Ellesborough Silver Band gear up for the summer season
PUBLISHED: 11:25 21 July 2016 | UPDATED: 11:25 21 July 2016
A foot-tapping Sandra Smith visits an Ellesborough Silver Band rehearsal as the musicians tune up for the summer season
Fêtes and flower shows are as symbolic of an English summer day as strawberries and cream or the sort of community camaraderie that has gripped the county over recent weeks in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. We are, after all, a nation that thrives on tradition, upholding customs by instilling all this into in pastimes and organisations, resulting in a longevity which surpasses decades if not centuries.
So when I begin to explore the history of Ellesborough Silver Band – a familiar sight at festivals and events all year round – I’m not surprised to discover its origins can be traced back to 1896 when village, church and military bands were commonplace. Since then, apart from a couple of breaks during the two World Wars, the Band has continued to thrive. To its credit are a Christmas Carol performance at Chequers, twice reaching the National Brass Band Championships Finals at the Royal Albert Hall, and playing in front of Prince Charles and Princess Margaret when the Royals visited the Guttmann Centre. And if these achievements aren’t sufficiently impressive, their portfolio also includes awards and European tours.
Having watched the Band perform at local festivals I can vouch for collective talent and enthusiasm. But individual commitment, too, resonates amongst this group of musicians who are dedicated to the skilled leadership of Conductor, Graham Wells.
“Music has always been a big part of my life,” he says whilst preparing for a regular Friday evening rehearsal in Ellesborough Parish Hall.
“I started with the Band when I was eight years old. My dad was a member and I came along with my sister. I was also going to Aylesbury Music School, but in those days it wasn’t cool to play an instrument so I packed up when I was 15.”
The lure of music never abated, however, and five years later Graham returned to Ellesborough, simultaneously playing semi professionally in a dance band which for a while took precedence. How, then, did he acquire the role of Conductor?
“My son was involved in amateur dramatics at Princes Risborough School and they put on West Side Story. Being musical, I ended up as Musical Director. It’s one of the hardest shows ever! Then one day Ellesborough Silver Band was stuck for a Conductor and asked me.”
As we talk, musicians arrive and busy themselves positioning chairs and music stands around the hall. Flowing in are youngsters in school uniform, instrumentalists of more mature years and numerous men and women of ages in between. There’s lots of chatty greetings and as instruments are warmed up the recently appointed Chair, Nigel Faux introduces himself.
“I’ve been with the Band for five years,” he smiles. “During its heyday in the 1970s this was a competition Band; I never dreamed I could be part of it. I learned on the trumpet and now I’m a cornet player.”
Such modesty is one of the endearing traits of the Band for which Graham’s wife, Sue, is secretary. Teachers, an engineer and a doctor are among the 30 members, all of whom buy their own instruments (from trombones and flugelhorns to euphoniums and drums) although music and music stands are provided. Annual subscriptions make the Band self sufficient, and when performing in public members are smartly turned out in uniform.
Graham hands out folders of music as the last few players arrive. In answer to my question, he quickly confirms the average annual number of engagements (15) before walking to his position and picking up a baton.
“Well done on Saturday, you all did a tremendous job,” he begins, referring to a Memorial Concert for one of their longest serving members and Graham’s father, Ron Wells. The concert, at Fairford Leys Church, raised over £600 for dementia charities and attracted players from as far away as Holland. Right now, however, Graham has this evening’s rehearsal on which to concentrate: “We’ll start with number 57, four beats to a bar.”
Then, seemingly without preparation, the Band begins with To Be A Pilgrim before launching into a lively rendition of On Parade. The quintessential English sound conjures up images of jolly summer days on village greens of newly mown grass. Graham enthusiastically keeps time with his baton and spills praise between songs.
“Go from G, please,” he calls at one point amid talk of crochets and quavers, “11 bars back. Everyone know where we are?” And with a timing hiccup solved, the Band moves on to English Country Garden. That’s when I notice lots of foot tapping. There’s certainly a ‘feel good factor’ filling the room and I am privileged to have a front row seat at a free concert.
Tonight’s repertoire continues with Bach’s Toccata in D Minor, Angels and the classic Georgia on My Mind. Throughout, the Conductor is calm and encouraging, coaxing rather than pressuring. When everyone takes a break one hour into rehearsal, I use the opportunity to talk to Graham about the highlights of his role.
“When I first conducted at a Remembrance Service in Aylesbury I took the order for the soldiers to march as my cue and came in too early. I didn’t know, nobody told me! But I get my biggest kicks when the Band plays well at concerts. We are a friendly group and newcomers are always welcome.”
Graham (who also plays the cornet and trumpet) chooses the songs for each event including the Queen’s recent birthday celebrations at Butlers Cross and Stoke Mandeville fêtes. Among this summer’s other engagements are The Lee Flower Show, Little Kimble Songs of Praise, Monks Risborough Fête and the Cherry Pie Festival at Plough, with regular Christmas concerts lined up for later in 2016.
It’s all in a day’s work for Ellesborough Silver Band, of course, which this year celebrates its 120th anniversary. But as far as the rest of us are concerned, it’s worth remembering that each time we attend one of this ensemble’s public performances we’re not only enjoying a host of well loved compositions but also doing our bit to keep alive one of the country’s most entertaining traditions.