For a time during the second decade of the 20th century, Pontardulais was described as the “Mecca of all brass band enthusiasts in West Wales”. In September 1915 and 1916, and July 1917 and 1918, the Annual Brass Band Championship Contest of the West Wales Association of Brass Bands were held at venues across the village, including Tyle Coch Fields, Coed Bach Park and Belle Vue Park. Generally, competitions of the time were held outdoors during the ‘good weather months’ as they included a March competition as well as a Test Piece, requiring plenty of space. Additionally, no indoor venue was large enough to accommodate the crowds of people in attendance at these events. You may be surprised to learn that these competitions were a ‘Big Event’ attracting huge crowds of people. Local press record how “ideal weather” favoured the 16th Annual contest of July 1917, with over 4,000 people attending Coed Bach Park, Pontardulais on the day. The Herald of Wales was keen to point out Pontardulais ‘”as never known such an influx of visitors” with over 2,000 people coming by train alone!
The following is an amusing extract from the ‘South Wales Weekly Post / Carmarthen Journal and South West Wales Weekly Advertiser’ on 20th July 1917:
While one of the bands were rehearsing before the competition at Pontardulais last Saturday an inquisitor went on and asked one of the pIayers if they were practising the piece for the competition. “I don’t know,” was the reply. “I only play bass.”
The band did exceptionally well over a three year period of competing, 1915-1918, climbing from Class C to Class A by April 1918. Perhaps their finest hour during this period was at the 15th Annual Championship held at Pontardulais Tyle Coch Fields in September 1916. The Band took first place playing ‘Prince & Peasant’ and were awarded the Challenge Shield. The band also created a record, as far as the West Wales Association were concerned, as they were the first Class C band to win both Class B and Class C events on the same day. The Herald of Wales reports: “There was great jubilation on Saturday evening over the success of the Town Silver Band, and Bandmaster Hanney and his clever combination were the recipients of well-deserved congratulations”.
Under the leadership of Mr E. R. Pritchard, F.Mus., R.C.M. London, ahead of the contest at Briton Ferry on Saturday November 10th 1917, the band held an open rehearsal at Haggar’s Picture Palace Pontardulais (where a plate for silver collection is sent around!). Newspapers report that the band rendered several selections in excellent style, including the two test pieces, (yes two – the band were competing in Class B and C!) and “Excelsior”, by special request.
The following table shows the result of the Briton Ferry contest, along with some of the Band’s other contest results from the period.
|May 1915||Cwmmawr||C||Gems of Old Days||2nd|
|14th September 1915||Pontardulais||C||? (Classical Favourites)||3rd|
|September 1916||Cross Hands||March||Own Choice||Outside top 3|
|September 1916||Cross Hands||B & C||Prince & Peasant||Outside top 3|
|September 1916||Cross Hands||A||Siege of Kochelle||Outside top 3|
|15th September 1916||Pontardulais||March||Own Choice||Outside top 3|
|15th September 1916||Pontardulais||B & C||Prince & Peasant||1st (Challenge Shield)|
|March 1917||Briton Ferry||B||Unknown||3rd|
|16th July 1917||Pontardulais||A||La Dame Blanche||3rd|
|September 1917||Pontardulais||A||United Kingdom||4th|
|November 1917||Briton Ferry||B & C||La Dame Blanche||1st (Silver Bowl)|
|May 1918||Kenfig Hill||A||Unknown||3rd|
|17th July 1918||Pontardulais||March||Battle Abbey||2nd|
|August 1918||Ammanford||March||Unknown||Joint 3rd|
In January 1918, Pontardulais was in crisis. Measles was endemic, many of the local tinplate works were idle and there were large queues for food, which had to be overseen by the local constabulary. The Town Band held their AGM, Lieut. D. J. Davies (Graig Merthyr) was President and accounts showed £57 7s. 2d. in the kitty. A review of contest results for 1917 showed the band drew “no blanks” achieving one 1st place, four 2nd places and three 3rd places. Bandmaster Pritchard presented a medal to Mr Alf Jones as the most faithful attender at practices.