The Gathering of the Bands
An air of family reunion, brought to London from 30 English, Scottish and Welsh counties by 60 competing bands and by 15,185 friends and supporters, pervaded the tenth-year celebrations of the Daily Herald National Brass Band Championship Festival on Saturday, October 16, 1954. For this was the first occasion that the National Finals of the Second, Third and Fourth sections - hitherto staged at Manchester - were held at the same time as the Championship class contest in London.
The three main events of this biggest National Festival day of brass band music since the war succeeded each other in the Royal Albert Hall, starting with the National Championship contest followed by two Festival Concerts, another innovation.
At 10.30 in the morning, the traditional ceremony surrounding the draw for the order of playing in the Royal Albert Hall was repeated in three other halls - in the Kensington Town Hall where 16 bands competed for the Second section Championship; in the Lime Grove Public Baths Hall, Shepherds Bush, where 15 bands vied for the Third section title; and in the H.A.A. Drill Hall, Iverna Gardens, Kensington, the proving ground of the musical ability of the 15 contestants for the National Fourth section trophy.
Knowledgeable and enthusiastic audiences thronged the four halls throughout the morning and mid-afternoon to follow the progress of the contests, each with its separate test piece.
Among the 14 National Championship contenders in the Royal Albert Hall only the top six could be said to have established a firm grasp on what was acknowledged to be the most searching test for technique, set so far. For in the specially composed Symphonic Overture Sovereign Heritage by 54-year-old film music composer Jack Beaver, of Great Missenden, only technical mastery could release the full flow and unity implicit in the music. High levels of brass band performance were attained in coping with the new work.
The composer, and Frank Wright who had arranged the band score, refereed the National Championship contest. The two experienced adjudicators Harry Heyes (Birmingham) and Harold Moss (Leyland), who said they had been faced with the most difficult contest decision either had ever had to make, awarded the first prize to the Fairey Aviation Works Band, of Stockport. The Aviation Band had won twice before, in 1945 and 1952, and had also been runners-up in 1946 and 1947. For the second year in succession C.W.S. Manchester Band gained second place, and the 1953 Champions, Fodens Motor Works, of Elworth, Sandbach, came third this time. Harry Mortimer conducted both the first and third prizewinners, his younger brother Alex the runners-up.
The fourth prize went to the Brighouse and Rastrick Band, whose entire performance of the test piece was televised. During this transmission the results of the National Finals of the Second, Third and Fourth sections were broadcast before the prizewinners in the senior class were announced.
There has been a steady increase over the post-war years in the numbers of women who have taken up brass band instruments. Reflecting this trend, more than 30 bandswomen appeared among the National Championship competitors, the highest total so far.
Another audience filled the Royal Albert Hall for the first Festival Concert (from 4.30 p.m.) when Edric Cundell, CBE, the Principal of the Guildhall School of Music, presented the prizes to the successful bands in the Second, Third and Fourth sections.
The third great surge of bandsmen and their supporters into the Royal Albert Hall for the second Festival Convert (from 8 p.m.) re-created the atmosphere of keen expectancy. But no longer partisan, the interest merged upon the colourful array of the 220 players in the nine massed champion bands. The unanimity and precision of the massed bands, and their splendid tone, won the acclaim of the packed audience. Simultaneous television and sound broadcasts brought millions at home in touch with this stirring climax to the competition year for Britain's 100,000 brass band players and million supporters. In all, there were two television transmissions and four sound broadcasts from the Festival.
Sir Adrian Boult, the principal guest conductor, had Harry Mortimer and Frank Wright as associate conductors. These three had directed the same programme given by the massed bands at the earlier Festival Concert.
Mr. W. Surrey Dane, chairman of the Daily Herald, presented the prizes to the winning bands in the Championship class.
The 1954 National Festival. the biggest organized in the ten years of the sponsorship of these brass band championships by the Daily Herald, showed how remarkably Britain's Brass Bands have advanced in performance, in prestige. It was the proudest day in a decade for Britain's worker-musicians.