Brass Bands have been with us since the start of the nineteenth century – their present set up dates from 1840. Instruments were comparatively cheap, and bands flourished as hobbies among the working class population in the manufacturing towns and mining areas such as Lancashire, Yorkshire and the South Wales Valleys. Many distinguished twentieth century composers, such as Elgar and Vaughan Williams, have written for them and a notable group of ‘brass band composers’ has been established: Eric Ball, Edward Gregson and Gareth Wood to name a few.
With this impressive pedigree and recognition from the world of ‘serious’ music it is a shame that brass bands suffer from such bad press. Preconceived ideas such as the ‘cloth cap’ image, ‘oompah’ music and ‘old fashioned’ tunes are overblown and, sometimes, totally false. A good band would paint a much different picture: a dedicated membership comprising young and old players, male and female playing a varied selection of stylish arrangements and original compositions. Anyone who has seen the recent highly acclaimed British film ‘Brassed Off’ will understand the dedication involved in a good brass band. As for ‘old fashioned’ music: Williams Fairey Band have just brought out a CD entitled ‘Acid Brass’ featuring arrangements of acid music that has achieved positive notices in the popular music press!
History of the band
The first written report regarding the band was in 1896 when it was originally formed as the Elliots Smelting Works Band. From this humble beginning the band quickly established itself playing at local fetes and marches, raising money for both itself and worthy causes. One such example was a march for the destitute and unemployed people of Kidwelly, which raised about £8, a considerable amount of money at the turn of the century.
The lifeblood for most bands is on the competing stage and this was as important in the 1920’s as it is today. In those days the band had to make it’s own way to contest venues by train. It was fortunate that the band’s rehearsal room was in the Neptune buildings adjacent to the station.
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War the bands’ fortunes took a turn for the worse and they disbanded. Decades later in 1972, a group of local enthusiasts held a meeting in order to re-establish the band. Old instruments and a library of music were discovered. These, together with some new purchases, a place to rehearse and a keen group of volunteers, were the seeds of the renaissance. One member from that original meeting is still in the band today: Hugh Owen. A few weeks into the band’s rebirth, Hugh enlisted the help of Edmond John and his father Idris. The John family bridge the gap between the old and new: Idris along with his father and two brothers played in the original band. The John tradition is even more evident today with Edmond still playing along with his two sons, Daren and Andrew, and also his cousin ‘Tab’ with his two sons, Gareth and Ceri.
In the pre-war days the band was successful at contests. A distinct highlight was representing Wales at the Crystal Palace in London. This trend has continued. The last nine years being the most successful period for the band ever: winning every trophy in the second section including the Welsh championship twice in a row; winning most trophies in the first section and the Welsh championship twice in a row and also representing Wales in the National brass band first section championships at Birmingham (1997) and Nottingham (1999). The success of the band in recent years is such, that in 1999 it achieved championship status in the South Wales league. From January 2000 the band has been competing in the national championship section, which is equivalent to the premier division in football, which places the band in the same league as the likes of the Black Dyke Mills, Brighouse and Rastrick, Grimethorpe and the Cory bands.
The new millennium proved to be just as rewarding for the band. The National Eisteddfod provided the first success where the band turned in a tremendous performance to come runners-up to none other than the Cory band. A few months later in Treorchy another fine show gained them the ‘Champion band of Wales’ runners-up trophy – the highest placing ever for any West Wales brass band. 2001 was even better with the band producing their first ever win in the Championship section, and where better to do it than on home soil – the West Wales Brass Band Association’s centenary contest at the Burry Port Memorial Hall. This together with a runners-up spot in the Ebbw Vale contest and a top five placing in the Treorchy entertainment contest gave the band the ammunition it needed to become ‘Champion Band Of Wales 2001’ – an awesome achievement for a band so new to this level of competition.
And it hasn’t stopped there! 2002 has seen the band come third in the Senior Cup contest in Blackpool thus qualifying for the prestigious Grand Shield. This will see them battling against twenty or so of Britain’s finest brass bands to further qualify for the British Open competition – the highest ranked brass band contest of them all. Whilst in August 2002 the band travelled to the National Eisteddfod of Wales at St David’s for what was to be another triumphant performance and, again for the first time in their history, the title of Eisteddfod champions.
|1988||Welsh Regional Champions||Third|
|1995||Welsh Regional Champions and League Champions||Second|
|1996||Welsh Regional Champions and League Champions||Second|
|1996||Promotion to First Section|
|1997||South Wales League Champions||First|
|1999||Welsh Regional Champions||First|
|1999||Promotion to Championship Section|
|2000||South Wales League Runners-Up||Championship|
|2001||Championship Band of Wales||Championship|
|2002||Grand Shield Qualifiers||Championship|
|1982||National Eisteddfod – Swansea||Doon Valley||4th||2nd|
|1985||Welsh Regional Swansea||A Malvern Suite||4th||2nd|
|1985||Treorchy||Episodes for Brass||4th||2nd|
|1985||Burry Port||Saltzberg Suite||4th||1st|
|1985||National Finals – Royal Albert Hall||A Saddleworth Festival Overture||4th||17th|
|1986||Welsh Regional – Swansea||Suite in Bb||3rd||3rd|
|1986||Pontins – Brean Sands||Sunset Rhapsody||3rd||3rd|
|1986||National Eisteddfod – Fishguard||Entertainment Programme||2nd + 3rd||Best 3rd Section|
|1987||Welsh Regional – Swansea||Scottish Festival Overture||3rd||3rd|
|1987||Ebbw Vale||Quo Vadis||3rd||1st|
|1988||Welsh Regional – Swansea||Folk Song Heritage||3rd||1st|
|1988||National Eisteddfod – Newport||Entertainment Programme||2nd + 3rd||1st|
|1988||National Finals – Hammersmith||Cassation||3rd||14th|
|1989||Ebbw Vale||The Shipbuilders||3rd||3rd|
|1989||National Eisteddfod – Llanrwst||Entertainment Programme||2nd + 3rd||1st|
|1989||Treorchy||Introduction and Allegro||3rd||1st|
|1990||Welsh Regional – Swansea||A Forth Suite||2nd||3rd|
|1990||National Eisteddfod – Rhymney||Entertainment Programme||2nd + 3rd||2nd|
|1990||National Finals – Logon Hall||Belmont Variations||2nd||19th|
|1991||National Eisteddfod – Mold||Entertainment Programme||2nd + 3rd||2nd|
|1992||National Eisteddfod – Aberystwyth||Corolianus||Champ + 1st||3rd|
|1993||National Eisteddfod – Builth Wells||Journey into Freedom||Champ + 1st||3rd|
|1993||Treorchy – Welsh Brewers Challenge||Entertainment Programme||Champ + 1st||Best 1st Section|