Arthur Taylor on the origins of ‘Band of Year’

One of the most interesting things that happened was the whole brass band thing. That only happened… I’d done a series called Out Front. The idea of Out Front was that each programme would be a different form of minority music, but music that had an enthusiastic following. A small but enthusiastic following. So I did a programme with Fairport Convention, and I did a programme about brass bands. We went out to New Brighton, which has a lovely park and a nice bandstand, and we did a programme with a band called Besses o’ th’ Barn. Now, Besses o’ th’ Barn were a pretty good band in those days, and there was the added convenience that they were just up the road from Granada. It’s a small village, part of Greater Manchester. And the other thing is they’ve got this incredible history, which I didn’t know anything about at all until I met them. I knew a bit about brass bands, my grandma used to take me to the park to listen to them when I was a kid, and I like the sound. But I had no idea of the history. Anyway this band toured the world, for god’s sake, in 1910, and they were literally world famous in their day. So that was that was very interesting. And then something really strange happened. Granada went into a takeover mode, taking over other companies of one sort and another. They took over Collins, the book publishers, and then took over a music publishing firm called Novellos in London. And this was Denis Forman, I’m pretty sure. The main reason must have been that Novellos owned the Elgar catalogue; they had the rights to all Edward Elgar’s music. But I suspect what Denis didn’t know was that they had been, since 1880 something, publishing brass band music. So the takeover happened. There was a guy called Bram Gay who was the musical adviser to the Novellos. And Bram was very interesting; he’d been a young cornet player in brass bands, gone to trumpet, played symphony orchestras, become the orchestral manager for his day job, but he was the adviser on brass bands to Novellos. And he wrote a letter to Denis Forman saying, “You’ve taken over Novellos. Why did you do it? What on earth are you supposed to do? Do you realise there is this fantastic brass band catalogue, and the brass bands are northern? Shouldn’t you be doing something about it? So I get hauled into Denis’s office, and he showed me this letter – and again, this is Granada – he said, “I think you should get together with this chap and do something.” So I did. And Bram is a very bright, very intelligent, very lovely guy. And the thing about it was that brass band competitions in those days, and still, are like typewriter contests. Every band plays the same piece, and the band that makes the fewest mistakes wins. And I said, you know, there’s no way. That’s not television. Why don’t we get them to play a programme, you know, that will entertain a television audience? And Bram was very taken aback, took it on board, and said, “Yes, good idea.” And I said, “Which bands are we going to invite to this thing?” He said, “Well, they’ll play a half an hour each, so what should we have, 10 bands? I said, “Okay.” And he went through the past umpteen years of records of all the contests and gave them points and decided on the 10 bands that we would invite to the first Granada Band of the Year Competition 1971, at Belle Vue, which is a traditional home for brass bands and elephants. And it was a local programme. So there I am with the OB unit at Belle Vue, doing 10 bands, and what we decided was that we’d record everything – thank God for Eric Harrison, because he was the director and he did it all – but we looked through the programme… they told us what the programme was going to be, and they gave us the music. So we looked very carefully through the programme and decided which was the kind of interesting piece of each band, make sure that we recorded that, and we’d take a punt on which bands were going to come in the top three and record all their programme, and hope that we could stitch together an hour long show which would be bits and pieces of nine bands, and a full programme of half hour of the winning band, which we did. And Belle Vue was packed. They all went down very well. And there was a great, wonderful surprise winner, the Cory Band from South Wales, who had a conductor – a wild, maverick major, Arthur Kenney, ex-Marines – and anyway they put together a winning programme. And that was a godsend because it had been a local programme, but suddenly Welsh television wanted it as well, you see. And once Welsh television wanted it, other companies said, “Well, we’ve got a band there,” so it kind of gradually grew to be a proper network programme, and that lasted until 1988, so 17 years or something, The Granada Band of the Year.

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