Courtesy of "What's On Stockport"
summer a-coming in I thought a bit of history of North-Western
Holidays might be in order for we 'plebs' so here are a few facts
about 'Holy Days' from Professor Mad Blower. Wakes Weeks began a lot
earlier than you might think. They were established in the 16th
Century but everyone's favourite 'Roundhead' - Oliver Cromwell-
abolished them because of we peasants getting legless on our few
days break from the daily grind and having fun didn't exactly fit
with his Puritan beliefs.
Still, when the Monarchy was restored after 'Old Nol' popped his
clogs, the holidays were reintroduced and the 'wakes weeks'
tradition was resurrected in our Northern towns. Blackpool became a
tourist destination in the late 18th century. Well, the small hamlet
as it was then had a seven mile beach, sea bathing (very
therapeutic) and opportunities for a lot of extra-marital
clandestine bonking within the 'Upper Clarses'.
Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution and the development of
this town built on swampland midway between the estuary of the River
Ribble and that of the River Wyre. Blackpool originally had three
railway stations mainly built to serve holidaymakers. They were the
North, Central and South. Central opened in 1853 and closed in 1964.
Wakes weeks were 'staggered' amongst the Lancashire and Cheshire
mill towns. Accommodation in the town was a bit limited thanks to
the colossal demand and Stockport's 'wakes' were usually celebrated
in September. Anyone out there from 'Stockport Heritage' reading
this mag. who thinks I'm wrong about the month, please drop a line
to the editor of 'Out and About'!
So now on to the early '70's and the Tower Ballroom during 'Glasgow
Fortnight' which was a sort of lunatic period when anything could
happen - a bit like todays Ibiza with bagpipes and Glasgie kisses.
The Glasgow fortnight memory I have is of the night when an
assortment of Russ Abbot's 'C. U. Jimmie' characters demanded that
our bandleader Charlie Barlow play the then current chart-topper by
Mungo Jerry - 'In the Summer Time'. Our singer and guitarist Tony
Williams (later to play with the group 'Steely Dan') and the guys in
our rhythm section knew the music and the lyrics but our bandleader
refused to play it without the 'dots'.
Four members of the Scottish contingent on the dance floor placed
eight stink bombs (hydrogen sulphide - rotten eggs) on the apron of
the stage and smashed them with their bovver boots. The smell was
horrendous. The band hastily concluded its 'set' and left poor old
Ernest Broadbent on 'The Mighty Wurlitzer' organ to play a ballroom
dancing set for hundreds of crazy Caledonians. It was the night that
our whole band disappeared down the back stairs of the Tower and
across the road into the 'Mucky Duck' (White Swan) for a spot of
Reminiscing about unpleasant pongs, a trumpet player and great
friend of mine had a residency at the Blackpool Tower Circus before
'live' animal acts were discontinued. Camels, as you might know, are
a bit niggly at the best of times and when they hear music that
annoys them such as a discordant note as they enter the circus
'ring' that they don't like it, a spot of dromedary retribution
(sorry-annoyed camels revenge) occurs. After a couple of months
listening to this musical mess, the lead camel in the formation
entered the arena and aimed a jet of its spit at my trumpet playing
mate. Unlike your average Stockport County centre forward with a
football, camels are very accurate when they spit. It took Barry
four visits to the local laundrette (the local car-wash refused his
request) to get rid of the smell on his band uniform Back to our
North-Western celebrations and this time it's about Whit Week which
occurs about six weeks after Easter.
On Whit Friday, brass band 'open' competitions are held in the
Saddleworth area. Now you might not like brass band music and it may
not 'gel' with you rappers and rockers but for a brilliant day out,
nip up to Uppermill, Delph or Dobcross for a magnificent day of
lunacy, boozing and you may even get to appreciate a wonderful
musical culture that still thrives here in the North of England.
The tradition demands that the band (in full uniform) perambulates
down the street (or in the case of Dobcross, up the street) to the
concert arena playing a 'march'. Then they perform in a circle as
the 'adjudicators' listen in a closed tent to assess and mark the
performance. The band then hoofs it back to their bus to be
transported to the next contest in another village. If you want to
see what happens on these occasions, have a look at the film 'Brassed
Off' which features the wonderful Pete Postlethwaite.
My first experience of these contests was when I was twelve years
old and our first venue of the day was Uppermill. Our march down the
steep hill to the arena was a bit uncomfortable for me. Not only did
I have to keep in step on a downhill slope, the dried peas fired by
the snipers with peashooters in the bedrooms of the terraced
cottages along the route hitting the back of my neck didn't help my
musical output much.
The last performance with a brass band I was involved with was also
at Uppermill with the now defunct Didsbury brass band. We'd won the
contest at Scouthead and several members of the band had a very
boozy celebration in a local pub. When the band 'lined up' on the
road with several members short, we were not allowed to proceed.
"You'll never play here again!!" screamed the organiser. And we
That experience of a monster clanger reminds me of one of my maddest
blower moments. Whilst playing at the Blackpool Tower I managed to
get a late night session with the quartet at the now long-gone
'Lemon Tree' night club in the Squires Gate area. I'd finish my
session at the Tower then change out of band uniform and drive down
the 'prom' to play until 2a. m. at the 'Tree'.
All was going well until one night, the D. J. was playing a bossa
nova tune over the P. A. and I was chatting with the owner of the
club and his wife. "What do you think of this song?" he asked. "Just
another boring bossa" I replied. "I wrote it" said his wife. As with
the last brass band I played with in Uppermill, I never played there
aka Ian Royle