57. A Suicide in the Family
The year 1907 was to prove a dark period for the Allan family of New Shildon, but it seemed to have begun ordinarily enough. With the summer contesting season some way off George Allan would have been able to invest free time into composing music and working on a new piece entitled ‘The Gale’ for publication later in the year.
His first brass contest engagement came on the 29th of June at Shotton Colliery, to the east of Durham and towards the coast. Available records suggest that it was the first time a brass band contest had been held in this particular mining community, and it was certainly the first to be organised by the Shotton Colliery Brass Band, but a prize pot of fifteen pounds still managed to attract a field of nine competing bands to perform the test pieces which, according to different accounts, was entitled either “Prairie Queen” or “Prairie Flowers” with another test piece title given as “Winter Roses”. As usual, the contest was held as part of another wider event, this being the Shotton Colliery Band’s first Annual Sports, with races and other sporting events taking place in parallel. An ‘ambulance competition’ saw a tied outcome between teams from Hetton, Murton and Wingate, while local lad J Kent of Shotton Colliery won the schoolboy race.
Having heard all the bands renditions of the test piece from within his adjudicator’s tent, George Allan awarded the first prize of £8 to the band from Hetton Town and their conductor, Mr J Bennett. The Willington Silver Band lived up to their reputation by coming a respectable second for prize money of £4, with the Sunderland East End Band and Sunderland Temperance Band coming third and fourth respectively. Bands from Birtley, Hartlepool, Seaham, Wingate and Sunderland Borough were the ‘also-rans’ on the day. In the march
The July 1907 issue of Wright and Round’s Brass Band News contained George’s latest small advertisement introducing the banding community to his latest work. Unlike his advertisements the previous year that had run for several months, this was a one-off and gives the impression that George had posted it just to remind people that he was there. Perhaps something had been going on in his life during this time that made it harder to get on with the business of composing music. The advert read “CONTEST MARCHES – These still lead the way!! “Senator”, “La maestro”, “Battle Abbey”, “Bravura” and “The Gale”. Another ready shortly. – GEO. ALLAN, Publisher, New Shildon.”
George Allan’s parents, James and Hannah, continued to live at 65 Adelaide Street in New Shildon, with their two youngest sons Ralph and Edwin. Ralph had carried on the family trade of tailoring, working with his father. Very nearby, at 68 Adelaide Street, one of George’s other brothers, John Robert Allan, had set up home with his wife Jane Ann (neé Ross) and by 1907 they had brought three sons into the world; George William, John James and Robert Ross Allan. Like his older brother, John Robert was in the employment of the North Eastern Railway at the wagon works, only as a joiner and wagon builder rather than a painter of wagons.
On Sunday the 21st of July 1907 John James Allan and his wife Hannah were downstairs at home at around ten o’clock at night when they heard their son Ralph come into the house, take off his coat, and go straight upstairs to his room. Hannah had been preparing supper so had called upstairs to Ralph for him to come down. There came no reply. Sensing something was amiss with their son, the couple went upstairs and entered the bedroom, to find Ralph on his knees with a deep gash in his throat. He had cut his own throat. Immediately the couple called out for someone to summon a doctor, but in minutes Ralph’s life ebbed quickly away and by the time the doctor arrived there was nothing to be done. Ralph Allan, the young 29-year-old tailor of New Shildon, had taken his own life.
The next morning, Monday the 22nd, an inquest was quickly arranged and overseen by a Mr Proud. Evidence was presented that Ralph had been suffering from ‘delusions’, had been depressed for some time prior to the
The Allan family gathered at All Saints Church on the 24th of July for a service and burial to say farewell to Ralph yet we can’t say for sure whether the funeral followed standard Christian protocol, or whether it was simply a burial. Though attitudes to suicide had softened somewhat by the early twentieth century, it was still then considered a crime to attempt to take one’s own life. Following a law that was established in the mid-13th century, it had been practised up until 1822 for the Crown to take all of the possessions of any man that had committed suicide. Even though this was no longer the case, there would still have been a stigma for the Allan family over Ralph’s tragic end.
Only a few weeks later, George, who would highly probably have been deeply touched and saddened by his brother’s death, was called to adjudication duties yet again. This occasion would take him to Grangetown near the industrial town of Middlesbrough for a contest that had been arranged by the Cleveland Steelworks Band who had managed to offer fifteen pounds in prize money for the main test piece, an unknown arrangement of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” that had been published by Wright and Round, plus a small prize for the sideshow of the
Five bands had entered this contest, which had been limited to bands that had won no more than £10 in prize money since 1905, the adjudication notes from which were published in the Sep issue of Brass Band News for all to read. The band from Dorman and Long’s Redcar works suffered from tuning and timing issues that saw them finish outside the top three, while Guisborough Priory gave “a very good finish to a very fine performance; good tune and intonation.” A few issues in their performance and being outdone by the other bands led to them only being placed third. South Bank merely offered “a nice performance.” to see them share the fourth prize with Dorman and Long. Skinningrove Band shone on the day with their cornet player’s work being at times “very artistic, just right” and overall rendition being “capital” to earn them the top prize of £8 and a cup; while Middlesbrough Borough Band, of whom George said “a very good rendering indeed; band well in tune generally.” before awarding them the second prize. Guisborough Priory Band fought back in the
Later that month, Saturday the 24th of August to be precise, George headed out to Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast for yet another band contest organised
This contest is possibly the first case we have seen of George Allan judging a band at contest playing one of his own marches. This, of course, was an experience with which Thomas Edward Bulch was very familiar. It may well have happened before, however, the British newspapers and band press made very little of the march element of band contests, considering them very much secondary to the main selection test, and rarely mentioning which pieces were played. George could have forgiven himself, though, for taking satisfaction in the fact that as accomplished a conductor of band contests as William Holdsworth, who regularly advertised his services quite boastfully in the Brass Band News alongside a count of his contest wins, considered “Senator” to be a great choice of contest march for a band as capable as the Barton Cycle Works Band.
As we move into 1908, as usual, evidence of George’s life seems scarce during the cold dark winter months. Then we see him again emerge in the spring, as though from hibernation, in the press. The first thing we see is him again advertising ahead of the band contesting season. “CHAMPION CONTEST MARCHES. – “Senator” (the topper), “La Maestro”, “Battle Abbey” (2nd edition), “The Gale” and “Bravura.” All worth playing: no waters. Price 1/3 per set. Publisher Geo. Allan, New Shildon.” George ran this advertisement every month right through to August, probably the last issue likely to sell anything for that year’s contest season.
You get a sense from this that he knows he’s on to something with his contest march, “Senator”. We have no idea what feedback he was getting from the bands that had bought it, but as we have seen, he had seen at least one very top band perform it at a contest sufficiently well to be impressed. It can’t be denied that there is something special about The Senator which has caused it to endure right through to today. It has an audible appeal, and there is evidently a joy in the paying of it, that transcends time. Not long after we started the group to uncover the story of Allan and Bulch I was contacted by the representative of a high school marching band in California, desperate to obtain a copy of “Senator”. That band being comprised of instruments that made them more like a military band did not deter their admiration of the piece, nor put them off arranging it to suit their band’s format.
Spring brought with it another bereavement in the Allan family, as Hannah Allan, George’s Aunt and wife of George’s Uncle Ralph passed away. Ralph himself, a shoemaker in life, had passed away over a decade and a half before at the family’s the home on Magdala Terrace in Shildon. Hannah had moved away to Crook with her sons, who were working as masons, following her husband’s death; but later moved with her eldest son to Bishop Auckland which is where she saw out her final days.
May of 1908 sees the first contest adjudication engagement that we are aware of in that year, which required George to travel to Brotton-in-Cleveland near the north-east coast between Redcar and Staithes. This was on the 30th of May for a contest that was the second to be organised by the Cleveland Brass Band Association. There were two sections competing at this contest, a first and second. For the first section, the test piece was “Truth in Marchera” which was played each in their turn by Charlton’s Brass Band, Guisborough Priory Band, Grange Town, Skelton Old and Skinningrove Miner’s Bands. Of these there was so little difference between the playing by both Guisborough Priory Band and the Skelton Old band that when George’s points were totalled there was a tie for first place, resulting in those top two placed bands splitting the combined prize money for first and second place. The Skinningrove Miners’ Band came third.
For the second section, there was a smaller field of entrants, with only four bands to give their best rendition of “Songs of Wallace”. It was one of the two hosting bands that emerged triumphant on the day; that being the Brotton Temperance Band. Their near neighbours, Brotton Old Band, came second, with North Skelton third and Lingdale in fourth place. The Whitby Gazette, published six days later, states that the contest was well attended and that the bands played well. Otherwise, the press found little remarkable about the occasion to report upon.
In June we see evidence of another development. That month’s issue of Brass Band News included a solo cornet sample from a waltz composed by George Allan entitled “Queen of Society” which had been published by Wright and Round as part of their Liverpool Brass Band (& Military) Journal. Thus it appears that while George was concentrating his efforts on his own published line of contest marches, he also seems to have been selling compositions to Wright and Round at least during this period. It would have been interesting to understand his strategy; whether he was deliberately keeping back pieces that he considered to be his best in order to build up his own publishing business, or whether perhaps Wright and Round felt his contest marches to difficult for the mass market. Perhaps George didn’t feel that Wright and Round were offering enough to justify his selling them the best of his marches.
For George, and all his fellow workers at the Shildon Railway Works there was uncertainty during June. It started down at York where at the beginning of the month an announcement was made by the management that owing to a scarcity of work they intended to lay off men in batches over a number of weeks until several hundred had been dismissed. As you’d expect this caused a nervous tension among the workers. There were 3,000 men employed at the carriage works in York none of whom, in an era before the Welfare State, would relish the prospect of unemployment. The North Eastern Railway’s statement indicated that it had similar plans for Shildon.
Hot on the heels of that news, in July of 1908, it was announced that the “Dabble Duck” colliery, which George’s house on Pears Terrace looked out over, was to close, having been deemed unprofitable by its owners. The colliery had been trying to negotiate with the NER to mine beneath land they held where it was understood more coal was to be had, but that negotiation had been fruitless and the decision to lay off 200 men and close the mine after 40 years of operation was taken. Residents of New Shildon feared the negative effect on the town’s trade.
Saturday the 5th of September brought a slightly different format of band contest for George to adjudicate. This was held in conjunction with the Tursdale Colliery Annual Show. Nine bands came together on the show field to offer, not an intricate test selection, but first a march each, and then a set of waltzes. Among the bands were many that George was familiar with, some of then one-time former fellow members of the Wear Valley Band League, such as Pease’s West and the Willington Silver Band. It was the latter of these two that took the prizes on the day for both march and waltzes, with Pease’s West and Chester-le-Street being the other two placed bands in both categories.
In November a one-off advertisement was printed in the Brass Band News. “The “Popular” Christmas Number – Now Ready. No samples; they are unnecessary as the music is guaranteed good. Send 1/3 for a set (20 brass) Extras 2d. – GEO ALLAN, Published, New Shildon”. It’s not made clear what pieces were published in that Christmas Number, but with it being ‘Now Ready’ we assume it was something new. Not offering samples was a bold move, but might also keep down costs.
The beginning of December brought a dispute between wagon builders at the North Eastern Railway works over the rates paid for piece work which resulted in the wagon builders standing idle for the first week of the month. If wagons weren’t being built, they also weren’t being painted, which meant that George Allan and his family faced a bleak Christmas and New Year, falling back on any savings they had, or income from George’s composing work. The dispute ran right through until Tuesday the 12th of January 1909: seven weeks without pay when management and workers negotiated a settlement and agreed work would recommence the following Monday with a new piece work rate of 24s and 6d as well as equivalent facilities at Shildon to those that had previously been granted at York.
58. Nellie Melba, Dismissal and a Quiet Wedding
At the beginning of February of 1908, the town of Albury was bristling with excitement at the prospect of a planned visit by one of Australia’s brightest celebrities of the day. Dame Nellie Melba, who derived the surname as a shortened form of her home city of Melbourne, was probably Australia’s first classical music star and a huge sensation. In a remarkable career spanning from 1887 right through to her death in
Dame Nellie, whose name at birth was Helen Porter Mitchell, had been booked to give a concert in Albury on Thursday the 6th. The newspaper reports estimated that around 2,000 people gathered at the railway station just to witness her arrival. Thinking ahead, the stationmaster at Albury had erected a barrier at the station platform to prevent an excited crowd from pressing forward and crushing the opera singer. This foresight proved it’s worth when the singer arrived, stepping down from the observation car at the rear of the Sydney Express, as the “crowd surged like waves of the sea”. At the entrance to the station, our man, Thomas Edward Bulch, awaited with the Albury Town Band to “welcome the prima donna with musical honours” while she waited to get into the car that was to whisk her away to the Globe Hotel where she would spend the night ahead of her concert at the Albury Mechanics Institute the following evening. Part of the reason for her coming to Albury was to inaugurate the new stage that had been built there. It took a few minutes to get Nellie to the car for as she left the station it had become obscured by the crowd, with some members of the throng clambering onto it so as to get a better view of her arrival.
Whether Thomas attended the concert is something we don’t know, though it’s hard to imagine that a music aficionado such as he, with a penchant for arranging operatic works for brass bands, would have let such an opportunity pass him by. He may well also have felt it a great honour for the band to be part of the welcoming celebrations for so distinguished a singer.
In early March 1908, Thomas appears to have taken yet another brass band under his wing, that being the Jindera Brass Band, based in the small town of that name that lies on the road between Albury and Walla Walla. The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express of 6th March tells us how that band had been practising, under his guidance, ahead of a concert to benefit the Jindera Bush Fire Brigade which was scheduled to take place on the 18th of March. This was an event that had been postponed from the previous year, but when it came around was deemed in press reports to be a huge success. The band, conducted by Thomas, was thought to be “at its best”, the hall full and the band and singers loudly applauded after each part of the programme.
Not everyone, however, was pleased with Thomas’s work. While he had been spending time putting the Jindera Brass Band through their paces in preparation for the benefit concert, the committee of the Albury Town Band met on Wednesday 25th March and, for reasons not published at the time, decided to dispense with Thomas’s services as bandmaster. In his place, as a temporary measure, they appointed another member of the band. The outcome of that meeting was published in the Border Mail and Riverina Times on Friday 27th March, who questioned the wisdom of the decision. “It seems a pity, after the undeniably valuable work the late conductor has put in, that the band should lose the services of Mr Bulch, whom we feel certain that committee will have much difficulty in suitably replacing. The frequent successes of the band in competitions are in the main due to his skill and painstaking instruction. He is also a composer of no mean order, and even the famous Besses of the Barn Band do not scorn to include his compositions and arrangements in their repertoire.”
It appears that rumours circulated quickly, particularly with there being another significant brass band in the town of Albury. The secretary of that band was quick to attempt to pour water on them three days later via the pages of the same newspaper. “CORRESPONDENCE. THE CITIZENS MILITARY BAND (To the Editor.) Sir,—We wish to contradict a rumour that is current re Mr T E Bulch and the Citizens’ Band. In fairness to Mr Bulch we wish to state that there is no communication whatever in the rumour that Mr Bulch is to take over the conductorship of the Citizen’s Band, as there has not been any arrangement of any kind before or since when Mr Bulch severed his connection with the Town Band, nor has Mr Bulch ever approached the Citizens Band on the subject, Any negotiations that may occur with Mr.Bulch and the Citizens Band will be given publicity. Thanking you for your valuable attention – Yours. HARRIS and WITTMER, Hon. Secs. A.C.M.B Albury, March 28”
The letter suggests that the severance between band and conductor was at Thomas’s instigation, however, the committee in multiple newspapers maid plain that from their perspective it was their decision to terminate the agreement. The dialogue, through the medium of the press, did not end there. The day following the letter from the secretaries of the Albury Citizens Band, a further piece of correspondence was published having been written by a person under the pen name of Annual Subscriber. “Sir,- I hear Mr Bulch has been given no reason as to why his services were dispensed with by the Committee of the Town Band, beyond the bare words “on account of the condition of the band.” Also, that Mr Bulch’s first intimation of his dismissal was a paragraph in a certain paper, and that the letter of the president dispensing with his services did not reach him till after he had read the news in the public press. This method of dealing with Mr Bulch is so like that adopted with the previous bandmaster (Mr Drury) that I want to know if all the actions of the Town Band Committee are on a par with the way in which they treat their bandmasters. I want to ask the band committee a few questions, and if it does not answer then I hope Mr Bulch will satisfy my curiosity. They are -(1) Is it a fact that Mr Bulch, within the last few weeks, removed his business of a music-seller and phonograph dealer to Dean Street, in the block between Olive and Kiowa Streets? (2) Is it a fact that an annual collection of subscriptions for the Town Band was made in September last, and that the next annual subscription was made early this month – an interval of only six or seven months intervening? (3) If, had Mr Bulch been dismissed before taking up this latter annual collection, said collection would not have been less than half, hence the bandmaster was not got rid of till the public subscriptions were safely in hand? (4) If the reason why a band contest was not included in the Musical and Literary Festival programme for the coming Easter was because some of that committee, who are also members of the Town Band Committee knew that they would not have Mr Bulch to win the prize for them this time, and so could not bother about what was the greatest feature of their previous competitions? (5) If the matter of commission on band instruments (which is always a
There was definitely an element of controversy in what had taken place, yet the Albury Town Band Committee chose not to respond publicly and the newspaper debate ended there. Within days a new bandmaster named Cunningham was instated. Thomas’s newspaper adverts for his music store quickly confirmed that he had indeed moved the business to new premises at Dean Street and within days it was clear that Thomas had again indeed taken an appointment as bandmaster with both the Albury Citizens Band and the Jindera Brass Band. He got straight to work with the former of these, organising a benefit concert for the afternoon of Sunday the 12th of April to raise money to enable the Newtown Orphanage to a have a telephone installed. Neighbours of the orphanage had provided the necessary telephone poles, so all that remained to be funded were the cables and insulators. This was to be the first concert by the Citizens Band under the baton of, as the Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times put it, “one of the most capable conductors in Australia.”
As always the concert was a hit with a large crowd assembling to hear the band play their programme of music, which naturally included a number of Thomas’s own compositions. This would not be as out of place as it might sound given that a great many of bands in Australia at the time would have one or two Bulch pieces in a programme of music, and it’s probable that the Citizens Band had been playing his works for years. On this occasion, notable inclusions were “Gigantique”, the waltz “Flowers of Australia” and “Torchlight Parade”. The Border Mail highlighted that “it was remarked generally that already there has been a decided improvement in this playing of the band since Mr Bulch took charge.”
Though Thomas was no longer engaged to the Albury Town Band his advertisements in the Albury Banner took some time to reflect this change, perhaps owing to the fact that he had paid up front to run the advertisements for a pre-set period of time.
On the 15th of May Thomas attended a public smoke social in honour of Dr Irmer, which had been organised at the Albury Hotel by the German nationals of Albury. With over 100 people present it was deemed one of the most successful functions of its kind ever held at Albury. Toasts were proposed to the honoured guest, the King, and the Kaiser, after which Dr Irmer gave an eloquent speech in which in one part he “referred at some length, and in especially impressive terms to the happy relations now existing between Germany and England, and pointed out that this was only natural in view of the blood relationship existing between the Royal families of the two nations. If that continued there would be no fear of war as the two powers could defy the world.” After the speeches, some the multi-national company gave renditions of songs, accompanied by Thomas Bulch at the piano, terminating at 11 pm with “Auld Lang Syne” and “Der Wacht
On the 22nd of May the band relocated briefly to Jindera for a concert and dance at which Thomas acted as Master of Ceremonies; then two days later, on Empire Day, so chosen as having been the birthday of the late Queen Victoria, Thomas led the Citizens Band, with local military forces on a musical procession from the drill hall to St Matthew’s church for a special service. The Town Band also attended. Reports of Thomas’s activities through the Australian winter months are few, suggesting that his time was probably quietly invested in rehearsing the Citizens and Jindera bands for the spring months. The band did, however, offer a concert at the Newtown Orphanage again in the first week of September.
On the 18th of September, there was a wedding in the Bulch family. Thomas’s eldest son, also named Thomas Edward of course, married Miss Ivy Veronica Cozens, daughter of R B H Cozens of the town. Curiously it was described as a “quiet” wedding in the Albury Banner, the marriage service being taken by Reverend Canon Bevan at St Matthews Church, Albury. Whether there was a reason for the wedding to be quiet other than perhaps the shyness of the couple, or perhaps an aversion to crowds, we’ll never know.
On Monday the 12th of October the committee of the Albury Citizens Band held their annual meeting at the Albury Town Hall, with Thomas in attendance. The report of the year’s progress commented on how the band had successfully secured Thomas’s services as bandmaster and how the band had made good progress under his leadership and that expectations were that they could rise to a high standard of efficiency. The number of players was 31 and average attendance at practice 24. The band’s finances were also deemed satisfactory. Then on Sunday the 28th of October the band took part in the last local military church parade of the season at St David’s Presbyterian Church.
The month of October ended with news relating to another member of the Bulch family in Albury, and unsurprisingly it relates to musical achievement. Examinations had been conducted by Mr Schilsky of the Trinity College of Music, London, on the 23rd of October. Among the successful students listed in an article in the Albury Banner under the category of Junior Pass was Miss Alice Bulch, a student of Mr P L Gray. Thomas’s daughter was taking her own tentative steps into the world of music.
Thomas’s band started November with a concert on the afternoon of Sunday the 1st at Bowna, to raise money for the band’s funds. Later that month, on the 13th, we see that Thomas was again in need of raising some funds himself. He had appeared in the Small Debts Court with respect to a claim by John Carew and Son for £5 12s for goods sold and delivered. The court found in favour of the plaintiff with costs. It appeared as though history was repeating itself somewhat.
The 19th of November brought the second day of the Albury Racing Club’s Spring Meeting, and despite the weather being perfect for the occasion only a moderate crowd gathered to watch the Hurdle Race, Trial Stakes, Spring Handicap, High Weight Handicap and Farewell Handicap, with Thomas and the Albury Citizens Band providing “spirited” music between. The remainder of the year fizzled out with relatively little event of significance for Thomas other than his birthday which always fell on the day before New Year’s Eve. The thirtieth day of December 1908 saw Thomas turn 46 years of age.
The beginning of 1909 was almost as quiet as the end of 1908 had been in terms of evidence of activities of Thomas and of the Citizens band. It appeared that one of the reasons for this might have become clear in the Border Morning Mail of 4th of March 1909. The article tells that at a meeting of members of the Albury Citizens Band, Thomas has complained of the poor attendance of bandsmen at practice, and he tendered his resignation there and then. It appears that the band had failed to meet his exacting expectations, and certain of the bandsmen had failed to show the amount of passion for the music and quality of the band that Thomas demanded. The members discussed the matter before accepting Thomas’s resignation and to seek a successor at a future meeting. To anyone reading that article it would seem that with both the Albury Town and Albury Citizens band now all but alienated, and only the income from the Jindera band to supplement takings from the music store, the viability of Thomas staying in Albury was now questionable.
However, only two days later a letter from Thomas himself appeared in the same newspaper. “To The Editor. Sir,- having read a paragraph in your issue of Thursday last, re Citizens Band Meeting, I might state that I did not tender my resignation as bandmaster, neither do I intend doing so. It is no doubt a fact that my complaint of irregular attendances of members is quite true, as I hold a copy of the roll call. It has been said to my own knowledge that the said paragraph was a mild way of getting rid of my services so as not to injure me in any future application I might make for a similar position. neither band in Albury, nor any other in Australia, can accuse me of sending in my credentials to secure a position as bandmaster. Holding now a unique position as Hon. Sec. and Bandmaster, as I do, you would not expect me to write my own death warrant. Yours etc. T E Bulch. Hon Sec. and Bandmaster, Citizens Band, March 5.”
Was Thomas, then, still in the employ of the band? Whatever the case it certainly seems as though not everything was well with either his relationship with the
Toward the end of the month, Thomas again provided piano accompaniment to a social evening hosted by the German community of Albury. This time it was for Dr Muller who was leaving Albury for a trip to Germany. As previously there were toasts to the King and the Kaiser, followed by songs.
In May, at a meeting of the Albury Town Band the secretary sang the praises of their new bandmaster, Mr Cunningham, stating that the band had progressed as well under him than it could have under Mr Bulch or any other bandmaster. Might this have been put on record for the benefit of Thomas, or other critics of the decision to dispense with his services?
The winter months continue to be scarce of news of Thomas’s life, punctuated by only the odd appearance at the occasional social evening where he would round the night off accompanying the singers of the company at the piano. In July it was the annual social of the military forces of the local Battery at the Drill Hall. In October, the twenty-fourth annual meeting of the Albury Deutscher Verein, the German community. While the newspapers were sprinkled liberally with reports of bands across the continent playing his compositions with constant frequency as if they were part of the lifeblood of Australia itself, it would seem to the casual onlooker as though Thomas’s own star was fading.
He continued to receive support
Hot on the heels of that piece of opinion, a further letter appeared the next day in the same column; this time from Silent Worker. “Sir,— l feel pleased that someone has voiced the opinion of the public re Mr Bulch’s ability as a bandmaster. Having been a bandsman under Mr Bulch I can safely say that the majority of bandsmen are of the same opinion, The band never was up to the same standard before or since Mr Bulch was conductor, which was then a credit to the town. If Mr Bulch is given full power to control the band as his musical ability warrants, and not to be hampered by non-musical committeemen who have no knowledge of running a band, the public, more especially the bandsmen, I feel sure, will not regret it. I hope my brother bandsman will give it serious consideration.—Yours etc.”
These appeals, doubtless not helped by the general tone, appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Thomas was not reinstated. Whatever rift there was between band and committee was beyond repair. Things were no better with the Albury Citizens’ Band. As the year drew to a close it seems an agreement was reached that the band was no longer viable, and arrangements were made to disband and dispose of the band’s assets.
On the 30th of November, the Albury Citizens Band advertised that they were selling 14 instruments, a drum and sheet music. They invited tenders for purchase of the lot. Prior to the sale, the instruments were displayed at the secretary, Mr L V Harris’s cycle shop. A tender was received from Mr York of Melbourne for £35 which surpassed that of rival bidders, and at a meeting on the 6th of December, it was agreed that everything would be sold to him. The proceeds were distributed among worthy causes in the area by the band’s former President, John Wilkinson. Albury District Hospital, Newtown Orphanage and the Albury Benevolent Society were among the beneficiaries.
The Albury Town Band remained without a bandmaster into January of 1910, though arrangements were made to appoint one Mr Percy Pogson who was at that time in the employ of a band in America. Pogson would not be able to come to Albury until Easter at least, so, concerned that the band would deteriorate in the meantime a correspondent named Subscriber voiced their thoughts in the Border Morning Mail. They concluded that “The band must have a bandmaster – and one now. I notice it was suggested recently that Mr T E Bulch, who did much in bringing the band to the high position I referred to, should be reappointed. Perhaps because Mr Bulch did not favour reed instruments in the band, for which the band recently went to some expense in procuring, it might not have had consideration. I do not write this with any favour towards Mr Bulch, but simply say that, if the band is to have a bandmaster, that one should be appointed, and which should not be a difficult matter. Yours etc.”
One has to wonder whether this letter reveals any of the truth about the original falling out between the Albury Town Band Committee and Thomas. Was it connected to an intention to start to include reed instruments in the make-up of the band’s instrument set? If so it seems odd that it would cause a problem for Thomas as he had composed many pieces for this combination and had worked with military-style band such as the Melbourne GPO Band.
Almost immediately afterwards Thomas responded in through the same medium. “CORRESPONDENCE – THE TOWN BAND CONDUCTOR. (To The Editor.) Sir. – Noticing a letter in to-day’s issue re above band, I would suggest that the committee appoint permanently Mr W J Lester as bandmaster. He is as good a man as I am for the position, in
59. Passing of a Tailor and the Rising of The Wizard
The cold winter months between the end of 1908 and 1909 brought no cheer to the Allans of New Shildon. Not only had the dispute at the NER wagon works brought hardship, but on 30th January 1909 the family patriarch, John James Allan, still a working tailor and draper, died from heart failure whilst at a property on nearby St John’s Road. The death was reported by George’s younger brother Edwin, who at that time was resident at Pearl Street on the outskirts of Old Shildon. He was buried three days later in the churchyard at All Saints Church, with family and friends in attendance. He left an estate valued at £771 19s and 10d to his wife Hannah, and to George.
This would have been a terrible shock for George’s mother, who now found herself living alone in what was once a bustling family home at 65 Adelaide Street, though it would have been some comfort to have had family members at houses nearby. George’s house at Pears Terrace was only a few hundred yards away, and he and his wife would be able to visit easily, as would her grandchildren Lillie, Beatrice and William. Her other son, John, was also quite nearby with his family, and another brother, James, only a few doors away from that. Nonetheless, it’s possible to imagine that Hannah may still have had the memory of her son Ralph’s suicide in the same house, which can’t have been easy to handle.
As spring approached, it was clear that George had been working hard over the winter months, and found some moment fo extreme inspiration. The April issue of Brass Band News contained another of his discrete little advertisements toward the back page, which announced the publication of what was to prove one of his best brass band contest marches; arguably one of the greatest brass band marches of his era, if not of all time. The notice read
It’s worth taking a moment to note here that even George himself knew he was on to something with this one. To state that in a small advert was more than just sales pitch and bravado. At that time the march was a real departure from the standard fare on offer. It’s difficult to play well unless you have a really capable band at your disposal. This raises a particularly interesting question, which is, given George was now not attached to any brass band in Shildon, how on earth did he know how well his compositions would turn out? Was it simply that he had an incredible ability to visualise the music? Was he working with a brass band in some unrecorded partnership? If the latter it would have to be a band of no mean ability. We’ve been informed of a suggestion that at some point he worked with the Leasingthorne Colliery Band, not so much as bandmaster, but in providing music. It’s a difficult matter to prove, one way or the though.
On Saturday the 10th of July 1909 an annual charities carnival, in aid of the Newcastle Infirmary and local Nursing Association as well as Nurse Wood, was held at Bishop Auckland, only a stop away by train from Shidon and within walking distance for many from there. This reportedly attracted many thousands of visitors to the market town. A carnival procession was formed, featuring decorated horses, decorated cyclists (ladies and men), tableaux, pit ponies, individuals and groups in comic costume among other things. The parade got off to a dubious start as the heavens opened to bring a downpouring of rain until almost the end of the procession. From there, though, things cleared up considerably and events continued in the Bishop’s Park, the grounds of Auckland Castle which was the home for centuries of the Bishops of Durham. Among those events was a band contest, the adjudicator of which was George Allan.
Four bands entered. Houghton-le-Spring and District Silver, St Helen’s and West Auckland, Auckland Park and Brandon Colliery Silver. The test piece for the occasion was “Garland of Roses”. The band from Brandon pulled out all the stops to win, according to George’s judgement, both the test selection and quickstep prizes. Houghton-le-Spring came second and St Helen’s and West Auckland Band third. Auckland Park’s soprano horn player picked up a medal for their part in the test piece. Typically the outcome was marred by the other three bands having some issue with the Brandon Colliery Silver Band resulting in them lodging a complaint disputing their entry. The cause of this was not published, alas, nor was the outcome.
In July it was off to Penshaw to judge another contest of which very little is known, except that it was an own choice test selection contest, that was won by Murton Colliery Band, with the South Moor Band coming second. This result was reversed in the
We learn, in September of 1909, of something we hadn’t previously seen in George’s story which is that on Saturday, September the 4th, George attended the Coxhoe Flower Show, not as an adjudicator, but as a conductor; and not of brass band music, but of the Old Shildon Male Voice Choir.
Throughout George’s musical career the Old Shildon choir had existed, but it had been the task of Henry Gibbon to conduct. On this particular occasion, it was George Allan. Under his baton, the choir provided a concert of sacred music. It is possible that Gibbon and Allan were acquaintances and that George may have been asked to step in for an occasion when Henry Gibbon had been able to fulfil the duties.
As we head into 1910 George’s involvement with music seems to quieten a little. there are no reports of him having adjudicated at contests during that year. There is a sense that the banding community has changed since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, become more introspective in its quest for ultimacy in determining which are the nation’s finest bands. Where once the bands appeared to have been there for a social purpose in the absence of other forms of music to grace community occasions and to bring communities together; the brass movement in Britain had by this point seems to have formalised and repeatedly reformed the contesting protocol to the point where it mattered far less to the public and press than it did to the bands themselves. The more formal contesting structure of leagues and associations came to depend upon a narrowing pool of professional adjudicators whose small advertisements for their services had long dominated the brass music press and whose names appeared in the reports of brass band contests with increasing frequency.
Some writers covering the history of the brass band movement have expressed that in the late Victorian era it was thought by many influencers of the brass movement that there were too many contests; inconsistent in quality and format. After that period ended we start to witness a reduction in the ‘village band contests’ held in conjunction with the local agricultural or horticultural
The pinnacle of achievement for bands was to achieve success at the National Band Festival, instituted by Sir Arthur Sullivan and J H Iles in 1900, which
One might forgive George for looking on in either envy or admiration at the achievements of those men who had started out as and when he had, but who had been afforded the luxury and opportunity, or taken a gamble even, to become professionals in their field. The calibre of brass band marches George Allan had begun to produce since the turn of the Twentieth Century stand well alongside those of his more illustrious brethren, yet there would be no room at the top table for this ‘gifted amateur’, this simple blacksmith turned wagon painter from New Shildon.
In this though, there was an element of choice. Thomas Bulch had shown that had George Allan had a strong enough desire to do so he could have attempted to follow a professional path with his music. Bulch had certainly been helped in his own quest by the fact that there was a deficit of the necessary drive and talent in an underpopulated Australia, and he surely recognised that as working in his favour. To have attempted the same in Britain would almost certainly have proved far more difficult.
Whether it was a life-choice imposed upon George Allan, or one willingly embraced, he settled into a pattern of working as a part-time writer and publisher of music for brass bands. From the demise of the New Shildon Saxhorn band