Leamington Spa Brass Bands: A Brief History

From its earliest days as a Spa town, Leamington has always hosted bands and their music. There used to be military bands playing in the Pump Room Gardens every morning in the summer season, – an unwelcome distraction in the early years of the 20th century, for the girls at the Grammar School, sitting examinations in the form rooms a very short distance away above the Library in Avenue Road. Before that, Bands were sponsored to play for the summer season in Jephson Gardens, and the band of the militia based at the barracks in Clapham Terrace played as the regiment marched through the town on exercise, and at regimental functions at the Town Hall and the Regent Hotel. So Leamington has always had a role in supporting and developing bands and their musical style.  Amongst those are the following, –

 The Good Samaritans (1867)

The Good Samaritans Brass Band was first reported playing at the annual Tea Meeting in the Temperance Hall, Warwick Street on Monday 17 February 1867. Prior to this they had a Drum and Fife Band. The band played at local fêtes and for local Friendly Societies; it probably also played at their own meetings but this was never reported on. The last newspaper report has the band playing at the Napton Friendly Society anniversary on Tuesday 30 May 1871, heading the church parade before dinner and enlivening the proceedings in the afternoon.

 Leamington Spa Salvation Army Band ( about 1880)

Salvation Army Band, 1950

Salvation Army Band, 1950

Back row: George Haycock, Desmond Rose, Albert Rose, Robert Sparrow, Dennis Berry, John Taylor, A. Smith; Front row: William Turner, Bert Knight, Joe Evans, Enoch Cross, Mrs Evans, Unknown, Arthur Rose, Geoff Chamberlain.

The Salvation Army were reported parading the streets of Leamington on Sunday 24 October 1880, headed by their brass band so we know that a brass band was in existence by that time. The band played at the Army’s meetings on Leamington’s streets which did not appeal to everyone; a complaint in the Leamington Chronicle refers to ‘that intolerable nuisance inflicted on the same long suffering people every Sunday evening’ – the writer goes on to say ‘he is not intolerant but asks for the occasional quiet Sunday’!! The Band also supplied the music at the services held in the Salvation Army Citadel in Park Street during the many years the army was based there. Over the years they played at various events in the district, including the annual Armistice services at the War Memorial from 1923 onwards and they played carols in the days leading up to Christmas. The Band also travelled to other Corps in the area to provide music for their weekend meetings. In 1966 a number of bandsmen transferred to the City of Coventry Salvation Army Band leaving the Leamington Band rather depleted and it never really recovered from this loss. A number of members carried on as a small group until about the year 2000. It is believed that the band ceased to exist in 2000 but there are no records of when the band actually started or finished.

 Royal Spa Band (1901)

Royal Spa Band  June 1902

Royal Spa Band June 1902

Back Row L-R: George Birch, Walter Clements, Fred Bissell, Billy Smart; 2nd row: Sam Montgomery, Billy Rouse, Vic Humphriss, Fred Greenaway, Charles Stevens; 3rd row: Tom Webb, Billy Hawtin, George Smith, Harry Dalton, Jack Draper, Billy Weston, Harry Willoughby, William Essex, Charles Weston; Front row: George Godfrey, Bob Cook, Billy Rufus, George Avis, Bert Farley, Alfred Titcomb, Edward Hyam, Alf Johnson, W. Johnson, Fred Height, Jack Harris.

This band was formed by Alfred Titcomb on 15 January 1901 at a hall in Kenilworth Street, either the Albert Hall (later known as the Irwin Memorial Hall), or in a room in the adjoining Rose & Crown Hotel. Alfred conducted the band until his resignation in January 1908 but re-appeared again as the band’s conductor in1912. The band had 26 players, most of whom were young, and all the uniforms and instruments had been acquired on credit, so they had to work very hard to pay off the debts. During the summer season they played concerts in Jephson Gardens, the Pump Room Gardens and Victoria Park, and during the winter months gave concerts in Arcadia, or the Winter Hall, (formed when the swimming baths were emptied in the autumn and boarded over. It is now the main library). The band also played at many fêtes, flower shows, church parades, and carnivals. In the early years the band had its annual dinner in the Fox & Vivian on Clarendon Avenue, but in 1906 transferred to the Avenue Hotel in Spencer Street. Over the years the band won a number of contests, including the Crystal Palace Championships 4th Section. They received some very good testimonials, as they not only played at local venues but travelled as far afield as Adderbury in Oxfordshire and Birmingham. Following Alfred Titcomb’s resignation in 1908, Mr A.E. Fox, solo cornet, took over as temporary bandmaster until Tom Proctor from Irwell Springs Prize Band took charge on 18th July. This did not work out and Mr Fox resumed the baton by the end of the year, until Alfred Titcomb returned in July 1912. At the end of 1913, the the players disbanded, to re-form as the Warwickshire Yeomanry Band.

The Mayor’s Recruiting Band (1915)

This was a very short lived band only being reported on in 1915. It was started by the Mayor, Councillor William Wilgres Donald, for recruiting and other military purposes. It had 19 members and its first conductor was E. Roberts West. By July of the same year, the conductor had become a Mr Fox. Was this A.E. Fox who had been conductor of Royal Spa Band? During the short life of the Mayor’s Recruiting Band, it played for many route and recruiting marches and also gave sacred concerts in the Jephson Gardens. Its final report, the local press said that it entertained about 100 soldiers to tea in the Urquart Hall, Leam Terrace on Saturday 12 December

Royal Leamington Spa “Victory” Band. (1919)

This band is first mentioned in the Leamington Spa Courier, 28 March 1919, saying that George H. Reid now had 37 bandsmen under his control, the very best instruments had been obtained, and that Councillor. W.W. Donald was its president. The Victory Band’s first engagements were on Easter Monday 21 April in the Pump Room Gardens in the morning and the Jephson Gardens in the afternoon. During the summer months they played in many concerts, parades, fêtes, and agricultural shows, and during Christmas week, played carols in the Warneford Hospital and Midland Counties Home for Incurables (both establishments now housing estates). Other Winter concerts were given in the Winter Hall. This became the pattern of the band’s engagements over the next few years. Alfred Titcomb took over as conductor in April 1920 when George Reid resigned. The last report on the band is for 10 September 1922, heading a parade from the Town Hall to Jephson Gardens for the British Legion Drumhead Service, stopping at the War Memorial en route. There are no more reports on the band and it has to be assumed that it disbanded at the end of 1922

Royal Leamington Spa Silver Band (1955)

Brass 2000 – Royal Spa Brass.

 

RLS Silver Band, 1955

Royal Leamington Spa Silver Band, 1955

Back row L-R: Arthur Frodsham, Bill Cross, Walter Collins, Roy Clarke, Derek Woods, Unknown 1, Unknown 2; Middle row: Unknown 3, Less Gibbs, Unknown 4, Pat Boneham, Unknown 5, Unknown 6; Front row: Bill Brindley, Bill Askew, Jack Larkin, Ken Bowers, Fred Dalton, Gerry McSweeney, Fred Potts, John Gibbs, Basil Tustain, Ted Burton.

With the support of the Town Clerk, James Stothert, the Royal Leamington Spa Silver Band started in January 1955 with 13 members, when the old Kenilworth Town Band moved to Leamington, The first rehearsal was held at Clapham Terrace School on 12th January 1955, and by the end of the year the band had 23 members, with Fred Dalton as conductor and Ken Bowers as secretary. In its early years the band had a number of different conductors and rehearsal rooms and started by playing ten concerts for two summer seasons in the Pump Room Gardens to pay off a loan from the Town Council to buy uniforms. Normal engagements were for local fêtes, carnivals, flower shows, park concerts, and the occasional parade. In 1956 Norman Knight took over as conductor for the next two years until he moved to Bolton, and under his leadership, the band played in its first contest – Birmingham Association 4th Section, when the set test piece was Eric Ball’s “Indian Summer”.

By 1960 the band was down to a few members, and by 1970 the membership had fallen so low that it was impossible to take on any engagements and it effectively ceased to function. The half dozen remaining band members carried on playing quartets and also joined Alcester Victoria Silver Band. Happily, in February 1973, Paul Russell took over as conductor. Paul had started with the band in 1956 and had also played with Coventry Festival and Alcester Victoria bands, where he studied conducting. He was also a very fine brass tutor, teaching at both Emscote Lawn and Warwick Schools. The first concert under Paul’s baton was in July 1973, for the Old Age Pensioners’ Club in Spencer Yard. After starting rehearsals in Denby Buildings the band soon moved to the Royal British Legion Club in Kenilworth Street, beginning a long fruitful relationship between the band and the Royal British Legion, with the band playing at many Drumhead and Remembrance services in Warwickshire. Apart from the normal run of band engagements, – concerts, fêtes, flower shows, and carnivals in the summer months and indoor concerts and carol playing in the winter months, the band became a very successful competitor, winning many or being placed in may contests, from Leeds to London – including Radio Birmingham in the mid 1970’s.

In 1980 the band started the Poppy Concerts to raise funds for the Royal British Legion. The concerts alternated with the Royal British Legion Poppy Dance on an annual basis, and they culminated with the band being awarded a special shield by the Legion “in thanks for your wonderful donations in aid of the Poppy Appeal RBL Warwick County”.

The band also played at many twinning ceremonies in the Town Hall, resulting in our friendship with the Max Ernst Gymnasium Big Band from Brühl who came over to Leamington as the band’s guests in 1982 and 1988. When the band visited Brühl in 1989, they were royally entertained. March 1984 was a milestone for the band, as it managed to take over the old Mortuary in Adelaide Road and convert it into a bandroom. This gave the band its own building where it stayed until the disastrous floods of Easter 1989. The furthest distance the band travelled for an engagement was probably to Scarborough in 1982 for the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows Convention, leading the Sunday morning parade and giving a concert in the Winter Gardens in the afternoon.

In July 1992, the band was re-named Royal Spa Brass, to reflect the band’s earlier name at the beginning of the 20th century. Over the years the band has played with many organisations, including Wyken, Shifnal, and the Royal Naval Association male voice choirs; the celebrated Black Dyke and Grimethorpe Bands, Birmingham Conservatoire, and Coventry School of Music brass bands, and with many solo artists who have gone on to professional careers in music.

The band changed its name again in November 1995 to Brass 2000, with the object of teaching 100 young people to play brass or percussion instruments and to give a concert in Symphony Hall Birmingham in the year 2000 with the Black Dyke Band. The beginners had their own training band which was later called Buddin’ Brass (see below). The current bandroom could not cope with these numbers and in September 1999, with the help of Regenesis, the band bought the old Peanee lingerie factory in Althorpe Street and turned it into ‘The Band Factory – Where Musicians are Made’, and it has been the band’s home ever since. Pupils with disabilities from Sherbourne Fields School in Coventry and St Hilda & St Hughes School New York also took part in the Symphony Hall concert and it was such a success that it was repeated two years later with the Grimethorpe Band. The year 2000 also saw the band playing for Carols in the Castle at Warwick, and it has done this every year since.

Over the years the band has supported the work of both Myton Hospice and Helen Ley House, playing at their fêtes, garden parties, and the Christmas Celebration, ‘Light up a Life’.

In March 2004 the band’s name reverted to Royal Spa Brass. The band continues to play outdoor concerts in various parks in the summer months and also gives many concerts at indoor venues in the area throughout the year. In September 2009 Paul Russell stepped down as Director of Music and was succeeded by Iain Masson who also conducted the Bedworth Symphony Orchestra. As he did not drive and had to rely on public transport, Iain found it increasingly difficult to get to practice and to venues from his home in north Birmingham, Iain resigned as conductor in 2011. He was succeeded by Hugh Rashleigh, a cornet player with the band since 1997. Hugh remains the band’s current conductor and is also responsible for teaching the youngsters, (and those not so young), in the training band. The band has a full list of engagements throughout the year and its work is well appreciated in the area. New members are always welcome at the Band Factory, Althorpe Street on Tuesday evenings from 7.00 to 9.00 pm.

Campion School Band (1964)

Campion School Brass Band was formed by the music teacher, George Ward, in 1964, when the school was still in Leicester Street. Arthur Frodsham, deputy conductor of the Royal Leamington Spa Silver Band, became involved. In 1970, the Royal Leamington Spa Silver Band donated a number of surplus instruments to the school, and a number of the boys began to attend the silver band’s rehearsals in Denby Buildings. With Arthur’s help to train the youngsters, George managed to get the boys playing to a reasonable standard in a short time. It is not known what engagements were undertaken by the band, or when it finished, as the current schools (Campion and North Leamington) have no records of the band’s existence and nothing was printed in the local press.

Buddin’ Brass (1996)

This is the name by which the current Royal Spa Brass training band is known and was adopted by the band in January 2006. All bands have trained youngsters but Royal Spa Brass put theirs on a more formal basis in 1996 at the start of the Brass 2000 project and by November of that year it had 42 members. Its first big concert, supported by members of Royal Spa Brass, was at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry in March 1999 as part of a concert with Black Dyke Band in preparation for the concert in Symphony Hall the following year. From May 2001 the band has given a number of concerts in schools and church halls which have been well appreciated. The absolute beginners have their own name – Brass Roots. Both bands take part in the big concerts put on every year by Royal Spa Brass which remains the main band of the organisation. Hugh Rashleigh has been the conductor and responsible for training since his return from university in September 2007. Anyone, young or old, wishing to learn to play a brass instrument is always welcome at the Band Factory, Althorpe Street on Thursday evenings – Brass Roots 5.30 to 6.30 pm and Buddin’ Brass 6.30 to 7.30 pm.

Kenneth Owen, Spring 2013

Extracted from, ‘A History of the Brass Bands of Royal Leamington Spa’ by Kenneth Owen.

 

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