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Colliery bands play on long after the pits closed

Royal Buckley Town Band is thought to have been formed in 1822
Royal Buckley Town Band is thought to be one of the oldest, going back to 1822

By Nick Bourne
Charting the history of the region's brass bands as Point of Ayr features on an album celebrating bands' roles in mining communities

Brass and silver bands are still very much a central part of community celebrations but their origins go back to the 1800s.

Llangollen Silver Band
Llangollen Silver Band played for Prince Charles in 2009

Today you can see Royal Buckley Town Band marching ahead of the Buckley Jubilee during its annual parades; Llangollen Silver Band was called on when Prince Charles made Froncysyllte Wales' Village of the Year 2009; and local bands lead the annual Armistice Day parades to town centre cenotaphs.

The history books show many bands were started by colliery owners keen to develop a settled community in villages and encourage sports and music.

Among those still playing today is the Point of Ayr band which owes its origins to the colliery from which it takes its name.

Point of Ayr band feature on a CD album, picture courtesy the band via their Facebook profile
Point of Ayr band feature on a CD album of colliery brass bands

And even though that pit closed in 1996, the band plays on and continues to enjoy success, so much so that it features on a new album, The Music Lives on Now The Mines Have Gone, along with other "historic colliery brass bands from the UK", with a dedicated website gathering people's memories, The Music Lives On

It has been released to mark 25 years since the end of the Miners' Strike (5 March 1984 to 3 March 1985).

Sue Hughes from the band says members still consider themselves a colliery band with two former Point of Ayr miners continuing to play for them.

Their band was started in 1967 with instruments pledged by Llay Main Colliery band when the Wrexham pit was forced to close. Point of Ayr still has some of the original instruments but they're held now as memorabilia.

"The band's roots as a colliery band is extremely important", says Sue.

"One pence was donated from the miners' wages each week and EIMCO, a company who had involvement in the mining industry, also part sponsored the band. That was how the band was funded in its early / mid years."

In the 1970s the band rose through the band sections winning many prizes. Arguably the most successful period was after the colliery closed, says Sue, being Champion Band of Wales 1997 and 1999 and placed 3rd at the European Championships in Holland 1998.

They withdrew from public appearances in 2003 until 2008, when they re-joined the contesting scene, winning their way back to the championship section and debut in March at the Welsh Regionals, Brangwyn Hall, Swansea.

Sue says: "The Band hope that the CD to be released on 1 March, will form an integral part of their history and keep the link between the colliery and the band very much alive."

Llay Colliery band take part in a parade in 1925 during a miners' strike about wage reduction
1925: Llay Colliery band take part in miners' strike parade

Meanwhile, one of the country's oldest bands is the Royal Buckley Town Band which is thought to have been formed in 1822.

It is one of only a handful to be given the title 'Royal', although it's not known when or why it was given the name.

However, history shows it has held the title from at least 1894, although it's thought to have been granted at around 1889 after the band played in Hawarden Castle before the Prince and Princess of Wales, later to become King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

During the period 1870-1900 the band was in great demand, especially at Hawarden Castle, summoned to attend by the "Grand Old Man" as the then resident, Prime Minister William Gladstone, was affectionately known.

1955: Llay Colliery band display their awards outside the pit's offices
1955: Llay Colliery band display their awards outside the pit's offices

Meanwhile, another well regarded band was the original Llay Main Colliery band. The pit started operations in 1922 and it is thought that a colliery band began sometime before 1925.

In 1945, the band led the peace parade through Wrexham, marking the end of World War II.

In 1947 the band took part in the 'Miner comes to Town' - a celebration of the nationalisation of the coal industry.

Unlike Llay band, another band that did manage to survive the pit closures was the Gresford colliery band which, in the 1970s, found itself homeless when the NUM office in Wrexham was closed.

They were offered practice facilities at the Miners' Institute in Llay and Llay Welfare band was reborn.

To find out more about the region's local bands, and where they can be seen today, use our guide to local brass and silver bands

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