‘If Music Be The Food of Darts…Play On!’ The People Band
If anyone mentions ‘music’ and ‘darts’ in the same breath, you could be forgiven for thinking either of the hit band ‘DARTS’ or the erratic vocalisation of ‘Hey Baby!’ by the clamorous hoards during the warm-up at major BDO tournaments, such as the Winmau World Masters or the Lakeside World Championships.
A brass band is certainly not the first thing that springs to mind but then, until 2007, I had not heard of The Odhams Press Band. It was Brass Band Historian Chris Helme, of Lightcliffe, near Halifax, who recently brought my attention to the band, which, for reasons that will become clear, had a part to play in a major darts tournament. If I tell you that it was later renamed ‘The People Band’, then that might give the game away.
The Odhams Press Band was originally formed in 1937 with George Thompson, previously of the famous Callender’s Cable Works Band of Erith, Kent, as their conductor. (George would later have a distinguished career in the brass band world, particularly at Grimethorpe.) George’s new band was only a few months old when he attended the first rehearsal. He quickly realised that, apart from a couple of half decent players, the rest were all learners. He later told writer Arthur R. Taylor, ‘…It didn’t help either that they were playing on instruments that were a load of rubbish…’
But George persevered and eventually they were playing a few scales at their lunchtime rehearsal room near Ludgate Circus. Within a year the band had come on in leaps and bounds, so much so that it was entered into its first contest at a small local event in Surrey and came away with a top three placing. However, during the war years the band had to curtail its activities owing to its members being called up for active war service.
After the war, the band was reformed and carried on improving all the time. In 1952, it won the London and Southern Counties Daily Herald Brass Band area contest second section and then repeated that success again the following year. Further successes followed. George Thompson, now Musical Director, had taken the band from nothing to being a championship section band.
In the late 1940s, the Band was asked to perform at “The People” National Darts Teams Championship held at the Horticultural Old Hall in London. As part of the ‘Grand Variety’ entertainment, the Odhams Press Band was one of a number of acts that performed in between darts matches. For example, at the 1951 finals the Band played popular music between 6 – 6.20 p.m., that is prior to teams taking the stage for the first two matches in the quarterfinals. The Band then continued to play throughout the evening, presumably trying to make themselves heard over and above the cacophony of sound in the hall; the general chatter of the audience and the inevitable clanking of beer bottles and glasses.
In 1953, George Thompson left Odhams Band and was succeeded by his brother James and shortly afterwards the name was changed to ‘The People Band’. This had nothing to do with the Band’s success at the National Darts Teams final but more to do with publicity, an advert for “The People” Sunday newspaper which was part of Mirror Group Newspapers. The Band ultimately disbanded in the 1960s.
Nowadays of course, the musical entertainment at darts matches mainly consists of recorded ‘walk-ons’ for the players and little else. People are there solely for the darts, to be entertained by the men and women on the oche and not by ‘live’ bands. However, The People Band did carve out a reputation for itself in the years that they performed at the National Teams Championship between the late 1940s and the early 1950s and proved a popular attraction.
Historian Chris Helme, who provided much of the detail for this article, has asked if any visitor to my website can help his research by providing further information about the Band at those early Championship finals. It could be as a member of the audience or as someone involved with the Band itself. Chris can be contacted by phone at 01422 205763 or by e-mail at email@example.com
If anyone has memories of playing in ‘The People’ “Lord Lonsdale” National Teams Championship or of being in the audience at this important darting event then please contact me via my contacts page.
© 2007 Patrick Chaplin and Chris Helme