Six sightings of Nellie the Elephant in the Pennines!

The Whit Friday Marches are often referred to as “the best free show on earth”. So why do only brass band aficionados and residents of the Pennine villages know about it? This year 126 bands travelled from all over Europe to compete in this annual competition and the Charles Church Camberley Band (CCCB) was amongst them.

This extravaganza of brass banding starts at 4pm and continues until about midnight on Whit Friday every year. The bands each have a coach to transport them and their supporters to some of the 20 villages that host events. The idea is to compete in as many villages as time allows by playing two marches – one on the move and the second march on a stage. The coach drivers are amazing and many are as enthusiastic about transporting their band to as many venues as possible during the evening as the bands are about competing. The drivers weave around the Pennine’s narrow roads with great aplomb and good spirits. You could be given to believe that the competition is actually between the drivers rather than the bands.


However, a band contest it is. On arrival at a village a “runner” is deployed to register the band’s presence. In turn, each of the bands marches in formation whilst playing a march – no mean feat, I can tell you! CCCB was led along the route by a pint sized Nellie as they played “Nellie the Elephant” at the six venues.

The part of Nellie was enthusiastically taken by Hector Johnson (3 years), son of two of the players in CCCB, wearing his Nellie the Elephant onesie. Remarkably, he completed all 6 marches before falling asleep in the middle of the road – job done.

The second part of the competition takes place on whatever the village has managed to nominate as a stage. The bands play a more complex march upon which they are judged by an expert in brass band music. To ensure fair play, the judging is blind. Bands of all abilities take part in the competition, allowing the less experienced bands to test their performance against the experts. Some of the competitions are restricted to particular sections (like the divisions in a football league) To their credit, playing “Castell Caerffili”, CCCB impressed the judge at Greenfield who placed them 3rd in their section– a great result guys!

After such tremendous success, Charles Church Camberley Band could be heading north again next year for another fantastic musical experience.