My companion on an away day in Huddersfield to attend The Yorkshire Brass Band Regional finals is
a native of that city. He grew up in what he described as leafy opulence when Huddersfield along
with several other mill towns were starting on the gentle and then precipitate decline of the wool
industry. In the 1960s he and many others left for pastures new and never returned. Imagine a
city ravaged by bombing and dereliction and you might have some idea of what large parts of
Huddersfield now look like. It is to be hoped that a genius urban planner or a well led local
authority is at the start of a massive re-generation project. But my native guide did not share such
optimism and just called the present “sad dereliction” and the future “bleak”.

Our search for the Huddersfield Town Hall should have been easy. It became a challenge and even
Satnav was confused by the plethora of one-way systems, traffic lights and cones that diverted
traffic to dead ends. We eventually arrived at a car park that was shared with a local supermarket
but on Sundays was free – hence it was full. It took us a further ten minutes to find a parking space
and a long walk around the compound to arrive at one of the entrances of what must be the
grandest remaining building in Huddersfield.

But we were late for the first afternoon session of the finals. Fifty stairs were scampered up by two
octogenarians and so we arrived at the top, gulping air like men who had narrowly escaped
drowning. At an anonymous looking door called “Box” I entered and quickly sat down having been
relieved to see my fellow Trustee Johnny Minford and his friend Stephanie chatting quietly to an
elderly looking gentleman. By pure chance we had arrived at the Mayoral Box – as invited to by
the organiser Robert Turnbull. But my companion was not with me and I presumed he must be
outside still recovering from our mountaineering challenge. In the meantime, the Grimethorpe
Colliery Band were giving it their all in the final section of what I later discovered was the “Test
Piece”; and which we later heard five more times! As the audience applauded my companion
arrived having been apprehended and indeed told off by two diminutive programme sellers despite
him being over six foot, They were enforcing the rule of not allowing ticket holders to take their
seats while the musicians were playing. The fact that the music was so loud that a fire alarm would
not have been heard was irrelevant.

As the next band was assembling on the platform there was time for introductions and a bit of
education. The “old gentleman” turned out to be Philip Wilby the composer of the Test Piece the
audience and judges would hear twelve times that afternoon. (He turned out to be younger than
the two recovering athletes who had recently taken on the fifty stairs.) Johnny had studied music
at Leeds University and he and the Professor knew many people in common. Then there was
Stephanie who when younger had played the trumpet and cornet in the Johnstone Silver Band. She
pointed out the strange small tent that had been erected at the rear of the stalls and in which sat
two judges – both eminent musicians Dr Robert Childs and Dr Stephen Cobb. However, it must
take a certain temperament to be happy judging brass band competitions throughout the world.
They are required to sit facing the rear of the auditorium and unable to see any of the bands. And
of course, they must listen to at least twelve bands playing the same piece over a period of four
hours or more. On the stage and facing the audience two numbers are displayed which the judges
cannot see. The first corresponds with a numbered list of the bands in the programme – and the
second their playing order as in the draw that took place earlier in the day.

Stephanie also was helpful in explaining all the movements of many of the players during the piece.
The rush of a timpanist to the Xylophone and then back again to pick up cymbals before handing the
bass drummer his stick became quite distracting. But apparently these movements are all written
into the music and test a band’s continuity – and it would seem organisation. Only the Euphonium
and Tuba players seemed to have exemption from moving.
As we settled down to the next four performances there was time to look around at the
magnificence of the auditorium itself completely dominated by the Father Willis organ with its sixty-
foot pipes and four consoles. Arranged around the organ are tiered seats where huge choirs can
be assembled – particularly the famous Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. The
whole space is a testimony to Huddersfield’s musical traditions – and of course to more prosperous

There was also time to look at musicians themselves. While it was true that there were some large
male physical specimens there were also a few ladies in most bands. Stephanie explained that
despite her pioneering efforts, the inclusion of ladies in brass bands was a phenomenon of the last
few decades – perhaps corresponding with the demise of male dominated mining communities and
heavy industry where the roots of brass banding can be found.

After about two and a half hours of the Test Piece – a fascinating composition called Red Priest
inspired by Vivaldi – it was time for a hurried cup of tea. Bandsmen in various uniforms joined us
and so did Robert Turnbull the administrator of the two days. As the Mayor was appearing in his
box after tea my guest and I decided to withdraw from our privileged position. But the YMT
continued to be represented by Johnny M and Stephanie.

Robert Turnbull had to look at the ornate list of mayors hanging on the wall to confirm that the
current mayor was called Masood Ahmed and was the first mayor of Asian heritage. This led to a
brief discussion about the total absence of any Asian musicians in any of the bands.
Later and as the Yorkshire Imperial Band was doing its bit, Robert Turnbull and I discussed the
financial challenges of arranging the competition and he seemed relieved that the weather had
allowed the last afternoon to be almost sold out – which had swung the whole enterprise into a
modest surplus. He was effusive about the Yorkshire Music Fund’s participation and I expressed
the hope that as our capital base increased, we would be able to continue to support the

He explained the organisation of the National finals competition that would take place at the Albert
Hall later in the year. Interestingly – and in answer to why I could not see our local KirkbyMoorside
Brass band in a list of past participants – this was because North and East Yorkshire bands are
included in the North East area where a similar finals day takes place in Durham. Apparently South
and West Yorkshire have a superfluity of bands and hence must allow other “Yorkshire” bands to be
re – allocated to other areas.

As there are eight “areas” holding regional finals and an average of forty of so bands with over thirty
musicians, compete in each region, some rough arithmetic suggests that brass bands in Great Britain
involve over 10,000 competent musicians. This number would include the non-participating bands
and their “reserve” band members. This indeed is a rich seam of talent and an exciting and relatively
unheralded part of the UK’s musical culture – worthy of any support the YMT can give.

6th March 2023

March 6, 2023
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