Enough Instruments To Restart The Old Town Band (6 April 1973)
One Bletchley organisation which was revived after the war and which flourished for a decade but then sadly fell apart, was the town band. Occasionally meetings have been called in the hope of bringing it to life again, but so far without success.
Leading spirit in the revival was Mr. Bill Axby, who was the bandmaster. I first met him in 1946 when I called at his Fenny home and found him in a roomful of brass instruments which he was busily taking apart and cleaning. He had played in the RAF and his enthusiasm was infectious.
He said he hoped there would not only be a town band again but also a town orchestra.
LIVENING THINGS UP
I had more than a reporter’s normal interest in these aspirations. Despite the efforts of one or two churches, I thought Bletchley was a dull place musically and that a brass band would be as good a way as any of livening things up for a start.
The Bletchley band were soon back in action and for a time they went from strength to strength. They entered and won their sections in important competitions.
They also promoted an annual contest. On those particular Saturday’s bands from over a wide area converged upon the town. On at least one occasion they amounted to 300 bandsmen and two or three halls had to be used for the competition itself and for rehearsals. You could hardly squeeze into Wilton Hall for the final adjudications. Mr. E.T. Ray was the President and Mrs. Ray presented the awards. Mr. Percy Barden, I think, was the main organiser.
I have not space to recount how the band eventually disbanded. One result was that Bletchley’s loss became Woburn Sands’ gain and also, I believe, Great Horwood’s.
But some good youngsters were trained in the Bletchley junior quartets and I was as pleased as anybody when one of those boys, Tom Waterman, who lived with his parents in Drayton Road, was recruited to the Black Dyke Mills Band, no less, as soprano cornet. He played with them when they won the national championship in 1959.
I knew that famous band. The mills are at Queensbury, which is at the top of a hill that goes up from Bradford and then down to Halifax. One year they won the national “double,” which is to say that their senior band won the championship and their junior band won the junior championship. I was sent up there to cover the celebration concert.
It was a big hall, both bands were playing together and the result was the most deafening sound of brilliantly-played good music – some of it specially written by Elgar – that I am ever likely to hear.
On another occasion I went to Queensbury because two double-decker tram-cars had come off the rails and were lying on their sides. They were said to have been blown over by a gale, but I suspected privately that the bands had marched by while the trams were standing at the terminus.
There are, of course, some funny stories told about village bands. Like how the band once won a contest but got back home very late. They didn’t want to wake the neighbourhood, so they marched down the village street and round the maypole playing “See the conquering hero comes” with their boots off.
But, seriously, brass bands are not to be sneezed at, much less sneered at. Their conductors, members and adjudicators number many first-rate musicians.
Cyril Smith, the brilliant English pianist who tragically lost the use of a hand while on a concert tour of Russian, tells an amusing, but significant story about his bandsman father. At short notice Cyril was called upon to deputise for a famous pianist in a concerto at the “Proms.” He was one of the youngest, possibly the youngest soloist ever to play there and at the end he received a standing ovation all round.
When the elated Cyril got home (to the Tyneside?) his father, who had listened-in, congratulated him. Then he pointed to their cottage piano and said “And now sit down and play it right!”
So much for those “oompah chaps,” as bandsmen are sometimes called by those who don’t know as much about music as they do.
Nowadays there is a lot of music-making of various sorts going on at North Bucks Music Centre in Sherwood Drive. But music is nothing new to the old cricket pavilion. Long before the centre was set up the town band used it as a practice room.
Bletchley council chairman Cecil Bowden is the custodian of the town band’s instruments. They have been repaired and retuned and are all ready for playing. There are 17 of them, not a complete band-worth, but enough to make a re-start. I reckon there are enough young musicians in the town to do it if they will.