Whit Friday has come and gone once more and though temperatures plummeted, winds buffeted and rain threatened we braved them all to listen to brass bands, see friends, neighbours and Monty Python devotees whilst enjoying the food - burgers, sausages and black pudding - and beer - bitter, and for the light heads, lager. For the greatest free show in the world rolled over the hills and into the valleys.
For those of you who are new to Whit Friday and for those of you who somehow still argue our part of the world is in Greater Manchester (ceased to exist in the 1980s), Lancashire (you really want to go there?) or Oldham (again, you really want that argument?) then Whit Friday will remind you that we are not. We are set apart. We are Saddleworth. It is on the borders of counties, and we have lived on a few in our time, that you find old traditions, old arguments, old grudges run as deep as coal. So, you have come for the best free show in the world and still your stood there, pint in hand and locals looking at you wondering if you're a comer in; it's at this time that you need to know what the hell Whit Friday is all about. Surely it's just an excuse to get drunk, get fed, get in a punch up and get laid? No, that's a comer in's view (and is missing the point of what you get drunk on, what you eat, who you punch and who you wake up next to - don't get those last two confused, you wouldn't be the first). You'd best come here understanding that you may think you're an individual, a creative, a businessman, a self inflated important fool but sooner or later we will assimilate you. We are the Saddleworth Borg, resistance is bloody futile.
Yet, Whit Friday straddles Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire. Where does it all come from? The Feast of Pentecost. This feast falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter. The week that follows it is Whitsuntide, and it is a week long celebration that involves kids, adults, schools, churches, community clubs, pubs, shops, cobblers and candlestick makers. The churches march, the schools get involved, the adults too and we celebrate what it means to be a community and bless this land, and feel blessed to live here. Some Whitsuntide events bring in fairs, Manchester used to celebrate Whit with a massive fair but their fairs were deemed degenerative and immoral by The Manchester Times and it fell out of favour under the weight of a moral Victorian crusade. Nowadays we concentrate on the marching, brass and beer. Whit became such an important event to people across the cities of the North that mills, steel works and coal mines simply gave up trying to run during those week and shut shop. Out of these industries grew brass. Brass bands dominated the working landscape of the North right through to the early eighties and the destruction of the industrial landscape. The mines, mills and works are long gone but the brass is still with us.
You may think a band from Wakefield (and we've had bands from much further afield) will come to one band contest, play Orange Juice, and go home but they could play at over two dozen local contests in the area. In Saddleworth alone there has been a dozen separate band contests in previous years. At our local band contest last year seventy-one bands played from four in the afternoon to midnight. That's seventy-one bands that have to march up a road playing, that's seventy-one bands that have to then play another different tune in front of a crowd and all the time being judged. There's money in brass. Then before they can even lift a pie, it's another village, another march, another tune. This is all about stamina, heritage and remembering that beneath our feet, the old tunes run deep, deeper than coal. So, when you moan that you can't get your car home because the roads have been closed for brass bands and you've had a long day at work, and you're tired, you pay your taxes etc etc, sod off you bloody comer in.