The following page comes from The School Music Review: A Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Interest of Music in Schools, 1 October 1916. Like other London-based music journals the reporting is indicative of a style of writing that was anthropological in nature. In other words the brass bands at Belle Vue came to represent a highly reportable aspect of the working-class at leisure. From the 1840s onwards brass band contests attracted large numbers of followers. It was in the venue of Belle Vue where reporters from the metropolis could try and understand a growing working class and the nature of one of their hobbies.
Common themes that emerged were a recognition that the brass band contest was a popular pursuit for working men in the North, a recognition that the audience were enthusiastic, informed and critical of musical performance and an allusion and comparison with sporting events.
In this way, together with other contributing factors such as the fame and success of ‘crack’ bands from the North, an external view of the working class at play was constructed. By the First World War this reporting had reached its height and in spite of the brass band being a national movement the construction of a clichéd identity of Northern working-class brass bands was complete.
(These themes are explored in greater detail in my forthcoming article, ‘Southern Pennine Brass Bands and the Creation of Northern Identity, ca. 1840-1914: Musical Constructions of Space, Place and Region’, Northern History, February, 2017, pp. 1-18)
“That Minutes of Last Meeting Pass as Read”: Helmshore Prize Band’s Committee Meeting Minutes, A Case Study of ‘Life as Normal’ and ‘Moral Contracts’ in the First World War
Dr Stephen Etheridge
Helmshore Prize Brass Band were formed in the 1870s and were active in East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley in the late nineteenth century and throughout the First World War and beyond. They could not be considered a ‘crack’ band, but they were ambitious, entering the majority of local contests and employing trainers and players that would help them win. This was the experience of most bands from the 1860s onwards. Like other bands in the regions surrounding Manchester Helmshore were driven by the need to raise money for the purchase and upkeep of instruments, uniforms and music. In addition, they had to maintain and run a bandroom where they could not only rehearse but also hold social events. 
Private John Robert Fielden (1882-1916) S/13191 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders
John Robert Fielden was born in 1882 in Blackwood, near Stacksteads, in East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley. He was the only son of James and Eliza Fielden He was a pupil at Waterbarn Baptist School, where he took an interest in music. Being interested in instrumental music he was for a long time associated with the Bacup Change Brass Band, and for some years held the post of secretary. He was employed as a quarryman at Rakehead Quarries in Rossendale up to October 1915. In 1908; he married Clara Wood, from Bacup, and lived at Queen’s Terrace. In 1915 he was one of the last employees to leave the quarries of Messers Lovick and Sons, and, via various regimental transfers, he served as a signaller with the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. In 1916 they took part in the Actions of The Bluff and St Eloi Craters then moved to The Somme for The Battle of Albert. He died of leg-wounds inflicted from machine gun fire on the 26 August, 1916 and is buried at Abbeville Communal Cemetery (Reg V.A. 17) 
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.) 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”→
Women at Brass Band Contests in the First Year of World War One: Challenging a Traditional Homosocial Arena
Dr Stephen Etheridge: Follow me on Twitter, @DrGtrombone
The brass band contest was a popular and male dominated working-class leisure pursuit. Contests were well-established in the industrial areas surrounding Manchester by the 1840s, and, by the time of the first Belle Vue Contests, they had become, in the bandsmens’ minds at least, a place where working-class men could push the boundaries of their (encouraged) respectability when taking part in music as ‘rational recreation’.
It was not uncommon for reporters to highlight the more bawdy and drink-fuelled elements of the brass band contest as an example of working-class leisure. As a result brass band periodical editors countered this reportage with denial; explaining that the rougher elements – who were always and without fail admonished by the editorial – were in the minority and middle-class editors were at pains to point out that the majority of working-class bandsmen were ‘gentlemen.’ Nevertheless, as Peter Bailey recognized, in this period the consumption of alcohol, with certain exceptions, became less of a total experience and more of a social lubricant. Drinking and making noise seemed natural accompaniments to popular recreation and bandsmen were not immune to them.