Black Dyke - An Inside Story

Roger Thorne

Active Member
Black Dyke - An Inside Story
John H. Clay
171 Pages
Jagrins Music Publications
£30.00 + P&P

From the early 1960’s I have been a great fan of Black Dyke Band. From their formation as a brass band in 1855 they have a history that is full of success, and still remain one of the most successful bands to the present day.
There is so much written about this band that the author admits to finding it impossible to recollect all the colourful events that have occurred in this publication, but has managed to present a detailed history which makes fascinating reading.

The Author, John H. Clay was born in 1944 and started playing the cornet at the age of nine. At the age of 13 he was offered the Principal Cornet position of Clifton & Lightcliffe Band. Twelve months later he auditioned for Black Dyke and became one of the youngest players to join the band. He remained with them for 15 years and played all the cornet positions at some time. John has always collected Black Dyke memorabilia and, with the added extracts taken from newspapers, diaries, scrapbooks and personal letters, has put together a vast collection of accurate and interesting information, the majority of which has never before been published.

This publication covers the complete history of the band from its inception to the present day in eleven fascinating chapters. There are also seven appendices which list conductors, contest results and prize money. Two further appendices list recordings from 1903 to 2005. There is also a DVD included which gives further insight into the bands history.
The opening chapter takes us right back to the 1700’s and gives a detailed explanation of the origins of the famous name of the village of Queensbury, the history of John Foster’s Mill and the inception of the Band with its quick rise to fame. Following chapters recall famous conductors, bandmasters and players such as John Gladney, Phineas and Fred Bower, Alex Owen and John Paley and give an insight into the workings of a brass band in which must have been difficult times.

What I found fascinating about the early stages of this book were the references to contests. One example states that on 27th September 1902, Black Dyke won the One Thousand Guinea Challenge Trophy and £40 cash at Crystal Palace. Over 80,000 people attended and the adjudicators remarks on the bands performance were short and to the point; “Criticism is out of the question”. They were awarded 140 points - the maximum possible. Compared with today’s contests this really does make you think that our movement has declined somewhat!

To take a band on tour today is a huge process, but imagine the difficulties organising such a trip in 1902. No air-conditioned coaches, no jet planes, no internet and no mobile telephones! The account of the Bands Canadian and American Tour in 1906 makes absolutely fascinating reading and, using the diary of William Jeffrey (2nd Flugel Horn player), gives us a day to day account of the emotions and tribulations of this mammoth 5 month tour. Unfortunately the tour made a loss of £3,000 and the following months saw the band take on extra engagements to make up the shortfall. In the following year, 20 engagements were taken in August alone!

Following an interesting Chapter on Arthur Oakes Pearce (Bandmaster for 37 years) there is a full account detailing the conflicts that surrounded the bands signature tune ‘Queensbury’ written by Jimmy Kay. I was certainly unaware of the facts surrounding this issue which made very interesting reading. Also included are printed programmes of various radio broadcasts between 1925 and 1948.

Chapter 6 onwards brings us to the 1950’s, with more detailed accounts of Contests, Festivals, Concerts and Tours. This chapter incorporates Jack Emmott’s diary which includes an account of the bands Octet which performed in Moscow in 1957; - Maurice Murphey, David Pratt, Eric Bland, Gordon Sutcliffe, John Slinger, Geoffrey Whitham, Ernest Keeton and Colin Monkton. They played eight concerts and the tour was an enormous success.

Chapter 7 is an account of the authors time with the band and, from his audition in July, 1958 as a young fourteen year old, gives us a detailed insight into the running of the band at that time. The following years were of particular interest to me as this is the time I was discovering the ‘magic’ of Dyke as a youngster myself. To play alongside Murphy, McNabb, Mortimer, Whitham, Slinger, Evans, Willcocks to name but a few, must have been a young mans dream and, as the author describes “The whole atmosphere was one of working class men who worked hard and played for the sheer love of making music at the highest levels.” He concludes that he cannot begin to explain the thrill of playing with such a gifted set of players and he considers himself to be very fortunate to have been one of the team.
Chapters 8 & 9 bring us though the ‘Major Willocks’ era and into the 1960’s. Following the death of ‘The Major’ the band went through a rather unstable period. There is some interesting correspondence between the administrators of the National Brass Band Championships regarding Black Dyke declining an appearance in the concerts which followed the conclusion of the contest.

Chapter 10 takes us through the 70’s and 80’s with the arrival of Major Peter Parkes and again gives us detailed accounts of contests, concerts and tours undertaken during this period.

Chapter 11, which brings the history of the band into the 1990’s and to the present day, is somewhat ‘patchy’ to say the least. This is a period of which the majority of today’s readers are aware about ‘Dyke’ and the author appears to have ‘glossed over’ the politics surrounding the appointments and partings of David King and James Watson. He mentions groups of players resigning ‘en block’ but does not give the reader any indication as to why. As the General Secretary of the band at the time, the author would presumably have been in possession of all the facts. Obviously it is the author’s prerogative not to include this information, or maybe the band did not want to disclose the facts, but after a thoroughly enjoyable and informative read this, for me, was a slight disappointment.

However, all in all I think ‘Black Dyke - An Inside Story’ is a superb publication and gives a really fascinating insight into this world famous band. I would certainly recommend it, although the price tag may be a little excessive!

R. Thorne