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.