Brass Rubbings – The 1950s

Posted on 26th April 2020 by

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Wilbur – smiling as always

Wilbur – our flugelhorn player – has been writing his banding memoirs for a while now and the current lockdown is giving him more time to focus on them. Understandably it is taking a while as there are lots of them to write down, so here to start us off is a excerpt from his upcoming best seller “Brass Rubbings” covering the first ten years of his playing history.

“In 1953, undergoing yet another crisis-of-players shortage, the local Band Committee decided to launch yet another initiative of recruitment, offering instruments and tuition to anyone interested in playing (eventually!) with the Band.
Several youngsters, myself among them, applied, and, after a quick blowing test – if you could manage to get a sound out of a proffered instrument – we were in! I had desperately wanted a cornet but they had all been snapped up and I was offered a battered and bruised instrument, nearly as big as myself, which looked as if it had had a particularly tough WW2. I was told it was called a euphonium.
Within a year or so the new recruits were all playing in the band.
The Band room at this time was situated on Keighley road, opposite The Working Man’s Club and roughly where the coach entrance to the Bus Station is now. It was a tall three-storeyed, gaunt, grey edifice and was the property of Anderton’s brewing business. The Band room occupied the top floor of this building, quite a large area, but we did not have sole tenancy as we had to share the space with the Skipton Boxing Club! A large punchbag hung from the ceiling near the entrance to the room and several coir mats were strewn about on the plain floorboards. An all-pervading odour of dust and sweat was nearly always present, however there was plenty of space for the Band, which was set up down the bottom end of the room, close to an old pot-bellied stove which in winter, stoked up for the night, glowed a dull red. The Band practised on Monday and Friday evenings; the boxers had the room for the rest of the week – we never saw them and they never heard us; a tranquil co- existence.
At this time the conductor of the Band was Kenneth Bright and the secretary was John Preston and these two stalwarts remained in place for the Fifties, the Sixties and much of the Seventies. John Preston deserves special mention – he is a seminal character in the history of Skipton Band. He was the Jo Barber of that era – a person without whom the Band in Skipton would have foundered, sunk and disappeared without trace, a fate that overtook many bands of the surrounding area. John, and his wife Margaret, spent most of their adult lives, first saving and then sustaining banding in Skipton. We all owe them both (and now Jo!) our deepest respect and gratitude.
The Band rumbled on through the fifties increasing its membership as the years rolled by and by the end of the decade had more or less achieved the requisite number of 26 players of various abilities and attitudes; 25 males and one female – a definite sign of the time.
Some of the increasing membership came from surrounding villages whose own bands had fallen by the wayside of the years. Two of these men who had previously been in the Cononley Band and the Carleton Band respectively were the soprano player and the Bass trombone player. Eric Morton on sop. fascinated me, as, when rehearsing, his face gradually turned from his natural pallor to a livid red and then to a deep purple as the session unfolded. I really did fear that eventually he would burst a blood vessel. Tommy (I forget his surname) the bass trom player had huge eyes and when he played, they would bulge perceptibly, as did his cheeks, which would turn a bright red – we were a very colourful band indeed! Unfortunately, we missed out on the services of a certain Brian Cleaver, who had left the Cononley Band and gone to Prince Smith and Stell’s Band in Keighley, a much superior outfit. However, after about 40 years and many bands later, he did turn up on our shores in 1993/4 – not before time! I digress.
During the Fifties the Band resumed contesting and I remember being very keen and excited and loved rehearsing for these events as it was taken very, very, very, seriously and the players were nearly always there for every session. We went to quite a few contests throughout the year as well as the Regional Contest at Bradford. One of the local contests I remember was held at Pontefract and on one occasion we entered both the Third and the Fourth sections. It was an ‘ Own Choice ‘ contest and we chose to play Rufford Abbey – we completely messed up in the Fourth section and several Band members were all for disappearing quietly from the scene but the conductor was of the opinion that ’ it was just nerves ’ and that we would do better next time. We did, and we won the Third Section and by a considerable margin; same players, same band – that’s contesting for you! Plus ça change!
The uniform we wore at this time was a bright (dingy) scarlet, high-necked jacket, with gold-braided epaulettes, central front brass buttons and a front locking belt. The accompanying trousers were black; all in all, very similar to the army uniforms featured in the film ‘Rourke’s Drift ‘. They were ill-fitting hand-me-downs and were extremely hot and uncomfortable; no-one enjoyed wearing them. ” Wilbur Paley April 2020

Wilbur and his wife Carole with another stalwart of the band – Brian. (Read about Brian’s Bits in a previous blog post!)

So that’s the 50’s…. banding has changed a lot since then but in some ways is very similar. Hopefully; once it is safe and things start to happen again – we can all start getting back to what we enjoy and we also hope by then, Wilbur will have his memoirs up to date!

Posted in: Band Blog