Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Whit Friday Contest at Diggle 2013

So the Other Half and I decided to attend the Whit Friday contests, a first for both of us.  Having selected Diggle on the basis of a map, and most importantly, the quality of the toilet roll on offer in the portaloos, we set off late afternoon and after negotiating some road blocks in various villages arrived at Diggle soon after the start.  First problem - where to park?  The steward who greeted us at the roadblock seemed bemused by the concept of two people driving to watch the contest, as opposed to being with a band or being local.  Clearly we were somewhat strange.  Since he had no suggestions, and being from a small village myself where dumping your car outside someone else's house creates serious tension, I drove around for a bit and then found a spot on a side road where I thought I would not infringe anyone's territory.

As we headed up the road towards the Diggle Dome in the driving rain it did occur to me that we were out of our minds.  As you can see from the photo above, it was raining and rainjackets were de rigeur.
 So here we were, standing on a windswept hill in the pouring rain listening to brass bands.  Above is the Diggle Dome, a hardstanding where grateful bands were able to play in the dry though as the evening wore on they did have to negotiate increasingly muddy ground to reach it.  The judge, however, got a nice dry caravan to sit in (left of photo).
 Diggle's organisation was impressive; one band marched while the previous marching band got set up on the bandstand, and while the band played under the Diggle Dome the next band got ready for the march.  This is South Milford coming up the hill.  The choice of march played was extremely varied, from traditional brass marches to jazzed up arrangements of classics, pop, rock and the inevitable Wallace and Gromit, which drew a large cheer from the bystanders.
 As the evening progressed, the numbers watching grew markedly though they were all swaddled in winter gear, as befitted the weather.  Note the couple swathed in orange tarpaulin in the photo above!  There were a few people desperately pretending it was a summer evening, with glasses of rose in hand, but most people were realistic enough to crowd round the burger stall and the ice cream stand which was doing a rather better trade in warm freshly made crepes than ice cream!  And the mud just got deeper...
 Still, the sun did come out a few times, and I have a photo to prove it!  This was taken from the band club, capturing the rare sight of a band marching in the light and the sun reflecting off the Diggle Dome beyond.  A beautiful part of the world when it's not raining.
 Of course, Other Half had to check out the beer at the band club, where the talk was mostly of cricket, strangely.

 So back to the Dome, the rain had gone but it was still bitterly cold. I bet the judge in his caravan behind the Dome was a lot warmer.  I have to confess that by this time, a couple of hours in, I was so cold we adjourned to the Hanging Gate where I hugged a radiator and Other Half indulged the habit he picked up when brass banding years ago...
 It took 30 minutes for me to start to feel warmer, thanks to the pub's excellent radiator.
 So back to the bandstand for more music.  This is Oughtibridge, whose march included that staple of the brass band world - Queen and a selection of their hits.  That was quite an experience.   I enjoyed the music, but there were definite themes in the music chosen, we heard several versions of the same pieces which was interesting as we were able to compare. The quality of playing despite the undoubtedly frozen fingers and lips was really rather good.

What did surprise me was how far some had travelled.  Leaving aside the mad and surely very hardy Scots in their T shirts and kilts, we had a band from Switzerland and here is Concord from Denmark, who were very impressive.  They came prepared for the weather, unlike the crazy Scots.


 By late evening the crowds were quite big, the mud ever deeper but everyone had a great time.  There is something unique about the sound of a brass band in the open air, which becomes even more magical when the band is unseen, the sound wafting through the trees.  Who won?  I know, but I really don't care that much, just being there to enjoy this musical relic of the Victorian age was enough, a living tradition of music making which I sincerely hope will continue for many years to come.


All in all, it was a great evening but next year I think I'll be wearing thermals....


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