History - 1950's
Harborough Band (1950's)
Harborough Band (1950's)

The above photo was taken between 1950 - 1952 kindly donated by Doreen Read

Front (from left): Keith Gilbert, Bernard Pollard, -, M.Cook(?), M. Pollard, Eddy Marlow, John Pollard
Middle (from left): Edwin Pollard, Carl Riley, Ernie Brown, Walter Heggs, Gill Walpole, - , Maureen Pollard, Joe Read (librarian), Keith Tompkins, Terry Gilbert
Back row (from left): Doreen Read, David Brown, Reg Crain

Harborough Band Memories (1955 ~ 1959

by Tony Mason

I joined the then Market Harborough Town Band on Thursday evening, November 3rd, 1955. I suppose music was in my blood to some degree as my mother and aunts on both sides of the family were pianists to varying standards and my uncle was top trombone at Kibworth.

The town band then rehearsed upstairs in the Working Men's Club and I duly presented myself there at the appointed time. The conductor in those days was Mr Edwin Pollard (Senior), the father of Bernard, John, Edwin and Maureen who all played in the band.

I was given an old cornet, but no case, and since there were not enough senior members present for a "blow" Mr Pollard taught me the "C" scale from bottom C as far as G. This was to be the only private lesson I had throughout my playing career. What opportunities the young have today!

I went home, practised hard and made a cornet case from a cardboard box. The following week I found myself sitting on third cornet with Mr Eddie Marlow. In those far off days of unimaginative arrangements the third cornets had lots of rests.

I could read music a little and soon learned to play the off beats in waltzes and marches, but actually counting 20 or 30 bars rest and coming in at about the correct time defeated both of us for a considerable period. Our most common dialogue was "Where are we?", "Don't know!"

Rehearsals usually consisted of about ten players, sometimes just a "greasy" eight (where does that term originate?). If practising for nothing important as was often the case a cry of "Let's get the black books out" would often be heard. I dreaded this. The black books were a set of bound band parts containing all sorts of, to me, impossible pieces that I had never heard of before, or since. The only title I can recall today was a composition called "The Amberwitch".

My first competition was the "Daily Herald" Fourth Section Midland Area contest of 1956. The test-piece was "A Summer Day" by J A Greenwood and I learned the third cornet part by heart. For the occasion the band was coached by Mr Simeon Iliffe who was the conductor of the Leicester Symphony Orchestra. This released Mr Pollard to play baritone and fill a gap in the ranks. Several other players were drafted in to swell the numbers to nearer that of a full band and for the very first time I found out that it was normal to have more than one bass in the section.

About a week before the contest I discovered too that there was an instrument called a soprano cornet! To my immediate right sat the exalted second cornets. At that time they were John Castle (yes, the same one) and David Brown, Ernie's son. Walter Heggs was on Flugel and Ernie Brown was top man. Bernard Pollard was playing wonderful euphonium, as ever, and brother John was on Bb bass and Edwin (junior) was bass trombone. Sister Maureen was, I think, on tenor horn. Horace Mawby was on Eb bass. Ernie Brown was "bumped up" by a Mr J J Partridge who was conductor of Kettering Town band. My main recollection of him is from later on when I guested for them and discovered that he conducted with a baton, which resembled a chair leg!

The test-piece included a trombone solo, which was a problem as we didn't have any tenor trombones. I remember a Mr Horace Starmore eventually playing second trombone but the solo spot went to Mr Bryan Southwell who was at the time the photographer for the Harborough Mail and had not played for many years.

The contest was held in March at Nottingham's Albert Hall. We stopped on the way at the "Fish and Quart" in Leicester's Churchgate for a rehearsal and met Ted Shirley who was on a weekend leave from his National Service and who was to play the other Eb bass without having seen the part before. We were the only band in the section without uniforms (except Ted who was wearing army battledress).

Bryan Southwell and I were both equally terrified but he played his solo like an angel. I have no idea how I played but we beat the other 22 bands convincingly and qualified for the fourth section finals in London. The adjudicator was Mr George Hespe, conductor of the then famous Ransome and Marles' Works Band.

Harborough Band (1950 - 1952)

My only recollection of an engagement that summer was at Peterborough. We travelled by coach and stopped at a pub called "The Railway" or similar, for refreshments on the way there, and also on the way back!

We gave an afternoon concert on the river bank and an evening one in the park. The riverside bandstand was a scaffolding affair with a tarpaulin for a roof. It was windy and suddenly started to rain heavily in the middle of a piece. The bandsmen on the windward side stopped playing and rushed to the middle of the bandstand to keep dry. Those of us on the lee side of the stand tried to keep playing whilst wondering what on earth was going on. The result was unbalanced pandemonium and finally a complete breakdown.

The Fourth Section final was held at Lime Grove Baths, a well-known concert venue, fortunately boarded over for the occasion. From somewhere the band had amassed a collection of old military style scarlet uniforms with button up collars, but at least we no longer felt like outcasts. The test-piece this time was "Three Songs Without Words" by Eric Ball and the band drew 11 out of 17. Quite a good draw but obviously not quite good enough playing as the adjudicator, Mr T J Powell placed us eighth.

The champion band that year was Esh Colliery Welfare Band from County Durham. We had our photograph taken outside the hall and it reveals that once more the band was augmented by several part timers and guest players. John Bird (cornet), Malcolm Thompson (soprano), Jack Almey (tuba), Billy Brown (horn) and Albert Morris (tuba) amongst them. Mr Morris must have been in his seventies then but achieved 'fame' later when he appeared on black and white television with, I think, Wilfred Pickles, playing his sousaphone! Quite prestigious in those days.

Harborough Band (outside Lime Grove Baths)

Market Harborough Town Band outside Lime Grove Baths, October 1956

L-R: Mr Simeon Iliffe, Mr Edwin Pollard (Senior), Malcolm Thompson, John Bird, Ernie Brown, Bernard Pollard, ?, Maureen Pollard, John Castle, Billy Brown, Me, ?, Walter Heggs, David Brown, "Dickie" Watson, John Pollard, Horace Mawby, Keith Gilbert, Eddie Marlow, ?, Jack Almey (behind bass), Albert Morris, Ted Shirley, Horace Starmore (behind Ted) and Edwin Pollard's bass trombone slide.

After the contest Mr Crane, the band secretary, took some of the younger members of the band along to the Royal Albert Hall to the Festival Concert. I presume he paid for us to get in and we ended up in the topmost gallery. I remember thinking how far away the stage looked and little thought that some nine years later, thanks to my grounding in Harborough Band, I would be sitting there myself.

The next conductor I remember was Mr Percy Cook, from Kettering. He was, to me, quite elderly, very tall and thin. He conducted the band, on and off until 1961. During that period the band fulfilled concerts and contests around the locality. Welland Park and Abingdon Park being two such venues.

One other engagement that comes to mind around this time was a Sunday evening concert in Great Bowden Recreation Ground. There was no convenient President's Transit Van in those days and to transport all the instruments we were provided with a tractor and flat bed trailer. We piled all the kit on board and had to sit around the edge of the trailer to stop it rolling off. "A proper b****y band wagon" as someone remarked.

In about 1957 the band was invited to lead the carnival parade. This was my first experience of marching and playing simultaneously and the prospect filled me with trepidation. My biggest concern was that I would not be able to keep up with the bigger steps of the grown ups and I therefore practised increasing my stride length as I walked around. Once more I learned the third cornet parts to the nominated marches more or less by heart so that I could concentrate on deportment.

We practised by marching through the cattle pens in the old market place under the guidance of Mr "Drummie" Cates who was presumably a former army drum major.To my surprise and delight I found that we took fairly short paces and I was able to keep in line and step well. At each practice session I enjoyed myself more and more and could not wait for the big day.

On carnival day we wore our caps for the first time. This presented me with an unexpected problem. With the music in my cornet lyre and my cap sitting squarely on my head, the peak obscured the top half of the music card. I therefore had to play the first part of each march from memory.

Marching is a contentious issue with brass bands. Some bandsmen love it and others just can't do it. I have never understood how anyone who can play an instrument cannot put their left foot down on the first beat of a bar or step in time with a bass drum. I have marched a good many miles in various countries since that first carnival and enjoyed every single one. Perhaps the fact that my father was a Grenadier has something to do with it!

On July 12th 1959 we undertook a marathon journey, for those days, to Shrewsbury, to give an afternoon and evening concert in the Quarry park. I can remember that we picked up a bass player on the way who played for the well-known Sankey's Castle Works Band. The printed programmes were produced by Mr Martin of Gumley so I presume that we took them with us. The afternoon concert included Colonel Bogey, Light Cavalry, Gold and Silver and the cornet duet Ida & Dot played immaculately by John Bird and Ernie Brown.

In November of that year we were placed fourth in the third section of the Northants BBA contest at Rushden. The test-piece was "Passing Moods" by T J Powell. I played soprano cornet for the very first time just for this contest.

I stayed on sop until after Christmas and enjoyed playing the part for carolling as it was not such hard work as the cornet part. One frosty evening we were out playing when Mr Bill Brown joined us late. "Who were that playing the sop part?" he enquired. I was acknowledged as the culprit. "That were worth half a crown, boy" he said. I held out my hand expectantly. "But not to me" he added and walked away.

Tony's memories continue into the 1960s.

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