What's in a Name?
Unite the Union Band has been through several name changes since its inception in 1900.
You may recognise some of them:
Sheffield Recreation Band (from 1900)
City of Sheffield Band (from 1970’s & again in 1984)
Quaker Sutherland Band (from 1970’s)
Andrews Heat for Hire Band (from 1980)
Stocksbridge Engineering Steels Band (from 1988)
UES Stocksbridge Band (from 1992)
Asda Stocksbridge Band (from 2000)
Stocksbridge Brass Band (from 2002)
Over a Century of Music
According to the surviving documentation, laying out the band rules and constitution, the band was formally founded on the 4th of May, 1900 by William Thomas Bestwick, a Sheffield Police Inspector. As bandmaster and leader he set about raising funds for instruments and uniforms and his stated intention was that the new band should “give pleasure to all who would listen, whilst playing for their own pleasure and recreation.” Thus the new band was given the name of Sheffield Recreation Brass Band.
Unfortunately very little is known of the band’s history during this period but the band contested with some success (at one point adding the words “Prize Band” to its title as was the custom of the time) and was in regular demand at local fetes, galas and garden parties. The two world wars obviously took their toll on players but the band struggled on, reforming again in peacetime.
During the long history of the band there have been many stalwarts who contributed much to keep the band going. One such man was George Webster who joined the band in 1920, aged 15. Over the years he held the position of bandmaster, treasurer and librarian. In later years he was elected band president – a position he held until his death in 1985.
When the band began contesting again after the Second World War they were graded in the third section. They competed at the Spring Belle Vue contest in 1948 when the conductor was George Webster but things were at a low ebb by the mid 1950s, partly due to the toll taken by National Service on players. Things improved with the arrival of a new conductor – Jack Carr – a cornet player and instrument repairer who brought with him a number of experienced players from the recently defunct Sheffield Transport Band. Under his direction they began to steadily improve and became one of the most successful and consistent bands in the Sheffield area. At that time the band rehearsed the upstairs room in the Hallamshire Hotel pub on West St, in the centre of Sheffield.
It was in the early Sixties that the band first began to make its mark on the wider band scene. The band was fortunate in having a young soprano player by the name of Derek Ashmore who was also a talented arranger. Derek had joined the band in 1948 and it was his arrangement of Mussorgsky’s A Night on the Bare Mountain which gave the band an impressive thirteen first prizes in own-choice contests under the leadership of Jack Carr during the 1960’s. After Jack’s death in 1968, Derek took over as conductor, holding the position until 1971. He went on to become a successful arranger and publisher, forming his own company – Hallamshire Music.
In 1969 the band persuaded the Sheffield Parks Department to refurbish the Weston Park bandstand in the centre of Sheffield which had been closed for 25 years. The re-opening concert was a great success and band concerts on Sundays continued for a number of years.
In the early seventies the band took the decision to change its name to City of Sheffield Band. This was because the local council had created a new department called the Sheffield Recreation Department and many people assumed the band was in some way linked to the local council. Contest-wise the band had some success at this time in the WD & HO Wills national finals at the Royal Albert Hall. Local music teachers Murray Slater and Stan Roocroft followed Derek Ashmore as conductors during this period which also saw the band secure sponsorship from a local food manufacturer to become the Quaker Sutherland Band.
The band’s fortunes improved further with the arrival of conductor David Hirst, then the young soprano player with the Black Dyke Mills Band. Under his direction the band achieved victories in a number of local contests including wins at Sheffield, Holme Valley and the Radio Sheffield ‘Bold as Brass’ competition – an entertainment contest featuring dozens of local bands in the Sheffield and Barnsley area.
The band has rehearsed in a number of less than ideal bandrooms over the years. After the room in the Hallamshire Hotel pub became unavailable in the late seventies they moved to the staff canteen of the Quaker Sutherland factory at Darnall where the tannoy, providing music for the evening shift, played constantly in the background during rehearsals.
In 1979, Derek Ashmore returned and under his direction the band qualified for the first time for the Second Section national finals in London. A new conductor Graham O’Connor arrived in January 1980 and led the band to an impressive number of victories in that year including the Yorkshire Area Second section, the Grand Shield and the Pontins Championship. During that year the band gained a new sponsor and new name: the Andrews Heat for Hire Band. The band moved its base to the firm’s premises at Wincobank and, until a purpose-built bandroom was erected, the band rehearsed in the vast warehouse surrounded by roaring industrial heaters to keep warm.
The highlight of that year was the appearance at the British Open Championships at Belle Vue. The band qualified with a historic win in the Grand Shield playing Thomas Keighley’s The Crusaders an old-fashioned but tuneful piece dating from 1925 which suited the band’s soloists and musicality perfectly. The test piece at Belle Vue that September was as different as could be: Robert Simpson’s Energy – a complex, almost mechanical work that required a great deal of hard work to bring off. In the event the band achieved 11th place out of 24 bands – a creditable achievement in that company for what was still a second section band. However this status was about to change because the following year, the band was promoted to the Championship Section for the first time in its history.
A number of conductors came and went during the 1980s, all helping to gradually improve the standard – Dennis Wilby, Derek Ashmore and David Hirst again, and Dennis Carr. It was Dennis who led the band to a second win in the Grand Shield in 1984, playing Le Roi d’Ys.
Also in that year the band reverted to a former name as sponsorship ceased and the band became the City of Sheffield Band – supported financially by Sheffield City Council. The council also provided rehearsal facilities in the former Carbrook School in Attercliffe – the bandroom was a lofty classroom on an upper floor of the otherwise deserted Victorian school; egg boxes had to be attached to the walls to try and deaden the ringing acoustic.
City of Sheffield Band went through several more conductors: Roy Roe, Steven Sykes and Derek Renshaw and still steadily continued its improvement but then yet again, in 1988, the name was changed this time acquiring the name under which it would make its reputation – Stocksbridge Engineering Steels. The new sponsor was a massive steelworks in Stocksbridge – a town ten miles to the north of Sheffield, (the original Stocksbridge Works Band attached to the firm had folded in the early eighties).
New rehearsal facilities were provided in the firm’s training centre in Stocksbridge, new instruments and uniforms followed. The band was now up-and-coming and ambitious but needed a top conductor with a proven track record to compete against the best. Ray Farr, formerly of Grimethorpe and Yorkshire Imperial was engaged and he took the standard of playing to new levels, using his expertise to win a number of entertainment contests.
He was followed in 1989 by Hugh Megarrell. If Ray Farr taught the band to play like a top band then Hugh Megarrell taught them to think like one. It was under his leadership that the band had the most successful period in its history, qualifying twice for the London finals – by coming third in the Yorkshire Area in 1990 and second in 1991 with a magnificent performance of Journey into Freedom. Also that year the band qualified yet again for the British Open with a third place in the Grand Shield.
For the next few years it established itself in all the major contests – the British Open, the English Masters and Spennymoor Entertainments, achieving some good results although never quite managing to break into the frame – the number of seventh places became increasingly frustrating. The band also made a number of fine recordings during this period, as well as broadcasting on Radio 2’s Listen to the Band.
In 1992 the band was invited to take part in the Lords Mayors Parade in London. As it was rare to invite a brass band (the organisers usually only invited military bands) the rules stipulated that all bands should consist of 40 players, so extra players had to be recruited for the occasion. New high collar uniforms with hats were ordered and even a Territorial Army drill sergeant was recruited to put the band through its paces. In the event, in competition with professional military bands, Stocksbridge received a certificate of commendation for its marching and presentation.
More conductors followed throughout the nineties: Chris Houlding, John Anderson, Kevin Bolton, Graham O’Connor and there were trips to Germany and Holland. Major recordings and concerts also followed with such internationally renowned soloists as Evelyn Glennie, Philip McCann and Derek Southcott. During this period, due to company restructuring the name was altered to UES Stocksbridge.
In 1995 by an ironic quirk of fate the band found itself relegated to the First Section. Ironic because the band had possibly the finest line up it had ever had, including a team of soloists – Richard Marshall, Billy Rushworth and Pete Roberts – that most bands would kill for. But a string of low placings in the Yorkshire Area made this inevitable. This had little impact however as the band was still competing in all the major contests in the calendar and bounced straight back up for the following year.
Also in that year the band made history by becoming the first brass band to successfully apply for a National Lottery grant to buy new instruments, followed by an appearance on live TV on the National Lottery show. However the highlight of the year was an exhausting but highly successful 21 day tour of Australia, giving 12 concerts coast to coast. The trip was made at the suggestion of former Bb bass player Andy Lincoln who had made a previous tour with the CWS Glasgow Band. The sponsorship and massive organisation of the tour was handled by the man who was at the time the band’s flugel player and band manager John Lee.
At the end of that eventful year the band was approached by a film company to take part in a film being made in Sheffield about the plight of redundant former steelworkers. A ‘steelworks’ brass band was featured in many of the scenes. There was little indication in the long hours spent waiting around on those less than glamorous film locations what a major success The Full Monty would be or that, in the long term, the surrounding publicity would ultimately be the saviour of the band.
Unfortunately it was shortly after this extremely busy year that the band began a slow decline. There were a number of reasons for this: the pressures and commitment of competing and running a band at the highest level, changing working patterns and poaching from other bands. But in short, too many players left in too short a period, morale was low and the band was unable to recover. An announcement from the steelworks that, due to a change in ownership, they would no longer be sponsoring the band was simply the final nail in the coffin. Early in 1997, down to around half a dozen players, Stocksbridge effectively folded. Three or four players clung on however. With a view to discussing a possible merger they began rehearsing with the nearby Barnsley Building Society Band keeping the spirit, at least, alive and with the intention of one day resurrecting the band.
That could easily have been the end of the story as few bands ever recover from such a bleak position, but in September of that year, two of these players: Alan Brentnall and Trevor Goodison gathered together some more former members to discuss what should be done. After all, there was still an excellent bandroom in the Stocksbridge Victory Club, an extensive library and a nearly new set of instruments which shouldn’t all go to waste. It was decided to try and resurrect the band. A number of resolutions were made at that time: no-one wanted an immediate return to the pressures of contesting at the top level of banding, with its ruthless hiring and firing and intensive rehearsal schedule, no players would be paid so no-one would join solely for financial incentive. It should also be friendly and fun – hopefully combining the standards of a Championship Section band with the family feeling of the lower sections. The intention was to return to the spirit of that initial declaration by Inspector Bestwick that the band should “give pleasure to all who would listen whilst playing for their own pleasure and recreation.”
In the absence of a sponsor it was decided to keep the name of Stocksbridge as this would continue the ties with the local community, plus it was the one that at least had some reputation – few people would have now heard of Sheffield Recreation and another band had now hi-jacked the title City of Sheffield. Derek Renshaw, the former principal cornet player and conductor agreed to take the baton. Derek had family connections with the band going back the 1960s, his late father Lew had been the band secretary for over thirty years. The first rehearsal of the new band consisted of thirteen players and there was an open door policy inviting anyone to come for a blow.
Gradually, over the next few months, the bandroom began to fill up again. The band still needed financial security however and an appeal was put out to local businesses for a sponsor. The nationwide publicity generated from this appeal came about solely as a result of the band’s participation in The Full Monty with articles appearing in The Big Issue and even the News of the World! The press angle was inevitably to draw comparisons between the plight of the characters in the film and the poor former steelworks band in crisis. The publicity brought an invitation to participate in the London Parade Festival which included a live broadcast on Radio 5. This caught the attention of Archie Norman, then chairman of ASDA stores and an offer of sponsorship soon followed. One of the local ASDA stores in Sheffield had incidentally been one of the locations used in the film.
The band went from strength to strength during 1998, attracting players from far and wide – no stars, no prima donnas, just a solid base of former members and some keen, committed new bandsmen and women, all proud to play for Stocksbridge. An invitation to visit Bochum in Germany in April proved to be a great morale booster and helped bolster the new team spirit. After such a lay-off however it was a long hard slog to try and regain the standards it had once had but slowly the work came in and standards improved.
Then in January 1999 it was decided to test the band by entering a contest. This was a major step and there was some trepidation as the new band was untried and had not competed in over two years. In the event, playing Connotations, the band won first prize at the Rochdale Contest. Not a major title, no giants were slain, but the victory did wonders for morale and confidence and for the first in a long while Stocksbridge could call itself a band again. At one time, many players thought they would never see the day when the band would compete again, let alone win a contest. Some setbacks followed – relegation from the Championship section was inevitable as the band had missed competing for a year but on 12th March 2000 the newly re-named ASDA Stocksbridge Band ragained somthing of its old form, winning the First Section of the Yorkshire region – conducted by Derek Renshaw – thus qualifying for the finals at the Royal Albert Hall for the first time in nine years.
In November 2000 the band celebrated its centenary. Around 150 former players and conductors were traced and invited to a reunion concert to celebrate a hundred years of banding (under whatever name it might have had at the time) at the Stocksbridge Victory Club. A programme of music was carefully chosen to represent the various periods in the band’s history and included Journey into Freedom and A Night on the Bare Mountain – heard, for the first time in many years by about a dozen members of the 1960s era Sheffield Recreation band. This was an occasion to meet old friends, re-tell old stories and to look back on an eventful century of banding. More importantly it was a chance to celebrate not only the musicianship and friendship of all those bandsmen, but also the perseverance and tenacity of those who had ensured the band’s success and survival.
In the early part of 2001 the band launched a season of Sunday evening band concerts at the Victory Club under the title of ‘Stocksbridge Band Club’. The intention was to base the concerts on the informal lines of other band clubs such as Dobcross and Glossop and a number of lower section bands in the area were invited to take part. These evenings proved to be highly popular, not only with local bandsmen and women but also the local community. Funding the venture itself, the band intends to continue this annual event.
Stocksbridge began its second century in winning form, taking the Yorkshire Area First Section title for the second year running. A busy concert schedule followed, including a highly memorable joint concert with the Lake Wobegon Band from Minnesota, USA, playing to a packed audience in the Victory Club.
But the crowning success was victory in the National Championships First Section contest at the Preston Guild Hall on the 23rd October, the first time the band had ever won a national title. In November the band were invited to a reception given in their honour by the Lord Mayor of Sheffield where each member was presented with a certificate and a trophy to commemorate this fine achievement.
2002 saw the band consolidating its position in the Championship Section with a busy concert calendar and some successful contest results. There were a number of changes of personnel, some players opting to change instruments to accommodate the new arrivals. In December 2002 the sponsorship deal with ASDA came to an end and the band began a search for a replacement. Any worries that this might have become a period of unrest were quickly dispelled at the area contest.
The Yorkshire Area in 2003 proved to be another landmark in the band’s history, a first-rate performance of the controversial test piece Prague earned the band second place and qualification to the National finals. To qualify for London in such company was a remarkable achievement and tribute to the band’s policy of achieving success on its own terms by supporting and developing its own ‘home-grown’ players. The achievement was doubly satisfying for conductor Derek Renshaw as the 2nd prize trophy was engraved with his father’s name. Lew Renshaw was the former band secretary and after this death, ten years previously, the band presented had this trophy to the Yorkshire Area committee to be awarded in his memory.
The summer of 2003 was spent fund-raising for the trip to the National finals. A series of concerts were held in the Victory Club and a team of local supporters also rallied round to contribute to the total. The test piece for the finals was Elgar’s Enigma Variations – a piece that was far more musically demanding than the usual run-of-the-mill test pieces. The band played well and was placed 13th out of 20 performers – perhaps not a result to cheer over but not one to be ashamed of either. It was disappointing not to be placed higher but this was still the band’s second best ever result in the Nationals.
But after this high point the following couple of years were a pretty lean and unsettled period for the band. William Rushworth took over as conductor to be later followed by Stan Lippeat. With the closure of the Victory Club for renovation in early 2006 the band lost not only its home but a lucrative source of income from the concerts it promoted there. Times were so hard that the band was reduced to rehearsing once a week. But it was during this period that the band appointed a new Musical Director – David Nesbit – a professional tuba player with great experience of the brass band and orchestral worlds. Under his leadership the band began to rebuild and faced 2007 with a new optimism. This was rewarded in March with victory at the Yorkshire Area First Section and two months later with first prize in the Senior Trophy competition in Blackpool. The band rejoined the Championship Section in 2008 but unfortunately suffered immediate relegation back to the 1st section in 2009.
2008 brought another new Musical Director in Miles Davison – who had played with the band in the early 90s on solo horn. Miles led the band to 5th place at both Butlins and the Yorkshire Area. In 2009 he was superseded by another previous player – David Holling.
Also during this time, due to a lack of suitable rehearsal rooms in Stocksbridge, the band decided to leave the area and relocate back to Sheffield. The sponsorship links to Stocksbridge had long ago disappeared and with the breaking of the geographical links the band took the decision to revert to a former name – City of Sheffield Band.
In 2010, after an unsettled 4 years in temporary band rooms, the band finally found a permanent home in a modern, spacious room above Harrison’s Bar on Regent Terrace in the heart of Sheffield. Now the suitcases and boxes could at last be unpacked and the pictures and souvenirs hung on the wall. This was, in effect, a return to its roots as the new rehearsal room was only a short distance from the band’s original home the Hallamshire Hotel. The establishment of a permanent home brought to an end a difficult and unsettled few years that had had begun with the closure of the Victory Club. The return of a number of former members, as well as some new blood, gave the band a welcome chance to reflect and rebuild.
In 2011 former player and conductor Derek Renshaw returned bringing a new sense of purpose and professionalism. With a settled and experienced team the trophy cabinet soon began to fill up again after some fine results in the contest field.
November 2011 brought yet another change of name. Strong links had been establish with the union Unite through the band’s involvement with the Durham Miner’s Gala – the band had led the Unite contingent for the past 2 years. This led to a formal sponsorship and the band became Unite the Union Band.
Victory in the First Section at the Yorkshire Area in March 2012 brought qualification for the national finals and promotion back to the Championship section. The test piece Vivat by Tom Davoren suited the band’s strengths and the performance at the Cheltenham finals gained a standing ovation (including the composer himself) and the title National First Section Champions of Great Britain. It also earned a Best Instrumentalist prize for Solo Baritone player Steve Machin.
Although, promotion presented new challenges, further success followed at the Senior Cup in 2013 with qualification for the Grand Shield for the first time in 10 years.
Away from the contest field the band teamed up with Jarvis Cocker in June to provide a live soundtrack to the film The Big Melt - a documentary using archive footage of Sheffield steelmaking. The occasion was to celebrate 20 years of hosting Docfest in the city and the 100 year anniverary of the invention of stainless steel. The live soundtrack, performed at the Crucible theatre, was provided by Jarvis and other Sheffield musicians including Richard Hawley, members of Pulp, a string quartet and a youth choir.
to be continued……