As promised, we make reference to the Meltham and Linthwaite Prize Bands, which were two of the best of their kind in their day. It was marvellous what they could do, to what perfection they attained, and how formidable they were to all comers, as well as against each other, when entered in open competition, which was very often. Very likely this keen struggle between them had much to do with their perfection. Mr. John Gladney, with “Elijah,” for Meltham Mills, and Mr. Edwin Swift, with “Tannhauser,” for Linthwaite, were two of the remarkable factors in the fight. The latter piece was arranged by Mr. J. S. Jones, the honoured conductor of the Harrogate Corporation Band — a warm and constant friend, whose young life was often warmed by the success of this band, then and now so ably conducted by one of my oldest friends, originally from the loom, who was an apt pupil of Jones’s, and developed into one of the first bandmasters of the day. Not only this, but he has arranged some of the popular pieces for contests, and written other pieces for brass band journals. This is a threat compliment to the natural genius, and one that will not turn his head by reciting, or mar his future usefulness.
He has had some good men to help him at Linthwaite — not only natives like the clever Baxters, but in such wonderful performers as Charles Auty, Mr. Monk, Mr. G. Raine, and others. I must not forget H. Oldham on the tenor horn, J. Fisher on the bass, Brierley on the trombone, and last, but not least, among a lot of other good men, J. Beaumont on the euphonium. This latter was the stay of the band, and it was marvellous the way in which he played his part in “William Tell” when Linthwaite beat Meltham with this piece at Edinburgh for a prize of £60 on April 14th, 1877. These sums were worth going for, as compared with the inadequate money offered to-day, which does not pay first-class bands, and no doubt in the end will be the cause of decay in competition.
It was not only the members of the band who worked, but the labour was largely shared by the committee. I have seen the day when my dear old friend, Mr. Tom Kamsden, did not think it beneath his dignity to go round with the band collecting subscriptions; Mr. Fred was a warm supporter; Mr. Robert Lewis was a devoted slave; and the late James Bailey and others did much in their time. The yearly meetings then were held at the Coach and Horses, and were well worth going to. They are pleasant times to remember. They give a glimpse of pas! labours which brought forth joy; and this spade work had to be done, otherwise how impossible it would have been to compete with Meltham Mills.
Mr. Edward Brook, at the head of that eminent firm, was a prince to them. Money was no object. This gentleman would double a prize which they might name and win. The very best talent was engaged in Mr. John Gladney, the king of conductors, the father of most of the others in this line, and the man to whom brass bands owe very much. All this would not have been enough if it had not been for the very good men on the spot. The Steads were wonders. Whoever beat Richard or Edwin in their best days, or worked harder for any cause? They were both artistes on their instruments, and born musicians. Then there was good old John Berry, Wright Stead, also able and true men from Holmfirth, together with such leaders as Mr. Paley, Mr. Berkenshaw, and Mr. Alec Owen. No wonder they were formidable, and the surprise to me now is how it was that ever Linthwaite was able to beat them.
When one remembers that “Elijah” was the piece of the period, while many of the judges used to condemn “Tannhauser” as before the age, their success was remarkable. But Linthwaite did not mind; they persevered and made popular in these parts one of the greatest composers of the age. They also had this advantage over Meltham: they could practise on a Sunday. What a change since then! Both these bands have fallen from their high degree. Meltham has done nothing much; but Linthwaite has persevered under much difficulty, and has had various degrees of success, yet nothing like its former glory, though under Mr. Swift, his sons, the hard-working Mr. Needham, and others, they have large hopes of soon being at the top of the tree again. We shall see, and they have my best washes. Both bands practised hard when in full swing, sometimes six days a week; few, if any, were paid. It was true brotherly devotion, and not as to-day, when one fears that money is the root of all the evils with which modern bands are afflicted. However, be this as it may, these two bands deserve well of their respective towns. They were honoured in their day, and their deeds are well remembered. The money won by Meltham — though no patch on that which they richly deserved — was about £3,130, and Linthwaite made the near approach of £2,930. The former have done nothing much since, and the latter have added over another £1,000.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden