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Brass bands and music parades do so much for our communities

Published: 11th May 2020

Spring is traditionally the season for outdoor brass band contests, Whit Friday walks and other events.

But because the coronavirus restrictions have led to many contests and other concerts being cancelled this spring, we thought we’d celebrate these great traditions and pay our respects to the brass band scene.

Chances are there’s a brass or silver band based near where you live. The north of England has a long tradition of bands, many of which were founded in Victorian or Edwardian times.  But some are modern. There is a strong contemporary network of local, regional, national and European band championships.

Examples of bands in the north-west include Burnley Alliance Silver Band, Rossendale Scouts and Stacksteads Band in the Burnley area. Around Oldham and Saddleworth, bands include Oldham Band (Lees), Uppermill, Diggle, Delph and Oldham Music Centre. Rochdale area bands include Milnrow, Middleton, Langley and the Rochdale Borough Band. In the Tameside district, bands include Mossley, Denton Brass, Stalybridge and Hattersley.

Each year, the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain are key events in the UK band scene. Regional championships are held across the UK with the national final usually held at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Bands perform lots of indoor concerts throughout the year in venues including theatres, town halls and church halls. But the warmer weather in the spring provides an opportunity for them to perform outdoors and for the general public to see them.

The experience of hearing bands playing beautiful music in varied locations, from humble terraced streets to town centres, village squares and green spaces can be really special and evocative.

This is why the contests in areas such as Oldham, Saddleworth and Tameside are nicknamed ‘the greatest free shows on earth’. The colourful band contests attract thousands of spectators as the bands perform in a variety of towns and villages.

Brass bands contests are especially strong in the Saddleworth, Oldham and Tameside areas and attract bands from across the UK and overseas. The big contests are usually held on or near Whit Friday, which is a tradition stemming from the Victorian era an linked to religious parades and church Sunday school walks around Whit Sunday and Whitsun Week.

Did you know – the name of Whit Friday apparently comes from the name ‘White Friday’, which traditionally is the first Friday after Pentecost or Whitsun (White Sunday)? In the 1800s, children and families from Sunday schools held public walks and parades on various days between Whit Monday and Whit Friday.

Church bands and other community bands took part, typically playing hymn tunes, and Whit Week was often the high point of bands’ activities during the year.

Whit Walks became particularly strong around Manchester and especially in the towns and villages around Saddleworth, Oldham and Tameside. Over the years, parade routes were developed to take walks and bands through a series of locations to perform.

Over time, Whitsun Week became a holiday week in many north-west towns. Mills and factories often closed for a few days and working people had some time to relax.

Today, the Whit Friday brass contests In Saddleworth and Oldham are flourishing. Last year, 2019, just under 120 bands performed on a circuit of 11 different towns and villages. Bands compete for individual prizes in each location plus overall area prizes too.

The Saddleworth and Oldham performance locations are Dobcross, Delph, Denshaw, Uppermill, Friezland, Grotton, Lees, Greenacres, Lydgate, Scouthead and Austerlands, Greenfield and Diggle

Likewise, Tameside also has a flourishing Whit Friday band contest. Its contest originated in Stalybridge in the 1870s and the modern circuit also features 11 locations across the borough. These are Stalybridge, Millbrook, Carrbrook, Heyrod, Stalybridge Celtic FC,

Top Mossley, Micklehurst, Dukinfield, Hurst Village in Ashton, Broadoak, Denton and Droylsden.

Although local holidays are now more standardised and based on school terms and major holiday dates such as Easter weekend, rather than mill and factory shut-downs, the tradition of Whit Friday band contests remains very strong. Schools located in the stronghold areas still typically close for Whit Friday parades.

In normal times, you can also enjoy brass band concerts, along with other styles of music, such as musicals, pop, rock, jazz, folk and classical music, at venues such as Burnley Mechanics theatre, Oldham Coliseum and Saddleworth Civic Hall.

This year’s coronavirus restrictions mean venues are temporarily shut and shows are being rescheduled. So, it’s worth keeping in touch with updates from local venues for information on events, bookings, tickets and payments.




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