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Besses Boys Band
The "infant" Besses Boys Band, conceived in the grim days of the Second World War, was born in adversity before spirits were raised by the Normandy landings. Hopes were quickly realised in contest successes and from these achievements grew ambition that remained through 50 glorious years, a golden era in which the band won national titles broadcast on radio and TV, made recordings, played for royalty and toured Australia.
Thirteen of the senior band's players had been lost in the first six months of the 1939/45 conflict and in the Moss Lane band room there was fears of a bleak future. So Nat Snape, Fred Cowburn, Tim Galloway and Norman Dawson led a group which decided to train young players.
Jim Cowburn, Roland Curless, Harold Galloway and Stan Warburton were the first members of the 1943 learners' class which grew quickly and was recognised as Besses Boys' Band on October 11th that year by the Alex Owen Brass Band Festival Committee, organisers of a solo contest in Whitefield each year.
The boys played carols in Whitefield streets at Christmas and Jim Wright who had directed the senior band before the war, was brought in as conductor before the boys' first official engagement in July 1944.
From 1945 they won the British junior championship for three years. They were barred in 1948 and they returned to Belle Vue for two more victories before the contest ended. The 1950 victory was achieved under the baton of William Haydock following the death of Mr. Wright.
The band was recognised on the concert platform, too. They played under Charles Groves, John Hopkins and Harry and Alex Mortimer they appeared in shows with Richard Murdoch, Tommy Handley and Jack Train. There were also regular bookings for radio broadcasts and in 1958 there was a TV appearance.
By this time many of the older boys had moved to the senior band and the boys' fortunes fluctuated during periods of rebuilding. But the "Peter Pan" band continued, unlike so many other youth bands which changed name and identity as their players grew older.
Willie Wood, a professional musician who had directed the senior band became conductor in 1960 and the boys produced a "78" record under his baton. Ten years later the learners, tutor, Pat Edgar, took over. He had joined the boys within a year of its formation and played soprano in the senior band for almost 28 years. Pat developed a busy concert diary and conducted the first of the band's successful spring concerts at Radcliffe.
Barrie Chappell, who formerly played tenor horn with the senior band, was appointed musical director in 1978. For 13 years Barrie, ably assisted by training band tutor Derek McCulloch, continued rebuilding the boys' band which had a remarkable run of more that 60 firsts among more than 100 contest prizes.
They were North West youth champions for 12 years, playing at such venues as the Royal Albert Hall in London finals and chalking up high placing each year. The best youth final positions were second in 1982 and 1986.
Another national title was clinched at last in 1987. That was the year when the band "fell between two stools" at the area qualifying contest. They were shocked to fail for the first time in the North West youth competition, but showed character and ability later the same day to win the adult fourth section. Victory in the Westminster Hall that October, was sweet indeed!
Invitations to European youth contests followed along with promotion in the adult grades to section two even before the introduction of the first section.
Concert work, the bands financial lifeblood was never neglected and a series of engagements were played with conductor s like Jim Shepherd, Ifor James, Derek Southcott, Roy Newsome and Gordon Higginbottom. In fact, Roy served as president for a time and wrote "The three B's" march for a concert to commemorate the band's 40th anniversary. Harry Mortimer was the guest conductor on that memorable occasion and Brian Mather, an old boy who served 15 years as top cornet with the senior band, was guest soloist. Later Alan Stringer, principal trumpet with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, was another old boy featured as guest soloist. He was just one of several players who became professional musicians. Mark Wilkinson was among a stream of boys who joined the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. He was principal cornet when the NYBB played a 1989 BBC Proms Concert.
Further highlights under Barrie Chappell's leadership were to LP recordings, an appearance with Roy Castle in the BBC TV Brass Beat series and a tour of Australia where the band was complimented by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the opening of the British pavilion in Expo 88 at Brisbane.
The 1991 Christmas concert was the last to be conducted by Barrie Chappell. Soon after, Steven Sharples, was appointed conductor in 1992 and conducted the band for two Royal dates. They played for the Queen in Bury and for the Princess Royal at Manchester's GEM exhibition centre.
A trip to Scotland and a concert in Dornoch Cathedral were arranged with help from John Whittaker an "old boy" from Heywood who now works in the Sutherland music teaching service and conducts "Ben Braggie Brass" at Golspie. Steven also led the band which won the right to represent the North West in the reorganised National youth championship final in 1993.
Arnold Duxbury was the spearhead of the move to the new bandroom at Clarkes Hill in Prestwich and is just one from dozens of people who have worked for the band. Secretary Irene Grady is another and, looking back, her admission to the committee was the first step to girls joining the band.
Ex? Chairman Alan Bryan gave strong leadership for several years and the loyalty of Fred Snape, son of a founding member Nat, cannot be matched. Fred was appointed president in appreciation of his many years as secretary, treasurer and chairman.
So many other names and occasions come to mind but space limitations restrict full acknowledgement. There was planning at long meetings, much lifting and carrying of equipment, problems to solve and money to raise. And, for all the band's joy and success there were also tiring rehearsals and disappointments. All these efforts live in the memories of players and supporters who gave so much for Besses Boys' Band.