For the fifty-first annual contest at Belle Vue there has been a keen struggle between the great bands of the North, the South being mostly out of it; at least until very lately, when at the Crystal Palace, at the end of September, a great contest has been held during the last few years, and here most of the principal prizes have been brought North. Last year Black Dyke and Linthwaite secured the two principal prizes respectively in the order named. What these men have to do, the distances they have to travel to and from practice, the natural abilities required, and the devotion necessary, is something of a study to those who understand these things. Without drawing an unkind comparison, how easy it is to attain fame in football if strength, speed, and courage be there! But it is not so in music; it takes years and years to accomplish, and yet how popular the former, and how badly paid and patronised the latter. It used not to be so in the early days of contesting, when Meltham and Linthwaite were neck and neck; then, as each band returned home with their prizes, the inhabitants at each village used to turn out to welcome them, even if it were midnight when the return journey was accomplished. Then it was a great fight with Lancashire, tins county being often beaten down to the lower prizes — Besses o’ th’ Barn in those days were low down, Kingston Mills came up pretty well, Rochdale Old was not bad, Stalybridge had a good band, Mossley was coming on, Accrington was all there, Pemberton Old, as to-day, was good, and this year for a wonder got the first prize.
This was all after the great time of the Bacup Band, which had carried all before it for a long time, and this old band has a history all its own with regard to winning at Belle Vue in the days of a long time ago.
The fight between the Roses was just as keen as is the battle in cricket, and to keep prominent there was something to do for Yorkshire. Linthwaite was fortunate in getting the valuable services of that great musician, Mr. Sidney Jones, who in his turn did much to bring out Mr. E. Swift, one of the oldest and best bandmasters of the day. If he were to reckon up the scalps he has taken they would be a formidable array, and do credit to his great worth in the brass band world, not only as a great teacher, but also an equally eminent writer of selections which have ever been popular with brass bands.
This year (1903) Linthwaite is his only band at Belle Vue. What a lesson to go back to 1869, when this combination begun to contest! Since then they have taken many good prizes at this great musical carnival, from the first on September 7th, 1874, down to nothing at all, as the Irishman would say; and, what is worse, the latter very often.
Charles Auty was a long and well-tried leader, who did some good things in his time. John Beaumont was a born artist. H. Haigh was a good and tried friend of the band. J. Taylor, in 1882, won the euphonium solo competition (£18 18s.) at Belle Vue. G. Raine was a wonderful acquisition, and in his time did many great things. Monk was a good player, but did not stop long. Then, whoever was better than H. Oldham on the tenor, or Fisher on the bass, or Garside on the trombone? One is only remembering a few of the (so-called) old fossils, while the rest of the band were no less efficient, and not daring to mention the young race both in and out of the band for fear of causing jealousy, because in music (as in other things) there is much more trouble with success than in the ordinary course of things.
One has seen in companies shareholders quiet for years without a dividend, but let the same company be more than successful, then the “music” begins, and from the directors, the manager, the workers, and the shareholders there conies an ugly rush, a sort of avalanche, which, if not stopped in time, will crush all before it. The moral in bands, men, and companies is always to be reasonable and just, then all will come right in the end. But what has all this to do with Belle Vue contest? Well, let us come back to the subject.
Monday last was a great day. Thirty bands entered, nineteen were selected, and each played a selection — “Caractacus,” selected and arranged by Charles Godfrey, R.A.M., Lieut, and B.M., Royal Horse Guards. It is a difficult piece, calculated to test every member of the band, but so great have our bands become that they seem able to tackle anything no matter how great or difficult. The playing was simply wonderful, and every band deserved a prize. The contest begun a little after one o’clock. Of the nineteen bands, A. Owen had eight, John Gladney three, Edwin Swift one, William Rimmer three, and the rest divided between men less known. The first prize was £50 in money and cup; second, £30; third, £20; fourth, £15; fifth, £10; and sixth, £5. To these prizes were added musical instruments, etc., by the various well-known makers. What a record Mr. John Gladney has at these contests! No matter which band, he is almost sure to win. Of the above six prizes he took first, second, and sixth. Mr. A. Owen, with eight bands, only managed to get fifth — Lea Mount, Halifax, together with a consolation prize for Lea Mills. Mr. Rimmer took third with Irwell Springs, and a consolation prize with Wingates Temperance. Mr. B. Lodge, of Primrose Hill, Huddersfield, happily took fourth prize with Lindley — Mr. Gladney’s old band. But Mr. E. Swift is to be sympathised with very greatly for missing to win with Linthwaite. They played magnificently — tone, tune, ensemble, smartness, and finish were marked features — everyone declaring it was a fine performance, which only took nine minutes (less time than any of the other bands), but they were badly drawn between some good bands, and third in the order of going in, while Pemberton and Lindley were very much more favoured by coming in later on and between some poorer bands. Indeed, Linthwaite never was very fortunate at Belle Vue, and had their merit to depend on their success here, they would never have had much success. Their renown has all been won outside these contests. It is thirteen years since they ever got a prize at these gardens. Indeed, they have ever been unfortunate here, but this year it is a double misfortune, because they have just got their new instruments, were in great need of the money, and had gone so well prepared and confident. Their friends must sympathise with them the more and rally round them with that support which they so richly deserve. If it is some consolation to the band and their numerous supporters, it is to know they are in good company, for neither Besses o’ th’ Barn or Kingston Mills (two of the best bands there) got one penny. Batley Old, another good Yorkshire band, was unfortunate, so that company in distress should make the trouble less for poor Linthwaite, who will do better next time, and, what is more, have better luck — let us hope to be renewed at London again when they go to the Crystal Palace.
There were the usual crowds from all parts of the country, the shouters for the popular bands, the old musicians, and those on pleasure bent. Each one here had his or her turn, and right well did they score. All had prizes, and there were no blanks. Fortunately, there was less drunkenness than ever before. Better order and great good humour, only marred by the terrible rain which set in just after five o’clock, and made everybody miserable, except those who had won the day.
The judges were Mr. Manuel Bilton, bandmaster 17th (Duke of Cambridge Own) Lancers; Mr. J.O. Shepherd, musical director, Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool; and Mr. J.W. Beswick, Manchester; and it is no mistake to say their decisions gave general satisfaction, although, indeed, they were much in the nature of a surprise to a good many there.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden