I wrote the bit below as part of my reminiscence of my band, 'Biggles Wartime Band' which I formed with Trevor Hague (now James) and Jock ( who is still the current wonderful front man) and later, Graham Buckley - he of The Verge fame and who is still the organizer and banjoist with the band. I was about twenty years old when I met Jock and we decided to form a band. I am sixty three now and proud that the band plays on (even without me) Biggles, that is to say, me (Phil) and Trev, had this wonderful idea of forming The Hyde Orchestra!
This was in the days when there were terrible and quite snobbish arguments about where Arts Council funding should go. I think that when we approached this stupid and outlandish project in 1974 or 1975, I would be about 24 or twenty five years of age. We had no real ‘art’ intent. It was a huge joke. They said it was ‘‘inclusive’’.
Well, looking back, it did. But we never intended that. It was a joke. Actually, it was just one of a few ‘projects’ that we worked on at the time.
I remember reading a critique of Arts Council cash handouts, comparing the London opera and ballet, the usual recipients of large funding, to ‘Northern poets with carrots up their noses’ who were getting grants for the most outlandish projects. The conventional arts were being downgraded in favour of these more ‘ community’ based projects. The leftie press favoured, of course, the northern poets.
We never thought of applying for and of course never received any grants, but we were viewed by some of the artistic community and some of the left wing intelligentsia as ‘new’, ‘community’, ‘inclusive’, ‘avant garde’ ‘free thinking’.
And viewed by a lot of Hyde people as ‘daft buggers’, ‘probably students who should get proper jobs’, and some with sage comments like, ‘They’ve nowt better to do’.
Now. Here is the essence of the Hyde Orchestra.
Anyone can join the orchestra.
There are no restrictions at all – except one.
The instrument you play must be totally unfamiliar to you.
You must never have played it in the past.
It would help if you own it, so that we would not have the actual owners arguing about it being abused.
Members were encouraged to swap instruments with friends, so that we kept the variety alive.
I played saxophone. Played might be a little of an exaggeration. Actually, after about a week, I could bash out (or blow out) a recognizable rendition of ‘I do like to be Beside the Seaside’. We warned everybody that if they became proficient at their instrument, it could be changed at the last minute.
The conductors decision was final. And usually purposefully stupid.
We were amazed at the number of people who wanted to join. It got to the point where we were actually turning people away. It would be nice to think that we auditioned people and took them on, on the basis of how completely crap they were at playing even paper and comb, but I don’t think we reached this dizzy height of stupidness. But we did hire or turn away people on the basis of what instrument they could bring to the band (or Orchestra)
Our first rehearsals were at the White Gate Inn at the bottom of Manchester Road, Hyde. We rehearsed in a room at the back. Most bands usually rehearse by playing through a piece, perhaps stopping at some point if needs be, going back a bar or two and trying again.
The orchestra rehearsed (we preferred ‘practiced’) by trying to get everyone just playing the same tune. There was no sheet music. There was no musical arrangement, just a desire to get everyone playing the same tune, in unison and at about the same speed. Being in the same key helped. Being in tune with one another was rare.
We must have practised at least twice there. On one occasion, we were pestered, yet again, by a scruffy, under age, inarticulate yob who wanted to join in. He had asked if he could become a part of this a couple of times before. We told this irritating, snotty, whining, little red haired bit of a kid, “No”. (well actually, we were a bit more verbose than that. A little more direct, might one say)
So that is how we first met Mick Hucknall, famous front man and indeed founder of Simply Red.
So much for early talent spotting.
After two or three ‘rehearsals’ we decided that we would do a gig. I cannot remember if the gig was at the White Gates or at the Gee Cross Sports and Social Club. However, we did a gig.
We were always pretty good at local advertising. Biggles was by now quite well known locally and so anything we gave to the local papers was almost always printed. So we had a good large audience at, er, er, Gee Cross or Haughton Green. I think it must have been the White Gates, but I cannot be sure.
Well, this gig went as me and Trev expected, which was badly. The joke was that many people, Biggles fans (who were mostly in on the joke) interested members of the public, curious, dour and sceptical pub locals and a member of the press, attended and listened to this musical travesty. One tune after another was ruined, tortured, ridiculed and, well, played badly.
Some people walked out. Some orchestra members went for a pee whenever it suited. A few people stuffed handkerchiefs into their mouths as they walked outside and then laughed and laughed.
A lot of people did not get the joke. The artistic, inclusive and radically new nature of this ‘peoples orchestra’ which was ostensibly an outreach project aimed at the poor members of the public who did not experience live music – or indeed classical music – was missed by quite a few.
However, two people did.
One was the concert secretary of the Droylsden Labour Club. He BOOKED us to appear at his club. We appeared. It was awful. The good people of the club (who were part of ‘clubland’ as it was sometimes called by the cognoscenti) booed and hissed. They were used to acts which, well, entertained. The Hyde Orchestra fell down on this score. It fell down on a lot of other scores as well. Including longevity.
The other chap who did not miss the joke was the local, tongue in cheek, press reporter, who decided to run a story on us. It appeared in the local rag, the North Cheshire Herald. This enterprising reporter, whose name escapes me, then sold the story on to the nationals, so his report then appeared in the Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and a couple of red tops.
The high brow press had fallen for the story of the plight of the poor down trodden Northern ‘peoples’ artists, even though it was admitted that it was difficult to play a saxophone, violin or cello with a carrot up your nose.
We were chuckling all the way to the pub. We had to take a bit of stick from our friends. I will never forget Jimmy Etchells shouting to us as he stumbled home late one night, “You never made the Daily Star, did you.”
It was all a great lark.
Our national coverage gave us much local fame. We were the talk of the town for about ten minutes, but we fell foul of the real local orchestra which was called:
The Hyde Festival Orchestra.
They were a proper band, not scruffy, musically inept upstarts like us. They gave concerts and wore black suits and white ties and were serious musicians with a grand Hydonian history. They never had pints of beer at their feet whilst playing or left burning cigarettes in ashtrays lying around near them.
They could, unlike us, actually play classical music, and read musical scores and follow the conductor and not eat sandwiches whilst playing.
However, I suspect that, unlike us, they never attempted the likes of ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ and ‘Bye, Bye Blackbird’ and ‘I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside’.
Their director or the president or some such – their main honcho anyway – instructed his solicitors to write to us to demand that we stop using the title ‘The Hyde Orchestra’ as it could easily be confused with their proper band, which was called ‘The Hyde Festival Orchestra’.
We were, arguably, one of the worst orchestras on the planet. The fact that we could be confused with ‘The Hyde Festival Orchestra, was laughable, and also never intended. I remember thinking that they never mentioned how we would bring them into disrepute. The solicitors letter never actually said we were crap. I wish I still had that letter. It would be reproduced on hundreds of tee-shirts by now.
So we had a meeting. In a pub of course. Just three or four of us. We laughed and joked about the letter, putting forward suggestions as to what we should do next. Although we all appeared quite calm and relaxed (dare I say ‘cool’) by this turn of events, we were all, secretly, a little shaken by the fact that this stupendous hoax might have got a little out of hand – first the national press, now letters from solicitors – whatever next?
There was not much discussion as to what we should do. Trevor took over the meeting and told us what would happen next. He would write a letter in reply offering a solution. He explained what this would say. We all fell on the floor laughing and then got another beer.
Trevor sent a letter to their solicitor in reply. It said, (I do not have the original, but this was the gist)
‘Thank you for your letter of the (whenever it was)
We are quite clearly in dispute regarding the titles of our two orchestras and must find a way forward.
We believe that the only fair and gentlemanly way of resolving this matter is in the boxing ring. We propose that the two conductors go head to head in a contest of ten rounds in a ring agreed by both parties at a mutually agreed venue. We propose that we have the red corner, and you have the blue corner.
The winner will have the right to choose any name he pleases for his orchestra, and the loser accepts that their own orchestra might be re-named.
The usual Queensbury rules should apply.’
We did not get a reply, and Our lovely band, ‘The Hyde Orchestra’ never played again.
The Hyde Festival Orchestra survived this hiccup in its illustrious career and, as they say, ‘the band played on’.
Many Thanks Phil, for allowing us to share this great story.