At times, the most unexpected triumphs and lasting legacies have their genesis in distrust and discontent.
For instance, no one would have thought that just a month after the protagonists in a County Court dispute involving former playing colleagues over the alleged non-payment of money due on the purchase of old instruments, that a new Tredegar Band would be crowned Welsh National Eisteddfod champion in Wrexham.
Embers and flames
In July 1876 the legal wrangling between players leaving the old Tredegar No.1 Band to form a new Tredegar No.2 Band was settled by Judge Herbert in the case of Owens versus Vines.
The embers of the old band - the one that led the procession to the new rolling mill of Samuel Homfray in 1849, were finally extinguished, but in the process the outcome sparked the first flames that were to ignite the new band under its conductor Mr J. R. Tidswell.
A few weeks after the outcome had been reported in the local press, the new band enjoyed its first public engagement; a procession for an annual Sunday School outing to the local St George’s Church.
The Monmouthshire Merlin newspaper stated that; ‘Mr. Tidswell and a select party of the town brass band lead the procession, and their presence was amongst the happiest arrangements of the day.’
On the 19th August a further South Wales Daily News report stated that, ‘...sports and races were got up for the benefit of the town band, and the financial result was good.’
It added: ‘The Tredegar Band, under Mr J. R. Tidswell, played some fine operatic selections. Mr D. F. Williams, of the Tredegar Arms, provided the creature comforts, and generously handed over all profits to the band fund.’
Then, on the 25th August 1876, came news that shocked the town.
The Monmouthshire Merlin reported: ‘...pleasing intelligence was received in Tredegar, on Wednesday night, that the band under the leadership of Mr. J. R. Tidswell, had been awarded the first prize and gold medal, at the Grand National Eisteddfod at Wrexham.
It appears that the winning band, according to the stipulated arrangement remain in Wrexham three days, and receive £10 for each day's services at the Eisteddfod, and but for this, it was the intention of Mr. Tidswell to contest the £50 prize, at Rhayder; as it is they must be content, for the present, with the laurels they have won - Monmouthshire Merlin newspaper - 25th August 1876
Tredegar ought to be proud of such a band. The prize was awarded by the advice of two of the best musicians of the present day in Sir Julius Benedict and Mr. John Thomas, and in giving his decision the former stated that Tredegar band had surpassed the other six "in point of tone, time, brilliancy, and general excellence" - probably as high a compliment as ever been paid to any amateur troupe of musicians.’
The report added; ‘It appears that the winning band according to the stipulated arrangement remain in Wrexham three days, and receive £10 for each day's services at the Eisteddfod, and but for this, it was the intention of Mr. Tidswell to contest the £50 prize, at Rhayder; as it is they must be content, for the present, with the laurels they have won.’
The official report on the contest came from the Wrexham Advertiser newspaper, which stated that the band ‘…was decidedly deserving of the first prize’, in the competition that was held on Wednesday 23rd August.
It went on to say that the band had won £20 and a gold medal for the conductor from adjudicators Sir Julius Benedict, Mr John Thomas and Mr Brinley Richards, with a performance of the set work, ‘La Fete Musical’ by Smith of Hull.
Not without controversy
However, the contest it seems was not without controversy, as the local reporter rather colourfully described.
“This competition proved a most tedious affair and lasted about an hour and half. It was, however, a most keen contest.
There were several bands, comprising those from Denbighshire Militia, Denbighshire Hussars, Wrexham Volunteers, Tredegar Town, Derwent Tin Plate Works (Cumberland) and Nantlle.
Each band was applauded. Mr Thomas in announcing his award said it would perhaps appear to the audience that great difficulty would be experienced in coming to a decision on account of the superior character of the bands (Hear, hear).
The judges had conscientiously followed the performers bar by bar, and they had come to their decision after mature deliberation. But, he was bound to inform them, and he regretted he had to do so, that the judges were not unanimous.
Two (himself and Sir Julius Benedict) were in favour of one band, and Mr Brinley Richards of another; but they were told by the authorities that two to one was an overwhelming majority in favour of the one band - Wrexham Advertiser newspaper, 23rd August 1876
Two (himself and Sir Julius Benedict) were in favour of one band, and Mr Brinley Richards of another; but they were told by the authorities that two to one was an overwhelming majority in favour of the one band.
He felt it his duty to pay a marked compliment to the second band, and that was the Denbighshire Yeomanry Band (bandmaster Mr C.A. Stephenson). (Applause)
Mr Brinley Richards was strongly in favour of that band, and that he stuck to his opinion. (Applause). He honoured him for it, and not being influenced by other – (‘bravo’ – and applause) – still, Sir Julius and he were entitled to the like consideration (Laughter)
In point of tone, time, brilliancy and general excellence, the Tredegar Band was decidedly deserving of the first prize (Cheers)
He could not leave the platform without expressing his admiration of the performances of the other bands.”
On Friday 25th August 1876, the Western Mail newspaper also reported on the success, adding the rather prophetic coda: ‘As it is, they must be content for the present with the laurels they have won. They have established a reputation, and have now only to stick well together, attend to their instructor, and go on towards the top rung of the ladder of fame’.
These words can now be seen on an acoustic panel in the main rehearsal room, a reminder that 140 years on, there is no sign of the prize-winning music making coming to an end.