In his latest column, Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds tells us why he feels this Whit Friday will be extra special.
This week sees one of my favourite dates in our cultural calendar, the Whit Friday Band Contest.
Spending my childhood in the North East and my adulthood in Greater Manchester, I can’t lie, brass band music sings to my soul. It is anthematic, uplifting, accessible to all; the sort of music which fills you with pride and belonging.
This Whit Friday is extra special for two reasons.
Firstly, we celebrate the welcome return of the band contests after two years lost to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is exactly the sort of community event I missed the most in all those grim weeks of isolation and restriction, and I know many others did too. Not least our young people. I’m proud to sponsor the youth prize and can’t wait to hear the great tunes the young entrants produce.
I was interested to learn from local historian Stuart Vallantine that aside from the pandemic, only the First and Second World Wars have pressed pause on the local band contests, with them taking place all other years since 1884. Stories from Whit Friday are passed down here from generation to generation, from epic storms to marriage proposals.
Secondly, this year marks 30 years since the first contest held at Stalybridge Labour Club, my all-time favourite Whit Band Contest venue (yes, I’m unapologetically biased on that!). Seeing the bands march down the hill from the Cheetham Park entrance, banners and all, is always moving or cheering. Once or twice myself or my kids have had the honour of marching with a local band and it’s just great to be a part of it.
The judges hiding in their caravan or cabin to ensure anonymity is brilliantly Staly. And the club always ensures the local ales are flowing whatever the weather, with plenty of hot food stalls now adding to the occasion.
This year Whit Friday coincides with Stalybridge Street Fest, which has brought great culinary delights to the town, along with a great vibe and sense of togetherness.
This month Street Fest takes a carnival theme, complete with samba dancers, puppeteers, and more, thanks to funding from the Stalybridge Town of Culture celebrations. Whether you’re into chicken or churros, paella or pancakes, there will be something for everyone.
Why not bring your favourite dish over to the band contest and enjoy the best of Stalybridge, with modern gastro treats meeting traditional brass band glory? I can’t wait.