The number of recordings that military bands made in the ‘early’ period 1898 -1925 is very large indeed. Probably many thousands. There are quite a few reasons why this was the case; but they are not relevant here on a page devoted purely to brass bands. Still, as time went by, the early record companies also issued discs in the great British tradition of brass bands, beginning in 1903 with the Black Dyke Mills Band. It is emphasised that we are not experts on brass bands – merely a dilettante of their wonderful sound. This is because one of my great-great grandfathers was rather active in the brass band world from around 1860 until his death in 1906. Below, you will see images of record labels, and underneath an audio link to hear the side. Certain discs are not in very good condition; but as some of them date back well over 100 years, we thought you would still enjoy hearing this random sampling of the U.K.’s priceless brass band Audio Heritage. Good listening! You don’t have to listen to the side all the way through; if you click another title, that will play instead. There is of course a truly vast amount of brass band history & images available on-line; to find out more about any band below, always start at www.ibew.co.uk . Discographical information is from the wonderful ‘Brass Band Cylinder and Non-microgroove Disc Recordings 1903 – 1960’ by the late Frank Andrews, Britain’s foremost expert on all earlier recordings. Piccolo Press, Winchester, 1997. ISBN 1 8722203 6.
BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.
The Besses o’ th’ Barn Band first recorded in March 1904. Alas, I have never found one of the ~14 single sided discs (of all kinds of repertoire) that resulted. Instead, we must start on 13th June 1912, when the old mechanical recording process was still in use. The band recorded no fewer than 24 takes that day, of which 14 were issued. These were nearly all sacred selections. You can hear them playing the hymn ‘Jesus Shall Reign’, or ‘Rimington’. It was written by Francis Duckworth (1862 – 1941) who was born in Rimington, but later lived in Colne, Lancashire. For 40 years he was organist at the Albert Road Methodist Church in that town, and wrote many hymns. This one appeared in 1904.
BICKERSHAW COLLIERY BAND.
These 4 sides were made in 1939. Founded in 1919 as the Abram Colliery Band, it changed its name in 1936, when the colliery changed ownership.
BLACK DYKE (or DIKE) (MILLS) BAND.
Image borrowed from www.ibew.co.uk, the foremost website on British Brass Bands. Do go and browse there!
Seen above in 1902, the name of this band has varied quite a lot over the years. This is not surprising, as it commenced in 1855, and therefore is one of the oldest in existence. There is no doubt that the Black Dike Band were riding high in 1902, having won both the Crystal Palace (London) and Belle Vue (Manchester) Brass Band Championship Trophies that year. Doubtless as a result of this attainment, they became the first brass band to make recordings – for the Gramophone Company, in early July 1903. They continued to record prolifically, and do so to this day. Alas, though I have been looking for years, I have never found any of the 1903 discs. (Actually, they were too expensive for ordinary people to buy.)
However, they recorded a few phonograph cylinders, only about 15, for the Edison Bell company, in 1905, and we recently found one of these. It is in fair condition, but is cracked. Still, we thought you might like to hear it. A selection from ‘The Gondoliers’ – or ‘Gondolier’ as the titling on the end of the cylinder quaintly has it. Cylinder records mostly played at ~160 rpm – but when I did, it came out in B major and E major. I’m sure the old Black Dike could play any key whatsoever, but I have lowered it to B flat and E flat, just to make it shade easier for these magnificent bandsmen, playing for you nearly one hundred and fifteen years ago. (Of course, they might still have been in the old High Pitch of A=453 Hz, but that wouldn’t have made it come out in B & E!)
Here is a much later Edison Bell Winner disc of theirs, made with the ‘new’ electrical process, which started around 1925. It was issued in late 1927, and so probably recorded a few weeks earlier. The Black Dyke Mills recorded 52 sides for Winner between 1927 and 1933. The later ones will be scarce, in view of the Great Depression of that time. Of course, they also recorded prolifically for many other labels down the years. This Winner is a two-sided ‘novelty’ arrangement of ‘Comin’ Through The Rye’, a piece which was often used for a set of variations. Unfortunately, the disc is in rather poor condition.
BRIGHOUSE AND RASTRICK BAND.
These sides were recorded in the Albert Hall, Brighouse, 9th March 1930. The Decca label had only started the year before, and its early recordings were variable in quality. Having said that, the sound here is quite good, especially for a ‘location’ recording. The Beethoven ‘Sonata Pathétique’ occupies four sides, and plays continuously for about 13 minutes.
CARLISLE ST. STEPHENS BAND.
The Carlisle St. Stephens Band still exists. They won the World Championship at the Crystal Palace in 1927 and 1929, besides also nearly winning it in 1925, 1926 and 1928. ‘The White Rider’, composed by the famous Denis Wright, was the test Piece they played when victorious in 1927. Their majestic recording of it occupies four sides, playing continuously for just under 11 minutes. It was issued in November 1927.
HORWICH RAILWAY MECHANICS INSTITUTE BAND.
© National Railway Museum and SSPL. – link: http://www.nrm.org.uk/ourcollection/photo?group=Horwich&objid=1997-7059_HOR_F_3085 This copyright image appears here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike licence. I have added the captions.
These sides were recorded on 13th June 1924, under the acoustic process; electric recording came in early to mid-1925. Horwich was an important railway town, if perhaps less well-known than Derby, Rubgy,Crewe and Swindon. The works of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway was located there. The label states baldly ‘Horwich R.M.I. Band’. Much more information is easily found on-line. (Sorry about the tiny second image – can’t find the original scan, and the disc itself has gone to ground somewhere! >8^(
LUTON RED CROSS SILVER PRIZE BAND.
Recorded ca. September 1922. Oddly, no credit to the conductor is given on the label, and even Frank Andrews’ Brass Band Discography is silent upon the matter. ‘Jamie’s Patrol’ (which of course starts very quietly, culminates, then fades out again) asks much of the early mechanical recording system; but it works OK. In late 2015, David Henderson, who played with the band in the 1970s, kindly informed us that the Luton Red Cross won the National Championships in 1923, when the Test Piece was ‘Oliver Cromwell’, written by Henry Geehl, and that the band was conducted by William Halliwell, the band trainer being Fred Mortimer. Further checking shows that Halliwell was also the conductor on the eight sides recorded in late 1922, including the two above. These were almost certainly recorded in the run-up to that year’s Championship. The ironic twist, is that when they won in 1923, they recorded an abridged version of ‘Oliver Cromwell’, not for Edison Bell, but for Regal, along with four other sides. Perhaps in retaliation to which, Edison Bell dug out & issued the two above sides, remaining from a year before, as if to say: ‘Well, we haven’t got ‘Oliver Cromwell’ by the Luton Red Cross, but we’ve got these two, so there!’ David also recalled that when he was with the band in the 1970s, there were still a few members who had been with the band since 1923. Surely, there can be no more eloquent testimony to the inimitable strength of the Brass Band Tradition?
MASSED BRASS BANDS.
Brass bands, when several were gathered together, typically at a band contest, sometimes played en masse. A report sent to me the other day by my son, who is still researching his great-great-great-grandfather, tells that on Monday 30th July 1866, after a band contest at Royal Leamington Spa: “On the termination of the contest, the bands were brigaded, and conducted by Mr. Metcalfe, of Wolverhampton (our ancestor – NF), they played with thrilling effect “The Soldiers’ Chorus” from Faust.” The sound of several brass bands playing together in 1866 (the newspaper source does not record which bands participated) would assuredly have been a fitting climax to the proceedings. But alas, capturing music on this massive scale was not possible in the early days of sound recording. In those days of mechanical recording, there was a very finite limit to the number of musicians who could cluster around the conical metal horn that gathered in the sound & transmitted it to the wax blank upon which the groove was engraved. If you added more & more musicians, they would be farther & farther back, so the sound of their instruments would be hopelessly attenuated by the time it got to the horn. It was not until the advent of electrical (microphone) recording in the mid-1920s that it became possible to record a very large ensemble effectively. As regards brass bands, this was immediately seized on, and ‘Massed brass band’ recordings proliferated. Here are 6 of them.
These were issued in April 1932.
No details given, but as Oliver is conductor, we may assume the St. Hilda was one of them?
(Issued ~1933. No details of the bands given, but as the conductor is James Oliver, it may be legitimately concluded that the St. Hilda was one of them?)
PONTYPOOL SILVER BAND.
Recorded about February 1924, and so acoustic, this Winner also disdains to give the conductor’s name. However, Frank informs us that it was J B Yorke. Both sides play straight through on the mp3.
ST. ALBANS CITY SILVER BAND.
Unfortunately, the St Albans City Silver Band made records for the scarce Scala Ideal label. This means they will be quite scarce today, so we are glad to present four of them here. They were probably made in late 1923, but recording dates for this label are difficult to establish. The Lohengrin selection is in two parts, so plays continuously. The conductor was C H Baker. Alas, it wasn’t the first cornet player’s day that day, as you can hear. I would suggest that this was almost certainly due to ‘nerves’. Public performance inevitably makes demands on the nervous stamina of a musician, and making records, even more so. Especially as far back as 1923, when few had ever attempted it! Recording has always been a stressful (and paradoxically, often a tedious) undertaking; believe me, I know whereof I speak. I think it might have been well for this chap, if he’d had another pint or so of Bass before the session – it doesn’t say that the St. Albans was a Temperance band, does it? Or perhaps the session started at 9 a.m. – oh dear – that’s always a bad idea!
ST. HILDA COLLIERY BAND.
We first hear this legendary band in the double-sided version of ‘William Tell’, recorded for Columbia in about September 1912, the first year they won the Championship.
From the same sessions come ‘Queen of the West’ and ‘Slaidburn’, two marches by the famous William Rimmer.
A year later, they recorded for Pathé. Two marches from that session appear here. Early Pathé records were unusual: they ran at 90-odd rpm; the sound was recorded vertically, not laterally; they had no paper labels – the titling was engraved in the master and filled in with white or cream paint. And oh yes – they started in the centre, and finished at the outside!
In late 1920, on a 12-title session for Zonophone, they recorded ‘Ida and Dot’, a cornet duet; and ‘Titania’, a cornet solo. Alas, the soloists are not identified.
On a lighter note, in the last quarter of 1922, the band made ‘Operamania’ for Aco. While ‘Novelty Rags’ were perhaps a little passé by 1922, it’s still great fun. All these sides were mechanically recorded – no microphone! Just a conical horn that gathered in the sound and directed it at a very thin circular glass sheet about 2.5″ (~6.5cm) across. The glass vibrated, following the sound waves. A delicate lever attached to this glass, cut a matching wavy spiral across the surface of a rotating wax disc. The final record was a copy of this original wax. Simple, eh? Of course, the sound is a bit thin by present-day standards. Actually, I think it’s probably what you would hear, if your computer or mobile was equipped with a really great TIME SCANNER APP, that enabled you to listen to things that happened 100 years ago. After all, you wouldn’t expect even a really great TIME SCANNER APP to bring back super quality audio, would you? The mere fact that you could hear a band playing around 100 years ago, would be a thrill in itself, OK? But you know something? That’s EXACTLY what you will be doing whenever you play one of these sound files!
WIGSTON TEMPERANCE PRIZE BAND.
About December 1926, the Wigston Temperance Prize Band (Leicestershire) made a large session for Parlophone, in which they included this very jolly two-sided ‘Medley of Popular Overtures’.
The company issued more sides from this session later. Both the above are double-sided, so here they play continuously.
WINGATES TEMPERANCE PRIZE BAND.
Regal records first appeared in February 1914. It was a ‘budget label’ of Columbia, and was intended to compete with cheap German imported labels – see my other website: www.early78s.uk . G-7186 was issued in January 1916, having been recorded about July the previous year. The conductor is not known. The band recorded well over 50 sides for Regal between 1915 and 1917.
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