Researching vintage brass bands from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s. Their formation, histories, pictures, contesting, memorabilia, recordings, publications etc. All material is made available for all to access via the IBEW archive: http://www.ibew.co.uk.

I am collating primary and secondary material about the history of bands across the world. I recently completed the historical directory “Brass Bands of the British Isles”, with nearly 20,000 bands since 1800 (available, together with my other publications, from https://gavinholman.academia.edu), and am currently working on a range of projects including player biographies, ephemera, and archived histories of bands..

Various other works on brass band history and culture have been published, including the Brass Band Bibliography – a comprensive listing of published materials about the worlds of brass and military bands.

Previously Head of IT Operations at the British Library, with expertise in computer management, digital libraries, archiving, project management and review.


1973-1976 University of Bristol – Mathematics & Computing, BSc

1978-1981 Leeds Beckett University – Librarianship, BA

Work Shared in CORE


Other Publications

[All available from https://gavinholman.academia.edu]


Sep-2019 – Oh, Listen to the Band – songs inspired by brass bands

As brass bands gained in popularity, composers and arrangers naturally produced pieces to supply the ensembles with the music for their craft. It was not long before some of those pieces became arranged for solo or piano performance, sometimes with words attached. These first appeared in the 1870s through to the early 1900s. A little later, songs were composed which featured bands, extolling the musicians’ abilities, the “sweetness” of the music, and other aspects of bands and their relation to the singer. These were particularly prevalent in the USA, mainly being produced by the talented songwriters of Tin Pan Alley in New York.


Aug 2019 – Musical postcards – how to get a tune through the mail

A brief look at some brass band related music that appeared as printed notes on postcards in the early 1900s


Aug-2019 – The Brass Band Bibliography (v9 – 2019) [c. 6,738 entries]

A comprehensive list of books, articles, theses and other material covering the brass band movement, its history, instruments and musicology; together with other related topics (originally issued in book form in January 2009)

Jul-2019 – Music of discipline and reform – the brass bands of children’s orphanages, industrial schools and asylums

From the early 17th century large numbers of institutions were established to provide for various segments of society which did not fit into “normal” life. These included orphans, the sick, criminals the destitute, paupers, and those, that today, we would refer to as physically and mentally handicapped. From the mid 19th century onwards brass and other bands were often set up in these institutions to help educate the children (mainly boys it has to be said), to provide another aspect of discipline, recreation and also, potentially, to give access to a musical career once they left the school. Adult bands were also formed in prisons and asylums among the inmates.

Jul-2019 – Bum Notes – a look at some brassy raspberries

A number of humorous images have been produced which portray brass instruments being played by depictions of buttocks. Some of these were produced by French illustrators .as more “serious” satire during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905.


Jul-2019 – Comic Bands – Kazoo and Zobo

During the 1890s and early parts of the 20th century a type of band arose using kazoo-type instruments as an alternative to the more expensive (and harder to play) brass instruments. Zobo instruments, based on kazoo principles, were invented and developed in the USA in the early 1890s, rapidly becoming a new craze for a while. When the instruments spread to the UK the bands that were formed using them were largely “comic” bands, created ad hoc for galas and festivals, and occasionally having a more long-term existence, to entertain the public and raise money for charity.

Jul-2019 – Tissue paper commemorative programmes and napkins

A look at a form of commemorative souvenir that due to its fragile nature is rarely seen today. These items were printed, and often overprinted to mark some significant event in the 1890s and up to WW2. The first case I came across was some programmes for the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band – their final farewell concerts before embarking on their two world tours in 1906 and 1909.

Jun-2019 – Morpeth Band Festival 1895 – almost the end of a great tradition

From 1861 through to the mid-1870s Morpeth had held a series of non-competitive annual band festivals known as the “Monstre Band Festival” after the “monster” massed bands that were a feature of the events. The early events were held in the Old Brewery Field (now built up as the area around Olympia Gardens). Between 8 and 15 bands took part with 200 to 500 performers. Audiences ranged from 4,000 to 8,000. These were major events for the town, with hundreds of visitors arriving by coach and special excursion trains. The entrance fee was around 6 pence, and each bandsman received around 5 shillings, the bands themselves offering their services gratis. A revival in the 1890’s was not to prove successful, largely due to the weather being against the organisers.


Jun-2019 – Brass Band Archive Recordings – a brief guide to recordings of brass bands in libraries, museums and other archives

Brass bands are, of course, musical organisations first and foremost, and the bulk of their heritage is bound up in the hundreds of thousands of concerts, marches, contests and other performances they have provided their audiences with over the years. Very few of these live performances were ever recorded, at least until recent years, and we must depend on the formal studio recorded performances to enjoy the music of the bands of the past. Many such recordings still exist in personal collections, music libraries, archives, the bands themselves and, more recently, digital archives which have digitised recordings from older media, cleaned up the sound and preserved them in digital audio files. This paper gives an outline of various sources and resources for archived vintage (and not so vintage) recordings in physical repositories and on-line databases.

Jun-2019 – Wylam Colliery – Rules of a band

The band was founded in 1850 and was supported by the colliery owners, the Blackett family, and also by subscription. A set of rules were drawn up which, by today’s standards, were quite strict in their forfeits and fines, though the issues they foresaw in their members’ behaviours are still relevant today!


Jun-2019 – Rhodes Bleachworks Brass Band

A history of this brass band from an industrial village to the north of Manchester. Sponsored by a local bleaching & dyeing firm, the details of the last 12 years of its existence are documented in the Treasurer’s Note Book, which is transcribed as part of this narration. Also included is a brief biographical sketch of its conductor John H. White.


Jun-2019 – Riddings United March Book

A look at a march book consisting of the Repiano cornet parts of 50 bound marches (of which two are missing) for the Riddings United Prize Band. Dating from around the 1890s/1900s – possibly slightly earlier. Most bands at this time had at least one set of music similar to this, either filled with marches, or simple “tunes & toasts” or equivalents.


Jun-2019 – Rothwell & Rossini – an exploration of a manuscript score

This is a score book of the original Rothwell Temperance Band. This band was formed in 1881 with bandmaster Israel Blackburn, and it enjoyed considerable success over the years before merging with Yorkshire Imperial Band in 1999 and losing its identity. The book consists of a complete manuscript score of Rossini’s Works (as arranged by Alexander Owen in 1882, featuring music from William Tell and Semiramide) and the last six pages of an unknown work.

May-2019 – James Ollerton’s Registration Card – a bandsman’s contesting life in a few rubber stamps

All those who have played with brass bands in contests in the UK over the years will be familiar with Registration Cards. These were introduced after the Second World War to ensure that players did not compete with multiple bands, and also that the person was actually the correct player. James Ollerton was a player with Preston Town Band and competed with that band from 1955 to 1963, transferring to the Lancashire Constabulary Band (based in Preston) in January 1965 where he remained until his last known contest in 1980.

May-2019 – Judith Potter’s Scrapbook – brass banding memories in the Forest of Dean

Judith appeared on the brass band scene around 1949 when, at the age of six, she gave a cornet solo at the annual supper of Coleford Town Band. The press cuttings of this event, together with many others covering her time with bands up to the early 1960s, are pasted into her scrapbook.

May-2019 – Mary Simm’s Scrapbook

In May 1952, Mary Simm, who played cornet with the Kearsley Silver Band, started her second scrapbook of brass band memories.  She collected press cuttings, programmes and photographs of events she attended or took part in through 1952. Items from her scrapbook have been scanned, more or less in the order she pasted them in. They cover not only the events of the Kearsley band, but also others in the area, providing a brief look at the banding aspects of a year in her life.


Apr-2019 – National Brass Band Championships – 1954

A souvenir album of photographs, description, and programmes from the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, held at the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington, and other venues, on 16th October 1954

Apr-2019 – South Street Mission Brass Band – some scenes from fifty years of an evangelistic brass band

The South Street Mission was located in Macbeth Street, Hammersmith, Middlesex and was founded in 1901 by Sister Lizzie (d. 1949). The band was founded in May 1909, and was active through to the mid-1950s, competing in a few contests in its later years.

 Mar 2019 – Brass Bands of Canada

A collection of information about brass bands in Canada over the last 200 years. 374 bands are recorded here (31 currently active). This volume is an extracted subset of my earlier “Brass Bands of the World – a Historical Directory” (2019)

Mar 2019 – Brass Bands of Scotland

A collection of information about brass bands in Scotland over the last 200 years. Over 1,360 bands are recorded here (95 currently active), with some 731 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. This volume is an extracted subset of my earlier “Brass Bands of the British Isles – a Historical Directory” (2018)

Mar 2019 – Brass Bands of Wales

A collection of information about brass bands in Wales over the last 200 years. Some 1,260 bands are recorded here (90 currently active), with some 582 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. This volume is an extracted subset of my earlier “Brass Bands of the British Isles – a Historical Directory” (2018)

Jan 2019 – Brass Bands of Ireland

A collection of information about brass bands in the island of Ireland over the last 200 years. Over 1,370 bands are recorded here (93 currently active), with some 356 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. This volume is an extracted subset of my earlier “Brass Bands of the British Isles – a Historical Directory” (2018)

Jan 2019 – Brass Bands of the World

Few records remain of the thousands of brass bands that have existed across the world over the last 200 years. This directory is an attempt to collect together information about such bands and make it available to all. This is a companion volume to Brass Bands of the British Isles – a Historical Directory. This volume covers all other overseas countries which have had brass bands similar to those that flourished in the UK. Over 9,500 bands are recorded here, with some 2,700 additional cross references for alternative or previous names

Oct-2018Scoring for the ladies: the women composers of music for brass bands

A brief look the women who have composed music for brass band, and the initiative of the Harrogate Band to highlight their music

Oct-2018Cottingham Brass Band

A brief history collated from records of the band, including historical notes prepared by chairman Dennis Hills, c. 1998

Oct-2018The Brass Band Bibliography

(v6 – October 2018) [c. 5,450 entries] A comprehensive list of books, articles, theses and other material covering the brass band movement, its history, instruments and musicology; together with other related topics

Oct-2018Soft lips on cold metal: female brass soloists of the 19th and early 20th centuries

During the later 1800s and early 1900s there were increasing numbers of women musicians taking part in the musical life of the western world. Whether as instrumental soloists; members of family groups; amateur or professional bands and orchestras; string, brass and mixed ensembles; and vaudeville performers; these female musicians earned their place in history – one which has largely been overlooked in favour of their male counterparts. This paper documents a number of these solo brass performers, giving an insight into their lives and performances.

Sep-2018Damen ohne Blasinstrumente – the non-brass ladies’ entertainment groups of the German Empire 1895-1918: an illustrated directory

Travelling musicians and entertainers had been a part of European life for centuries. In the German speaking countries of Europe during the German Empire there arose a large number of “Damen Kapellen”, troupes of musical and variety entertainers consisting largely of women, usually led by a man, and occasionally including males as players. This paper (in three parts) gives an illustrated directory of some 350 such ensembles (excluding the brass instrumentalists covered in my paper “Damen und Damen”). It includes various other musical ensembles, vocalists, dancers, acrobats, and general variety acts.


Jul-2018 – Christmas Crackers

          The collected issues of “Christmas Crackers” issued in 1990-1997, containing selections of logological diversions and verbal amuses-bouche


May-2018 – The Brass Band Bibliography (v5 – 2018) [c. 4,340 entries]

          A comprehensive list of books, articles, theses and other material covering the brass band movement, its history, instruments and musicology; together with other related topics


Apr-2018 – Women and Brass: the female brass bands of the 19th and 20th centuries

          Brass bands have been a musical force across the world over the last 200 years. Mainly concentrated in Europe, North America and Australasia, they were predominantly male, and the members were largely working class. The female brass band is a somewhat rare beast, even today, though it did enjoy a “golden era” during the late 1800s and early 1900s in the USA. In this paper are details of some 408 female brass bands – a very small number compared to their male equivalents.


Mar-2018 – Thirsty work – brass bands and the temperance movement in the 19th century

          Playing a brass instrument is thirsty business. All that pneumatic effort, spit and water vapour will leave the average player needing a good drink after a rehearsal or a concert – possibly the reason that brass bands, in particular, have been renowned for enjoying a tipple or two – though hopefully not before their performances. Nevertheless, brass bands have had a long association with the temperance movement, which advocated abstinence from alcohol, helping to promote the teetotal message to the public. The 19 th century saw the rise of the fight against alcohol and the parallel increase in the popularity and availability of bands led to brass bands being adopted or established by various temperance organisations. This paper gives a brief overview of the temperance movement and brass bands associated with it, together with some contemporary portraits of temperance bands, drink-related band tales, and lists of the temperance bands over the last 200 years


Mar-2018 – Brass Bands of the British Isles 1800-2018 – a historical directory

          Of the many brass bands that have flourished in Britain and Ireland over the last 200 years very few have documented records covering their history. This directory is an attempt to collect together information about such bands and make it available to all. Over 19,600 bands are recorded here, with some 10,600 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. This volume supersedes the earlier “British Brass Bands – a Historical Directory” (2016) and includes some 1,400 bands from the island of Ireland. A separate work is in preparation covering brass bands beyond the British Isles. A separate appendix lists the brass bands in each county


Mar-2018 – Brass Bands of the British Isles 1800 – 2018 – Appendix A – List of bands by county

          A listing of over 19,600 distinct brass bands, by the counties of the British Isles, that have existed over the last 200 years. This is a supplement to “Brass Bands of the British Isles – a historical directory”


Mar-2018 – Brass drawings – a look at the depiction of brass bands and bandsmen through the eyes of the cartoonist and illustrator

          Brass bands, their players and instruments have always been ripe subjects for humour. They have been used to poke fun at themselves, and others, to make satirical or political points, to promote products, or just to provide the scene for a joke. Cartoonists have found the world of brass bands and brass players an inspiration, both in comment on the brass band movement itself and also as reflections on the contemporary political and social scenes.


Mar-2018 – Children as mutes – the practice of stuffing babies and young children into the bells of large brass instruments

          How many children have had their lives blighted by their fathers stuffing them into a tuba, and then having that sorry experience recorded for posterity in a photograph? It appears to have been a commonplace activity in the early years of brass bands, though we cannot know how widespread the practice was before the advent of photography, through lack of evidence, though there are plenty of examples since then.


Mar-2018 – How Many Brass Bands? – An analysis of the distribution of bands in Britain and Ireland over the last 200 years

          There have been many estimates of the number of brass bands over the years. These have ranged widely and, in most cases, were greatly exaggerated. My research to date has identified nearly 20,000 distinct brass bands which existed in the British Isles between 1800 and the present. This is not a final figure and, although there are many bands still to unearth, I would be surprised if there were more than 2,000 to 3,000 to be added, based on my research experiences.


Feb-2018 – Music and Musicians for the People: Scottish International Exhibitions, 1886 & 1888 – The brass bands and their contests

          The musical contributions at the two international exhibitions in Scotland, at Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1886 and 1888 were detailed in two books written by Robert Marr. Both exhibitions featured many musical events and groups which were engaged to entertain and educate the thousands of people that streamed through the doors each day. From Marr’s copious descriptions about the wider musical performers and events I have extracted the details of the visiting and competing brass bands, using his notes, and have included roughly contemporary pictures of those that are available. In addition to bands, orchestras and choirs performing concerts throughout the Exhibitions, there were a series of contests, including two at each exhibition for brass bands – one limited to Scottish bands, the other open to all. The contest results in Marr’s books have been expanded using contemporary newspaper reports.


Feb-2018 – Researching the History of Brass Bands – a guide to the resources available

          Many brass bands have flourished in Britain and overseas over the last 200 years, but very few have documented records covering their history. For those wishing to delve into the history of brass bands there are various sources available, both primary and secondary. These are also published histories and individual bands’ memorabilia and records. In addition to British resources, I also include some relevant details about key resources in the USA and major commonwealth countries where brass bands were/are common.


Feb-2018 – Taking the Waters – The lighter side of the Harrogate Cure, through the humorous postcards of the 1900s

          Since the early 17th century the waters of Harrogate had been taken by locals and visitors to the area. The chalybeate springs of High Harrogate were originally the more popular, but by the middle of the 18th century doctors had discovered a satisfactory method of using the sulphur wells of Low Harrogate for internal treatments and extended their use in baths. As well as the newspaper and leaflet advertisements, the town also supported the production and sale of picture postcards for visitors to send to friends and family, or keep as souvenirs. Here follows a selection of the cards and images which show the lighter side of Harrogate’s cure culture, which sadly is no more, though you can still experience the waters at the town’s Pump Museum – if you dare!


Feb-2018 – The Harrogate Band on the Internet: a view of the band’s first website pages, one of the earliest brass bands on the web

          The Harrogate Band was one of the first brass bands to establish a presence on the internet, with its website going live in January 1996. In addition to basic information about the band and its history, there were some notes on the broader history of brass bands. Later, in June 1996, a set of links to other brass bands and related websites was added – which eventually, in June 1998, became the Internet Bandsman’s Everything Within (IBEW)


Feb-2018 – Thomas Tucker’s – some scenes of a provincial draper’s shop and department store

          The first scene comprises the 190th anniversary celebration special insert in the “Exmouth Leader”, Thursday April 11th, 1991, which describes the history of the store and shows some of the range of its goods through congratulatory advertisements. The second scene is an article from “Devon Life” in July 2002, which describes how the store changed over the years. The third scene is a contemporary report of the take-over by Thomas Tucker in 1901. The fourth scene shows the staff at the 170th anniversary. The fifth scene reports the closure of the store in 2007. The final scene shows what has happened since 2007


Nov-2017 – Damen und Damen – Ladies’ professional travelling brass ensembles of the German Empire 1871-1918

          Travelling musicians and entertainers had been a part of European life for centuries. In the German speaking countries of Europe during the German Empire there arose a large number of “Damen Kapellen”, troupes of musical and variety entertainers consisting largely of women, usually led by a man, and occasionally including males as players. This papers looks at the the brass ensembles which made up a significant proportion of these touring entertainment groups.


Oct-2017 – Keep it in the Family – the Family Brass Bands that entertained the USA and UK in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

          Family bands were not uncommon in the later 1800s and early 1900s. They were most prevalent in the USA but other countries had their fair share, including the UK and Germany. Some bands were amateur in their activities, and remained resident in their local area. Others adopted the professional mantle and travelled the country giving concerts, appearing at shows, circuses and on the stage. Although the various family bands had different line-ups and instrumentation, they were quite popular as entertainment troupes, sometimes singing, dancing and performing sketches in addition to their, often, multi-instrumental abilities. This paper gives details and pictures of more than 160 such named bands.


Sep-2017 – Broadcasting Brass Bands: the early years

          A look at the pioneers of broadcasting of live brass band music. Starting with the earliest telephone transmission, with a short diversion into the infant recording industry, to the birth of the wireless radio broadcasts.


Sep-2017 – Local Musicians: a look at the history of the brass band movement

          An overview of the history of brass bands from the early 1800’s through to the present day, together with details of the brass bands of the locality


Sep-2017 – The Poetry of Brass Bands

          A contribution to National Poetry Day 2017. Several brass bands have been immortalised in poetry over the years. From those lauding their heroes to the ones which are critical or even insulting. From the earliest days poets have found something in the music of the bands and the people who play in them to inspire their muse. I think it is fair to say that most of the writers would not have made a career out of their works – some are certainly more William McGonagall than William Wordsworth – but nonetheless they are priceless views of the bands and bandsmen.


May-2017 – Sandye Silver Band

          A brief overview of the brass bands of Sandy, Bedfordshire


Jan-2016 – Benzie & Miller – Fraserburgh

          The story of a leading department store in the north-east of Scotland from 1887-1958


Jan-2016 – British Brass Bands – historical directory

          Superseded by “Brass Bands of the British Isles 1800-2018 – a historical directory” Of the many brass bands that have flourished in Britain over the last 200 years very few have documented records covering their history. This directory is an attempt to collect together information about such bands and make it available to all. Over 12,100 bands are recorded here, with some 6,300 additional cross references for alternative or previous names.


Jun-2010 – Serial relationships – the design of an integrated periodicals control and management system

          The British Library produced its own in-house periodicals system from the late 1970s, with an underlying bespoke database and the development of innovative software to manage the current journal accessions and the archive stocks. A small team of software analyst programmers produced a set of systems that lasted twenty years, until it was eventually replaced by an externally sourced package solution.


Feb-2002 – Early Harrogate Bands

          A brief outline of the background to the early brass bands in Harrogate. Talk given to the National Association of Brass Band Conductors, 2002


Jan-1995 – Packet-switching pioneers: the early years of electronic document request transmission at the British Library

          How the British Library transitioned from postal requests for document loans and photocopies, to the early use of the internet via email. Often at the cutting edge of current technology, passing through telex and paper tape, 300 baud direct dial connections, PSS packet switching and more.


Oct-1991 – Automation at the British Library Document Supply Centre v. 5

          An outline of the results of the first 20 years of computerisation at the British Library Document Supply Centre and the introduction of new technology which automated traditional library systems such as inter-lending, stock control, periodicals management, customer information, bibliographic systems and databases.


May-1981 – In the Land of Mordor Where the Shadows Lie: Good, Evil and the Quest in Tolkien’s Middle Earth

          The land of Middle Earth, which is the setting for Tolkien’s major mythic works, is one which has been created from the best of traditional sources. Tolkien was a famed expert on the literature and language of the early medieval and dark ages. His researches and writings in Anglo-Saxon and Northern lore gave him a unique insight into the meanings of myth throughout the ages. When he came to form the mythology of Middle Earth he built into it all the aspects that made such literature popular for all time. He also included many further subjects and points that had been missing from earlier tales, or merely hinted at. The result is a complete history, cultural, geographical, religious and mythic. In all chronicles of this kind there is an attempt to describe or explain the current state of affairs. In Middle Earth this state is not a pleasant one, and its origins go back to the beginnings of sentient life in that realm. The world is divided between the Dark powers and those who strive for Light. While it can be said that any world would be composed of good and evil parts, in Middle Earth the situation in contemporary times is balancing on a knife-edge. The evil forces are immeasurably more dangerous than those in existing literature, and those powers must be countered somehow to restore Middle Earth to normality. If one can explain the imperfect state of Man through comparison with the description of an elemental clash between the forces of good and evil, then the mythic tale which does can be said to have succeeded. Good and evil in Middle Earth are established as facts by Tolkien and he uses the classic method of resolving the differences between them – the quest. This device not only shows up good to the best, but also provides a way of countering the evil. Eucatastrophe is the word Tolkien uses to describe the turning that occurs when imminent evil is unexpectedly averted and good succeeds. This word will serve well as the key word for the following discussions, embodying as it does the concepts of Good, Evil and the Quest which is the means to success.


May-1981 – Ptarmigan Books

          Ptarmigan Books – a little known imprint in the Penguin Books aviary of birds: bibliographic descriptions. Ptarmigan Books was just one of the many special series published by Penguin Books. Hubert Phillips was the major influence in the Ptarmigan series, which reached only nine titles. As well as editing the series he was the author, or co-author, of all but one. In an eight-page self-advertising feature, the series is described as being ‘designed to cover, as comprehensively as possible, the field of Games, Puzzles and Indoor Recreations’.

Jan-1981 – What if the Appeal of Detective Fiction

          A brief look at what attracts the reader to the detective genre.



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