Historical News Article

Published in the Huddersfield Examiner on December 15th, 1956.

“Moonrakers Were Champions Of Great Britain In 1938”

Slaithwaite Band has a record of which any village might well be proud. It has brought fame to Slaithwaite by its prowess on the contesting platform, won high honours at Crystal Palace and Belle Vue, and caused the name “Slawit” to reverberate over the length and breadth of the brass band world……

All this has been brought about by hard work, by long and painstaking practice, and by its members being imbued with the team spirit. It is first and foremost a working-mans band, and many are the times the bandsmen have spent a full day in the loom gate, at the bench or in the workshop or warehouse, swallowed a hasty meal and then had a strenuous two hours rehearsal for some important contest.

Not for them the luxury of daytime practices enjoyed on these occasions by some works and colliery bands…

This extract from the foreword of the Slaithwaite Band Jubilee souvenir booklet of 1942 is nothing less than the ungarnished truth. It is no more publicity “blurb” issued with a sense of self-satisfaction.

£2000 Trophy

For apart from the Brighouse and Rastrick Band, Slaithwaite are the only brass band in the Huddersfield area that have ever reached the championship class, though, of course, there are many more that have come, (and in some instances still are) very close to it.

And this attainment was not far back into the nineteenth centaury when, often enough, records and achievements are now only hearsay, not capable of confirmation, and when in any case a band only needed a good set of “corner” men to win a contest of the musical arrangements then available.

It is less than twenty years since – on September 4th 1938, to be exact – that the “Moonrakers” (the old Colne Valley legend is recalled by the distinctive crescent uniform cap badge) culminated a long run of successes by winning the then premier award of this country’s brass band contesting sphere, the coveted £2000 Challenge Trophy at the September Championship event at Belle Vue, Manchester.

Thus they became the champions of Great Britain; for with the test piece “Owain Glyndwr” (Maldwyn Price) they beat Black Dyke, Luton Besses o’ th’ Barn, Edge Hill L.M.S and Brighouse and Rastrick, in that order.

Concerts at Manchester, Sheffield, Bradford, Blackpool, Stockport, Derby, Chesterfield, Doncaster and York followed, and there were many broadcasts by the band; but alas, within the year of reaching the heights, war had been declared. To quote once more from the souvenir handbook, the band “had more serious matters to contest with than band contests”.

Twenty Called Up

No fewer than twenty bandsmen were called up, and the struggle to keep going followed the familiar pattern of most Huddersfield bands during that period. Unhappily, by the end of hostilities the Slaithwaite Band could no longer be claimed to be among the aristocracy of the band world.

Make no mistake, however Slaithwaite are still to this day a good class band – only two weeks ago they proved this point very forcibly by carrying off top award in the first section of the Huddersfield and District Brass Bands Associations annual winter contest – and for three successive years since the war they were third prize winners in the “Daily Herald” second section of the north eastern area finals.

Just after they had resumed a more active existence following the war they won the open march championship of Great Britain at Belle Vue, too.

It is to Mr Noel Thorpe of Flockton, who brought off a “double” by conducting the winning bands in each section at the recent Huddersfield contest (he is also professional conductor of Denby Dale), that a lot of the credit must go for building up the Slaithwaite Band to the peak of their musical attainment before the war, and for directing them on sound lines since.

Contest Success

He was appointed professional conductor of Slaithwaite in 1929, and under his tuition “the band immediately went ahead with a bound”, according to the handbook. In 1933, they won first prize at Crystal Palace, becoming the only band to gain the grand shield twice (the previous occasion was in 1905); in 1937 there were first at the Belle Vue July contest, and second at the September contest, and the following veal came their crowning success at the same venue all under the baton of Mr Thorpe.

For part of that time the band also benefited from the leadership of Mr James A. Hickman, now well known as bandmaster of Brighouse and Rastrick Band.

There have been Slaithwaite Bands, with short periods of suspended animation, for nearly 140 years, but the present organisation, (today’s full title Slaithwaite Brass Band and Musical Advancement Society) was formed in 1892 at Shred School on the hillside over a mile from the village. It rejoiced in the name of Slaithwaite Brass and Reed Band, and was apparently formed through the activities of a nigger [sic] minstrel troupe at the school.

So their history is almost a case of from the ridiculous to the sublime.
1d. Subscriptions

Mr Delbert Haigh was the first conductor, and in addition to the bandsman, wives, sweethearts and friends contributed the princely sum of one penny a week to the funds.

It is recorded that the first parade of the band was from Shred School to the Rose and Crown at Cop Hill, via Newgate, and Coalgate. To those who know this moor land district and have some knowledge of the conditions of the roads at the time, this must have been some march.

In addition to boulders scattered around the about the roads, the surface was often washed away, and deep ruts were made by cartwheels on the single- track stretches of road.

However, the same record says finished up at the hosteiry, after playing two marches on route “in high spirits”.

Three years after their formation the band moved from the school to a wooden pavilion at Clough House. The present fine building at Inghead, built at the cost of £1600 through public subscription and other efforts was occupied in 1925.

Like other bands they owe a good deal of the experience of long serving members; those like Mr Frank Hirst with twenty-five years to his credit – “the only contest I missed was the main one in 1938”, he says regretfully – and Mr Colin Lunn, who joined as a lad and is now assistant bandmaster. For a while just after the war he was bandmaster at Lockwood.

But above all it is the behind-the-scenes-work of such men as Mr Renny Whiteley, of Longroyd Crescent Slaithwaite, and Mr H Chapman, 117, Longlands Road (Band and Society secretaries respectively) and Clr Frank Durne, 105, Longlands Road (for the last ten years at least the Band President), calls for recognition.

Efficient Officials

Thanks to the work of these gentlemen and their committee Slaithwaite cannot today be numbered among the many bands that have failed to realise that the modern demands and temptations of many other leisure time pursuits can be answered, at part in any rate, by improved, more efficient organisation.

As one bandsman put it “you can have the most brilliant band teacher possible, you can have a bandmaster who is a born leader – but you just can’t keep a band together, let alone go places, unless they are backed up by efficient officials”.

In these days of increasing financial worries for voluntary organisations, and less tangible support from local benefactors, officials really have to be keen and hard-working to keep the organisation going. “The old it’ll be alright on the day attitude it out. A Band needs to be business like as well as musically to succeed today”.

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