Learners' Band

Early Years 1890s - 1930s

Post War

The Band in its Third Century

John baker

Amesbury Town (Silver) Band 1945 - 1970
A few recollections by
John Baker(1933 - 2013)


        The Band reformed towards the end of 1945. Practices were held in the Amesbury C of E Senior School in School Lane with members from the pre-war band and a group of young beginners, including Dennis (Spud) Burgess, Maurice Read, myself and eventually, Brian Carter. Another young beginner was Ivor Dunford, but he decided that it was not for him and told his father (Mr Percy Dunford) that he had seen enough of blackboards and chalk at school.   

         The Conductor was Mr Frederick G Fowler, known as Chick. The senior players of the band that I remember were Les (Scootie) Hunt and Don Harrison on solo cornets, George Thomas, whose embouchure was from the side of his mouth, played repiano cornet. Edgar (Eggy) Palmer was on 2nd cornet, solo horn - Ernie Fry, 1st horns - George (Tich) Baker (my dad) and Ern Pike. At the bottom end Frank(Minnow) Mitchell was on baritone, Des Fry and Edward Algernon Harrison, son of the founder and the oldest member, on euphonium. Conrad (Con) Thomas on 1st trombone, Wally Johnson, 2nd trombone and Alfie Southey(Wessex BB Association secretary, I believe) on bass trombone. Jim Shepherd  and Geff Thomas was on the Eb bass and Harold and Archie Ware (father and son) were on Bb basses. Reg (Drummer) Thorn played the bass drum with Fred (Sonny or Sunny) Cooper on the side drum and percussion instruments, and Reg (Croppy) Kilford on the side drum.

      The band settled into a routine, with practice nights being Mondays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays there was a theory class for the beginners, taken by Mr Fowler and Mr Hunt. The repertoire of the band, as I remember, included the William Tell Overture (at band practice I was told off for whistling during rests, I was only enjoying the music!). I remember a few pieces from this period, “Death or Glory” and several of Kenneth Alford’s marches, “William Tell Overture” and “William Tell Ballet Music”, G&S’s  “HMS Pinafore”,   selection from “Snow White” and “The Student Prince”, “Eventide”,  “Ida & Dot”(cornet duet),  and  great favourites by Albert Ketelbey: “In a Persian Market”, “In a Monastery Garden” and “Bells Across the Meadows”.  
            We played primarily at local events, mainly fetes for the Churches; Cof E in the garden of Camilla House, the home of Dr Phillip Neighbour, and the Methodist Bank holiday fete in the grounds at the back of the Chapel. Also the RC Church held fetes in the grounds at rear of their Church. We also played at Carnivals, Pewsey’s Illuminated Procession, Andover (a very long march), Downton and Devizes. At this time we would have to hire a bus because not many band members drove or owned cars. The Amesbury Carnival at this time was quite a spectacle. There were high-wire acts and side shows, and also an open athletics meeting with top athletes taking part. The sponsor for this was the owner of the New Theatre Ballroom and Corner Garage, Mr Melville Christie.   

            Regarding Andover, I have a faint recollection of the Band being caught at a level crossing during a Parade and watching the front of the band disappear into the distance. Unfortunately(or fortunately!) there was a handy pub where half the band retired for a swift pint, only to come out and find the remaining band had disappeared also. This may have been the time when the Band was engaged to lead Chipperfield’s Circus from Andover Railway Station to the Showground.  There were camels striding out in front of the Band and elephants behind us. The lead elephant wanted to link up to the bass drummer, who, if I remember correctly was Fred Cooper. Fred was understandably very nervous with all this weight of friendly elephant close behind him. 

            We all received complimentary tickets for the show from Jimmy Chipperfield, who was an Amesbury lad and went to the local school. During and after World War Two he also ran an amusement arcade and funfair on the site now occupied by the old Co-operative store in Salisbury Street. There was also another incident during a parade in Andover when we were marching towards the Church and as we approached a crossroads the trombones carried straight on when they should have turned right and the rest of the procession followed.

            Not long after the war a concert was staged at the New Theatre Ballroom, which stood on the site occupied now by the Barcroft Medical Practice. I seem to remember that it was possibly to do with the anniversary of VE Day. It featured the band, several local singers and choirs, and especially, professional, classical musicians from the Polish Resettlement Corps, housed in the camp previously used by the airborne forces. It was for many of us the first taste in the flesh of music of this very high standard.   The Concert Pianist was especially brilliant.           

            In 1948 a dance band was formed and played until 1950. It was started in order to play occasionally for the Amesbury Old Time Dance and Sequence Dance Club in Antrobus House. The music played at these dances was varied, a few I remember were “The Lancers” - many repeats and a hard blow for cornets, waltzes; “The St Bernard’s Waltz”, “The Veleta” and Viennese Waltzes, Sydney Thompson’s “Barn Dance Medley”, “The Gay Gordons”, and “The Square Tango” are just a few of the pieces played.  There is a photograph in the Band archives, showing the players wearing light blazers, more suitable for indoor playing, rather than the military style band uniform.

            The band also participated in the Annual Wessex Brass Band Contests. During the winter these were held at the Winter Gardens Concert Hall in Bournemouth, and during the summer they were usually held at various open air venues in the area. I remember that we took part in, what could well have been, the first Contest after the War. We entered the Grading section and were, I believe, placed in either the 2nd or the 3rd sections (Details of this should have been recorded by the Wessex organisers at the time and may still be available from their Archives).  There was a photograph taken at this time. The Band was wearing the old uniform and we were posed standing on the steps of the Winter Gardens. I do not have a copy, but there may still be one or two around. We did not, as I remember, take part immediately in contests.  

            In the 1950s some of the older players decided to give up playing in the Band, this coincided with the gradual departure of the younger players to the armed forces (National Service!). Dennis Burgess was one of the first to go, into the Royal Marines, followed after a while by Geoff Thomas, myself, Maurice Read, Brian Carter into the RAF and Des Fry possibly into the RAF. These are the ones that I can remember. 

            Apart from the very occasional trip home on leave, I did not play much with the band until I was demobbed in 1954. There were several changes in the Band around this time as older members were retiring from the band. My father, George, left in order to join the bowls club. However the younger players who were returning from National Service had played with military bands and dance bands and so were very useful players. In my own case, I played with both dance bands and jazz groups. I was in the Resident Band at the New Theatre Ballroom with Geoff Thomas, now playing Trombone. We were the resident band and we shared the billing with many of the top dance and jazz bands who at that time were touring the country. It was a marvelous musical experience and education. 

         Conductors at the time were Mr Frederick Fowler 1945 to mid 1950s, Les (Scooty) Hunt until the late 1950s, Don Harrison 1950s to 1960s and Doug Heath, an ex-member of the Band of the Hampshire Regt. Doug Played the double bass with the Melody Makers Dance Band from Andover. Me and Geoff Thomas also played with this Band at this time. We occasionally had help from Jack King and George Withers from Shrewton, there having been many years of co-operation between the two bands. Mr Fowler carried on for awhile and we did some contesting in the Wessex Winter and Summer Contests.  Several players were awarded medals for good solo performances in test pieces: Dennis Burgess won two medals as, I remember, on soprano and I won 3 medals on solo cornet. Mr Hunt was conducting I believe

            Scooty Hunt was the conductor and solo cornet before and after WW2. During the 1920s and 30s he played with Ivor Buckland’s “Blue Bohemians”, a very popular local dance band. During the war Scooty was stationed in Aldershot and played with orchestras and bands as part of the service entertainments organisations ENSA, Stars in Battledress, etc. The well known conductor George Melachrino was the musical director in charge.

            Trevor Jones, cornet and trumpet, was a young player from Durrington who played with the Band and eventually became a member of the Brass section in the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He played at an open contest for the band, deputising for the soprano player. He was using an orchestral trumpet, pitched in F. I recall he was commended for his playing, but lost marks for using a trumpet instead of the soprano cornet.

            Ted Harrison wrote a short history of the Band at the request of the Amesbury Council. It was sent, with other items of interest, to the Citizens of Amesbury, Massachusetts, as part of an exchange during the celebrations of the tercentenary of that Town.  The Harrison family, as is well known, can be traced to the founding of the first Band in Amesbury. There is a Photograph in the Archives showing Ted, his son, and grandson [Don] three generations in Band uniform; it must have been taken around 1930 as Don is a very small boy.

            Mick Wilson, the side drummer with the Band (no drum kits in many brass bands at this time, the early 1960s) joined a popular music group “Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich”. They did very well in the popular music charts at that time.

            The band carried on through the 1960s, but with membership falling and with differences of opinion over band policy, the decision was taken to suspend activities.  Fortunately this situation did not last for too long and a new band with a mixture of some older members and a new intake of young players, many of them very talented and subsequently successful in military bands and Higher Grade Contesting Brass Bands. I was not able to be quite so active during this time but often turned up to help when required.