THE IPSWICH BRASS BAND

brass bandThe origins of the Ipswich brass band movement are lost in the past, at least as far as I am concerned. There was a brass band contest held in the Lower Arboretum at Christchurch Park, Ipswich on the 12th August 1861. This was apparently a popular entertainment, although in the event fewer than half the bands promised in fact turned up. The evening fête champetre was also a success despite the lack of bands, and the fireworks made up for any disappointment that may have been felt. Some 5000 people attended; but although there were said to be some 11 bands from across the eastern counties taking part no Ipswich band was among them.

The contest was won by Jackson’s band from Norwich and I can tell you a few things about Blind Billy Jackson, to give him his full (if unofficial) title. In the late 1850s and early 60s he seemed to have won every contest in East Anglia that he entered. There are three broadsheets published on these contests that I know of, and there were probably more. One of these was held in Great Yarmouth and one in Norwich. Two broadsheets concern the Norwich competition. In all three events, those in Yarmouth , Norwich and this one in Ipswich (all held during August 1861) Jackson won with a rousing rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. This tells us quite a lot about the popular musical tastes of the time. The Messiah was a hit not only with the musical elite but with the ordinary music loving public as well. Although the Hallelujah Chorus is still a well loved piece of music something rather less serious might feature in a summer evening band concert nowadays.

Consider how the coming of the railway age and the industrialisation of the making of musical instruments had produced these popular competitions. In the days of the horse and cart as the fastest means of transport around East Anglia you could not have drawn bands from such widely dispersed places; the advent of the railway had come about in little over a dozen years. The production of affordable brass instruments had perhaps begun a few years earlier, but the proliferation of local bands was a Victorian phenomenon. The people had always had the musical ability, but whereas it had previously been restricted largely to unaccompanied song, it could now be played by bands. There had been some bands to play in church when an organ was not present; these typically consisted of a couple of violins, a three string bass and a serpent (a primitive wind instrument). At home or in the pub folk singing had been an intimate pastime, but a brass band contest could attract thousands.

AS far as the Ipswich brass band goes the history is obscure and I am scarcely better informed about the publishers of this set of parts. The name of the firm is given as the Epoch Delivery Co of Hadleigh. Its deliveries must have been largely centred on Hadleigh railway station which was opened in 1847 (well before the Ipswich band contest) and closed to passengers in 1932. Hadleigh was the terminus of a short branch from Bentley Junction on the London line south of Ipswich.  The firm published a few other things, most notably  the instructional book Fortepiano.” Musician by proxy, written from daily experience of the life of a scientific pianist; in two volumes by Lois Earle. Music was obviously a primary concern of the publishing side of the business, but this was must have been a sideline of what was presumably primarily a delivery company.

The date of this sheet music appears to be the early years of the 20th century. What was the Ipswich Brass Band Courier, the name that appears as the heading to the sheet music? Perhaps it was a magazine?   And what was the first brass band in Ipswich? The Gislingham Silver Band can trace its history back to 1885 and Long Melford Silver Band to 1890, but the Ipswich and Norwich Co-op Band only goes back to 1982, and I can find no reference to an earlier band in Ipswich. Maybe some local historian of Suffolk can enlighten me.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

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