Well it is no wonder that Whit Friday is referred to as the ‘Greatest free show on Earth!’ For most of us, I am sure this day will go down as the most memorable in our banding history.
The Whit Friday Contest in Stalybridge dates back to at least 1870, with Uppermill and Mossley starting their own contests in 1884. Inadvertently, this launched the current-day contest across 11 towns and villages. To qualify for the Area Prize in either Tameside or Saddleworth, bands need to compete in at least six contests in their specific area. Whit Friday has become an international event, with the largest amount of prize money that can be won at any brass banding contest throughout the world. It is claimed that hundreds of thousands of people attend the contest each year, and we can proudly say that we were the first Australian band to ever compete.
We started the day slowly before meeting at 1.30pm for marching practise. Finding a place to practise was Obstacle #1. A small carpark a couple of blocks away was recommended – smack in the middle of Manchester’s China Town precinct. We marched back and forth between the narrow rows of vehicles to the applause of an intoxicated bunch sitting in the Chinese gazebo, before being abruptly asked to leave the carpark by a cranky parking inspector. We then gathered to the side of the carpark to rehearse our static march, with many onlookers taking photographs and cheering us on. With all the roadworks presently going on around our hotel, Obstacle #2 was then finding a place for us to load our
bus coach. Once loaded, we headed off excitedly, with no idea of the thrills and adventures that lie ahead. Our corch drarver (coach driver), Phil Lynch, had been involved in Whit Friday numerous times over the years and was skilled at manouvering the coach through the narrow roads and villages that were filled with 100+ other coaches. We were also lucky to have George Fairhurst from Pemberton Band traveling with us as a guide for the day.
Our first stop was a beautiful, lush little village called Greenfield. With no time to be wasted, we clambered off the coach excitedly and were greeted on the street by huge welcomes as we moved into marching formation and were ‘dressed’ by Drum Major Phil Medhurt. We were the third band to visit Greenfield for the day, thus we didn’t have to wait long before stepping off. The sound of Waltzing Matilda echoing through the tall stone buildings on either side of the street was simply amazing; a very proud moment. We were then ushered around the corner to the village green, where hundreds of people were gathered to listen to each band’s static march (we were allowed 25 players without percussion, and had to play in band formation to an adjudicator who was sitting in a little motorhome vehicle on the green, unable to see each band’s identity). We had a large, enthusiastic crowd in this beautiful village, which also offered a carnival-like atmosphere for families in the park. People seemed incredulous that we had traveled from Australia to take part in the Whit Friday comps.
Our next stop was Uppermill. The people here had been hoping we would visit their village after hearing of us in a recent newspaper article in the Oldham Times titled, ‘Oz band to join the brass fest?’, which speculated about our attendance at the Contest. ‘A brass band from Down Under may waltz into view at tomorrow’s Saddleworth Whit Friday brass band contest…… In a note to Phil Beckwith, a brass band tour organiser from Delph, the band stated: “We believe we will be the first Australian band to play at the contest, which will be very exciting.” Mr Beckwith said: “I believe 50 bandsmen and followers may be attending but we are still waiting for final confirmation.”….. Robert Rodgers, chairman of the Delph contest and coordinator of the central group of contestants, said up to 130 bands are expected to compete in the marathon event. He said: “It will be another coup in the fact that we are reliably informed the Australian band would be complete with Kangaroo mascots.”‘
It was at this point that we realised that instead of our lovely tour jackets, we should have dressed our supporters in Kangaroo Onesies. Young Lachlan Wilson was an absolute hit in this village and we had press photographers milling around the whole time. On lady realised that we were from Australia and said, ‘Aw, they’re all so cute.’ #gotthatright. We met people from Swansea and Bondi, and a young man from Sydney who is currently playing Euphonium with the Wandle Academy Band in the UK. Others wanted to hang our flag and shake our hands. The cheering was incredible.
Third stop was a beautiful township called Dobcross, with steep hills, narrow winding roads, and houses right on the roadsides. Here Alan Wilson was interviewed by a team from the Manchester News, who have offered to send their footage and news story to our local WIN TV station in Traralgon. In this town, the crowd was huge and we certainly felt famous. Wally and others reported being in ‘Brass Band Heaven!’ Our supporters again marched ahead of us and behind, carrying our banner, Aussie flags, boppers and massive grins. Phil Medhurst was also interviewed for the local newspaper and other photographers followed us around. The march was steep, down a little road flanked by tall, old buildings, and the sound of Waltzing Matilda echoed loud and strong through the streets. Our static performance was on a hilly clearing underneath a beautiful old tree filled with fairy lights. People in the crowd reported that we had received the biggest welcome and applause for the day. Some even gave us a standing ovation. The weather, which had been forecast as 11 degrees with rain and possible snow, was better than we could have hoped for, with the morning rain ceasing and the sun now shining across the hills.
Our fourth, and most thrilling village for the day was Delph. In the famous movie, ‘Brassed Off’, the march through the street was filmed in Delph. As Brad quoted, the contest in Delph ‘was 100 times bigger and better than we could have ever imagined. You Tube and Google don’t do this event justice. Loved every second.‘ Delph is one of the most famous and popular villages in the Contest due to its massive, cheering crowds and party atmosphere. After arriving in Delph, our swift ‘Runner’, Kim Woods, exited the bus to ‘Go Kimmy’ and ‘Run, Kim, Run’ chants and ran to register us at the registration tent. We had 10 bands ahead of us, which meant a long line of coaches and a 45-minute wait until it was our turn. This gave us a chance to walk in to the village to enjoy the atmosphere, take photographs and check the air pressure in the left rear bus tyre (code name for ‘Find a pint’, lol!) I have never seen the members of our band looking so happy; this place was totally indescribable and overwhelming. Phil put on a hilarious show whilst dressing the band (i.e.: almost lost his voice), to the cheers of the crowd, who engaged in constant banter, Aussie jokes and Aussie songs. Just as Phil yelled, “Band, by the centre, quick…” a spectator started singing ‘Tie me kangaroo down, sport’, which of course led to an outbreak of laughter from band members as we stepped off and attempted to start playing. We had a crowd separator ahead of us to part the crowd as we marched downhill through the thousands of people lining the streets. Spectators were singing along to Waltzing Matilda, screaming out words of encouragement, cheering and clapping. As the band came to a halt at the bottom of the hill and the cheering slowed, we heard one man say, ‘Well, that were great, that were’.
It became apparent to us in Delph that English bands do not wear marching caps, thus there was much attention towards our smart uniforms and marching caps. This is apparently how many of the locals identified us upon arrival. We were asked numerous times, ‘Where’s my bloody brudda?’ (from Crocodile Dundee), and even met the lovely man who was the adjudicator in the movie, ‘Brassed Off’. Deb asked him for a kiss and he replied, ‘Aye, you can kiss me.’ In Delph, there was also much laughter about the pronunciation of Traralgon; our favourites being ‘Tarragon’ and ‘Tarra-larra-gon’ – add strong northern accent and then ROFL!! One of our supporters reflected on a man almost in tears after hearing about the French leg of our tour; there has certainly been a lot of interest about our itinerary. Another local was chatting to a band member and said, ‘We come from about five miles away, and it’s quite a way. Where do you come from?’, and another dear lady asked Vic if we were at least staying overnight after our long trip. Haha! Probably a good idea! We were again told that we had received the biggest cheer of the day, which was an absolute compliment given how many bands pass through Delph, and we even made the Twitter feed at 4BarsRest.
In Denshaw, our fifth village, there was no queue and we were off and back on the bus within 15 minutes. This was a quaint village; the home of Professor Nicholas Childs from the Black Dyke Mills Band. A group of little girls were following us to get some selfies, and couldn’t believe it when we put caps on them and took photos of them in front of the whole band. Their smiles were priceless.
Scouthead was our sixth stop. Our goal had been to visit six competitions, but by Scouthead we were still going strong. This place was cold. We played after the Pemberton B band to a friendly crowd, who were also probably semi-frozen like us. After the short uphill march, we were then ushered around the corner, up the hill, along the public footpath (there was a sign!!) which was actually a muddy path through a muddy paddock to a muddy playing area, right in front of the lone little motorhome that probably contained a warm, cosy adjudicator drinking stout. The wind whistled through the paddock, and by this stage we had all honed our northern accent to make comments such as, ‘Are you sure it’s summer next week?’, ‘I think I’ll snap in two and be stuck in a paddock in Scouthead forever’ and ‘Where’s the nearest pub?’ It was at Scouthead that Debbie and I decided on four new names for the seasons here; Winter, Just-after-winter, Coming-into-winter, and Nearly-winter.
By the time we got to Mossley, we apologised to Scouthead for calling it the coldest place on earth. Here, we waited for a long time to play, chatting to the locals in the warm pizza shop as an excuse to stay warm. Although we didn’t go inside, most were impressed to hear that the local band club has beer on tap! We used clip-on lights on our music lyres to see in the dark during the Mossley march, and then Lachie had the chance to conduct the band as we played the last part of The Viking to a cheery crowd on a semi-deserted basketball court under bright lights. It was in Mossley that we realised we were competing in the Championship Grade for these events, thus our hopes for a placement seemed just a little further away.
As we reached our final destination, Broadoak, at around 11pm, we were informed that the final band for the evening had just marched off. However, given that we were the Aussies, they decided to let us march. Somehow, the weather seemed milder by this time of the evening and we were excited to have made it to 8 competitions throughout the afternoon. Nicholas Childs had told us that making it to 6 events would keep us busy, so 8 was just awesome. Following the march down a dark residential street and across a bumpy, damaged road, we played our static march on a lovely little well-lit stage to an enthusiastic audience, outside the local pub. A highlight in Broadoak was Robbie (the Angel Boy) being asked to play ‘God Save the Queen’ with a small mixed band at the end of the evening to conclude the contest. This was followed by cheering, hugging, reflections and a nice cold celebratory drink in the pub before the bus departed and returned us to our hotel around 12.40am. None of us could have EVER imagined how exciting and amazing this contest would be. As a band, we felt incredibly proud of our achievements, our reception within local villages and towns, and the fact that we were not only representing Tarra-larra-gon, but also Gippsland, Victoria and Australia. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie……
Today would not have been possible without the following contributors:
- We send a huge thanks to George from Pemberton Band for his guidance and leadership today.
- To Kim Woods, you were the best (and only) Band Runner we have ever had. Your speed in getting off that bus and registering our band at each location was incredible!
- To our banner carriers, Jen and Brenda, thank you for marching in front of the band at every event.
- To the Blue Wig Brigade – we love you and thank you for your cheering, escapades and support. As one spectator commented, ‘Gee it must be cold up here; that lady’s hair has turned blue.’
- To our ‘corch drarver’ Phil – you are are very good at driving a big coach around tiny little streets.
- To Kerrie and Jeremy, the band babysitters who looked after Heath and Angus all day – you were so patient and helpful.
- To all who photographed the band today, in particular Kim Woods, Steve Mayze and Neil Fitzclarence, the memories you have captured will last forever.
- To our Drum Major, President Phil Medhurst – hilarious! I hope you can still speak tomorrow.
- To our Musical Director, Wally Pope, we thank you for your musical leadership and professionalism throughout the day.
- And to our UK/France Committee Chairperson, Alan Wilson, without you, today would not have been possible. ‘Thank you’ does not properly express the gratitude we have for all that you have worked towards and achieved.
In other news, we welcomed past Traralgon Band player, Steve Mayze, and his wife Heidi along for our Manchester journey. Steve is an old friend of the band and Steve and Heidi have supported our tour financially. It has been lovely catching up with them and having their support for the Whit Friday Contest. Steve has also been incredibly helpful in assisting me with iPhoto and my new Mac computer.
We also put some champagne in the Heskey today to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of the lovely Barb and Terry Heskey. Congratulations to you both on this wonderful milestone. We are so glad that we could share this special day with you.
And…the silver-haired fox has been at it again! I didn’t write about Harry’s first misdemeanour for fear of embarrassing him, but now that he has backed it up and there has been so much laughter, he is happy for me to share. As we were departing Black Dyke Bandroom on Thursday, let’s just say that Harry (aka Silver) was impolitely touched by a very drunk female wanderer, leading to great embarrassment and incredulation. Then today, his popularity with the women continued when he was asked very provocatively by another intoxicated local (the one in the Chinese gazebo) if she could: Bang…..His…..Drum! OMG. Silver was speechless. Again. Luckily a smile speaks a thousand words, and we know that he was secretly feeling like a stud. A Manchester Stud.
Earlier today, 10 lucky people picked up their pre-ordered pocket troom-pets. A big thanks to Jeff Steele who played the Swannies song on my purchase (a very happy daughter back home!), and to Lachlan Wilson, who paraded his trumpet throughout the foyer. Alan and Tracy met with Graham and Jen Butcher and their young children to thank them for their percussion hire throughout the UK and France and to give some lovely Aussie gifts to their children, Roxie and Rudy. It is also wonderful to note that our Sale Band contingent (Leon & Riawena, Monique & Tom, Phil & Lee, Ray & Bev and Shirley H) met with players from the English Sale Band to present a plaque to their ‘sister’ band whom they have been corresponding with for a number of years. In sad news, Tom’s parents didn’t Skype him today as planned. Luckily Tom had the Whit Friday Contest to distract him from this rejection.
Well it has been a massive 24 hours and we really can’t believe what we have just experienced. News has just come in that we were awarded:
- Best non-UK Band in the Denshaw Contest
- Best Deportment (not deportation, Phil) in Uppermill and Broadoak, and possibly second in the Greenfield Contest for deportment also (depends if ‘City of Trenyager’ really means ‘City of Traralgon’ – yes, this has just been confirmed!)
- Second place in Third Section at Scouthead & Austerlands. It seems that freezing our bits off was worth it at Scouthead as we have won 75 quid for our efforts.
- At Delph, the busiest of the 11 contest sites, we achieved a very proud 26th place out of 77 bands overall.
As Jimmy Baldwin would have said, ‘Bloody marvellous!’
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