A Means Of Enlivening The Community
Chapter 9 - Entente Cordiale
From the 1970's onwards the Band's activities are easier to define as the running of the Band became better organised. A Minute Book is kept now to record all meetings and this is helpful to verify dates and events, and a Register of Attendance shows who is, and isn't, attending both rehearsals and engagements. The membership lists in the early 1970's show the tradition of "family banding" still existed at Slaidburn: 3 members of the Skellorn family from Dunsop Bridge, 2 from the Slater household in the same village, 2 also from the Wright house, neighbours of the Slaters, and 3 Cowkings, continuing the family tradition begun with John (Jack) Cowking in the early 1900's. The most important aspect of the membership however was the inclusion of the "fairer sex" into the Band. Slaidburn, like many other bands, was to find that the all-male dominance of the brass band was ending and that the female members would contribute just as much to performance of the band and would also want to have a say in how the band was run!
The appointment of a full-time conductor had been made in 1970 when Roy Wilkinson from Bentham accepted the post and did much valuable work in the basic training of the Band. Due to work commitments he had to resign and in mid 1971 Mr. Jim Waterhouse, an ex member of the Clitheroe Borough Band volunteered his services as Conductor. Jim began to extend the Band's repertoire beyond marches, waltzes and hymns to include show selections, solos and medleys from the band's extensive music library collected over the years. A programme list from the Whit Monday Festival at Slaidburn in 1971 shows the band were playing 9 marches, 13 hymn tunes, 5 waltzes and a selection of short pieces from "Tunes and Toasts" nothing too taxing, but certainly ideal as light background music for this type of event.
The Band must have put in a lot of rehearsal during the Autumn and Winter of 1971/72 for the Band presented its first major concert at the "new" village hall at Dunsop Bridge in March 1972 with a more ambitious programme. Besides the usual marches and light music there were 4 selections in various styles, including "The Sound Of Music" which even today is considered a "long hard blow". Solo items were given by John Wooff, John Cowking and particularly the young cornet players who played "Drink To Me Only", no doubt giving much pleasure to proud parents in the audience.
All seemed well at this time and the Band was preparing for the May Queen Festival in Slaidburn, as it had now been re-titled, when Jim Waterhouse suddenly announced his resignation the week before the event. As a new conductor could not be found immediately both John Wooff and Bill Worswick took over the reigns again, helped by John Cowking, the young trombonist in the Band. After a few weeks it was decided that this arrangement was not very satisfactory and both John Wooff and Bill Worswick returned to their much-needed playing roles and John Cowking was appointed as Conductor.
At the Band's Annual General Meeting in 1972 it was decided by the members that the interior of the bandroom needed some attention, particularly the lighting and heating. Up to the demise of the Band in the 1950's a coke stove in the centre of the bandroom provided the heat but this had been taken out in 1964 when the bandroom was tidied up for the resumption of rehearsals. Paraffin heaters had replaced the coke stove, but these were not very efficient and tended to give off fumes and smoke if not carefully tended. Quite often on winter nights the Band would be huddled in groups round the stoves trying to get warm. 4 light bulbs provided basic light but with the growing membership some players were often "in the dark" trying to read music in the shadows --- something had to be done. Tenders were sought for the complete re-wiring of the bandroom to allow electric convector heaters and fluorescent lighting to be installed --- the cost eventually being some £96, but at least now the Band could see its music and be reasonably warm at the same time.
In the same year the Band was approached by the Hodder Valley Royal British Legion to play at the Remembrance Sunday Parade and Service for the first time. The Band accepted and this was one of the first new engagements that have become a "fixed date" on the Band calendar. It is said that the Legion only asked the band to play because several people complained that the use of a record of the Last Post and Reveille at the Cenotaph was not quite the done thing --- "even Slaidburn Band could do a better job!"
Whilst continuing to rehearse weekly to improve standards and increase the repertoire, the Band began to consider the lack of a uniform. There had been a thought to clean and re-use the set in storage at the bandroom but the damp and moths put paid to that idea so the provision of a new set was decided upon but this was going to cost money and quite a lot. With the steady increase in engagements (and the rise in fees where appropriate) it was felt that some quotes be obtained and a figure of about £450/500 looked to be likely. After approaching the Bowland Rural District Council a grant towards the cost was made of £150 and in August 1974 the members were "measured up" for new jackets, complete with badge, cap and tie. The colour chosen was purple --- a surprising choice when first announced to the general public, but when first worn for a presentation concert all agreed it was a very good choice and has become the "trademark" of the Band. The final cost --- £507.
Had the band known what was in store for it at the Hodder Valley Show in September of 1974 it might have decided to get the uniforms a little quicker. The Show held at Duckmire that year was receiving the attention of a film crew from the BBC's "Man Alive" programme who were recording a documentary about the life of reporters for the "Local Rag", in this case the Craven Herald, based at Skipton. To add some musical atmosphere to the recording the producer asked if the Band could play the tune "John Peel" which the Band did. Not once, not twice, but about 18 times! We assume he was happy by the 18th take! The programme itself was shown on a Thursday evening in October --- practice night. The rehearsal that night was finished early so that everyone could get home to see the documentary which gave good free publicity to both the Show and the Band.
Local Government Reorganisation in 1974 found the village of Slaidburn suddenly moved overnight from Yorkshire's West Riding into Lancashire, in the Borough of Ribble Valley. One benefit for the Band from this move was the new Council's interest in the Arts and in the promotion of local performing artists. Slaidburn, along with the other 2 bands in the new Borough, Balderstone and Longridge, were asked to take part in a series of concerts throughout the Ribble and Hodder Valley, plus 1 concert each on Clitheroe Bandstand, up till then little used by anybody. In June 1975 therefore, Slaidburn presented its first concert at the Castle Bandstand and has continued that tradition to the present day. Although the Ribble Valley's participation in promoting the concerts ceased some years ago, the Clitheroe Town Council now presents a series of band concerts in the summer months, including bands from beyond the local municipal boundaries.
This steady increase in the Band's engagements was beginning to take its toll on the old original set of instruments purchased in the early 1900s and urgent repair work was needed on the whole set, coupled with their conversion to "low pitch". As instrument makers had now ceased making the old style "high-pitch" instruments the Band would be unable to buy any new instruments compatible with the old set and therefore had to convert the present ones if new ones were to be used in conjunction with them. A decision was made to have the "conversion" done after the Hodder Valley Show in September 1975 along with minor repairs needed to straighten out dents, loosen valves, plug leaks, etc. A convoy of vehicles therefore left the bandroom, laden with instruments, to travel to Thomas Reynolds in Manchester for the necessary work. A fortnight later the convoy returned with instruments converted and in better order, plus an invoice for £228 for the work involved. Now at least the Band could start planning the replacement of instruments with ones of comparable pitch.
One source of worry for John Wooff had always been the legality of the public meeting held to discuss the Band's future and its decision to "wind up" the Band. At a Band meeting in November of 1975 the members decided that some form of Constitution for the Band would be useful to govern both the day to day affairs of the Band and instructions on procedures should the Band become inactive in the future. Legal advice came from a very useful local source --- the Squire of Slaidburn (and President of the Band) Col. L. King-Wilkinson and his son Richard who were practising in the family firm of solicitors. With their advice and assistance in drawing up a basic set of rules and regulations the Band experimented with these for the next 4 years, again with advice from a solicitor who was also a member of the Band too! Eventually a formal Constitution was submitted to the Charity Commissioners for legal approval. In 1980 the Band became a Registered Charity and most importantly safeguarded the future of the Band's assets. Interestingly, at the time the final draft was being made a clause was included setting out the reasons and method by which the Band Committee could require a member to resign. The national press had run a feature about 2 members of a northern band taking the band committee to court claiming unfair dismissal --- Slaidburn was not taking any chances!
In 1976 the Band found itself playing for a revival of an event it had undertaken in the late 1940's. Slaidburn Parish Church decided to resurrect the Rogation Sunday ceremony and the Band once again provided music for the Service at Church and for the procession to Duckmire. The Rector at this time, Rev'd George Gaze, also took an interest in the Band, his 3 children had been members and his organist was also the Conductor! The Rector's interest and involvement in tourism, both local and national, and his friendship with Tony Perry, a tourism entrepreneur from Hurst Green, was to give the Slaidburn Band "international" status.
For some of the Band, "catching the bus" meant the Slaidburn --- Clitheroe Bus Service. For Tony Perry it meant boarding the bus in Manchester and alighting in Paris, France! A new daily service was to be launched in July of 1976 and needed a high profile launch. In a conversation with the Rev. Gaze, Tony Perry outlined his plans and Rev. Gaze suggested inviting the Band to give a musical flavour of the North West of England to the French. This idea was put to the coach company who seized the opportunity and so Slaidburn Silver Band found itself rehearsing the French National Anthem and then off to France. The local press were invited plus civic dignitaries, and tourist officials from the North West Tourist Board.
That weekend in July will be remembered by many for various reasons --- firstly the weather --- blazing hot. The Band as part of its duties had to march through the centre of Calais, much to the delight of its inhabitants. The Lancashire Evening Post takes up the story:
“A French lady asked me who they were and when I explained that they were "l'orchestra d'argent de village de Slaidburn en Angleterre" she smiled and exclaimed, "Ah, Les Anglais" as though that was sufficient explanation for the band's exertions --- clad in heavy uniforms --- on a furnace-hot day.”
Secondly, the food and drink. The band was plied with French hospitality wherever it went. At the formal evening reception the Band provided music prior to the meal and were then invited to dine. As the evening wore on so did the speeches --- once in English, then in French. What the Band had not noticed however was the attention of the French wine waiters who constantly replenished empty glasses and on a hot night the wine intake was increasing! This would not have been a problem had not the French Interior Minister suddenly arrived at the reception and another rendition of the French and British National anthems required. One or two members found themselves unable to focus on music and keep steady on their feet! Thankfully they were leaned against a wall and those able to continue and play covered their embarrassment!
Thirdly --- the hotels. These were found to be of variable quality and standard, particularly the loos! One over-zealous hotel proprietor impounded the Band's instruments until the account was settled --- he did not trust the English! Thankfully all was settled amicably and the Band returned to the Hodder Valley having done their bit as musical ambassadors for the North West.
Whilst finding that very favourable public reaction to their overseas trip enhanced the Band's reputation, it was soon to discover that being in the public eye meant that good behaviour and discipline mattered and dissension in the ranks could not be allowed when out on an engagement. The Band had played at the Gisburn Gala for a number of years and on this occasion was to lead the parade wearing its new uniforms. The weather conditions could be described as humid and sticky, with the possibility of heavy showers, not the best of conditions for wearing full uniform, particularly as the new jackets had not yet been worn in rain. Some members felt that it would be better to go in "shirt-sleeve order" whilst others maintained that the uniform was purchased to be worn, and worn it should be. Impasse! As the Band argued amongst itself the Gala organisers began to wonder if the Band would ever get the parade started. Eventually the Band marched off some 10 minutes late in shirt-sleeves.
The Band was never invited to play at Gisburn Gala again. It taught the members one important lesson --- save the arguments for the bandroom.
On a happier note in September 1976 the Band was invited to play for the Harvest Service at Whitewell Church for the first time, which along with the Christmas Carol Service there have become another of the Band's long-standing engagements. (Particularly the Carol Service with its traditional supper afterwards -always something appreciated by band members after a hard blow!)
Food and drink are never far from a bandsman or bandswomans thoughts. In the early 1970s an engagement would be accepted with a fee "plus refreshments" and the Band became quite adept at remembering which event had the best food! The Queen's Silver Jubilee Celebrations in 1977 were to provide the Band with a number of special events to play for at various villages in the area, each with its own "Jubilee Tea". Many of the Band recall that the Sawley event provided the best meal overall --- well done for such a small place. It was also the year when the Hodder Valley saw one of its residents elected as Mayor of the Ribble Valley --- Coun. Edward Newhouse --- who seemed to appear at every Jubilee event the band attended. The Jubilee celebrations for the area were rounded off with one of Clitheroe's great Torchlight Processions --- the first one that Slaidburn Band took part in --- and members were delighted with the reception they received as the "local" Band contributing to the musical proceedings.
As always the Torchlight programme contained a few details about each participant, usually in a light hearted manner and Slaidburn did not escape:
SLAIDBURN SILVER BAND
In their musical production 'AIR
This Band always carries its own wind about,
Fresh air caught high on the moor,
Tons of it, stored in their 'airy chest,
Halitosised, breathalysed, pure!
And it takes a lot of mountain air
When your blasting fortissimo,
'Cos a soaring crescendo dies out innuendo
When the pound, per square inch gets low!
Whilst the Jubilee events had kept the Band busy during the summer months of 1977, the winter and spring of that year had been occupied by another momentous event in the Band's history --- its participation in a contest. The Hardrow Scar Contest, held near Hawes, had been revived in 1976 and some of the Slaidburn Band had gone along to listen. When an invitation arrived in 1977 asking the Band if it wished to take part much discussion took place on the topic. It was eventually decided that the experience of taking part would do the Band some good, after all the other bands taking part were of similar status, so it would be good to find out how we rated against other bands. So the Band started rehearsing its 3 own choice pieces, the march "Sons Of The Brave", hymn tune "Penlan" and fantasia "Hampton Court". Of the 16 bands taking part Slaidburn managed a 12th placing which for a first time effort was not considered too bad. Afterwards some players made the comment that the Band should work harder next time to improve its placing and take the contest more seriously. With those remarks were sown the seeds of unrest which were from time to time to come to the surface particularly before the contests and not always with happy results within the Band.
Following the jaunt to France in 1976 the Band must have been getting itchy feet for in 1978 another trip was planned, this time to include a journey into Belgium too. Also included in the party were the Longridge Band plus the Clitheroe Morris Men. In the party from the village of Slaidburn were members of the Hodder Valley British Legion, including Murray Walker who was to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate. The weekend in September had gone reasonably well until the coaches arrived at the French/Belgian border where the problems began. Administrative errors resulted in the coaches being refused entry into Belgium despite protests from the Mayor of Ribble Valley, British Legion and Bandsmen. This of course was a bitter disappointment for the ex-servicemen on board for whom the visit to the Menin Gate in Belgium was to have been a highlight of their journey. As the coaches turned around to return to their French base the coach with the Slaidburn contingent on board decided to try to attempt to cross at a lonely customs post inland. A "donation" of 300 francs to the lone customs official on duty resulted in the coach passing through and arriving many hours late at Ypres where the organisers were still waiting. Following a short ceremony at the Menin Gate where Slaidburn Band's Chris Skellorn played the Last Post, Murray Walker was able to lay the Legion's wreath. This incident in the trip made news in the national newspapers a few days later and letters of apology from the Belgian Government made their way to the Ribble Valley.
The Band President, Col. King-Wilkinson, when being told of the drama by members of the Band summed up the feelings of some; "Well, I never did like the Belgians anyway!"
Shakespeare once wrote "if music be the food of love, then play on" and certainly for some in the Band it must have rung true. In August of 1978 two members "tied the knot" when Conductor John Cowking and cornet player Alison Skellorn married. Over the coming years more couples from the Band would marry --- there must be something in the air, or the water, at Slaidburn!