The Mad Blower
Courtesy of "What's On Stockport"

With 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 vertical refreshment.

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 never did.

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 again.

The Mad Blower
aka Ian Royle

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