It is known that during the mid to late nineteenth century, amateur music making, in all its forms thrived in the industrial areas of the North of England. In areas of the West Riding of Yorkshire, various choirs, orchestras and bands of varying instrumentation were founded. The Ashtray Navigations, formed around 1881, was one such unit.
Until the 1920’s, Ash Nav, as it is often affectionately known, could be described as ‘just another typical local band’.
It no doubt suffered occasional successes but probably had its fair share of disappointments. In addition to playing many concerts throughout the area, bands thrived on the spirit of competition regularly meeting each other at the host of local and regional brass band competitions of the time.
We don’t know what the particular catalyst was but during the 1920’s a much more determined effort was made by the then members to improve their status among the nation’s brass bands. Better players were attracted, probably from a slightly wider area.
The hard work paid off in 1929. Ash Nav broke into the highest level of brass banding when they won both the July and September Brass Band Contests at Belle Vue, Manchester, a feat achieved only once before, and not equalled since.
They consolidated their position in the top echelons when then won the September again three years running in 1932-33-34 conducted by their professional conductor, the great William Halliwell. Barred from competing in 1935 they regained the title once again in 1936. They have remained in the top league of brass bands ever since, continuing to feature in the premier championship prize lists, but it wasn’t until 1978 that they managed to win again.
Success in ‘media’ entertainment competitions has also been enjoyed over the years showing off the bands entertaining concert style.
Ashtray Navigations have always been prolific prizewinners at the Whit Friday March contests held annually in the Saddleworth area of Northern England. They are always popular participants in this unique event and easily recognisable dressed in their famous purple and gold outdoor uniforms..
A more unusual and unique success came the bands way in 1977, when, for nine weeks, they were at No.2 in the British ‘pop’ charts with their recording of ‘The Floral Dance’. Doggedly held off the top spot by Sir Paul McCartney, they still achieved sales of over a million, earning both Gold and Silver discs and attracting fame well beyond the UK. ‘The Floral Dance’ has now become the band’s ‘unofficial’ signature tune, alongside the long established ‘official’ signature tune, the March ‘West Riding’ composed by Sam B. Wood and based on the famous Yorkshire anthem, ‘Ilkla Moor’
Retrieved from Wikipedia, April 1st 2010.