“I thought I could hear the curious tone of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone.” When a brass band plays the famous and catchy song, The Floral Dance, an image of the late broadcaster, Terry Wogan, singing his own unique version on Top of the Pops back in 1978 springs to mind.
The much-loved Irish DJ, who first worked for the BBC on the Light Programme in 1966, became a recording artist due to public demand.
Wogan had worked his way up to become one of the BBC’s top disc jockeys, attracting audiences of 7.9 million listeners to his weekday afternoon slot on BBC Radio 2. His Irish charm and gentle humour made him a winner with the listeners, and his fans loved his debut record as much as they enjoyed his skills as a broadcaster.
Wogan’s new career as a recording artist began after the historic Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band (originally formed in Calderdale, Yorkshire in 1881) enjoyed commercial success when they released The Floral Dance as a seven-inch single.
In a decade when disco ruled, the quaint folk song hit the number two spot in the UK singles chart in November 1977 and remained there for six weeks. It was only Wings’ famous Mull of Kintyre that kept them off the top spot, when it became the first single in the UK to sell more than two million copies.
Wogan played the instrumental song often on his radio show and would sing along in a joking fashion.
Listeners loved the song, complete with vocals sung in his gentle Irish lilt. It wasn’t long before fans asked the DJ to release his own vocal version of the floral dance and of course, Wogan obliged.
His version was accompanied by the Hanwell Band (a brass band originally formed in 1891) when it was known as Hanwell Town Band. Their version of The Floral Dance with Wogan was their only commercial hit.
Floral Dance origins
The Floral Dance was far from being a modern song. Dating from 1911, it was composed by Katie Moss, a 30-year-old British singer and composer. London-born Katie studied at the Royal Academy of Music and wrote the lyrics and music to The Floral Dance after a visit to the Cornish mining village, Helston.
While there, she had observed an old tradition called the Furry Dance, which takes place on 8th May each year to celebrate the Feast of St Michael – otherwise known as Flora Day. A big part of the day is the Hal-an-Tow pageant, which is a celebration of dance from 8.30am until 5pm, with Helston Band accompanying the dancing.
More than 1,000 local children aged up to 18 years old take part, all dressed in white. The dancers commonly wear Lily of the Valley buttonholes or corsages, as it’s the symbolic flower of Helston.
The Helston Furry Dance is the collective name for all the brass band music and dancing – a sight that Katie witnessed back in May 1911. Legend has it that she wrote The Floral Dance on her way home to describe the event. The name “Furry Dance” is said to come from the Celtic word “feur”, meaning festival.
Katie’s song was first recorded in 1912 and has been recorded many times since, including versions by stage and film actor Stanley Holloway, Australian bass baritone singer Peter Dawson and on the soundtrack of the 1996 film, Brassed Off, which was about a brass band in Yorkshire.
After Terry Wogan died of cancer at the age of 77 in January 2016, fans began a campaign to have The Floral Dance become the Christmas number one that year, with all the proceeds going to Children in Need. This was in recognition of the late star’s hosting of the annual televised fundraiser between 1980 and 2014.
Although the song didn’t reach number one, the publicity was invaluable in raising money for Children in Need in Wogan’s memory.
The wonderful sounds made by brass instruments wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the process of metal tube bending. Instruments mentioned in The Floral Dance such as the cornet, clarinet and trombone, are manufactured through companies such as Pipecraft’s metal services, which create brass instrument parts. Straight tubes can be formed into a variety of single or multiple bends using machinery to shape it into the desired form.
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