Wednesday 14 November 2012, 11:19
Think Wales and Welsh music, and your thoughts may well turn to male voice choirs. Yet in the mining valleys of the country – and further afield in north Wales too – there remains a strong tradition of brass bands. In particular, there is the Cory Band.The Cory Band in concert in 2012
The Cory Band has been probably the most successful Welsh brass band of the last century, although their near neighbours and intense rivals, the Parc and Dare Band from Treorchy, would certainly dispute the claim. But when you look at the history of the Cory Band and see the list of their successes it is hard to do anything else but award them the title.
The band was founded in 1884, in the Rhondda town of Pentre. They were originally called Ton Temperance, a clear indication both of the mood of the time and the need for useful activities to keep miners out of the pubs and beer dens when they were not on shift in the collieries of the Rhondda Valley.
The early days were not easy. It wasn't as if there was a shortage of musicians, playing and enjoying music was part of the soul of many Welshmen, then and now. But finding enough money to purchase expensive and good quality instruments was another matter.
Then, in 1885 Sir Clifford Cory, chairman of the Cory brothers' coal mining empire, heard the band play. He was so struck by their quality that he agreed to sponsor them, providing instruments and other financial assistance to what was, essentially, an amateur and part-time band. By way of acknowledging the sudden patronage of the coal owners, the band changed its name to the Cory Band.
In 1920, shortly after World War One ended, the band began to qualify and compete in national championships. Three years later, in 1923, they made what is now regarded as the first radio broadcast by any British brass band – a signal honour for the Welsh band.
Competing in championships was one thing, winning them quite another, and it was many years before the Cory Band achieved this distinction. To be fair to the members of the band, the depression years were hard and difficult ones in Wales, a time when playing music was considerably lower on the list of priorities than feeding your family. And then, of course, there was World War Two to contend with.
So, it was 1974 before the Cory Band achieved its first major coup, winning the prestigious National Championships where they had to compete with the more established and recognised brass bands from the mining areas of northern England. It was a feat they repeated four times, recording a hat trick of wins in 1984, their centenary year. They have also won the British Open Championship five times, the European Championship and the World Music Contest.
In 2000 the band's victory in the British Open Championship was a landmark moment. Never before, in the 150 years of the events history, had any Welsh brass band won the Open shield. The band has recorded many other honours since its foundation over 100 years ago.
In 1976, in order to mark the bicentenary celebrations of the USA, the Cory Band represented Wales and the brass band movement in general, on a tour of America. And in 2003 they performed the Gaia Symphony of Dr John Richard, then the band's composer in residence, in a performance broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The symphony lasted for more than an hour and is still the longest piece of music in the band's repertoire.
1998 name change
In 1998 the band was renamed in order to record and reflect the patronage it was now being given by the TV rental company, Just Rentals. They duly became the Just Rentals Cory Band, a name it held for only a short while before in 2004 Just Rentals became Buy As You View. Consequently, the band was renamed once more, becoming the Buy As You View Cory Band.
In 2007 the band reverted to its original name and now performs, once again, as the Cory Band. For the last decade the band has been the resident ensemble – together with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales – at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. Their current composer in eesidence is Welshman Gareth Wood.
The mining industry that spawned the Cory Band might be well and truly dead and buried but the band continues to perform, to compete and to entertain. In 2013 they have concerts planned in Scandinavia and are due to undertake a long and arduous tour of Australia, in addition to recording and releasing music.