The First National Brass Band Championships in 1900
CONCERT PRELUDE TO THE NATIONAL FESTIVAL
One of the most outstanding personalities in the brass band world in the 20th century was John Henry Iles, founder in 1900 of the National Band Festival. During more than fifty years, his unbounded enthusiasm and drive for the brass band cause found successful expression not only in his organising the National events at the Crystal Palace from 1900 until 1938 but at Belle Vue, too. He was known by sight as well as by fame and name to earlier generations of bandsmen. Many people today will not be aware of the many revolutionary contesting concepts he introduced which are now taken for granted. Before his death in May, 1951, at the age of 79, he set down his recollections of the first "National" he organised at the Crystal Palace, and of events which led up to it.
His brass band enthusiasm stirred by a chance visit to the September Belle Vue Championship contest in 1898, John Henry Iles quickly got in touch with the band movement, acquired both the British Bandsman and the firm of R. Smith & Co., and started to organise an "Absent-minded Beggar" Concert in aid of a fund for relatives of men fighting in the Boer War. He enlisted Sir Arthur Sullivan's interest in the concert, at which point, shortly before January l9O0, his own recollections begin:
The road was now clear to go right ahead on the plans I had been formulating in my mind. I was then 28 years old, full of good health, very strong physically, and of much enthusiastic energy and determination to win right out, and make a complete success of my ventures and aims. I had to make my name known to the brass band world, and let as many of these bands know of my intentions. I had to bring to the very doors of the people, mainly to the south of the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and especially to those of London and its surrounding counties, a knowledge and appreciation of brass bands, and what they stood for as a national musical force.
In those days, too many millions of people were as ignorant as I was until that great day at Belle Vue, Manchester, when I first heard our champion bands play. My first job was to get into touch with as many bands as possible throughout the country to play the Absent-minded Beggar march at concerts and parades, taking collections, and raising money by various means for the Daily Mail War Fund.
I presented any band willing to do so with a full set of band parts, and it was not very long before quite a number of them accepted my invitation. Eventually a considerable sum was raised for our wounded and disabled men of the Services. I do not think it would be out of place at this point to pay a special tribute to our brass bands for the splendid work they are always doing for some good cause. Especially is this so in our small towns and villages, and I am afraid they do not always get the appreciation and recognition they so well deserve. Altogether, brass bandsmen are a worthy set of men who mainly play for their love of music and this is the main reason why I have throughout 50 years done my best to advance their cause and prestige.
Having succeeded in getting a fair number of bands doing their best for the War Fund in the way I have mentioned, I felt something big should be done to stimulate the interest not only of the bands, but the general public and the Press, especially of London, in my plan of operations. I had proposed that a great Festival of Massed Brass Bands should be given in the Royal Albert Hall. In order to create as much interest as possible throughout the country, the then-acknowledged champion brass bands of their respective areas in England, Scotland and Wales would be invited to attend and play massed the A.M.B. March and other items under Sir Arthur Sullivan, also a special programme piece of their own choice.
Altogether there were eleven champion bands engaged, making a total of about 300 players, and it was the first massed bands concert of its kind ever to be held in Great Britain. With such an array of bands, including as it did such names as Black Dyke, Besses o' th' Barn, and Wyke Temperance, all of whom were then famous with their outstanding leaders John Gladney, Alexander Owen and Edwin Swift, and with Sir Arthur Sullivan conducting, I felt a full house could be commanded. But as London knew so little of brass bands, I thought it wise to include four leading singers of the day, so Madame Albani, Clara Butt. Edward Lloyd and Andrew Black also were engaged. The date fixed was Saturday evening, January 20, 1900.
BIG CONCERT'S GREAT SUCCESS: SULLIVAN'S CONTINUED INTEREST
It was only natural that for the few weeks preceding the concert I had some anxious times. It was so important to me that the concert should be an overwhelming and outstanding success, and if so, I felt sure great things could follow. At first, the booking of seats was slow, but as the important day neared, interesting and increased announcements appeared in the Daily Mail and other papers. The demand steadily grew until the happy result "Sold Out" was reached.
What an audience it was! Only standing room at 2s. 6d. was available, and there was a great mass of people waiting for the doors to open. After over 3,000 had been let in the huge gallery, with even the upper wide staircases packed, the doors had to be closed. Over 5,000 were still outside, much disappointed. I do not think the Royal Albert Hall has ever been so full, either before or since. In those days, they were not as strict as they, rightly, are now on the question of standing room. It would have been a terrible business if anything untoward had happened, but happily even those who could not see could hear the bands, and so all was well.
The opening was with Clara Butt singing the verses, and the great audience, massed bands, organ and drums of the Guards Brigade joining in one immense and thrilling chorus Onward Christian Soldiers. Sir Arthur was conducting, and told me with tears in his eyes that he had difficulty in carrying on. He was not too well, and that tremendous crescendo roll of 60 drummers of the Guards Brigade leading up to the massed chorus was something few in the vast audience would easily have forgotten. The programme was too long, and did not finish until after 11 p.m. Meanwhile, starting soon after 9 p.m., a great fog had descended on London, and when people left they could not see across the road. It was 2 a.m. before I reached my hotel. It was quite an adventurous journey which, fortunately, ended without any ill effects.
By then I was too tired to fully realise the great success that had been achieved, but there was that question Sir Arthur Sullivan had put to me during the Concert. "These bands are wonderful, Mr. Iles, and something must be done for them. "What can you suggest?" I replied. "Don't worry, Sir Arthur, I have a scheme which I am sure will please you." "Splendid", said Sir Arthur, "come down and see me, and we will talk it over as soon as you like." "Will Monday morning be too early, Sir Arthur?" "No, if you can make it 11 a.m., as I shall be in town then." With this visit in mind with all its possible results, my sleep until late on Sunday morning was good indeed.
MARVELLOUS ATTRACTION FOR CHAMPIONSHIP
I duly arrived at Sir Arthur Sullivan's flat in Victoria Street Westminster, at 11 a.m. as arranged. I was admitted by Wilfred Bendall (Sir Arthur's secretary) with smiles and a warm welcome. Wilfred, who was an excellent musician, now shared Sir Arthur's enthusiasm for brass bands, for what he had heard at the Royal Albert Hall had given him a pleasant shock. Sir Arthur's greeting was warm too, and he was keen to hear what I had to suggest for the progress and development of brass bands. It was another fortunate circumstance that Sir Arthur was a director of the Crystal Palace Company, which then had its own charter to carry on. "Well, Mr. Iles, what can you suggest?". I then unfolded my plan. "What is wanted, Sir Arthur, is a great National Band Festival, to be held annually at the Crystal Palace, at which all grades of bands can compete in their respective classes from the bottom to the top."
I explained that my idea was that a series of contests should be arranged to form stepping stones so that a junior band, starting in the lowest position, could advance step by step until they had, if they could, reached the top and championship class. I pointed out that as all these series of graded contests would be held simultaneously, that all bands taking part in their respective classes could visit and hear the bands playing in higher grades. In this way, they could learn what they would have to do, if they wished to advance their grade position to a higher one, and eventually work their way to the top.
"Splendid," said Sir Arthur, "and I cannot imagine anything better to give bands a real incentive to make steady and good progress". "Furthermore, Sir Arthur", I said, "this National Festival should become a great day of the year so that bandsmen from all parts of the country could meet, and not only renew friendships, but talk over and compare notes on all manner of subjects, especially those affecting bands and their interests."
Sir Arthur became very enthusiastic, he realised that his position as a director of the Crystal Palace Company could enable him to render valuable assistance in carrying out my scheme. Sir Arthur said: "You must go down to the Crystal Palace and see its General Manager, Henry Gillman." He also said that he would give me a letter of introduction to him, and speak to him on the telephone, strongly recommending him to do everything possible to put my plans into operation. I could not have possibly wished for anything better. I expressed my warm and deep gratitude to him for his kindly interest, and again he assured me of his intention to do everything he possibly could to help matters along.
"Before I go, Sir Arthur, there is another very important thing that will be necessary when I launch my scheme. That is, to have a valuable and beautiful Trophy of not less than five hundred guineas in value, to be competed for annually by the champion bands."
At this time there was nothing approaching such a value for a trophy being competed for at any brass band contest. I impressed on Sir Arthur the necessity of some trophy out of the ordinary to attract and induce our leading contesting bands to come to London and compete for it. This set Sir Arthur thinking. After a pause, he said, with some excitement that he believed there was just the thing in the vaults of the Crystal Palace.
"I just remember", he said, "that in our annual balance sheets, among our assets there, is a trophy which for many years now has been valued at one thousand guineas, and I understand it is worth even more than this." My excitement rose rapidly, and when Sir Arthur asked me if I thought it would do, my response was both quick and exciting. "Why, Sir Arthur, it would be wonderful". He said that he would instruct Mr. Gillman to show it to me, and if it was suitable, I could no doubt have it, for the championship. So I left Sir Arthur with his wish that I should see Henry Gillman at the Palace as soon as possible. I lost no time in getting to the Crystal Palace, and found Henry Gillman ready to meet me and hear of my plans.
He was delighted and fully satisfied that my scheme. would in every way be suitable for the Palace management. He would be only too happy to help things along and give me a free hand to organise and put the Festival into full operation.
Now came the important question of the Thousand Guinea Trophy, and its suitability for the purpose I had in view. Off we went to those wonderful cellars that were under the main central floors of the Palace. On the way I was anxious that this extremely valuable Trophy might be found unsuitable for my Championship contest. It had been in these vaults over 30 years. I do not think Henry Gillman himself knew much about it, so it is quite easy to imagine my state of mind, and my great hope that it would turn out to be just the thing I wanted. Having arrived in one of the large vaults, we were soon to learn, I remember there was a long and solid looking table in the centre, on which no doubt articles stored away could be placed for inspection.
MASS OF SILVER
Two men were there, pulling out a big box, about 4 feet square. It was of oak, and strongly bound by brass strips. It was unlocked, and when the cover was lifted, disclosed velvet-lined compartments and a great mass of silver encrusted with jewels, of wonderful workmanship. It consisted of three pieces, the base, the cup and a beautiful and elaborate cover to fit on top of the cup. It was soon assembled, and then I found to my joy that it was just the thing I wanted. In fact it could not have been better if it bad been specially made for my purpose.
It had been made many years previously for a great Musical Festival which had proved unsuccessful and had been discontinued after the first year. Placed in the Crystal Palace vaults, it had rested there until Sir Arthur Sullivan had remembered seeing it in the Balance Sheets of the Crystal Palace Company. What a wonderful stroke of luck! Something I had never dreamed possible had been placed in my hands that I felt confident would crown all my efforts to a complete and lasting success.
"Will it do, Mr. Iles?" asked Henry Gillman. "Do, Mr. Gillman, why, it is wonderful. I am sure it will prove to be a marvellous attraction for our champion bands, who will be more than keen for the great honour of fighting for its possession." And time proved me right. "Well, Mr. Iles, it is yours", said Henry Gillman, "and you can go right ahead with the Festival." After leaving Mr. Gillman, I felt nothing could prevent my achieving a great success with my festival; but much still had to be done.
SEEKING SUPPORT FOR THE NATIONAL FESTIVAL PLAN
All was now set to create, and go ahead with, my programme of events for my National Band Festival, but much preliminary work bad to be done before I could make a real start and choose my opening date.
I paid special visits to eminent leaders in the then brass band world, including John Gladney, Alexander Owen, Edwin Swift and Richard Stead. I told them what I proposed to do. Both Gladney and Owen were strongly of the opinion that I would be wasting my time and that bands would not go to London to compete at such a Festival. But they were good enough to say they would put no difficulties in my way, and in fact would do their best to help me. These two masters of brass band technique were associated with quite a number of our contesting bands, including of course Black Dyke (Gladney) and Besses o' th' Barn (Owen). I knew it was important to win their friendship and co-operation, and this I happily succeeded in doing. This pleasant association continued for the rest of their days.
It was Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) who first told me I was wasting my time in attempting to secure the goodwill of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and now these two distinguished leaders of brass bands were telling me the same thing. They represented largely Lancashire interests, while Edwin Swift and Richard Stead represented those of Yorkshire. These were the two important centres of brass bands of those days. I knew if these two great counties did not support me, I could never achieve a truly national success.
I was therefore particularly pleased, and delighted, in my talks with Swift and Stead, both of whom said my scheme was both fine and practical, and they would go out of their way to help me. and they certainly did. I was deeply grateful to these gentlemen, and many others, for the help and encouragement that I received from them. It took several years to get the Festival firmly on its feet, and I spared neither time nor expense in building it up.
It was not only Lancashire and Yorkshire, but the rest of the country whose interests had to be won if my Festival was to become truly National. All sorts of schemes and plans had to be put into operation to achieve such a result. Perhaps my most important idea was to secure the co-operation of the National Press. Alfred Harmsworth offered me a trophy of any reasonable value I liked to name, but it was to be on the condition that it would be exclusive to the Daily Mail. I told him that, in my opinion, if I was to succeed in my Festival scheme all the National Press interest would have to be considered. Of course, he knew that I was right, and did not take any umbrage at my refusal of his handsome gift. I had a pleasant interview with the Daily Telegraph, who gave me a handsome silver cup, to be used in any way I thought best, and my friend Arthur Pearson of the Daily Express gave me a handsome shield. These trophies were supplemented by others, so altogether there was quite an imposing list of national press trophies represented in the proceedings of my Festival throughout the years.
In order to interest as many bands as possible in my scheme, I paid visits to many of the important cities of England, Scotland and Wales. I arranged for meetings of band representatives to be called in these places, at some convenient hotel centre, to meet and hear from me all about my plans and to invite any suggestions they cared to make. I provided drinks and light refreshments, and without exception these meetings passed off very well, and gave me much encouragement to go ahead. I must have met many hundreds of keen and enthusiastic bandsmen at these meetings.
Prices for food and drink in those days were extremely reasonable, and although both were provided without any limit, I had no reason to begrudge the cost. Whisky at 2s. to 3s. a bottle, and Bass etc. at 3d., makes one wonder how the present prices can be charged without a revolution! It seems that our poor bodies can get used to anything in time, if the process is gradual enough. In connection with these meetings, I recall one amusing incident which occurred at Glasgow. Drinks, including mostly whisky, were being handed around with either plain water or soda water. Things did not seem to be going too freely, especially with these whisky drinks. However, someone screwed up courage, came over to me, and with a little diffidence asked me if they could drink their whisky neat, as was their usual way.
I was on my feet in a moment, and said: "Gentlemen, I must apologise. Being an Englishman, I had not been aware of the long established custom of drinking Scotch which a kind friend has just told me. Will you please help yourselves just as you like it." Things went wonderfully well after that.
THREE CONTEST SECTIONS AND A CONCERT BY MASSED BANDS
The next step was to choose the most suitable date for opening the Festival. As my scheme included in the day's programme a finish with a concert by massed bands to be conducted by Sir Arthur Sullivan, his wishes and convenience had, of course, to be given first consideration. The day chosen was Saturday, July 21. I had very much in mind those foreboding prophecies of Messrs. Gladney, Owen, and others, that my efforts were doomed to failure. However, I meant, if hard work, foresight, expertise or anything else was necessary, that they should be successful.
I was, therefore, not too ambitious in the formulation of my programme of events for the first day's Festival. I decided to limit the contesting to three sections - Championship, Second and Third - with a possible entry of 40 to 50 bands. I was immensely pleased that eventually 48 entries were received, and over 40 turned up to play. So my pessimistic friends were proved wrong, and the splendid number who were present to play in only three separate contests was a great surprise to them. Nevertheless, I was told to wait and see what would happen next year. Of course, they said, it was Sir Arthur Sullivan's name and the novelty of going to London which did it, and so on.
I have generally been credited with being a fair business man, and I understood that the Crystal Palace Company could not run this Festival, year after year, unless it was a commercial proposition. Therefore, I gave careful consideration to every possible matter in order to secure good and permanent results. I realised it was going to cost these bands much money for tuition and travelling to London I concentrated most on the champion bands, as they would naturally be the big attraction for the Festival, and draw the attendance of those who would be keen and interested to hear them play. I offered any of these bands competing for the Championship that I would arrange, at my expense, to bring the wonderful Thousand Guinea Trophy to their town, if they would arrange for a concert. This could be presided over by some distinguished citizen, and the funds devoted to defraying their expenses to London. I would also attend and address the audience, and remind them that the band would be fighting for their honour and glory, and that they should be generous in their support.
The trophy was to be met at the Railway Station, escorted by them, playing through the town to the Town Hall, the trophy being placed on a gaily-dressed open trolley drawn by horses. I would follow it in a carriage and pair with anyone they would like to ride with me. Meanwhile, the local Press had to be advised, with photographer on the job, to create as much excitement and interest as possible. It was a novel scheme and worked well.
Citizens began to take a new interest in their band, and the bandsmen themselves grew as keen as mustard to go all out and win the National Championship. Many of these visits had to be arranged, and all within the course of a few weeks.
As excursions were being run from all these centres, I wanted to see big crowds of followers coming with their band to cheer them on to victory. If this happened, I felt confident that the success of the Festival could be made permanent, and happily it was. I do not think any who had been doubtful of my success expressed later anything but pleasure at the result. Such a day had been badly wanted for many years, and now it had come to stay. It was the one occasion when friends, long parted by years and miles, could meet again and chat over the days of yore. So they came from North, South, East and West, full of excitement and anticipation, either to meet old friends or hear their own band win the championship of the particular class or grade in which they competed.
The great concert by the champion bands at the Royal Albert Hall under the distinguished conductorship of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and the excellent publicity given to the event in the Daily Mail and other national papers, had awakened a good deal of curiosity and interest among the general public. They flocked to the Crystal Palace to see and hear for themselves these bands, about which they had read.
I also obtained good preliminary announcements in the London papers, and being favoured with fine weather, the fine attendance made feel like being on the top of the world. Certainly Henry Gillman's face was wreathed in smiles. and Sir Arthur was delighted. All the many things that had to be worked out and attended to gave me a really hard and anxious time leading up to the Festival Day. But being blessed with goad health and any amount of energy and physical strength, whether it meant 16 or more hours a day, did not worry me very much.
On the Friday before the Festival I was at the Crystal Palace. I stayed all night there to be on the spot early on Saturday, to make sure everything would be in order as I had directed. So what was to be to me the great day arrived, with a promise of lovely weather to help things run smoothly and well.
BEST TO KEEP THE JUDGES RIGHT OUT OF SIGHT
Arrangements had already been made by the Palace management to run a comprehensive musical exhibition. On my Festival opening day it was in full operation, and those bandsmen present had the opportunity of inspecting instruments both ancient and modern. Sir Arthur Sullivan was President of the Exhibition Committee, and took a great interest in it. It was the custom of the management of the Belle Vue September Championship Contest to keep the identity of the Judges strictly private until the opening day, so that no band should have the opportunity of making contact with them for any purpose whatever. This practice I decided to follow, and it has been so continued right up to the present day.
Three judges were engaged for the Belle Vue Championship, and on my National Festival opening I made the number four, having added the name of Dr. C. W. Pearce (Cantab.) to those of Carl Kiefert, I.0. Shepperd and J.W. Beswick, all of whom were recognised in those days as leading experts on the adjudication of brass bands. I had the idea that Dr. Pearce, who was my brother-in-law, should hold more of a watching brief, and to act if desired by the others as a kind of referee on any point they might wish to put to him.
It was the custom of these days that all judges at band contests should be closely screened from view of any of the bands they were judging. I have strongly felt that this course was the right and best one to adopt, and arrangements at the Crystal Palace were made accordingly. I went one step further, and set up for the first time a Supervising Committee appointed by ballot of the bands taking part. A draw for six representatives was made before the draw for the order of play. Those so drawn for supervision first had to proceed to the place set apart for the judges, examine the same to see that it was impossible for the judges to observe any of the competing bands. Then they were to return to the place where all the representatives of the competing bands were assembled and report if they were satisfied with the arrangements made for the judges. Having reported, the draw for the order of play was at once proceeded with.
Each representative of the competing bands on hearing his name called out, drew from a bag a tablet or disc, and the number on that disc determined when that particular band had to play. If, as was the case at this first Crystal Palace Championship, there were fourteen bands competing, then this bag contained fourteen discs numbered from 1 to 14.
There was a dread on the part of those drawing that they would pull out No. 1 which was generally regarded as bad luck. Personally, I have always thought too much importance was attached to this circumstance. There have been many instances of the band playing No.1 winning first prize.
Bandsmen can be too much influenced by thoughts of any bad luck attaching to the draw for the order of play, so when playing in the No. 1 position, do not do themselves justice. There are matters that give a certain advantage to those playing in the later numbers. such as the temperature of the Hall and its being filled, or much more so than when bands with the earlier numbers have to play. The judges, who do not know what bands are playing have to give their marks in the numerical order of the playing of the bands. In most cases, these marks for the whole performance are fixed at 200. These marks are allocated in various sections in accordance with the ideas of the respective judges. Judges have their own idea what this division of marks should be. So long as the system is the same throughout the playing of all the bands, the difference between one system and another is not very material.
Another important duty of the Supervision Committee is that they stay by the judges' enclosure for the whole period of the contest to prevent any contact of any kind taking place from outside with the judges. Arrangements are generally made for judges to have all they want by way of refreshments etc., thus making it quite unnecessary for anything to be sent in to them, and if it is, the supervisors are there to see that nothing improper occurs. These supervisors can arrange among themselves how to split up and so give freedom from continuous duty, and this is generally done.
July, chosen for the launching of the National Festival. was one of the busiest months for the Crystal Palace. Already the big Musical Exhibition was in full swing, together with many other important events, so that much of the space that could have been used for additional contests was occupied. It was on this account that the Festival was limited to three separate contests. After my experience of this day's proceedings, I knew that if the Festival was to be further developed and additional contests run, so as not to clash with other important contesting events, another date would have to be chosen. I finally decided that future Festivals should be held on the last Saturday in September or the first Saturday in October, and in the future it was so carried on.
Before proceeding with the opening day's events I will deal with the question of judges being screened from view. As I have already written, I am most emphatic that this is the one and only fair and practical way of using their services. I know full well what a difficult and onerous job judges have in carrying out their duties and responsibilities. In my view it is not possible for them to fully and closely concentrate in following a contest especially in some difficult and involved contest test-piece, without being able to devote their undivided and complete attention to the playing of each band. Also, they ought not to know the name of the band which is playing, so that their minds can be absolutely clear from either prejudice or favouritism. Under such circumstances, if the judge is truly capable, his decision should be a good one and accepted without question.
THE SURPRISE RESULT AT THE 1900 "NATIONAL"
One of the most interesting and important matters associated with the inauguration of this National Festival was the question of the test-piece and its use in connection with the Championship Contest for the honour of being first holders of the Thousand-Guinea Trophy. I felt that in view of the great kindness, and invaluable support, Sir Arthur Sullivan had given to the brass bands and the establishment of the National Festival at the Crystal Palace, that it would be most appropriate that a test-piece should be arranged, based on a selection from the works of this master of music.
When I made this suggestion to Sir Arthur he was delighted, and said he would supervise any arrangements submitted to him for his approval. I commissioned James Ord Hume, unquestionably one of the most brilliant composers and arrangers of brass band music of his day, to do this work, which I knew he was very proud to do. It did not take long for "Jimmy", as he was popularly known, to complete it. He was like Sir Arthur, able to write music with remarkable speed.
Soon, Sir Arthur had the score in his hands to adjust and alter as he wished. Several minor changes were made, and then the final score was handed to the printers for completion. It was a delightful arrangement of music to listen to, and gave every one of the fourteen bands a chance of winning the championship. In later years much more difficult tests had to be introduced.
Throughout the day everything went smoothly, and to the timetable. With each section playing in different, and well apart places, and limited in numbers, there was no anxiety in getting things ready for the final massed bands concert, and distribution of prizes by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Competing for the championship were all the famous brass bands of the day, including those three great names of that time. Black Dyke, Besses o' th' Barn, and Wyke Temperance, all conducted by the three famous rival conductors, John Gladney, Alexander Owen and Edwin Swift respectively.
To the surprise of the whole band world, both Besses and Wyke were out of the prizes. The Championship was won by Denton Original, the band of hatters who were conducted by A. Owen, with the second prize going to Black Dyke. This first festival taught me many things, and what had to be avoided in future Festivals. It was certainly a glorious sight to see over forty bands, all in their brilliant and many-coloured uniforms, assembled on the huge Handel Orchestra for the massed band concert and final event of the day. But it was a mistake having mixed classes of bands to play with little, if any, rehearsal under the baton of distinguished conductors. It was not fair to ask famous musicians to wield the baton under such conditions. At all future massed bands performances, the bands performing were restricted in number to those of the championship class, and splendid and thrilling performances were obtained.
MASSED BANDS EXPERIENCE
I was much influenced in what I did by an unfortunate event, that happened right at the very beginning of the evening concert of massed bands. All was ready for the grand opening with the National Anthem under Sir Arthur Sullivan. Sir Arthur was greeted with a great storm of cheers as he appeared 10 take his place on the conductor's stand. The bands had been told to play the first half and then go back and repeat, and then on to the second part, and repeat. Off the bands went to a splendid start, and all was well until the end of the first half, when instead of going back and repeating, many bands went straight on. Of course, there was a horrid and noisy mix-up, and the bands were stopped. I took good care that it should not happen again, and all bands were clearly told this time to play right through without repeats.
I went up to Sir Arthur to tell him that I thought everything would now be right, expecting to see a very annoyed and angry face, but, oh dear, no! There he was, with a truly Irish grin on his face - and I can see it again as I write - treating the whole matter as a great and delightful joke. What a relief it was to see his smiling face! Up went his baton and there was no mistake this time. Thus again, I was to find in Sir Arthur one of the most dear and delightful personalities it has ever been my privilege to meet.
Perhaps the worst mistake I made this day was to allow the announcement of the winners before instead of the end of the Evening Concert. There are, at times, bands at contests who, not being in the prizes and who consider they gave the best performance, act in a way unworthy of gentlemen and sportsmen. They think the judge, or judges, are either fools or rogues. I am happy to think that today things are infinitely better in this respect. Many of our bands, including the best of them, set the rest a fine example of good conduct and sportsmanship.
BEST SHOW ON THE DAY
It is not the band with the greatest reputation that is entitled to be declared the winner of any contest, but the band which in the opinion of the judges - and no one else - has given the best performance. I have always endeavoured, throughout my fifty years of brass band interests, to appoint judges whose ability and honesty are unquestioned. Thus was established the National Band Festival, which has been carried on successfully to the present day, excepting those years of the two great wars when it was not possible to continue.
An entry in Sullivan's diary for this event, which was to be his last public appearance before his death on 22 November 1900 aged 58, reads:
[Saturday 21st July 1900]
Blazing hot. Came up to town [from Shepparton]
- lunched at No.7. Went down to C.P. Competitions of brass bands going on all day. First prize Grand Challenge Trophy won by Denton Originals - 2nd by Black Dyke. At the concert of combined bands, when the winners were announced, some of the bands left the orchestra [stage]
, disappointed at not having won! Furious at this 'un-English' behaviour, I ran round and planted policemen at every exit, but I was too late to do much good. The best performance was a selection from Tannhäuser
by the Black Dykes - really splendid, with brilliant fire and go; at the end of the concert I delivered the prizes, conducted the 'Ab. M. B.' [Absent-Minded Beggar]
March, and then went to dine with Bertie, Bendall etc. and enjoy the fireworks at the same time - home at Shepparton at 12.45!
For more details, of the trophy in particular, see the Thousand Guinea Trophy