Whitburn Band was formed as Whitburn Town Band in 1870, when brass bands in Scotland were very much in their infancy. It was, however, a time when a number of bands were being formed in the area as an outlet for the growing number of amateur musicians in the mining communities of West Lothian, for whom musical instruments were becoming available for the first time.
For most of the early part of its existence, the band played little part in the competitive movement in Scotland, but played a major role in the life of the town. In the early 1900s, it was instrumental in the introduction of the town’s Annual Gala (or ‘Downdie’) Week in June, an event in which the band still performs a vital role.
It wasn’t until 1948 that the band, by then known as Whitburn Miners Welfare, made its first impact on the contest scene by winning the Scottish 4th Section Championships under the direction of Herbert Kearsley.
Progress was made over the following years and Kearsley led the band to the National 3rd Section Championship at London’s Lime Grove Theatre in 1954, thus becoming the first band from north of the border to win a National title. In 1963, the band, which had recently become known as Whitburn Burgh Band, achieved Championship Section status for the first time, when Harry Holwill conducted it to the Scottish 2nd Section title.
In 1968, by then conducted by Alex Fleming (a native of nearby Bo’ness and a product of the rival Kinneil Colliery Band), Whitburn had its first victory in the Scottish Championships, ironically depriving Kinneil of a hat-trick of victories on its ‘home ground’ of Bo’ness Town Hall. Alex Fleming had a further two Scottish Championship victories to his name by the time he left in 1973. Yorkshireman, John Harrison, led Whitburn to further titles in 1974 and ’75, but it was the appointment, in 1979, of Major Peter Parkes as musical director that took the band to new heights and wider recognition in the brass band movement and in concert halls throughout Britain and the continent.
Along with six Scottish titles achieved in the 1980s and prizes in the National and European Championships, ‘The Major’ conducted the band in many successful radio and television performances.
Together they notably reached the final of the BBC2 national competition, Best of Brass, in 1981 and ’82, and secured five successive victories in BBC Scotland’s Fanfare contest. In 1983, sponsorship was secured for the first time and the band became Murray International Whitburn. Coinciding with this change, it began to increase its number of concert appearances and has since appeared with many fine soloists in some of the finest venues in the country, including the Royal Albert Hall, the Birmingham Symphony Hall and the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
During this period, it also embarked on tours of France, The Netherlands and Switzerland. The 1990s saw some of the band’s most notable successes on the contest platform, the highlights being the 2nd prize achieved in the 1990 European Championships and victory in the 1991 British Open Grand Shield. Further victories have also been achieved in the Scottish Championships and many other local competitions, while Whitburn players have dominated the solo and ensemble scene in Scotland for many years. Recent years have seen the band led in concerts and major competitions by James Scott, Phillip McCann, Chris Houlding, Richard Adams, Archie Hutchison, Chris Bradley, Gavin Lindsay and Peter Parkes, while leading brass soloists, Phillip Smith, Joseph Alessi III, Håkan Hardenberger, James Gourlay, John Wallace, Richard Marshall and Christian Lindberg, have all appeared on the concert stage with Whitburn. In 1997, the band became involved in the Acid Brass project – the brainchild of conceptual artist and Turner Prize winner, Jeremy Deller. Acid Brass has seen the band perform before large and enthusiastic audiences throughout Scotland and in critically acclaimed performances in Rennes, France at the Transmusicales festival.
In 1999, Whitburn appointed Phillip McCann as its conductor, achieving instant success by winning the Scottish Championships for the 14th time that year. In 2002, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Golden Jubilee and Whitburn performed for her procession through London, which was broadcast to billions of people around the world. 2003 turned out to be a fantastic year. Andrew Duncan was appointed Professional Conductor after he conducted the band to 2nd place at that year’s British Open Championships, the best result ever achieved by a Scottish Band in the 151-year history of the most prestigious contest in the world. Andrew Duncan achieved further success with the band at the Brass in Concert Championship in 2004 and ’05, and, in 2006, won the Scottish Open Championships in Glasgow. The band retained the title in 2007 under his baton. In March, 2008, Russell Gray led the band to its 15th Scottish title with a wonderful performance of Eric Ball’s Festival Music.
At the end of 2010, the band moved into a new chapter when an agreement was reached with Exchange Communications to sponsor the band. This was followed up with victory at the 2011 Scottish Brass Band Championships – the band’s 16th win at the event – conducted by Ian Porthouse. The sponsorship agreement ended in 2012.
Further Scottish Championship successes followed in 2013 and 2015, the latter being the first under the band’s Professional Conductor Nicholas Childs. 2017 turned out to be arguably Whitburn’s most successful year ever on the contest stage. Victories at the Scottish, Scottish Open and Grand Shield were followed up by another 2nd place at the British Open and sixth place at the National Championships of Great Britain. The band defended its Scottish crown in 2018, becoming the Scottish champions for the 20th time.
Whitburn Band remains committed to maintaining a high standard of music and presentation and will perform at Celtic Connections and the Edinburgh International Festival in 2018. The band looks forward entertaining audiences throughout the country for many years to come by performing at a major events, such as international rugby games where Whitburn perform the national anthems of the away teams to a television audience of millions.
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