History - 1960's
Monday, 12 June 2006

The 1960s are further rememberd by Tony Mason and also Phil Monk

Harborough Band Memories (1960s)

by Tony Mason

As time passed I was slowly working my way up the cornet section and by 1960 was second man to Ernie Brown.

We competed again that year in the Northants contest but Harry Mortimer didn't think our performance of Eric Ball's "Indian Summer" was worthy of a prize, but then what did he know about brass bands?

Apart from playing flugel horn in the band, Walter Heggs was 1st trumpet in Symington's orchestra which provided the music for Market Harborough Operatic Society's productions. In 1960 I was invited to replace the second trumpet at short notice for "The Vagabond King". I had no trumpet but managed to borrow one and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I recall that at one performance the conductor, Mr Albright, fell asleep during the show and so we didn't come in until the leader, Mr Howe, leaned over and prodded him with his fiddle bow. It was just one of a series of mishaps which befell that production.

The following year I took over as lead trumpet and played in the pit until 1968. Things gradually became more professional and brought a great deal of enjoyment.

Also during Oklahoma in 1965, I met my future wife. Mr Cook's reign as conductor came to an end one Sunday morning about this time when he felt slightly unwell and left the bandroom. He was on the landing outside half sitting on the balustrade above the stairwell talking to Mr Crane, the secretary, when he passed out and fell over. His long legs became trapped between Mr Crane's legs and prevented him dropping onto the stairs below while Mr Crane managed to hold him until some of the band members rushed out. Soon after this Mr Yarrow took over the baton.

Bill was a former trombonist from Rothwell. We continued to improve and give concerts locally. The programme for the Abingdon Park afternoon concert of July 9th 1961 reveals that I played a cornet solo. I had played it the week before in Welland Park and apart from splitting a top "A", I thought it was a pretty good first effort. No doubt over inspired with newfound confidence I gave a very mediocre rendition a week later.

In November of that year we once again entered the Northants contest, this time at Corby Technical College. We rehearsed beforehand and I was then dispatched on the pillion seat of John Hallam's motorbike to make the draw. I did exceptionally well and drew number one. The band bus just made it in time and we played "Salzburg Suite" by Denis Wright to win the third section convincingly. We also entered the open section but were unplaced. The only other thing that sticks in my mind about that day was Brian Liepelt's father Alf, a horn player with Kettering Rifles and a superb cellist, failing to realise that there was a floor to ceiling plate glass panel between him and the hall and walking straight through it. Fortunately he didn't suffer much damage but the "shattering" experience did little for the nerves of the band on the stage waiting to play!

Sometime after this I was promoted to the end chair.

Market Harborough Town Band February 3rd 1962
Market Harborough Town Band February 3rd 1962

L-R Standing: Edwin Pollard, Jack Almey, John Hallam, Glenn Pollard, Geoff Orringe, Len Orringe, Colin Claridge, Diane Henderson, Arthur Blood, Ernie Brown, Me, Leon Parker, Colin Downes, John Castle, Richard Woodard, Walter Heggs & Bernard Pollard
L-R Seated: Eddie Marlow, Bernard Boyce, Bill Brown, Vic Hooper, Bill Yarrow, Reg Crane (Sec), John Pollard, Albert Orringe & Ralph Downes.

1962 proved to be a most promising, but frustrating year for the Harborough Town Band. Equipped with brand new, made to measure uniforms, we set about putting our name on the banding map.

We entered the Nottingham contest in February but came nowhere and then the third section area contest with the same result.

Summer engagements continued but some of the early enthusiasm had disappeared and more empty seats appeared at rehearsals. I had made one or two guest appearances for Kibworth early in the season and spent the summer playing as many engagements as possible with both bands, although my own band always came first. Some of us played with Kettering Rifle Band at the Durham Miners' Gala in July.

It was a remarkable affair in those days with some three hundred bands and lodge banners converging on the city's racecourse and being directed like traffic by policemen on point duty. The standard of playing was very variable (as was the sobriety) but Grimethorpe were easily the best.

Back at home I had to decide where my musical future lay. I desperately wanted to succeed with Harborough Band but was growing increasingly frustrated by the apparent lack of enthusiasm and commitment from some quarters. Someone once said to me that amateur musicians, whose only reward is satisfaction, owe it to themselves to reap the maximum fulfilment for their labours. After long and careful thought I therefore concluded that my best chance of success lay elsewhere. Mr Yarrow was quite upset when I told him but he wished me well.

I played my last concert in Welland Park in the August before taking up the position of bumper up at Kibworth.

Memories of the Harborough Band in the 1960s

by Phil Monk

I joined that Harborough Band in 1961, when I was 9 years old. The Bandmaster at that time was a trombone player from Rothwell called Mr Yarrow. For my first few months in the band he was my teacher I have a lot to thank him for to this day. From Mr Yarrow's early days at the helm of the Harborough Band he realised that if the band were to become successful he would have to nurture the Juniors. He therefore enrolled a number of youngsters into the band and organized them into a small group that would rehearse before the main band started at 8 o'clock. This worked well for a time until some of the youngsters (like me) started to come through into the senior band. The problem with this policy was that it meant there were frequent stops during the main rehearsals while Mr Yarrow got the youngsters to play a particular phrase or passage. This caused a certain amount of frustration from the senior members of the band. After all, they came to rehearsals to have a good 'blow' - not to spend half the time listening to beginners trying to master a difficult section of the music. Eventually this problem came to a head and Mr Yarrow left the band.

In hindsight one can see the wisdom in his policy, but the flaws in carrying it out. As a general rule successful bands are built by encouraging and teaching youngsters and, in most cases, setting up a specific junior section in order to nurse them along. But senior band rehearsal time is not the place for youngsters to practice playing difficult sections of the music; that's for home practice or Junior Band rehearsal.

When I first joined the band, the players that I remember well were: Glenn Pollard and me on cornet; Glynn Parry on cornet - soon to graduate to Euphonium!; Bernard Pollard playing beautifully on Euphonium. John Pollard on Double Bass with Geoff Orange. Vic (?) on Tenor Horn; John Castle on Horn/Baritone; Mr Orringe Senior on Second Cornet. Walter Heggs on Flugel. Ernie Brown and Colin ? on cornet. Mr Orringe senior on second row cornet. Eddie on Double Bass (for about 100 years it seemed).

My first concert with the Senior Band took place on June 24th 1962. The band was to be one of the guest bands invited to play on the bandstand at Northampton's Abington Park. The incident that I remember most from this occasion wasn't the actual performance of the band. During the interval, all the boys were allowed to play golf on the putting green. We had only got to the second hole when a boy swiped his club at the ball, missed, and hit a twelve-year old cornet player named Colin Downes behind the ear. Colin's wound was soon pouring with blood while the rest of us stood there aghast as it ran onto his shirt and uniform. He had to be taken to hospital to have the cut to his head stitched up and I have never stood behind someone playing golf ever since.

By the Easter of 1963, although I was not yet eleven years of age, I was deemed ready to play in my first senior band contest at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. These were the annual area qualifying rounds for the national championships that are always held at the Albert Hall in London in October. Competition was stiff and we weren't placed in the top four - the minimum result to go through to the nationals. We gave various concerts in the summer and, by the autumn, Mr Yarrow decided that some of the youngsters should become accustomed to the contest atmosphere by entering four of us in a junior quartet competition. He must have thought we were reasonably proficient because he entered us in the Junior (under 15) Championships of Great Britain to be held in Coalville on the 21st September. To our astonishment, our quartet came 5th and we each received a medal. Fifth in the UK under 15! I was astonished at our achievement and even more determined to improve my own standard of play.

The next week our quartet was entered in the Northamptonshire championships, and on this occasion Mr Yarrow suggested that I take part in a solo contest for the first time. The event took place on the 28th September at the Kettering Rifles band clubroom. I was too nervous to do well and dried up completely even though Mr Yarrow was coaching me on stage. Even worse, later in the contest another youth played the same piece that I had chosen - but immaculately - and won the contest. His name was Jimmy Watson. He later became the champion cornet player of Great Britain and is quite famous now as a performer and conductor. Little did I know then that he and I would meet again in the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra and would become lifelong friends.

Our quartet failed to be placed this time but, undeterred, we put our name down for the next competition at the same venue. When I first joined the band Diane Henderson was principal cornet. This was a controversial choice. For many years our principal cornet, Ernie Brown, was the band. His skills carried us through the lean times. He'd formed a famous partnership years before with another great cornet player called John Bird. They had a kind of cabaret act called 'The Silver Stars' or something similar. Their cornet duets were legendary. However, by the early 60s Ernie's powers had begun to decline because he had to have false teeth fitted! To make up for it he played very loudly � which was not to everyone's taste.

Diane was an excellent cornet and trumpet player. (She was the first trumpet in the Harborough Grammar School orchestra when I joined, and, more importantly, was my predecessor by 5 years as the Principal Trumpet in the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra. She still plays and teaches the trumpet today). It's worth mentioning that the band will always owe a true debt of gratitude to Ernie Brown. Without him the band could have easily folded during the years when the band was short of players and enthusiasm was at an all-time low. Diane left the band when she left school and Ernie took over as Principal again. However I was improving fast and, in practice we were sharing the soloist role. There came a seminal moment when we went to a contest in Manchester. Ernie was struggling and, at the last moment, the Bandmaster asked me to play the cornet solo in the Test piece and I took over as Principal Cornet from then on. I continued in this capacity until I was 18 years old.

There was some resentment towards Kibworth Band in those years. It was no-ones fault. It's just like a football club really. As soon as we had anyone who developed a real talent off they would go to Kibworth and leave us high and dry. It couldn't be helped. I vividly remember a trombone player coming to rehearsal one day and announcing to our faces that he was leaving to join Kibworth. He said he wanted to get it out in the open and he didn't want anything to be said about him behind his back.

Through the band I joined the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra and this changed my life. The LSSO was the finest youth orchestra in the country in the sixties (they probably still are). This allowed me to go on many European concert tours and play under conductors such as Michael Tippett and Andre Previn. We also made numerous recordings and television programmes. A couple of years behind me was a trombone player called Paul Hamer. He and I got on reasonably well even though he was two or three years younger. He improved over time such that he became quite an accomplished player. I particularly mention him because in 1976 I was sitting in a bar in Iran (it's a long story) when he walked in! We both nearly died of shock! I hadn't seen an Englishman in ages let alone someone from the Town Band. This must be an all-time distance record for an impromptu meeting of ex-Harborough band players!

I'll always be grateful to the band for giving me the opportunity to be an orchestral trumpet player and, in turn, allowing me to play with all sorts of organizations and ensembles throughout my musical career. I've had some fantastic experiences and have made some very special friends, and this has all been down to the Harborough Band.

My most vivid memories of those years are:

  • In 1968 I was on an Easter orchestra course with the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra. I had realised before the course that one of the days that we were away coincided with an important contest for the band. After much discussion, the band agreed with me that I should go on the course and that they would come and fetch me on the Saturday to take part in the contest and bring me back afterwards. When the day came a chap called Geoff Orange picked me up in his car and brought me all the way back from Chippenham to Market Harborough. I got changed and we all went off in the band bus to Lutterworth where the contest was being held. When we arrived there didn't seem to be much activity. Geoff got out of the bus and asked the first person he met if this was the correct venue. The person replied that it was. When Geoff asked if he knew about the brass band contest, the person said yes - it was due to take place on the following Saturday! The band was stunned. What a farce. Geoff had got the dates wrong and we had come all that way for nothing. But it was much worse for me since I had to go all the way back to Chippenham and answer numerous questions from everyone about how had we got on. It was so embarrassing to have to explain everything.
  • In the late 60s the local Harborough Grammar School teacher took over as the Bandmaster. His name was Paul Wright. I think what finished him off was the concert in Great Bowden church. The band was taking part in the carol service with a full congregation. Luck was not on our side that day. There were two Hymn books in use at the time. Although we normally played hymns from the 'red' book, some hymns were only available in the 'white' book. Paul announced that we were to play the next hymn and the band struck up with the congregation in tow. An awful noise ensued. Everything seemed totally out of tune. We were all looking around at each other in consternation. Paul urged us on, and concentrated most of his efforts on Ernie and I on the front bench. The sound was so hideous that the congregation stopped singing and, one by one, the other players in the band stopped too. Eventually it was just Ernie and I playing the tune and Paul frantically still waving his arms and encouraging us on. We got to the end of a verse and just stopped. There was silence in the church and Paul turned to the vicar who, God bless him, stood up and suggested a prayer. While the prayer went on there were hissed whispers between Paul, Ernie, a few others and me. After a minute or two it dawned upon us that Ernie and I were playing �A Green Hill Far Away� from the white book while everyone else was playing it from the red book. Nothing wrong with that you might say. Except that the White version was in the key of A and the Red version was in the key of Bflat.
  • During my teenage years I had to go through the annual embarrassing ritual of playing in the Market Harborough carnival procession. It was a terrible ordeal for me as my schoolmates would be there and severely take the mickey because of the uniform and the fact that I was marching. I always wore dark glasses to try and disguise myself but they still spotted me and shouted insults from the pavement while doing impressions of marching German soldiers. Mind you, it didn't help when one of our trombone players, Paul Hamer, dropped his music. By the time he had run back to retrieve it, it had been run over by the Carnival Queen lorry.

By 1970 the band was at an all-time low. Often there would only be 8 or 10 players turn up. I became disillusioned and joined Ratby Band instead where the standard of play was higher, and I could also play with some of my friends from the LSSO. I went to live in London in 1971 and didn't return to Harborough until 1979. While I lived in London I played with the City of London Band under the famous conductor, Geoffrey Brand. When I returned to Harborough I immediately joined the band again as Principal cornet until 1981 � just before Peter Vine took over the top spot. By this time I was working in Oxford and could only come to rehearsals intermittently. I transferred to Soprano Cornet for a couple of years before giving up the struggle of commuting and joined the City of Oxford Band.

With the success the band enjoys now it's difficult to imagine the trials and tribulations of the 60s and 70s. For myself the Band gave me music as the cornerstone of my existence as a musician. Because of the Band I've toured Europe to play in some of the finest concert halls and all my closest friends are musicians still. Music has been the dominant theme throughout my life and I have the Harborough Band (and my father!) to thank for giving me that opportunity all those years ago. What a fantastic thing it is to teach a child to play a brass instrument and for them to achieve some pride in their accomplishment.

Long live the Harborough Band!

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