Castleton Going for the Hat-trick.

Brass Banding , The Nationals, and Castleton Brass

Although brass instruments of various type, and in particular the trombone, go back 400 years or more, Brass banding in a form that people would recognize today dates back in Great Britain approximately 200 years. Formed in 1809, many believe Stalybridge Band to be the oldest brass band in the world, and Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band is celebrating their 200th anniversary this year.

Brass banding was first established in the industrial areas of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Wales. In those early days the bands were sponsored by the owners of mills and pits in order to provide workers with an enjoyable and healthy pastime. Brass instruments were a good choice, being operated by valves, well suited to the sturdy fingers of the working folk that played them! Many famous names, like Black Dyke Mills, St Hilda Colliery and Fodens Motor Works owe their origins to such industries.

Local contests, to establish the “best band” started in the 1840’s and by 1860 there were over 750 bands in England alone.

The first national contest took place in 1856, but the National Championships of Great Britain, or ‘The Nationals’, as it is known today, first took place on 21st July 1900 at the Crystal Palace in London.

‘The Nationals’ was the brainchild of John Henry Iles, an entrepreneur and Gloucestershire cricketer. He set up the contest to demonstrate the musical virtuosity of brass bands, to show what they really could do, and to raise funds for veterans of the Boer War who had fallen on hard times.

The first winners of the contest, playing ‘Beauties of Sullivan’, were the Denton Original Prize Band conducted by Alex Owen. They too can trace their origins to 1818 and prize was the princely sum of 75 guineas as well as the ‘1000 Guineas Challenge Trophy’.

There are now approximately 600 contesting bands in the UK (about 17,000 registered players). There are also many other bands that do not compete, but enjoy brass playing for the sheer fun of it.

Over the years many thousands more bands have been established worldwide, particularly in the USA, Japan, continental Europe and Scandinavia.

To enable bands of different standards to compete, the contest is conducted in five sections (Championship, First, Second, Third and Fourth). The United Kingdom is also divided into 8 regions (London and Sothern Counties, Midlands, North of England, North West, Scotland, Southwest, Wales and Yorkshire), which further manages the scale and reduces travel. The bands that put on a good performance score well and gain promotion as well as get the opportunity to compete at the pinnacle of the contest, the National finals in the autumn of the year.

Castleton Brass owes its origins to the Drayton band (Norwich), founded in 1937. It moved to Eye in 2000 numbering just a handful of regular players. In 2008 the band started to work hard on recruiting new members and improving its musicianship by appointing the current musical director, Peter Ryan.

The band is situated in the London and Southern Counties region which comprises the huge geographical area of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, London, West Sussex and Cambridgeshire. After a steady build up of players, and much local playing at summer fares and Christmas carol concerts, the band took the decision to start contesting again.

We started somewhat cautiously in the local East Anglia Championships. In 2014 we were runners up and in 2015 we won our section. Encouraged by our early success we entered the ‘Nationals’ in 2015. It is something of an understatement to say that we are proud of what the band has achieved in the past 4 years:

2015 * Second place at the London and Southern Counties Area Championships ,Fourth Section.
* Represented London and Southern Counties at the National Brass Band Championship Finals

2016 * Champions of the London and Southern Counties Area, Fourth Section
* Represented London and Southern Counties at the National Brass Band Championship Finals
* Promoted to the Third Section

2017 * Champions of the London and Southern Counties Area, Third Section
* Represented London and Southern Counties at the National Brass Band Championship Finals, where we were placed 4th .
* Promoted to the Second Section

On 18th March the band will, once again, travel to Stevenage to compete in the Second Section of the London and Southern Counties Area Championships. If we were to win, we would become the first band in the history of this competition to have won Fourth, Third and Second Sections in consecutive years. (London and Southern Counties area contests began in 1945.)

Wish us luck!

from Eye, Suffolk