Monday 3 November 2008

Brass Bands


Having watched Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT union lead his delegation down, Tolpuddle High Street in 2008, with the RMT Easington Colliery Band.

I thought about posting a brief article on Brass Bands and the Labour Movement.

While many mining collieries had their own bands, many run and organised by the miners union their is few other examples of trade unions establishing Bras
s Bands, the only other examples I can find is the Doncaster National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) Brass Band which was established around circa 1938.

A Langham Labour League band from 1871 (this was likely to have been an agricultural workers union band). The Co-operative
movement also had numerous Brass Bands, many of them successful.

The Gas Workers Union in the late 1880's also
seem to have helped establish a number of bands and today UNISON sponsors the Kinneil Brass band in Scotland, founded by the miners of Kinneil Pit and the workers of Wilson's Kinneil Iron Works in their home town of Bo'ness, West Lothian in 1858.

The Milnsbridge Socialist Brass Band (Huddersfield) was active in the early 1930's and surely the Independent Labour Party (ILP) or the Clarion's also attempted to establish Brass Bands. Preston Clarion had a band circa 1911 and also the suffragettes in the WSPU.

I have seen reference to a Transport & General Workers Union Brass Band ? but not been able to confirm. Photo right is of a special Silver Jubilee TGWU band from 1947.
I have seen reference to a Post Office Engineering Union band from Stockport circa early 1970's

Their was a Liverpool Socialist brass band

Ireland now has only one trade union Brass Band (CWU), after the disbandment of the world famous Irish Transport & General Worker Union (ITGWU) Brass Band (lat
er known as SIPTU Brass Band) around circa 2005.

By Eileen King "ITGWU Liberty Magazine" June 1984

The Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union Band (ITGWU) was formed in 1919 (picture above). Senator Thomas Foran, General President of the Union, decided that a Brass and Reed Band would be of great assistance in extending Union organisation in Dublin. He already had experience of two previous bands which had been intimately connected with the young Union. One was a fife and drum band, affectionately referred to as “The Suffering Ducks”, and the other a pipe band with which Tom Kennedy (later a General Officer of the Union) was closely associated.

The Dublin dockers were interested in Tom Foran’s idea, and a committee of Dublin No. 1 Branch members was set up to raise the necessary funds to equip, clothe and train a band. The collection to raise the money was undertaken during the latter part of 1918. An interesting point about this collection, which ranged mostly over the docks and local employments, including carriers was that the carriers negotiated an increase of 7/6d per week in October, 1918 and, led by the late Jack Clarke (a member of the fund raising committee) and his eight fellow workers in Suttons, a large number of the carters subscribed their first week’s increase — 7/6d to the band fund.

Financial help came from Union funds too and the organisation of a series of “Housey-Housey” games was — according to a man who was active in the project - another source of revenue.

Early in 1919 the Band was formed, instruments purchased and rehearsals begun. The first uniforms of the band were made by the Abbey Street Co-op and designed and paid for by William O’Brien who was then Acting General Secretary of the Union.

The first public engagement undertaken by the Band was in May, 1919, when it participated in the May Procession at the church of the Oblate Fathers in Inchicore.

There were veterans who remembered how the Band practised in the drill hall of the old Citizen Army ... of the raid on Liberty Hall in 1920 by the Black and Tans who smashed up most of the instruments, and of the period in 1924 when it seemed doubtful if the Band would be permitted to survive. But survive it did and played on to become the only band to win the Royal Dublin Society Band Contest two years in succession.

During the Anglo-Irish war the Band was prominent, participating in many parades and exercises. They were frequently in trouble because of their activities, and were often stopped by the Black and Tans and ordered off parade. An amusing story is told of a parade they had in Finglas. A contingent of Tans stopped the Band and the officer in charge instructed them to cease playing Irish marches. The Band Sergeant agreed and instructed the Band to play the “Wearing of the Green.” The officer applauded and remarked ... “Isn’t that much better than your b.... Irish marches?”.

In 1932 the Band went to Belfast to support William McMullen (later a General President) who was contesting the Stormont election. On leaving Belfast they played the Irish National Anthem at the railway station, and as a result a large number of them were arrested. It was only with great difficulty that William McMullen succeeded iri getting them released the following day. A ban was then imposed on the Band’s re-entry to the Six Counties, but it was lifted in 1948 to allow it to attend the monster 1798 Commemoration in Belfast that year. Needless to say, at the railway station on leaving Belfast, history repeated itself!.

It is worthy of record that in those early years, when the Irish Army Military Band was first formed, twenty-one members of the ITGWU Band were accepted as key instrumentalists and went over en bloc.

Since its formation in 1919, up to 1936, the Band was administered by a Committee from the Dublin No. 1 Branch. Since 1937, it has been administered by the Dublin District Council of the Union.

It was in 1937 also that Adolf Gebler was appointed as Musical Director. He held the degree of Pedagoge de Musicke from a German Conservatoire of Music, and from that year until 1957, when he left to take up an appointment in San Francisco, the Band settled down to a really excellent and fruitful period. It attained a very high standard which won it many collective and individual prizes.

Up to August 9, 1954, the official title of the Union Band was The Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union Prize Brass & Reed Band. Since then the title has be-come The Irish Transport & General Workers Band World Prize Brass and Reed Band. This came about as a result of an invitation to the Band to represent Ireland at the Wereld Muzierkconcours (World Musical Competition and Olympiad) 1954, to be held in Kerkrade, Holland, in August of that year. (This contest is held every four years.)

The journey to Holland wasn’t without its troubles. The Band and officials were scheduled to arrive in Kerkrade at 9.45 p.m. but didn’t arrive until the early hours of the following morning because, first of all, they got lost at Rotterdam and, secondly, they were held up for an hour and as half in a train break-down due to an electrical storm.

When the party eventually arrived at Kerkrade it was both too late and too early to allocate the individual members to their respective abodes for the duration of their stay. They had been given up for lost and the reception committee had gone home. However, the local police very kindly opened wide the station doors and took them “into custody”. Some of the party (including the Musical Director) were so tired and worn out that they slept in the cells! However, by 6.30 a.m. everything was sorted out and the party accommodated.

In spite of their misadventures, the Band went on to win 1st Prize in the “Excellence Section”; 1st Prize in the “Contest of Honour”, and 2nd Prize in the marching competition. This achievement in Holland was a triumph not only for the Band’s Musical Director, Adolf Gebler, but to the hard work and enthusiasm of the bandsmen over a very long period.

A learners” class was established around 1956 to provide the way and the means of ready-made replacements for key instrumentalists who, perhaps, through force of circumstances or; other reasons might sever their connection with the Band back again to Kerkrade in 1958 — this time with new Musical Director, Joe Murphy who had replaced Adolf Gebler where the Band added to its laurels by winning two second prizes.

In 1962, John Carroll (now General President of the Union) became Musical Director. He had been a member of the Band since he was 14 years of age, and chairman from the age of 16. Another milestone — the Band had been an all-male one since its formation, but in 1962 John Carroll changed all that and took on two lady members.

In 1969, Michael Rogers became Assistant to John Carroll, and Junior Band Coach. He was also responsible for establishing the children’s recorder band, which is still flourishing.

In 1970, what was called the Egerlander Band was formed. It comprised 12 members from the Band proper who, in colourful Bavarian-type costumes, played tuneful and rousing music in the “beer-garden” genre. This Band was very popular in the 1970’s, playing mostly for charities. It seems to have gone to ground in recent years, which is a great pity.

The list of achievements by the ITGWU World Prize Brass & Reed Band is quite formidable and space does not allow me to list them specifically. Suffice it to say, however, that the Band excelled itself down through the years by winning many competitions and championships. In addition, many of the Bandsmen won individual gold and silver medals in solo competitions. Three more visits were made to Kerkrade — 1962/1966/1970, with John Carroll as Musical Director, and on each occasion the Band came back with prizes, both in the concert section and in the marching competition.

Due to his many commitments, John Carroll left the Band about five years ago, and was replaced by Jimmy Cavanagh as Musical Director.

The standard of musicianship of the Union Band has long been acknowledged as top class, and the honours which have come its way in competition at local, national and international level bear testimony to this.

From its foundation, the Band has been a regular participant in labour, trade union and national parades and ceremonies. Ever since then the Band has continued its labour and trade union activities and has visited most centres of the country in which the union has branches on many occasions down the years in connection with commemorative ceremonies, industrial parades and disputes and other major industrial events.

The bandsmen always have been drawn from the ranks of the workers; some of the boys from the Artane Band have graduated to the uniform of the Union’s Band, but throughout its long history it has been an amateur organisation of working people, kept alive through the enthusiasm of its members and the interest of Union personnel.

The ITGWU (SIPTU) Brass band closed circa 2005

Thanks to Andy Newman for Tolpuddle/RMT photo