Brass Bands - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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Brass Bands

One of our family's great pleasures was to take the three-minute walk on Sunday afternoons from our house to the bandstand in the park to listen to the band concerts. The bandstand was superbly located facing a large grassy hill where, on most summer Sundays throughout the war and afterwards, rain or shine, large crowds would congregate to listen to a good Yorkshire brass band - and there were plenty of those. Actually some of what I called ‘brass’ bands were ‘silver’ bands but I was too young to know the difference. In fact, the main difference was the colour of the instrument although I found a joker on the Internet recently (2016). Ray Lang from Barnsley who claimed that, “One plays music, the other is worn on the finger”.

Above: The famous Bandstand Hill c2009.
Directly in front of the stage was a fenced off area set out before each concert with a hundred or so deck chairs. The entrance to the seating area was through two small gaps either side of the stage area and on a fine day most of the seats filled up long before the concert started. There was someone on duty at the gates to sell you the programme - which was usually nothing more than a typed and duplicated sheet of paper with the name of the band, its conductor, and a list of the music they were planning to play. It cost a mere couple of pence or so.

Many of the bands had their own pre-war braided uniforms and decorated music stands. The musical standards were extremely high - especially the instrumental soloists. Many of the musicians were in 'reserved' occupations such as mining and munitions, or were retired. Many who went to listen to the bands were devotees of brass band music and they listened critically to the performances; others, possibly the majority, were there just to enjoy good music in congenial surroundings.

As a family we went there almost every Summer Sunday but I don't remember ever going into the seating area. There were a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, my parents didn't wish, or more likely couldn't afford, to fork out a shilling or so for the four of us to have the privilege of sitting down in a deck chair to listen. Secondly, and possibly a more important reason, having paid to go into the enclosure my parents would have felt duty bound to remain there until the end of the concert. That would have delighted me but I was the only member of the family who thought so. Having said that, the sound and view was just as good standing by the outside of the fence.

I can't now remember the names of all the bands I listened to during the war years but I do know that over the course of the late 1940s all the best-known Yorkshire brass and silver bands performed there, including the Black Dyke Mills (National Brass Band Champions 1947-49 and 1951), Brighouse and Rastrick (National Brass Band Champions 1946), the Wakefield CWS, and bands from many of the collieries in the area.

After listening to the band we often walked through the park, past the bowling greens and tennis courts, past the duck pond and through into the magnificent rose garden. I used to love walking under the pergola (image above - out of season) that that held masses of beautiful roses in the season. In those days I couldn't reach the roof of the pergola except by taking a running jump! The seats were always occupied all day at weekends with other folk wandering slowly around waiting to grab a seat as soon as someone moved off. After a concert we would often walk back home via the duck pond (see below).

Almost as soon as the war was over the ice cream vendors came back onto the scene and they tended to circulate amongst the crowds selling their sixpenny ice cream sandwiches and 'tupny' (2d) and 'thripny' (3d) cornets. It was the first time I had ever tasted ice cream. There were two local manufacturers, Massarella's and Lumb's. Our family always thought that Lumb's ice cream was better than Massarella's but it was a personal preference. Late onto the scene was Walls which, strangely, we didn't like because we deemed it too creamy and too sickly. For the first time I saw the Walls ice cream sellers pedalling around on their famous tricycles with the logo, ‘Stop me and buy one’. In the first few years after the war our palates were still attuned to the wartime diet - which certainly didn't include cream! Something I'm sure we didn't think about at the time: the complete ice cream with cornets, wafers and sandwich biscuits was edible and so there was no litter left behind - not that anyone left any kind of litter in those years.

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