A couple of weeks ago we had the pleasure of attending the Whit Marches in the Tameside, Oldham and Saddleworth area in North West England. These are a series of brass band competitions held in 22 towns and villages on the edge of the Pennines and date back to the 1870s. Whit Friday has traditionally been a holiday in the area. On the Friday morning the traditional church Whit Walks take place and in the evening each village holds its own brass band contest. Well over 100 bands from all over the country tour the area in coaches, visiting as many contests as they can. The bands include all levels from Championship level, including National Champions Foden’s, to school and youth bands. This year there were also bands from Canada, Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland.
At each venue each band performs two pieces – a march performed on the move, where they may be awarded marks for deportment, and a set piece performed on a temporary band stand. The adjudicators are concealed in a caravan or nearby room, awarding marks without knowing the bands’ identities.
The Whit Friday contests are a favourite event in the brass band calendar and attract thousands of people. They are often described as ‘the greatest free show on earth!’