Monday, 4 June 2007
Battle of the Bands
Whit Friday evening is an annual, mammoth, brass band event that attracts around one hundred bands from across the UK and abroad every year. For the whole weekend Saddleworth's B & B's and campsites are packed; and licensees take in extra stock. Outsiders find the event hard to understand: locals refer to it as 'the band contest' but in reality there are around thirty individual contests in villages and districts across Saddleworth, North East Oldham and parts of Tameside. Generally spectators stay put at their favourite venue while the bands tour round the area competing at as many contests as they can between 4pm and midnight. When I tell you that each band has its own forty seater coach you will understand why it easier for spectators to stay put.
The contests consist of two parts: the march and the stand; the march is what it says on the tin and the stand is where the band, well, stand, and play a test piece to be judged by a hidden adjudicator, typically ensconced in caravan borrowed for the occasion.
Individual venues vary in their style and so attract different clientele: Uppermill and Delph are larger livelier events, where people who enjoy a rowdy beer soaked evening typically join the tougher looking type of Police Officer as the evening progresses. Dobcross is small and pretty, Greenfield and Scouthead are predominantly family events with a variety of attendant attractions in addition to the bands.
We unpacked our folding chairs on the packed field at Greenfield among families enjoying a variety of picnics. The bands were terrific and included big names like Brighouse and Rastrick as well as some of the tongue in cheek 'scratch' bands assembled for the occasion from excellent musicians who are not currently registered to another band. These bands aim to entertain rather than win and dress in a manner to suit their name: Tartan Brass, Chav Brass and Boobs and Brass - a popular one - , were some of this year's selection.
The biggest cheer of the night was for Greenfield Band - our Tom's band - they lifted their game and managed to win the prizes for best 4th Section band and best Local Band.
If you are ever told you must go to Oldham, choose to come when it is Whit Friday; I guarantee you will forgive the town its faults and have a marvellous time.