The Band That Played At Peterloo, by Sandy Parkinson

'Manchester Heroes, 1819', image courtesy of Manchester Histories. Contributor: Manchester Central Library (ref: GB127.m77801) Cruikshank, I RContributor: Manchester Central Library (ref: GB127.m77801) Cruikshank, I R

Whit Friday’s coming round
And we’ll be out again,
Coaching from town to town,
March down, play the test piece,
Acknowledge the cheers,
Tick another contest off the list. 
The best day of the year.

Perhaps they march with us, all the lads
Who set off down to Peter’s Field
In Manchester, that summer day
Two hundred years ago.
Perhaps they enjoy the happy crowds,
The brass aficionados and the beer,
The women chatting and the shrieking kids.

It must have been the same back then;
A big occasion, time to show
Their skill; to prove they’re not
Just factory fodder or an office drudge,
But proud men, with a culture of their own,
Passed down to bind communities
And speak to folk of home.

As they with music, so the men with words.
Up on the platform is John Knight,
One of their own, a Mossley man,
Demanding rights, respect, a voice.
Let’s give to each and every working man
A chance to choose who speaks on their behalf
And has their needs and interests at heart.

I sometimes think they’re with us on the coach,
Haunting the back seats, with the drum,
The tuba, the cornets and trombones;
Remembering the tunes they played,
How hard they practised and rehearsed,
How women, chattering, tapped their feet
And children, playing, screamed.

And screamed and screamed,
As horses trampled, swords flashed,
And clothes steeped red in blood.
They told us how they got away,
How they will not forget
The fearful trudge across the Moss to home,
Their precious music lost.
They’ve seen our victories across the years.
The band’s won prizes and men have won votes,
And women, too, which perhaps was a surprise.
We’ve had it better than they dreamed. But now
Whit Friday’s coming round again,
And so’s the contest, never wholly won.
We owe it to their spirit to “think on”.

Sandy Parkinson

Stalybridge Old Band was one of the bands that went down to play at the Peterloo gathering in 1819. The band is still in existence, and thriving, in 2019.