“Manchester is a dirty, dingy city…Thank god we have an orchestra!”

Critics had been up and down with their opinions on ‘Musical Manchester’ and whether it deserved its reputation at the start of the war. However, in May 1915 The O Mara opera company left after 3 weeks and were happy with the turnout. The following year the O Mara opera company were in competition with the Carl Rosa opera company but both were well attended. This led one critic to announce that “Cottonopolis is a prestigious music centre, it did not fall from grace, it was just a mere lapse”.

The Manchester Programme’s leading columnist felt that the Halle was Manchester’s only saving grace as he wrote “Manchester is a dirty dingy city..Thank God we have an orchestra!” He was reporting on Thomas Beecham taking the helm in 1915. He claimed that Beecham is what Manchester has been aching for as “he is one of the greatest conductors with a phenomenal knowledge of music”.

Thomas Beecham was born in St Helens, he began singing at the age of 5 and learnt to play the piano a few years later. At the age of 20 he was writing his own songs and upon leaving college he started his own orchestra. He took over the Halle in 1915 and was knighted and began appearing in the Manchester Programme as Sir Thomas Beecham only a few months later. After his first season at the Halle he undertook a new project, a Grand Opera season to run for 4 weeks at the Queens theatre. Beecham said he was starting this new tradition as “one of the results of war is the startling change of opinion that is taking place in nearly every branch of our intellectual and economic life. Traditions that a short time ago seemed immutable are going rapidly to the board”. Critics and columnists loved this idea saying that it will help to retain Manchester’s musical reputation and make us “the envy of the provinces and the Metropolis too”.

The Grand Opera season in 1916 was a huge success, so popular in fact that Beecham extended it by a further week. At the end he claimed he was very with having a full house every night even though it was mainly the cheap seats that had been filled. Critics were appaled by this with one writing “have the upper class no music in their soul? Are they less cultured than their poorer brethren? It is up to the wealthy and leisured class to rid themselves of the stigma of inappreciation and to mend the fault of turning the cold shoulder on a branch of art that demands their patronage and help”. With the rising cost of living in war time it was surely more difficult for people to afford to go to the theatre. Add to that the entertainment tax that has been levied the month before the Grand season started, which the theatres added to their ticket prices, and a night at the opera is even less affordable.

During his second season at the Halle Beecham flourished with the Manchester Programme regularly printing articles that spotlighted stars performing with the orchestra and guest conductors. One example was an article written about the Russian Wassili Safanoff, who was known as the ‘batonless conductor’. This was because he once forgot his baton and had to conduct with his hands, he found using his hands better as he could give more commands using one finger, 2  fingers or a whole fist and decided to leave his baton at home in future. In December 1916 an article claimed Beecham had rapidly come to be “in the first flight of British musicians”. By April 1917 Beecham was complaining about the audience’s lack of enthusiasm. He said “I have not noticed any of that appreciation in conducting at the Halle. I used to think London was pretty bad but it is nothing compared to the north of England. The north is very cold indeed”.

This did not stop him from running the Grand Opera season for a second time in 1917. He began by saying it would run for 5 weeks considering he had extended it the previous year, it was again successful and again he extended it by a week, meaning that in 1917 it ran for 6 weeks. He filled the house every night and broke the record for money taken with ‘The Magic Flute’. So Sir Thomas Beecham certainly did a lot for Musical Manchester’s reputation and managed to fill the house every night for 6 weeks in wartime despite the rising living costs and rising cost of theatre tickets. Quite a feat!


by Katrina Ingram


FODEN’S BAND and its great soloist, EDWIN FIRTH

Prof John Miller

Foden’s Band, a partner of RNCM from Sandbach, Cheshire, was founded in 1900 and rose to prominence in the brass band world prior to WW1. Here is part of its rich history.

Foden’s Band was founded in 1900, initially as a consequence of celebrations of the Relief of Mafeking. After a few growing pains and fall-outs, the band was temporarily called the Elworth Band. Prior to the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, the band was adopted by Edwin Foden (1841–1911), the proprietor of a local steam wagon works. He eventually re-named the ‘Foden Motor Works Band’ which, after some modest beginnings, improved drastically and achieved Championship Section status, winning the British Open Championships in 1912 and 1913. Since then the band has consistently ranked amongst the best brass bands in the world. Its rapid rise in standards was due to the Foden family appointing the best band trainers of the day, William Rimmer and William Halliwell. To this day the Foden’s Band’s calling card is a William Rimmer march, The Cossack (1904).


Continue reading “FODEN’S BAND and its great soloist, EDWIN FIRTH”

The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1914: Bandsmen, Contests, Genealogy & Social Networks


The 1914 Belle Vue ‘British Open’ Contest Programme – Permission, University of Salford Archives and Special Collections


 The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1914: Bandsmen, Contests, Genealogy & Social Networks

Dr Stephen Etheridge

Link to the Bandsmens’ Names and Addresses

 During the First World War ‘The Belle Vue Champion Challenge Cup’, more commonly known as the ‘British Open’, and which was known colloquially amongst bandsmen as ‘Belle Vue’, was the only large national contest to keep going from 1914-1918. Each contest had a programme printed –cost 1d each, and 1 ½ d by post – that held the names and addresses of all contesting bandsmen. (A downloadable copy is in the link shown above.[1]) These programmes are an important and overlooked source for genealogists. There are, however, several anomalies in this list that need to be examined, not only because of the need for accuracy for the family-history researcher, but also because they shed light on interesting aspects of musical networks as social history.
Continue reading “The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1914: Bandsmen, Contests, Genealogy & Social Networks”

Music gives way to fighting: Frank Tipping (1896-1917)

We are keen to throw a spotlight on one of the students at the RMCM, Frank Blamphin Tipping.

He was born in Crewe, Cheshire, on 8 June 1896, and began playing the violin at 9 years old. He showed his talent early by joining the Crewe Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 10 and performing solos at the Blackpool Pier Concerts at only 13. He won a scholarship from Cheshire County to study at the RMCM a year later, in 1910. His teacher was Adolph Brodsky, the internationally renowned violinist and Principal of the college. Unusually for us today, he joined the second violins of the Hallé orchestra at the age of 15 in 1911.   Tipping was successful at the college, gaining distinction in his final examination before joining the war effort in September 1915.

The RNCM Archive has the programmes for the Annual Public Examinations in which he took part. The first of these was on Thursday 8 July 1915; he performed Franck’s Sonata for Piano and Violin with Arnold Perry on the piano. He also played Nováček’s String Quartet no. 3 in C major with Gertrude Barker, Malcolm Dickin and Harold Warburton. We have the parts for the Nováček quartet with pencil markings by his teacher, Adolph Brodsky. Brodsky knew this quartet well and performed it with the Brodsky Quartet. On Friday 9 November Frank played the first movement of Brahms’ Violin Concerto. We have a number of reviews of his performance. The Manchester Guardian critic was honest in his assessment of his playing:

There was a large audience at the closing examination concert at the College of Music last night. Dr. Brodsky’s pupil, Mr. Frank Tipping, who is shortly intending to make music give way for a while to the more serious business of fighting finished up a good week’s work with a a fine performance of the first movement from Brahms’s Concerto. There was one weak passage, but most of the playing had both polish of style and intensity. The player’s characteristic thinness of tone was turned to great advantage in an exquisite chromatic scale at the close of the cadenza. (The Manchester Guardian, 10 July 1915)

Frank did indeed exchange music for fighting when he joined the Welsh Royal Garrison Artillery and later the Royal Flying Corps. In June 1916 he was promoted to First Lieutenant but sadly died on 19 August 1917 while flying over enemy lines at the age of 21. The obituary in the Manchester Guardian comments that his loss will be especially felt by music lovers:

He will be remembered as one of the youngest members of the Hallé and Promenade Orchestras and as the most brilliant of all Dr. Brodsky’s pupils at the Royal [Manchester] College of Music … To the last he made remarkable progress as a player, and his closing year at the College was marked by several fine solo performances and much excellent work as leader of Dr. Brodsky’s quartet class. (The Manchester Guardian, 3 Sept. 1917)

His headstone at the Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery, Somme, reads:

‘The music of his life nowise stilled our ears no longer hear it.’

Barbara Kelly


The First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: RMCM Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive?

The First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: Royal Manchester College of Music (RMCM) Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive?

By Dr Stephen Etheridge

Through an examination of the first Manchester Children’s Society Concert, which was held in 1916, this blog will show how the Victorian ethos of ‘Rational Recreation’ still existed, and, as an agency for the continuation of tradition, was highly regarded in Manchester. In other words, on one hand the country was in crisis, but, on the other,  stability and the continuation of tradition by educating children mattered. What was the motivation behind the Manchester Children’s Society Concert and did the ‘Rational Recreation’ ethos influence a lasting legacy?

Continue reading “The First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: RMCM Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive?”

Did musical theatre become more female focused during the war?

The titles of musical plays and musical comedies tended to be more female prior to the war. In the 18 months leading up to the outbreak of war there were 27 such plays showed in Manchester with 15 of them having a title that was in someway female. By female titling i mean having a girls name in the title or the words ‘girl’, ‘mistress’, ‘princess’, ‘she’, ‘her’ etc. the rest of the musical plays in that period had gender neutral titles. Between July 1914 and December 1915 there were 44 musical plays performed in Manchester, of these 44 there were 20 that were female titled, so again quite a high percentage. 23 were gender neutral in their title and one was called ‘The Chocolate Soldier’, the only one that could in anyway be seen as a male titled play.

While the titles of musical plays and comedies had always been more female focused, the articles written about the plays were fairly evenly balanced. I noticed that from December 1914, however, the attention seemed to fall more onto the women in the cast than the men. Many of the articles just gave a brief description of the plot and named the composer and some of the main cast members, this was complimented by a picture of one of the cast members (see featured image). Throughout 1915 there were 20 articles written about musical plays and comedies, 17 of these articles featured a picture of a female cast member, whereas only 2 featured a picture of male cast member and 1 included a picture of a man and woman. The articles themselves did not always focus on the women, they continued with their usual commentary on the storyline of the play.

What was the reason for this shift? Could it be due to there being more female cast members with many men fighting in the war? Could it be that they felt it was better advertising to use women in the pictures rather men? Whatever the reason for the shift it did not apply to musical opera. The articles written on the opera companies remained fairly evenly split with some featured photographs being women and some being men.

It would seem that the reason for the shift in musical theatre was not due to a changing and evolving attitude among the men in the business. When Miss Boyle of the Womens Freedom league reported that many women who had been employed as assistants in Public Libraries may be given more responsible posts, Strephon retorted “Anything you like my dear, but don’t let ’em write novels”

by Katrina Ingram

Patriotic passion or angry anti-German ranting?

By the time the war had been raging for a year you could see the patriotism quite plainly within the pages of the Manchester Programme. In the summer of 1915, the Programme wrote an article dedicated to General Noel Lee and Colonel Hayward of the East Lancashire Territorial division. This could be due to many of the theatres being closed for summer vacation at the time and therefore less show-business to report on, it was patriotic none the less. The patriotism was also prevalent in the concerts, for example, the Brand Lane Orchestra held a ‘concert by the allies’ in October 1915. This concert included a French Bass, a Russian pianist and a Belgian violinist.

One man who had been quite vocal in his patriotism within the pages of the Manchester Programme since the war broke out was their lead columnist, Strephon. This continued into 1915 getting more passionate/angry as the weeks went by. In March 1915 he again complained that not enough professional footballers had enlisted, with only 122 out of the possible 1800 having signed up to fight. He claims to understand that football is a business and also an entertainment which was important to keep spirits high at home but all young men had been called up to fight and without them we would lose the war. The following month he was furious that a German professor had declared that the British people were basically German, he claimed he would rather be compared to “the men whose heads grew beneath their shoulders” as mentioned in Othello, than the ‘baby-killers and pirates’. His patriotic passion seems to have turned to angry anti-German sentiment which gets worse over the next few weeks. None of his columns discuss music or the theatre business between April and June, instead he chose to rant about Germans every week.

In May he was angered by German people celebrating Shakespeare. He claimed his anger was due to Shakespeare being a clean and honest gentlemen and the Kaiser’s soldiers “do not fight with chivalry but more like Lucrezia Borgia”. He adds that he doubts you could find such a clean, honest man in ALL GERMANY!! With this statement he is speaking out against all German citizens, not just the soldiers, so can no longer be classed as passionate patriotism. He goes on to call the Germans “dastards, sneaks, liars, women-beaters and poisoners”. A couple of weeks later, after the bombing of the Lusitania, he adds murders and barbarians to this list of insults and accuses the Germans of poisoning the wells, destroying cathedrals and killing babies.

His ranting came to an abrupt halt the following week after riots began in London, with people attacking German residents and businesses. He commented on the riots saying that this behaviour does not help with the war and that by attacking businesses it is costing British people their jobs. In August he mentions conscription again but uses encouragement rather than shame to entice young men to sign up. People were saying that as long as Britain holds the sea then the army is of co consequence as an excuse for not enlisting but Strephon says we should be fighting alongside our allies on land as holding the sea is useless if Germany win the war. In another article, he says “we are going to beat Germany. Great is the courage and spirit of our soldiers and sailors!”.

Nice to see him return to his enthusiastic, patriotic tone.

by Katrina Ingram



War-time music: A Northern effort

WW1 Northern Effort

The article featured here was written by Sydney H. Nicholson, organist of Manchester Cathedral and the Hon. Secretary of the Committee for Music in War-time (Northern section). Dated October 1918 it neatly sums up the musical situation in the Manchester area throughout the war, as viewed and organised by the Committee. The “Northern effort” in this case appears to be confined to a 20 miles radius of Manchester.

The article was published in the Musical Herald but we found it initially in one of the many volumes of Frederick Dawson’s press cuttings books. Frederick Dawson was a concert pianist, based in the Manchester area, who travelled far and wide, but particularly in the north of England and gave unstintingly of his time and talent to charity concerts during the war. Known by his strap-line as ‘England’s greatest pianist’, he kept all his reviews (plus other interesting articles like this one) which mention him, providing a narrative of his career and other musical activities in the context of the war.

Frederick Dawson is mentioned by Nicholson in this article as having a decisive influence on the success of the Tuesday mid-day concerts. Nicholson also rightly recognised that the Tuesday concerts would be the permanent legacy to Manchester musicians “[doing] their bit” to brighten the lives of both civilians and wounded soldiers during the war.

Ros Edwards and Nick Sternberg
Henry Watson Music Library

The early war period, the patriotism of the theatre business and the first links between Thomas Beecham and the Royal College of Music

In the early war period the theatre business struggled and seemed to grow more and more patriotic as the months went by. In an article about the upcoming performances from the Moody Manners opera company in December 1914, the columnist wrote “The programme is a popular one, and , naturally, none of the German operas will be done, it is a pity but we shall have the pleasure of seeing them on a more suitable occasion”. It was not just in the performances themselves but also the performers in which we see a pull away from Germany, and the continent in general. In the first 6 months of the war the Halle, The Brand Lane and the Harrison concerts consisted mainly of British performers. The only exception that i can see is Ada Crossley, an Australian singer who performed with the Brand Lane orchestra in December 1914. This is a far cry from the usual mix of nationalities that performed with these orchestras on a regular basis before the war.

There was also a cry for patriotism from the critics and columnists in the Manchester Programme. In December 1914, Strephon, lead columnist, said that footballers should be signing up to go on the front line not “in the pursuit of an inflated bladder”. He claims that other sportsmen were already engaged in battle on the continent and footballers should be no different.This seems a little hypocritical since only a short time before he was claiming that those staying behind and continuing to work were still performing their patriotic duty. In the same article he had also been encouraging people to continue going to the theatre, is football not also a form of entertainment? He added to his argument that sportsmen were strong and therefore ideal as soldiers, however the following month he claimed that endurance and spirit was the most important thing, which actors have in abundance. He said this is response to a critic claiming actors were not suitable for war since their job requires them to live in a fantasy world.

In February 1915, Strephon wrote another article slamming those he deemed to be unpatriotic, this time it was the ‘greedy shipowners’ who he believed were at fault for the rising cost of bread. There was a shorter article following this explaining that the government were giving out war bonuses to help with rising cost of living. This shows another in which the theatre business was affected by the war. Not only were the usual audience numbers reduced by men going to war, but also by the rising cost of living making it more difficult for those at home to continue going. The lower audience numbers were commented on by another critic when discussing the last Harrison concert of the season. He cries “where was musical Manchester?” His criticism is not only harsh considering the rising cost of living but also due to that concert not being advertised. How can the public be criticised for not attending an event they probably did not know about!

It was in this period of chaos that Thomas Beecham first working with the Royal College of Music by holding a competition. He wanted a new baritone for his orchestra and let the Royal College of Music run the competition and choose the winner. One of his stipulations was that the entrants must be a current or past student of the college. This competition was won by Hamilton Harris from Droylsden, Manchester and he performed with the Halle in their final concert of the season.

Katrina Ingram

Elgar and Upspeak

Manchester’s newspapers during the First World War contain a number of advertisements from private music teachers, despite references elsewhere to the falling numbers of potential pupils as the war progressed.  Several of them, particularly teachers of singing, would also maintain small choirs that would give public concerts, often featuring talented pupils as soloists.  Perhaps more surprising today is that among the advertisements are several placed by teachers of elocution; even more unusual to us is the fact that public recitations were not only given as part of the kind of choral concerts mentioned above, but could feature as a “turn” in the many variety shows which drew crowds to venues like the Manchester Hippodrome or the Ardwick Empire.

Katherine Seddon has blogged elsewhere of Elgar’s “Carillon”, one of two pieces he wrote for speaker and orchestra as contributions to the war effort, and more specifically in response to the German ransacking of “gallant little Belgium”.   They use a technique more properly known as “melodrama”, in which a text is spoken against a musical accompaniment.  It’s not too fanciful to imagine that in adopting this idiom Elgar was mindful of the tradition of public recitation.  “Carillon” was not slow to establish itself in Manchester’s wartime concert life, not least, one suspects, because by the middle of 1915 the city was already home to over 800 Belgian refugees and had already hosted several guest appearances by Belgian musicians – and not just in classical concerts.  Carrie Johnson “a young violinist from the Antwerp Royal Flemish Conservatoire of Music”, for example, appeared at the Manchester Hippodrome in May 1915. Such mixtures of popular and “art” music in the music halls was not uncommon; the same venue the following month heard a performance of Elgar’s “Carillon” recited by the Belgian Carl Liten.  Barely a fortnight later it also featured in an enterprising concert given by the Manchester School of Music.  This was a private institution, based in Albert Square, offering musical tuition, and whose Director Albert J. Cross was a champion of new music.  The same concert also included music by Sibelius and the first Manchester performance of Skryabin’s piano concerto.  The soloist was Ethel Chapman.  The reciter in “Carillon” was Gertrude Robinson, of whom the Manchester City News noted “Here again Mr. Albert J. Cross obtained good playing from his forces, and Miss Robinson’s reciting was emotional and marred only by the persistent rising inflection of the voice at the end of sentences that seems to be a convention with elocutionists”.  Maybe we were wrong all along to think Upspeak began with “Neighbours”.

Geoff Thomason