRADING LIST ISSUED BY QUEENSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION. (1937, 12 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 13. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article183521534

Quickstep. (1920, 28 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : A Knight of the Baton. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 19. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242311544

Quickstep. (1920, 14 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : A Meritorious Career. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 16. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242305795

Quickstep. (1920, 07 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : An Enthusiastic Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 17. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242306287

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

Quickstep. (1920, 24 July). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Leader of Two Famous Bands. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308343

Quickstep. (1921, 19 February). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Noted Musical Qualities. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 16. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242256082

Quickstep. (1921, 08 January). Bandsmen’s Gossip : St Vincent’s Bandmaster. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242259553

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : Classification of Bands. (1924, 19 August). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213535974

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : Special and General Meeting. (1920, 18 May). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article211906214

Victorian Bands’ Association : Grading for the Year. (1922, 24 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 14. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205773169

Victorian Bands’ League. (1933). Victorian Bands’ League : Annual General Meeting : Annual Report. Retrieved from https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b6a740621ea691478e4b482

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

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

Introduction:

There has always been an ecosphere of activity surrounding brass bands, then and now ranging from retail to journalism and people who take a general interest in day-to-day activities.  This level of interest varies among people, and especially in the bands of old, there was an amount of engagement in these ensembles.  One only has to read past newspapers as a measure of this engagement.  Most readers of this blog know I dwell in the Trove archive to find information for these posts; it is through these newspaper articles that the life and atmosphere of these bands can be fully appreciated.

This post is different from previous posts where the focus is not on bands per se, but on a bands person who described himself as very involved in the brass band movement, Cecil Clarence Mullen.  I am very thankful to have been gifted one of his rare booklets, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951).  He wrote another article on the history of Victorian bands in 1965 for The Victorian Historical Magazine.  However, there is more to explore in his writing, including some of the opinions on the band movement and the work he did as a brass band statistician.

Mullen had a role to play documenting the band history of Victoria and it is unfortunate that his work is not really well known.  We will see where Mullen’s work was at its most valuable, but also where some of his work could be questioned – this post will be taking a subjective view of some of his writing and opinions.  It must be recognised that at the time, Mullen did not have the information resources at his disposal like we do now.  However, what he did do was make an effort to record and compile results in a way that was unique.

C. C. Mullen (1895-1983):

It was difficult to build a full picture of Mullen’s life as some resources were not comprehensive.  Through the research of State records (Public Records Office Victoria and Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria), it is found that he was born in 1895 and initially lived in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond.  For much of his further life, he lived in the nearby suburb of Abbotsford and was still residing in that suburb when he died in 1983 at the age of 88 (Mullen, 1983).  As for employment, it is listed in some records that he worked as a Clerk at the Argus newspaper and various other local newspapers (Ruddell, 2010)

Mullen’s amateur interests were extensive and varied including music, sports, local history and it seems youth and education as well (Ruddell, 2010).  He was complimented on his work with local youth groups of which he made every effort to prepare youth for further work and education (“Richmond Boys’ Club,” 1932).  It is through further research in the Trove archive that we see a fuller picture of Mullen’s mindset as he was an avid contributor of letters to the newspapers.  He wrote on all sorts of topics; youth, education, transport, parks, library opening hours, manners at the opera, sports, politics, etc (Mullen, 1937, 1946, 1947, 1952a).  The articles displayed below are only a tiny sample of his letter output.

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

Regarding his letter writing, it seems he did not write to the papers on one of his favourite topics, brass bands, except for one instance when he requested photos of the Kalgoorlie brass bands for his brass band history collection (Mullen, 1951a).  It is also in this letter that we see that Mullen has described himself as a “statistician and historian of brass and military bands” (Mullen, 1951a).

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

This post will not dwell on Mullen’s interests in other subjects however they do provide some clues as to how Mullen went about doing things, and what his personal attitudes were like.  He gives the impression of being an egalitarian person and was a firm advocate for youth groups (Mullen, 1952b).  He did not like some of the aspects of competition, taking aim through one of his letters at “the selfish competition of mankind, instead of the co-operation of mankind” (Mullen, 1940).  In another one of the newspaper letters he advocates for the abolition of school sports, and in his booklet, he advocates for the abolition of grades in band contests (Mullen, 1937, 1951b).  In saying so, Mullen still supported the aims of the Royal South Street Society band competition sections and sponsored trophies for “Best Drummer” in 1958, another trophy in 1959, and a trophy in 1964 for “Bandmaster showing Best Deportment” (Royal South Street Society, 1958, 1959, 1964).   As for his historical work, we will examine his band history research in the next sections, however, it should be noted that there is an amount of conjecture over the accuracy of his sports history writing and statistics (Hay, 2010).

An enthusiastic commentator is probably an apt description of Mullen given his penchant for writing on all manner of subjects.  His band history work is what provides the most interest (for this post) and we will see a person who clearly enjoyed his statistics.

C. C. Mullen: Historian of Brass & Military Bands:

There is no doubt, through reading his works, that Mullen was an enthusiastic advocate, documenter and historian of brass and military bands.   Both his main works on the subject, his booklet and his later article attest to this.  This section will review his booklet first, then his article from 1965.

1951: “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”:

The first impression that is given about the booklet is that he clearly wrote this booklet as an outlet for his interest in brass bands and musicians. The aim of this booklet, as Mullen notes in the preface, was to publish

…for the first time in the history of brass bands in this country, a condensed history of bands and players who have taken part in most important annual band competitions in Australasia – that of South Street, Ballarat, Victoria. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 1)

With this aim, he achieved his goal and the book contains the names of musicians, the bands they were associated with, and which instruments they played.  Below is small except from one of the lists which makes up many of the pages of this booklet.:

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

In the preface, Mullen outlines his life in the brass band movement.  In summary he:

  • was a pupil of Edward Code,
  • apparently knew all the famous bandmasters of the day,
  • was embedded in the administration of the early Victorian Bands’ Association, and later the Victorian Bands’ League,
  • was a contributor of articles to all the famous band magazines (Mullen, 1951b).

He notes that the famous Bandmaster Edward Code was a great influence on his early life and that he felt honoured as a former pupil to have published this booklet (Mullen, 1951b).  Interestingly, both Edward Code and Mullen are buried in the same cemetery in Melbourne, the Coburg Pine Ridge Cemetery in Melbourne’s north – although 65 years apart.

Mullen was not afraid of expressing his opinions on bands and the administration of bands.  On page four of his booklet is a one-page treatise on the importance of brass bands to the community, with a paragraph (below) on his thoughts of bands in schools (Mullen, 1951b).  A previous post has touched on the historical discrepancies with the starting of school bands in Victoria and Mullen adds his own discrepancy when he declares “I had the first band in Victoria composed of schoolboys” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 4).  When reading this paragraph, it brings to mind a piece of writing in one of the old brass band magazines where the writer had some choice words for the headmasters of the day about not starting bands (“THE EDITOR’S BATON,” 1929).  Perhaps it was Mullen himself who wrote the article in this 1929 issue of The Australasian Band and Orchestra News, but we may never know for sure.

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

In finishing his one-page treatise on the importance of brass bands, Mullen laments that the State and National controlling bodies have not done enough to promote bands.  He states,

It is up to our band controlling bodies and the Australian Band Council to take this matter up seriously and see that more cannot be done to keep the importance of brass bands before the people of Australia. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 4).

The main aim of this booklet, as mentioned, was to document the prize-winning brass band musicians and bands who had participated in the South Street competitions over a number of years.  Two pages of the booklet are devoted to a poem Mullen wrote on South Street.  Another section of the book was written by a contributor, “Baton” who wrote a history of the band sections at South Street (Baton, 1951).  This contribution is comprehensive and valuable and adds to the existing histories of the band sections at South Street.

Mullen also wrote other small sections in the starting pages and ending pages of the booklet, where, we still see that he is using the booklet to express his own opinions – which is understandable.  Some section headings in the starting pages are telling;

  • “Test Selections need revising” (he felt that operatic works instead of technical works made better test pieces),
  • “Band grading should be abolished” (he felt the grading system had outgrown its usefulness)
  • “Bad drumming of class marches” (Apparently Bandmasters were not teaching or paying attention to the drummers about learning their parts properly) (Mullen, 1951b, pp. 6-8)

In the later pages of the booklet, Mullen provides some useful historical information on the South Street competitions, South Street judges, how Britain developed band music in Australia,  the Quickstep section and the formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (Mullen, 1951b).  Still, he is wanting to express his opinions in these pages and makes comment on how “Grand Opera assists bandsmen” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 61).  Mullen, as we’ve seen, is also a great advocate for the young and has used a section to advocate for young band conductors.  Also, in another section, while he congratulates young soloists for participating in South Street, he also took aim at their onstage deportment – Mullen obviously did not like young soloists who sat down while playing and he gave a serve to bandmasters “who encourage this sort of thing” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62).

In one of the final sections of the booklet titled “High Cost of Running Brass Bands” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62), we read that he is trying to advocate for more monetary support for the brass band movement.  He levels criticism at various entities such as the Federal Government on tariffs on musical instruments, the State Government on the money being spent on the upcoming Olympic Games, and the Australian Band Council for not talking to governments on behalf of brass bands (Mullen, 1951b).  Mullen takes a singularly myopic viewpoint, well-meaning, but possibly futile.  Of course, this is all in relation to his support for young musicians and their access to instruments and the expense of obtaining such instruments.  He laments that,

Unfortunately Australia is so “sports minded” that it is a much easier proposition to conduct a boy’s cricket or football team than to form a junior band and give youngsters the chance of a musical education or at least a musical mind. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)

Meaning, that if all things were ideal in Mullen’s viewpoint, money would be better spent on the brass band movement.

Would it not be a good investment for the future education of this country for our Governments to spend something on band music in order to help Australia to have a cultured mind – something she lacks at present. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)

In this section about the monetary challenges faced by brass bands and lack of support, Mullen has managed to draw in his other points of interest in sports, politics/government and education of youth!

In finishing a review of Mullen’s written paragraphs and opinions in this booklet, it is as has been mentioned; he used this booklet to express is many opinions, ideas and advocacy. His writing was well-meaning, but one wonders how much effect it had on the powers that be?  I personally feel that the lists of bandsmen, instruments and bands provide much more historical interest and meaning in this booklet.

1965: “Brass Bands have played a prominent part in the History of Victoria”:

In 1965, fourteen years later after publishing his booklet, Mullen published another article in The Victorian Historical Magazine with the above title.  Mullen is aged 70 in 1965 and his wealth of historical knowledge about the brass band movement is evident in this article.  The richness of historical information about bands, conductors, adjudicators, the South Street competitions and Victorian musical life can be fully appreciated here – possibly more so than his previous booklet which contained a limited range of historical writing (Mullen, 1951b, 1965).

Mullen provides an amount of context in this article.  To build the narrative, he starts off with the large and then brings focus.  In the opening paragraphs, this means tracing brass instruments from biblical times to the development of bands in England and then to Victoria with a focus on immigration (Mullen, 1965).  In this article, Mullen also draws in some historical information about Victorian bands and events, and he has quoted large parts of various band magazines.  For example, the next section after the introduction is about bands playing at the Eureka Rebellion of which he used information from “The Australian Bandsman.  26th October 1923” (Mullen, 1965, p. 31).  This section on the Eureka Rebellion is useful as it focuses on the band history of Ballarat – which became home to the famous Royal South Street band competitions.

Progressing through the article, we can see that Mullen provides lots of detail throughout various sections while continuing his historical narrative.  When reading, there is an impressive list of bands, bandsmen, competitions and little stories to be discovered.  He has written a section on the “Famous Band Families” such as “James Scarff, Samuel Lewins and Thomas E. Bulch” and the “Codes” – brothers “Edward, John, Alfred and William” and sons of Edward, “Percy” and brother “Samuel” (Mullen, 1965, pp. 36-39).  The South Street band competitions were a subject that had a special interest to Mullen and he devoted another whole section to them, again, listing memorable bands, bandsmen and adjudicators (Mullen, 1965).

In the later writing of this article, there were some notable historical events that Mullen mentions such as the early tours of Besses o’ the’ Barn Band and the Sousa Band, the formation of the Victorian Bands’ League, the impact of the World Wars on local bands, radio broadcasting and in the band world, the activities of the ABC Military Band (Mullen, 1965).  The final section of the article gives praise to the Victorian brass bands for maintaining a high standard of playing, although Mullen attributes this to,

…bandmasters setting a fine example in teaching young players a love for classical works of the of the great composers relating to Grand Opera, Ballet, Symphonies, Oratorio, Sacred and Religious works, and good songs that have been set to music. (Mullen, 1965, p. 46)

In other words, music that was not originally written for brass bands.

Mullen was ever fond of lists (which will be evident further in this post), and in this final section he has listed a number of notable brass band conductors, in addition to others previously named in his article such as “Harry Shugg” (Geelong Harbour Trust, Malvern Tramways & City of Ballarat) (Mullen, 1965, pp. 11, 43).  (The list below has been ordered into a bulleted list which is different from how it is presented in the article):

(Mullen, 1965, pp. 9-11, 47)

If there is one criticism of this article it is the way that Mullen has finished it, there is no real conclusion.  It just…ends.  Mullen leaves the article hanging by making mention of the most recent overseas visit of an international military band (prior to the publication of this article) in 1965).  The final paragraph reads:

The most recent visit of an overseas musical combination to Victoria was that of Her Majesty’s Scots Guards, under Captain James Howe, in March 1964, when it played at the Moomba Carnival in Melbourne. (Mullen, 1965, p. 47)

It is admirable that Mullen wrote an article such as this given that lack of historical writing on the band movement in Victoria as a whole.  What this article does do is create many links between bands, bandsmen and historical context, which is no doubt due to Mullen’s interests in these subject areas.  We should thank Mullen; despite this article being written fifty-five years ago to this date, it is still relevant and serves as a useful guide to much of the band movement history in Victoria.

C. C. Mullen: Statistician:

Returning to Mullen’s publication on brass bands, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), we will see what can be considered to be the real historical value of this booklet, the lists of names and bands.  Mullen was meticulous in the way he compiled his lists.  No doubt he had access to the names and competition wins through his work at the newspapers, but to compile the lists covering fifty-one years is quite remarkable.  All of the bandsmen and bands can be cross-referenced with the Royal South Street results database (Mullen, 1951b; Royal South Street Society, 2020).

A small excerpt of one of the lists has been displayed earlier in this post.  The way Mullen has compiled these lists is quite logical.  He has started with all the conductors and then listed all the prize winners for every instrument of a brass band.  Interestingly, although South Street never held any solo competitions for Side or Bass Drummers, Mullen lists the bandsmen he considers notable on these instruments.  In the closing pages of the statistics, he lists all of the bands from every State and New Zealand that have participated in South Street over the time frame of this booklet (Mullen, 1951b).  Below are samples of some of the lists, and they are fairly self-explanatory.

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

As we can see above, Mullen clearly had an eye for statistical detail.  No doubt he felt he was doing the band movement service by publishing all of this, and to some extent he was.  This is the only booklet of its kind to emerge from this era.  Nowadays we can access all of these results through the South Street results database and find names in the Trove archive.  Mullen did not have these electronic means, and even though the lists do not include the competition scores and rankings of bandsmen, the lists are still very informative.  Another reason to thank Mullen for his work.

Conclusion:

Mullen has made a great contribution to the history of the band movement in Victoria through his own personal interest, dedication, and knowledge.  In the absence of any other work of this nature, both his booklet and later article provide an overall picture of the band movement.  Yes, his opinions were controversial when viewed in a new light.  However, I feel he meant well, and I also feel that Mullen’s work on the history of the band movement needs to be more widely known.

References:

Baton. (1951). South Street band competitions have achieved world wide fame. In Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) (pp. 5-6). Melbourne, Vic.: Horticultural Press.

THE EDITOR’S BATON: Bringing up the boy to the band. (1929). The Australasian Band and Orchestra News, XXV(2), 1 & 3.

Hay, R. (2010). Cec Mullen, Tom Willis and the search for early Geelong football. The Yorker, Spring(42), 3-5.

Mullen, C. C. (1937, 17 December). Sport in Schools. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11133645

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mullen, C. C. (1952, 03 January). Youth in the Wrong Jobs. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204978021

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

Mullen, C. C. (1983, 01 January). This is the last will and testament of me…. Will and Testament. Wills and Probates, (919/613, VPRS7591/P9 Unit 22). Public Record Office Victoria.

Richmond Boys’ Club : Fine Work by C. C. Mullen. (1932, 17 December). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189122433

Royal South Street Society. (1958, 25 October). 1958-10-25 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1958-10-25-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1959, 23 October). 1959-10-23 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1959-10-23-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1964, 24 October). 1964-10-24 Victorian Brass Band Championship. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1964-10-24-victorian-brass-band-championship

Royal South Street Society. (2020). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au

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

The poetry of brass bands

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

“A Welcome” by ‘Bannerman’ (1918):

19201023_Herald_Bandsmens-Gossip
Herald, 23/10/1920, p. 4

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

A WELCOME

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

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

“Because” we all remember
When you played it at New Year,
When the silvery notes were finished
How the crowd did clap and cheer.
May our town and climate suit you,
May your notes prove ever true.
Here’s good-luck to wife and kiddies,
And long life and health to you.
(Bannerman, 1918, p. 6)

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

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

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

19510000_Mullen
Source: Jeremy de Korte Personal Collection

BACK TO SOUTH STREET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So to-day just let me go back to South Street,
Most famous contest in the land,
Where many old timers I will heartily greet,
And yarn over years that were so grand.
(Mullen, 1951, pp. 2-3)

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

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

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

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

DUNGOG BRASS BAND

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

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

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

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

Well, those are all the players who go to make this band,
But there are two more people who lend a helping hand;
First of them the Drum Major, he makes them look so fine,
And that of course is Perry, Bill, he sees they march in line.
Then last of all is Paddy with collection box in hand,
You’ll always find him snooping round somewhere behind the band,
He sticks his box beneath your nose and thinks he’s doing right.
No wonder folks have christened him the “great Australian bite!”
P.S. – Sorry folks I missed one out, it’s Ray Monaghan I’m sure,
He plays quite well, but still in all, attendances are poor.
(Mad Mick, 1954, p. 3)

…and something from me:

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

References:

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

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

Dungog Brass Band. (1912). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]: Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot16862.jpg.

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

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

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

 

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

Introduction:

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

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

This was a great age of 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:

18900000-19200000_Tour_Besses_Card
Early 1900’s Postcard showing the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band (Source: 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 wherever they went.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Belgian Band comprising some of the finest instrumentalists in Belgium, has been engaged by J. and N. Tait for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, commencing in June. […] After considerable trouble, many cables and much correspondence, the band has at last been got together, and will prove on its arrival one of the finest aggregations of talent that have yet visited Australia.  The band comprises of 28 instrumentalists, recruited from the foremost bands of Brussels, Antwerp and Ostend, and augmented by half a dozen English players, and will be conducted by the brilliant M. Phillipe Meny, a remarkable musician, whose reputation is not only Belgian, but European. (“MUSIC.,” 1915).

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

First came the Royal Marines, then came the Guards:

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

19270508_Massed-Mil-Bands_Green-Mill_FC
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. (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League Archives)

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

19341101-19341103_South-Street-Centenary-Contest_p6
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

 

The A.B.C. Military Band: an ensemble of the times

S6.2_20180609_19310000_ABC-Military-Band_Postcard
Postcard of the A.B.C Military Band. Possibly in 1930 or 1931 (Source: Victorian Collections : Victorian Bands’ League Archives)

Introduction:

To view the early history of bands in this country would be to see a history that is based around brass bands.  This was no accident as much of the brass band culture was imported into the Antipodes by early settlers from the United Kingdom (Bythell, 2000).  However, in amongst this brass band culture, there were a few oddities in the form of military bands – bands that included woodwinds.  They were a rarity, but they certainly existed.  One of the most famous groups was the A.B.C. Military Band which was only in operation from 1930 – 1951.  This ensemble built an enviable reputation for their playing, sound, and demeanor.

Military bands were not new ensembles in Australia, certainly not in name.  But the A.B.C. Military Band accomplished much more than previous ensembles, no doubt partly due to the broadcasting resources of the A.B.C.’s radio network.  Also, it provided many musicians with a unique employment opportunity, guidance by the best wind band conductors that could be found, and a large following through Australia.

This post will delve into the short history of the band with material mainly found through the Trove archive and will highlight some of the more interesting stories of this ensemble.  Depending on which history is read, most will say the band started in 1933 however this isn’t the case as it essentially started in 1930.  There are only limited photos of the band that seem to exist which are displayed with this post.

Unfortunately, the band is no longer part of the musical landscape, so we have only articles and photos that preserve the memory.  And as will be seen, in the end, the ensemble was closed due to reasons that are only too familiar today.

1930-1933: Starting a band:

To start this small history, we need to see what the A.B.C. was doing regarding the running and broadcasting of its own ensembles.  From using the Trove archive, we can find that in-house ensembles were barely getting started if they existed at all.  Interestingly there was one that stood out.  In 1929 the Table Talk newspaper published an article on the famous conductor Percy Code, who was an eminent bandsman and composer.  Percy, in amongst his other musical activities, was the conductor of the 3LO Orchestra which was labeled as being the “National Broadcasting Orchestra” – the A.B.C., at the insistence of the Government, had taken over several radio services and when taking over 3LO had gained an orchestra as well! (Bradish, 1929).  Unfortunately, this article is the only mention of such an orchestra although 3LO broadcast many forms of music during this time, including brass bands (“3LO.,” 1929).

19301029_Argus_ABC-Mil-Band-Shugg
Argus, 29/10/1930, p. 15

In 1930, articles first start appearing mentioning a newly-formed A.B.C Military Band.  Although, just about all of the articles only provided details on when the band could be heard on the radio (“MILITARY BAND AT 3LO.,” 1930).  What we do know is that the great Harry Shugg, the famous conductor of the Malvern Tramways Band, was the first conductor of the band in 1930, a position he apparently held until 1933 (“CONDUCTOR AT 18.,” 1931).  The Postcard at the start of this post shows him in front of the band in what looks like a recording studio.

 

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ABC Military Band on Tour, Possibly in 1934 (Source: Western Australia Television History)

1933 – 1934: Guest Conductor, Capt. Adkins:

This time period was perhaps the most interesting for the A.B.C. Military Band with superb guest conductors, a new focus on musicality and National tours (Ken, 2012).  In November 1933 the A.B.C. assembled 40 musicians from around Australia to form a new Military Band, which, according to the article, was only supposed to be engaged for 10 weeks (“A.B.C. MILITARY BAND.,” 1933).  They were initially conducted by their deputy conductor, Mr. R. McAnally (another prominent bandsman), until the guest conductor Capt. H. E. Adkins, the then Director of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, commenced his position (“A.B.C. MILITARY BAND.,” 1933).

19340303_WeeklyTimes_Adkins
Weekly Times, 03/03/1934, p. 8

Capt. Adkins arrived in Australia in December 1933 and immediately started conducting the band.  He apparently had trepidations over what he was about to do but was quickly won over after his first rehearsal with the ensemble (“A.B.C. BAND,” 1933).  When speaking at a club in Sydney about his initial experiences with the band, he said that while on his way out from England, “I had a feeling of anxiety, but it disappeared after our first practice yesterday.  I was very agreeably surprised, and in a few months’ time the band will be the equal of any in the world” (“A.B.C. BAND,” 1933).  The band commenced touring around Australia and the choice of Capt. Adkins as Guest Conductor won praise in many places.  The Evening News from Rockhampton was one newspaper that published an enthusiastic article by stating at one point that Capt. Adkins , “…is recognized as the world’s greatest authority on woodwind instruments” (“A.B.C. National Military Band.,” 1934).  Likewise, a reporter with the pseudonym of “G.K.M.” writing for the Weekly Times newspaper congratulated the A.B.C. and noted that Capt. Adkins “…is setting a new standard for Australian bandsmen.” (G.K.M., 1934).  A month later the Weekly Times published a picture of Capt. Adkins at his farewell from Australia (“The Adkins Way,” 1934).

A later article from 1941, published in the Portland Guardian after Capt. Adkins had left the band (and Australia), followed through on some of memories and anecdotes of his tenure in front of the band.  We see a bandsman who was brought out to bring an ensemble up to a very fine standard of playing – and that’s exactly what he did!

Cleve Martin, now deputy-conductor, and E Flat clarinetist under Adkins, is one who remembers the swaggering, lovable, downright English band-leader.

“Take this so-and-so stand away, I never use the thing”

That first remark from Captain Adkins was typical of his downright ‘take no nonsense’ style,” says Cleve Martin. It was a blitz beginning with the Empire’s No. 1 bandsman, but the players soon became used to his roars and worked hard to give him the precision that he sought.

“The musical monologue is my method of conducting,” Adkins explained to the boys.  “I’ll talk to you all the time during rehearsal and in public performances.”

(“STARS OF THE RADIO,” 1941)

There was much more that Adkins did for the band and much more on how he acted in front of band members and audience. Firm, but fair would probably be an accurate way to describe his mannerisms, without being too over the top:

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!!!”

(“STARS OF THE RADIO,” 1941)

He was truly loyal to this band, so much so that he could not say goodbye to them in person when it was time to go.

His comradeship with the National Military Band was staunch.  Beneath the brusque sergeant-major manner was a soft nature.  He demanded the best possible playing, but also worked himself, and was deeply appreciative of the band’s response.  He expressed his attitude in a farewell wire to the band : “Sorry I failed to see you off.  At the last moment I realised I could not face it.”  At the hotel that night, someone noticed that he was on the verge of tears.

(“STARS OF THE RADIO,” 1941)

Having finished his guest appointment, Capt. Adkins returned home to England and Stephen Yorke resumed his direction of the band.

 

19410000_Hood_ABC-Mil-Band
ABC Military Band playing with ABC commentator on a vessel. (Source: flickr : Australian National Maritime Museum)

1934 – 1951: Concerts, the War and the final years:

As with any organization of its size, the A.B.C. was not immune to industrial trouble and in the middle part of 1934, there was a court case over the rate of pay for the Military Band musicians (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  Stephen Yorke had taken over as conductor by this time and was asked to give evidence in court.  The crux of the issue was over which players in the band deserved extra remuneration as the court had decided that the band was like an orchestra with actual principal players.  Mr. Yorke apparently stated that any player in the band could be considered a principal player as they all played some kind of solo part – but he didn’t have knowledge of the industrial award that distinguished between “leaders” and “principals” (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  Whereas the Musicians’ Union countered that the principal players should be the first player of any class of instrument, and any single players of an instrument (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  Capt. Adkins in his treatise had said that “the oboe was essentially a solo and color instrument.  Therefore an oboe player must be called upon at times to perform work comparable to that of a principal.” (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).  The final decision was that the commission followed the argument put forward by the Musicians’ Union where the principal players were the first players of a group of instruments and any player of single instruments were considered to be the principals (“IN THE LAW COURTS,” 1934).

In the year of 1936, we see the band, under the baton of Stephen Yorke, continue their series of broadcasts, concerts and other engagements around Australia.  Under Mr. Yorke, the reviews indicate that the quality and standard have not diminished, and they are receiving rave reviews (“A.B.C. Military Band.,” 1936).  Unfortunately, the A.B.C. raised the ire of some listeners who wanted more brass band music to be played, and berated the A.B.C. for putting on the wrong kind of music –they expressed support for regular performances of the military band as well (“A.B.C. Neglects the Bands.,” 1938).
In 1939 the Second World War started, and the Military Band was there to lift the spirits of Australians over the radio with patriotic music.  As can be seen in the article here published by the Shepparton Advertiser, it enthusiastically endorses the music played by the band on the radio for lifting spirits of all Australians (“NATIONAL MILITARY BAND SESSIONS,” 1941).

19410127_SheppartonAdv_ABC-Mil-Band-Sessions
Shepparton Advertiser, 27/01/1941, p. 4

As with most other organizations war hit home with the sad passing of an ex-member of the band at Tobruk.  The Smith’s Weekly newspaper from October 1941 published an obituary for Clarinetist John Smith, and highlighted his musical excellence:

A brilliant young musician, he took two scholarships at the Sydney Conservatorium for clarinet playing, and was considered one of the finest artists on that instrument in Australia.

Graduating from the Conservatorium, he went straight into the A.B.C. Military Band.  At the time of his enlistment he was a member of a leading Sydney theatre orchestra.

About 12 months ago he went overseas with a battalion of Pioneers, and served throughout the Middle East.

He wrote to a friend in the A.B.C. Military Band:

“My work in field stretcher-bearing which is the fate of all good bandsmen. It has proved quite interesting, though sometimes hard to take.  It has given me the opportunity of witnessing some examples of sheer braver and doggedness that other chaps probably never see.”

(“Ex-A.B.C. Musician Killed At Tobruk,” 1941)

Sadly, it was through doing this job that Smith lost his life.

After the conclusion of hostilities, we see the band resume its normal activities of performances and broadcasts which continued through the rest of the 1940’s (“A.B.C. BAND CONCERT,” 1946; “A.B.C. BAND RECITAL,” 1948).  Stephen Yorke was still the conductor of the band.

As another measure of the quality of musicians that were associated with the band, one of them was Tuba player Cliff Goodchild.  Cliff’s first real musical position was with the A.B.C. Military Band and after the band ended he gained a position with the Sydney Symphony, a position he held for 36 years (Veitch, 2008).  He was also a consummate bandsman and over his lifetime held positions as “Secretary of the National Band Council of Australia, President of the Band Association of NSW, founder and co-organiser of the NSW School Bands Festival and formed a number of bands, including the Waverly Bondi Beach Brass Band and the Sydney Brass” (Veitch, 2008).

In 1951, we see that funding cuts brought about by the Australian Federal Government of the time leave the A.B.C. no choice but to close the band (“A.B.C. Band’s Farewell,” 1951).  This was a bitter end to a no doubt special period in Australian ensembles where we had a band that was excellent in its playing and revered throughout Australia. At the final concert in Sydney, conductor Stephen Yorke thanked the band and the audiences for their appreciation of the ensemble (“A.B.C. Band’s Farewell,” 1951).

19511015_TheAge_ABC-Mil-Band-Farewell
The Age, 15/10/1951, p. 3

Conclusion:

By all accounts this was a truly remarkable band; the finest musicians from all over Australia brought together under various conductors and being boosted to higher and higher levels.  A band that all Australians supported and were proud of. We see the high praise given to the conductors and musicians and with the broadcasting resources of the A.B.C., the sound of the band is heard Australia-wide.  From reading the articles of the time, we just have to wonder why they would cut such a fine ensemble?  But as we know, governments change and priorities change.  Who knows what the band could have become had the Federal government of the day not enforced funding cuts?

References:

3LO : St. Augustine’s Band. (1929, 05 October). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29626577

6WF20: A.B.C. Military Band [Online photograph]. (1934?). Western Australian Television History (WA TV History). Retrieved from http://watvhistory.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/6WF20.jpg

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