A Means Of Enlivening The Community
Chapter 11 - Ninety Out Of A Hundred
The Annual General Meeting held in February 1990 took place at the Scout Headquarters on Lowergate, the Band's new rehearsal room in Clitheroe. It was reported that during 1989 the Band had met to rehearse on 49 occasions and had also undertaken 43 engagements throughout the year, quite a busy schedule for a voluntary band. The level of commitment required from members however was beginning to take its toll on attendances at both rehearsals and engagements. The register at this time showed a membership of 25 players in total, but the average turnout was only 17 for both rehearsals and engagements, not very encouraging. The minutes show discussion on this point and the hoped for increase in membership with the move to Clitheroe, but one or two ominous statements recorded in the minutes show that things were not all rosy. John Cowking's report as conductor said:
“…he particularly disagreed with player politics and that players would come and go and that subsequent moves should not be considered as promotion or demotion, but for the good of the Band.”
A little further on in those same minutes the Secretary, Andrea Sharples, also had something to say:
“…if this was the way dedicated members were treated, then the Band neither encouraged or deserved loyalty and resigned from the post.”
The question of loyalty and commitment were to simmer again for about 12 months, a reminder to those who could remember, of the discontent back in 1983. Matters were further complicated when at 2 engagements in June of 1990 the band could only turn out 12 players for either event. As both of these engagements were held on Saturday afternoons the Band Committee decided that no further work be undertaken on Saturday mornings or afternoons as raising a band was now becoming difficult as many members were now working on Saturdays as part of their full-time employment or as students working part-time.
Having just got settled into the new rehearsal room at the Scout HQ in Clitheroe the Band found itself on the move again in late 1990 when the Scout Group wished to use the room on Thursday nights. Thankfully the Catholic Social Centre just a few hundred yards down the road offered the Band rehearsal facilities and so the move was made without too much inconvenience.
By the end of 1990 the absenteeism problem had become acute in certain sections of the Band and so the Conductor decided in early 1991 to move some players to create a better balanced sound. This did not go down well with some of the players concerned who promptly told the Band chairman that if they were not returned to their original positions they would resign. The Chairman therefore overruled the Conductor who then announced that if the moves did not go ahead he would resign. Ructions! The minutes of the 1991 Annual General Meeting are lively with the debate on the topic and Conductor's view that he was being blackmailed by a few people who were not the most committed of players in the Band. A statement from the Conductor on the topic takes up nearly 3 pages of the minute book ending with the following comments:
“The Conductor takes the consequences over the right or wrong musical choice made for the good of the Band. The Band decided to support the Conductor. If players have a grievance could they please see the Conductor.”
After all the upheaval the Band settled down and with a membership of 23 continued to fulfil the engagements booked for 1991. One noticeable change in the list of engagements was the reduction in the number of traditional events such as garden parties and church processions. Many of the villages and churches involved in organising these events were finding it difficult to persuade volunteers to help run the proceedings and in some cases a complete lack of interest in the event meant that many found it difficult to continue. To compensate for the loss of some of these summer events the Band looked further afield for engagements and accepted a booking to play at the Happy Mount Park in Morecambe where a summer season of concerts are promoted by the local authority. This engagement is now an annual one for the Band and is looked forward to every year as one of the best outdoor functions the Band does.
As the musical ability of the Band improved so did the musical content of its programmes. This meant that the band was now in demand for concert performances during the winter months throughout the Hodder and Ribble Valleys and this helped to "spread the load" of engagements through the year more evenly. One "novelty" aspect of the Band's music library was its collection of ballroom dance music, arranged by the Conductor, which was much in demand to round off a night's music-making. This had only come about following a chance comment at the annual Royal British Legion concert at Waddington when the organisers asked if the Band could play for a little dancing after the concert. The idea caught on and is now a traditional feature of the Band's annual Christmas Concert and Dance each year.
In September of 1991 the town of Valkenburg in Holland was the base for another of the Band's trips into Europe, giving concerts in Valkenburg itself, Maastricht, (before the E.C. countries had heard of it!!), Bokrijk in Belgium and most notably on a revolving bandstand at Bad Neunhar, a spa town in Germany.
One incident in November of that year taught the members a valuable lesson in care of instruments. Whilst preparing to march off with the Remembrance Sunday Parade at Dunsop Bridge one of the players was unpacking his instrument and uniform from the back of his car. Having propped up the instrument against an adjacent car whilst putting on his uniform, the driver of the car reversed out and partially ran over the instrument. Shouts from the player concerned to the driver resulted in the car being driven forward back to its original position, running over the instrument once again! The lesson was soon learned by all concerned.
The Band's President, John King-Wilkinson, held a belated 21st birthday celebration at the Hark To Bounty Inn at Slaidburn on the occasion of his 60th birthday in May of 1992! The estate tenants were all invited and musical accompaniment for the evening was provided by the Band who presented Mr. King-Wilkinson with an engraved silver salver.
In July of that year the Band joined forces with the East Woodhey Band from Oxfordshire who had arranged a weekend bandsman's holiday in the Ribble Valley. A joint concert was presented in the ballroom at Calderstones Hospital and the East Woodhey Band gave concerts at the Castle Bandstand and also at the Hark To Bounty where, of course, they played "Slaidburn" in Slaidburn and their Conductor received a Slaidburn Band tie as a memento of the weekend visit.
Slaidburn Band also had a "day out" when they visited York and gave an afternoon concert performance in the city centre, much to the delight of shoppers and visitors.
The membership situation had not improved greatly, despite articles and advertisements being placed in local newspapers during the year. By the time of the Annual meeting in 1993 the membership had dropped to 18 players and was giving cause for concern. During 1992 the Band had received help from ex-members and guest players when needed, but this situation could not carry on indefinitely. Thankfully during the year a number of new players joined to swell the ranks, and it was particularly encouraging to see a number of youngsters taking up instruments in the Band.
Another trip into Europe was being discussed at the end of 1993 but increased costs were beginning to make the idea less attractive. As the players themselves paid all fares and expenses (the Band's funds could never be used under the terms of the Charities Act) the idea was deferred for the time being, but following the recent trip to York a similar day trip to the Lake District was organised and in 1994 the Band found itself performing in another unique location. In return for free passage on the boat, the Band played on one of the large cruisers sailing on Lake Windermere. Passengers waiting to board the boat at Lakeside must have wondered what on earth was going on when members, instruments, music stands and drum kit were taken aboard! However they were delighted at the open-air performance on deck, particularly the American and Japanese tourists whose videos and cameras were busy recording the event.
The election of Slaidburn's Councillor Mrs. Dorothy Pearson as Mayor of Ribble Valley in May 1995 meant that the village of Slaidburn, and its Band were involved in the annual Mayor's Sunday Procession and Service when the Band led the Civic party and their guests through the village to the formal service at the Parish Church. During Councillor Pearson's Mayoral year the Band gave its services at 2 special events to raise funds for her charities. A "Christmas Cracker" concert was given at the Centenaries Theatre, Stonyhurst and a special V.J. Night Concert and Dance were presented marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the 2nd world war. This was the second of two events marking the end of hostilities in 1945, for the Band had organised its own concert and dance at Newton Village Hall in early May marking V.E. Night, when the hall was "converted" to a 1945-style dance hall complete with flags, bunting, wartime posters and, most appropriate, period costume worn by many members of the audience. At the end of her mayoral year, Coun. Pearson also surprised the Band by presenting them with a cheque from her charity fund which was used to purchase new concert music stands.
The membership situation whilst not critical was still giving cause for concern and it was decided to hold 2 open nights in October 1995 and invite interested members of the public along to see the Band in rehearsal and see if any were interested in taking up any of the spare instruments. Adverts were placed in the local press, posters were displayed and the Band waited to see who would turn up. On the first night no-one came! It would be fair to say that the Band were very disappointed and some failed to see any point in holding the second night. However, on the second night thirteen people e arrived plus 2 experienced players and things were beginning to look up! None of the 13 new faces had ever played before so it was decided to hold a beginners class on a separate night to the main rehearsals and train the new recruits.
By the start of 1996 the Band's membership was 22 in the main section and 13 in the learner's class, so hopefully the playing strength of the Band was looking more secure for the future. Despite this shot in the arm for the Band the members were rather surprised to hear criticism from some quarters that the Band was not playing in the Hodder Valley as much as it should and was neglecting the villages. John Cowking on checking back over recent year's engagement lists found that on average the Band was playing between 13 and 15 times in the Hodder Valley each year and took great delight in saying so at such events during 1996, particularly at 4 new events in Slaidburn --- "Brass At The Bounty" --- which in a short time became a very popular evenings entertainment.
At the Hodder Valley Show in September of 1996 the beginners were brought into the main Band for the first time and their own evening's tuition was discontinued as they now rehearsed with the main group. At the close of 1996 at the annual Christmas Concert and Dance the Conductor was pleased to announce that the membership now stood at 34 players, a very healthy position, particularly with a good number of youngsters amongst that number.
It is not often that brass bands are the main feature of a major new film, but in early 1997 a British film --- "Brassed Off" --- was receiving rave revues as it toured the country's cinemas. When it was announced that the Civic Hall in Clitheroe would show the film the Slaidburn Band offered to provide a short "warm-up" concert before the main feature. (in return for free admission to see the film of course!) The hall management agreed and on the last night of the run the Band performed before the film to a remarkably large audience who greatly appreciated the live music.
The 1997 Annual General Meeting began to consider the forthcoming Centenary in 1998 and how the Band should mark the occasion. By the time you are reading this book the plans will have been finalised and Slaidburn Silver Band will have reached its 100th year. This book is only part of the celebration of the centenary of a unique band. Players come and players go but somehow the Band has held together for most of its 100 years. It is a great tribute to the men and women, boys and girls of the Band, both past and present, who have given up untold hours, travelled probably hundreds of miles purely to give their musical services to many organisations in the Hodder and Ribble Valleys and beyond without receiving any payment or expenses of any kind. Tribute should also be paid to the many wives, husbands and parents who allow their spouses or children to "come out to play" with the Band and to many Band supporters who provide much appreciated help and support at Band functions.
Where does the Band go after 1998? Will there still be a steady input of new players over the coming years to keep things going? Will the present membership remain in the Band or will family, financial or social pressures change things again. The present Conductor, John Cowking, always has the same answer: "When I stop enjoying it, that's when I'll finish." Over the last 100 years it would be nice to think that that was the simple view of all the members of the Slaidburn Band. May it continue for the years ahead.