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When every neighbourhood had its juvenile jazz band.

DO you remember the days when it was difficult to escape from the sound of massed kazoos, drums and glockenspiels?

Those were sounds of the juvenile jazz bands, which have largely disappeared from our Teesside communities but at one time their appearance at any outdoors event seemed almost mandatory.

Former juvenile jazz band member Sue Lloyd, of Stockton, tells us that the bands were influenced by the marching youth bands of the United States. The first public display by an American Marching Youth Band was during half-time in a football game between the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago in 1907.

The first recorded marching band performing in Britain was at Hornchurch, Essex, in 1943, in the middle of World War Two when enormous numbers of American troops were stationed in the UK, so the influence may well have come from there.

These early marching bands, however, employed a wide range of woodwind and brass instruments and there was a large emphasis on uniforms and the style and complexity of the marches themselves.

The traditional marching band, or Juvenile Jazz Bands as they became known, grew in popularity from the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely but not exclusively in the North-east of England and South Wales. These bands grew mostly out of industrial working class communities, which funded and supported them.

The instruments employed were mainly kazoos, drums and occasionally glockenspiels. There were probably a number of reasons for this, not least would have been cost, the other reason was certainly accessibility, because local organisers wanted the jazz bands they were forming to attract as many children as possible, so they chose instruments that were easy to play.

The primary motivation in forming these bands was essentially to give the local children something to do and something to belong to, so barriers such as learning a musical instrument beyond blowing a kazoo or beating a drum were avoided, although some band members did become very proficient at beating the drum or even twirling a baton as the displays became more complex through the competitions.

Sue, who joined the Salters Lane Starlights, based in Salters Lane Estate, Stockton, in 1978 at the age of four and she has kindly loaned us these photographs plus unique footage, which appears on our website, of her band performing in 1979.

She joined the band because her older sister was already a member. The joining process was very relaxed as opposed to other youth organisations, which often involved initiation ceremonies.

The outstanding memories are the fun, the friendliness and the co-operation that existed within the band. For example the elaborate uniforms of the band were made by the members' mothers. If one mother had difficulty the other mothers always helped out, no child was ever made to feel different or that their uniform was not as good as someone else's.

"Everybody looked after you," says Sue.

"There was always a group of mums that could be relied upon." Sue remembers that the uniforms were mass produced in a sort of housing estate cottage industry, with blue material bought by the yard and gold braid bought by the foot. It was important that each band member was immaculately turned out from the top of her fluffy white Busby to the toes of her even whiter socks and sand shoes.

The band was not made up exclusively of girls, there was a sizeable contingent of lads who formed the drum section.

The organisation of the band was run by a committee which planned fund-raising and co-ordinated the various tasks that needed to be achieved to run the band.

There was no structured hierarchy, although the Band Major was recognised to be the leader, but when the band played in public there was a strict order in which the various sections marched.

The Band Major led the way with the mace followed by the mascot/s (usually the youngest member/s) with their batons, and then the Banner Bearers.

These were followed by the main body of kazoo players, the Drum Major, the Bass Drum, the drum section and then, finally, the glockenspiels.

The band met twice a week for practice in the local community centre where the routines were rigorously rehearsed.

Discipline and the will to perform well was largely self-enforced through a collective pride. The training was organised by mums who had served in the forces, such as the WRAF or the WRENS.

The competitions were virtually every weekend and were often big events that took up most of the day. Sue remembers that she and her sister often had to take a packed lunch with them on the bus, which the committee owned. At the competition a panel of judges would judge each band on a number of aspects, including the smartness of each member, marching in time, complexity of manoeuvres, instrument playing and baton twirling.

Medals and trophies were the only rewards for these displays, but the band as a whole felt immense pride when they did well.

Sue especially recalls one competition when her band won a total of 196 medals. The competition was fierce but very friendly.

Sue says: "They were enormous fun, everybody cheered when medals were awarded, even when it was a rival band that was collecting them."

The main rivals Sue can recollect were the Roseworth Kioras, the Hardwick Harmonies, Norton Bellairs, Billingham Comets and the elite band which seemed to win every time, the Grangefield Royals.

Contrary to popular myth the range of tunes that were played was not confined to When The Saints Go Marching In, although that was a favourite.

Other popular tunes included Blaydon Races, Brown Girl In The Ring and, surprisingly, Amazing Grace.

These marching bands evolved out of neighbourhoods where there still was something called a community spirit, from a society of ordinary people that Margaret Thatcher infamously said "did not exist".

These were communities that knew how to entertain themselves and everyone knew everyone else on the estate. People then did not live behind closed doors but got out and organised these bands by themselves to occupy and entertain their children, it was the ultimate exercise in self-help and required nor expected any outside intervention.

Many people may have dismissed the jazz bands, but they were perhaps one of the most visible signs of community and co-operation in an era when these same communities faced considerable economic and social adversity.

But the bands have not disappeared, although they are not as numerous as they once were, Norton Bellairs recently celebrated 30 years of marching.

Were you ever in a juvenile jazz band? Are you still connected with one? We want to hear about your recollections when you marched the streets, fields and community centres of Teesside. Write to Remember When, Gazette Building, Borough Road, Middlesbrough, TS13AZ or email us at This article also appears on our Remember When Teesside Nostalgia blog with a video of the band performing in 1979.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:May 17, 2008
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