This Whit-Friday found me in the pretty Southern Pennine village of Diggle, near Oldham. The one defining element of the brass band movement is tradition. Perhaps this is shown in the persistence of the brass band contest from the earliest days of the movement. In my opinion the best and most traditional of these is the Whit-Friday Contests, often billed as ‘the greatest free show on Earth’, where over one-hundred bands descend on the Southern Pennines, and the towns and villages around Saddleworth, to compete. One Guardian commentator described the ‘annual brass band battle, fought in villages on old Lancashire-Yorkshire border, [as] part Wacky Races and part Brassed Off .’
Who said that the first casualty of war is truth? No it’s not – it’s music libraries!
From the Manchester City News, 8 August 1914:
“Owing to reductions of staff consequent upon the mobilisation of the Territorials, it has been found necessary to make a temporary alteration in the opening hours of the Henry Watson Music Library. Until further notice the hours will be: Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm: Saturday 10am to 1pm.”
The present Central Library in St Peter’s Square dates from the 1930s. In 1914 the library was housed in temporary accommodation on the site of the former Royal Infirmary in Piccadilly Gardens. Part of the outer wall of the infirmary survives and today carries a modern railing at the Piccadilly tram stop.
The early months of the war brought this advice from the Vegetarian Society, published in the Manchester City News on 5 September 1914.
Some economical dishes – Timely advice for housewives
The war has brought with it the prospect of dearer food, and there is necessity for the exercise of great care. The exigencies of the times will compel many to make a change in their diet… In view of these facts the Vegetarian Society of Manchester is doing useful service by arranging for lectures and cookery demonstrations, and is also preparing leaflets showing that tasty, nourishing and cheap dishes can be made from the products of the vegetable kingdom…
One-and-a-half ounces cheese, three ounces bread-crumbs. Grate the cheese, or chop it into small pieces, mix with bread-crumbs, a little seasoning, and sufficient milk to make into a thick batter: bake twenty or thirty minutes in a buttered dish.
Baked vegetarian rolls
One breakfast-cupful brown breadcrumbs, one egg, parsley, a little butter. Chop the parsley, rub butter into the crumbs, break egg and mix stiff enough to form into rolls. Season as desired. Bake in a buttered dish.
From 1914-1915 there was a swift and unparalleled expansion of Britain’s land forces. As Peter Simkins has written, this ‘was a gigantic act of national improvisation which helped to create not only Britain’s first-ever mass citizen army but also the biggest single organisation in British history up to that time. These first months of recruitment and mobilisation are the subject of this blog and the ones that follow. They describe how the editors and correspondents of band periodicals reacted to civilian bandsmen becoming soldiers. How did bandsmen react to the ‘rush to the colours’ that gripped the nation? How did the bands and bandsmen in and around Manchester react to a conflict that, due to enlistment, could have destroyed a well-established working-class cultural tradition? Answering these questions not only reflects the national picture of the brass band movement but also embraces older Victorian values that illuminate aspects of tradition, class and gender found in the brass bands of the Manchester region.
After the First World War the government gave grants out to returning soldiers to go back into education, including music.
It’s 1919, right? You’ve just finished a war that took four years to end when you thought it was going to take four months. The country is shaken and an incredible number of people, families and livelihoods are destroyed.
The Pack up your Troubles conference was organised by Gateways to the First World War and held at the University of Kent in Canterbury from 27-29 April 2016. Subtitled Performance cultures in the First World War, the aim of the conference was twofold: to bring together scholars and members of the general public who shared a mutual interest in the war and to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to exploring its cultural legacy through performance in the media of music, film and the stage. I gave a presentation in one of the music strands Composing the war under the title What did you play in the war daddy?: the challenge to tradition in Manchester’s early Tuesday Mid-day Concerts.
The conference was organised around themed sessions, stage and film presentations and two keynote speeches. The first of these, by Neil Brand, offered a challenge to the tendency for our posthumous view of the war to be coloured by a rhetoric centred on death, loss, mourning and commemoration. Entitled Bitter laughter, it reminded us that for those on the home front, the war offered an alternative discourse based on popular entertainment – not least through the new medium of cinema – of, nationalism, celebration and pride. A further challenge to our retrospective viewpoint was crystallised in Friend or Foe, three one-act plays written during the war which offered three quite distinct attitudes to conflict and consequently begged the question as to why we still see the “approved” cultural legacy of the war largely through artistic statements which are implicitly anti-war.