Strike up the band!

This is a huge post, but it’s just so wonderful I couldn’t butcher it. Wendy Jones has been working hard and supplying me with loads of material relating to her time in the Burntwood Blue Birds Marching Jazz Band.

Wendy, you’ll recall, came up with the remarkable treasury of images of Wharf lane and surrounds before the motorway came through, and has been working incredibly hard to get as much of her father’s cinefilm and scrapbook collection online as possible.

Wendy’s dad collected photos, clippings and video, and the task of getting this on to youtube and over to me has been no mean feat, and I’d hereby like to thank Wendy for putting in the immense effort an no little time to share a remarkable fragment of history.

There are a whole host of films on Wendy’s YouTube channel. This one is Chasewater in 1992. Memories flooding back. 

I show just a snapshot of her films in this post; do pop over to Wendy’s YouTube channel and check them out. Even if the marching bands aren’t your thing, as with many local history films, revel in the backgrounds and what they reveal.

Many of the films are in and around Chasewater – a few are at the old trotting stadium, others overlooking the lake and cafe. The one at St. Matthews Hospital is particularly interesting.

Finally, the old chestnut of the Cliff Richard film ‘Take Me High’ – infamously filmed in Brum and mentioned here often – now has a local link; little did I know but the Burntwood Blue Birds are in the film. Wendy has sent me a whole tranche of related material which I shall explore in a later post.

The kids in that film must still be about. Please, if you were in ‘Take Me High’ do shout up. The wonderfully witty Jon Bounds latched me on to this 70s cinematic gem on Birmingham, It’s Not Shit (latterly the artistically serious* Paradise Circus) years ago and I’ve had a grim fascination for it ever since.

*pretentious gits

Please don’t steal material from this post and post it on Facebook; please link to it instead so the whole thing is kept credited to Wendy and maintains context. Since being banned from yet another ‘history group’ on Facebook last weekend for having the outrageous temerity  to point out ownership of nicked stuff, my patience is wearing thin. Please have some respect. Doing this stuff is bloody hard work and I’m getting very weary of seeing it stolen, bastardised and misrepresented by people who don’t even have the grace to post acknowledgements.

I credit and respect my sources. I expect you to do so, too.

Banning one of the busiest and most resourceful local history sites in your area from your  group also isn’t the brightest move, but you’ll work that out in time.

Wendy wrote:


Wendy Jones looking rather dapper in her marching band days. Image from her collection.

Burntwood Blue Birds Jazz Band

I would have been about 13 years of age when I joined the Blue Birds Jazz Band around 1970, the band had gathered as a group the previous year. I think it was more my Dad that wanted me to join and he promised me 50p a week pocket money if I joined the band (50p was a huge amount of money back then). I attended the practice sessions and soon started to pick up the routine and had made good friends. However, I was soon hooked and stayed in the band for almost ten years. The jazz band was made up with approximately 40 members of boys and girls, but predominantly more girls aged between 5 and 20 years of age. It was a marching band that had drummers, symbols and kazoos/

Practice sessions could sometimes be gruelling but also good fun and good company, in the summer months we would practice outside in front of the old wooden pavilion twice a week for about two hours. During the winter months we would practice inside the old Burntwood baths, in the large dance hall upstairs, we had to wear pumps so we didn’t scratch the floor, these would be once a week on a Sunday. Every year we would learn a brand new routine and have a brand new uniform which was always red, white and blue.

Dad became a committee member and attended lots of meetings with Albert Hollingsmode. Margaret Stokes used to train the band members their routine and used to think up lots of clever ideas we could put into an entertaining display that the judges and members of the public would enjoy watching. This was fun being part of a team. We started our travelling life using H&M Coaches from High Street, Chasetown. This was a huge cost so the band raised enough money to be able to purchase their own coach painted in blue and white with Blue Birds written down the side with matching blue headrests inside. Margaret’s husband Ron used to drive the coach to all the events.

Over the years the band visited many places all over England and Wales and made many friends with other bands and their members and would occasionally stay as guests in their homes. 1973 a group of majorettes from France came to stay in Burntwood and took part in the Chase Wakes and we had the opportunity to be their hosts in later in 1973 taking part in their local carnival.

When we attended carnivals the band was always expected to take part in the street parades, some of these parades could be extremely exhausting and demanding especially if it was a hot day. Some of the parades could be a couple of miles long and we still kept up the pace with much enthusiasm and zeal. In the carnival parades would be dance troops, majorettes, military bands and floats. After the street parades with other bands from all over the country, there would be a draw to determine which order the bands would perform their routines. We would put on our practiced display with keenness. We would stand to attention and the drums would beat, we would all start marking time in perfect precise synchronisation together, we could now only do our best.

The displays usually lasted for about 20 minutes and the crowd would cheer and applaud us on.

At the end of each event, there would be grand finales, where all the bands taking part would march into the arena to wait for the results. Over the years the Blue Birds have won many titles including the World Championships twice. The first time the band won it was at Alexander Palace, London in 1974

We once visited the Blue Bird toffee factory and had a guided tour of the factory and everyone was given a large bag of Blue Bird toffees. We went to hundreds of functions all over the country, way to many to name them all.

The band started getting status and was on television a few times and was asked to be guard of honour at special events, including some royal occasions. However, by this time I was working and my employer didn’t like me having time off from work.

When I was 16 years the Blue Birds jazz band was in a film with Cliff Richard, ‘Take me High’ when we paraded around the streets of Birmingham. The band went to the opening night in Birmingham a few months later were we all met Sir Cliff. We were also invited to the opening night at Sankeys Corner picture house and we lined the steps as customers passed to watch the film, we were all allowed to watch the film after everyone was in the cinema, this was our first viewing of the film.

[You can see the bit of the film the band were in by clicking this link. Sorry, couldn’t work out how to embed the film to start from a set time – Bob]

Jazz bands in the 1970s used to be a big passtime for children and adults in the Midlands and there were many local jazz bands and often we would attend each others functions. The jazz bands used to put on a lot of displays for charities. Often we met someone famous who was opening the functions and we would collect their autographs. Being a member of the jazz band it was difficult to have a serious boyfriend unless he was interested in jazz bands too! During the summer months carnivals would be most Saturdays and Sundays and practicing sessions twice weekly, Tuesdays and Thursdays, the band used to take up a lot of our spare time.

It was a good part of our life.

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7 Responses to Strike up the band!

  1. Karen Booth says:

    I was in the Burntwood Blue Birds and if i could turn back time i would do it all over again. I was in for many years just like Wendy.

  2. Tina Hill says:

    oh the blue birds they were also ones to try ant beat. lol. I remember that the big competition used to be around chasewater on or around the 18th 19th july, well it was 32 years ago, lol. had a bad hangover and thought, will go walk over chase water and was confronted by all these jazz bands coming from the wilkin. lol. I know it was that weekend, as it was the weekend I met my hubby.

  3. Clive says:

    Nice one Wendy, enjoyed your videos and your story of being in the band. Thank you.

  4. Bostin Dave says:

    Lovely article on the Bluebirds I run a band just up the road in Stafford – website or facebook page

    My wife comes from Burntwood and family still lives there, we met Ron & Margeret a number of times, they made some uniform gauntlets for my band a number of years ago, lovely people and well remember the Bluebirds coach.

  5. Rose Baxter says:

    Great memory’s I loved being in the Blue Birds Jazz Band 🙂

  6. My mom yoused to do band marching when she was in her teens 🙂

  7. Pingback: Marching through the memories | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

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