By William T Parker
Copyright Applied For
“Tongue it, tongue it you flamers.” These were the first frightening words I heard on my second attempt to join the Blaengarw Silver Band, this time at the age of eleven. It was 1943. The determined voice belonged to Bandmaster William Jenkins, a short thickset man who resembled the film star Edward G. Robinson. William Jenkins was bald, rugged and wore trousers that were rolled up several times as they were too long for him. (there was a war on at the time!) The band had a membership of 32, including my four brothers. Of course I was learner.
My first attempt to join the band had been as an eight year old. A learners class had started at the Nanthir Hotel Band Room. My mother was very keen for me to to join. I was already in possession of a battered old cornet and I could play a few bugle calls. One of the new starters was a girl about the same age as me. She was called Jean Hawkins, daughter of Albert Hawkins, Band Secretary at that time. I was so frightened by William Jenkins (Will Junks, as older members of the Band affectionately called him) that I said “I want to go to the lav. Sir”,”Wee in the corner by there”. he replied. “Its not a wee I want, and anyway there is a girl in there”. Mr Jenkins replied “ Wenches, Bah! Go home and make sure you’re back here in five minutes”. I didn’t go back for three years.
By then, apart from a few bugle calls, I could play some tunes as long as my brothers Herby or Arthur, wrote down the fingering for me. But then, some of my sisters could do the same thing having learned by the same method.
On my return to the band, I chose to sit next to a gentleman called Harry Davies, ( we called him Harry the Hat on account of a slouch hat he always wore) he was second cornet at that time. He had been fine soprano cornet player in his younger days. Harry had several sons playing 8in the band at the same time, and his namesake son also played the trombone for our arch rival Pontycymmer Town Band, situated a mile down the valley.
During the forties, the Blaengarw Silver band won the Pontypridd South Wales Monmouthshire class B contest four years running. It was pointed out on several occasions by the Pontycymmer Band members that was during war time, and most of the members of rival bands were in the service of His Majesty , and that we had played the same test piece “Halvey” in each concert.
Apart from my brother Alan, there were two other boys who were already seasoned players in the bans, namely Trevor Gibson and Don Owen. Trevor’s dad was also in the band. I thought don to be a good player as we were sitting fifth man down from the solo cornet section. My brother Freddy was on the principal cornet chair. I was often told that when the band was on the march Freddy would start playing at the top of Carn and his cornet would not leave his lips until the band stopped at Pantygog. Sometime before I joined the band, whilst Freddy was principal cornet, he won a medal for the best soloist in section B. It was none other than Fred Mortimer of the famous Foden’s Band who presented the medal to him. My mother was very proud.
In those days, the supporter’s coach returned home early leaving the band bus to stay somewhat later to allow the bandsmen to celebrate their success. My mother waited anxiously to see the medal. Alas, Freddy arrived home only to say he had lost it somewhere? My mother believed right up to her dying day that the ‘flamer’ had sold it. Whilst on the subject of medals, after Blaengarw won the Class B. competition four years in a consecutively every bandsman was awarded a gold or silver medal, some of which are still in evidence today.
Freddy’s main interest was in dance music, and my brother Herby took over the principal cornet spot when Freddy joined the Royal Navy as a Petty Officer. When John Absolam, was around Herby quite happily played the soprano cornet. Arthur on the other hand was a horn player, playing the solo horn as did Eddy Pinches. Eddy also had a brother in the band who played 1st trombone. There was also Winston who played Eb bass. Sadly Winston died a young man.
To come back to Arthur, there was always a major band competition that was held the Saturday before Easter, which was known as the Easter Festival. In my day it was held either at Abertridwr, Ferndale or on some rare occasions at Abertyswg. On one particular occasion, we played an own choice piece entitled “Auber”, which contained a lovely tenor horn solo. Arthur was designated to play the solo, but on this occasion Arthur had developed a large boil on his nose, never the less, he successfully played his solo in great agony. During the solo the boil burst. The rest shall be left to the imagination. My brother, Alan played second cornet beside me, but his interest wasn’t as deeply rooted as the rest of us.
A major upheaval came into the band-room in the form of Mr Wheal, a conductor with a totally different approach to Mr William Jenkins. We managed to get an audition for the radio. None other than Mr Harry Mortimer. (son of Fred Mortimer) would be the man to decide if the band was good enough. Mr Harry Mortimer came to the band-room at the Nanthir Hotel for the audition. After he had conducted the band, he sat down opposite Herby on solo cornet. Mr Wheal was now conducting the band. This resulted in all the men on the top cornet bench turning their chairs in an arc to see as well as hear him play. The band did not get the broadcast.
Trevor Gibson is a little younger than me. I was twelve when the band played on the Armistice day parade in Bridgend. We were allowed back to the United Services Club by the old Embassy bridge where a kind gentleman was giving out free checks valued at one pint of beer each. Trevor and myself were offered all kinds of sweets and even a tanner for our two checks. We however decided to have the two pints ourselves. That was the first time we ever got drunk.
The adults in the band were requested in the evening to show up for a concert. A coach was too expensive and difficult to get at short notice, so a driver from Birmingham called Billy Bennett took them all down in the back of an empty lorry. By the end of the evening there was some sort of fracas and some fisticuffs, which resulted in one bandsman hitting another with a Bb baritone cornet. I can’t speak for the injured bandsman, but I still have the old Bb baritone complete with the dent.
I soon learned that the take over by Mr Wheal was his second time with the band. The Blaengarw band was running rather high in the Second Section, and no doubt there were other conductors interested into the step up into Class A. One incident that was related to me by Jack Hibbert (another top cornet player) that the band was rehearsing in the Central Cinema for a contest elsewhere, and Mr Wheal wanted to stop the band in full flow for some reason or other. He kept shouting “Whoa! Whoa! Everyone stopped playing except Freddy Parker (solo cornet). Mr Wheal did not like this. He cautioned Freddy as to why he did not stop, who replied, “Because we are not bloody horses!” Anyway it was Mr Jenkins who was our man in the middle.
I mentioned Jack Hibbert, and that reminds me of Charlie Morgan who kept the register in the band-room for many years. Each time the band played the “Desert Song”, Jack was designated to play” Softly as the Desert Breeze I wander where I please” Charlie would produce his ‘humantone’ (a brass instrument played by the nose and accompany Jack with the full approval of Mr Jenkins. I am in possession of that humantone. My brother, Alan bought it from Charlie for 5 bob (25p).
It was fashionable in those days for the well-dressed man to wear a white handkerchief just sticking out of his top pocket. Don Owens often dressed this way. Mr Jenkins, conducting a vigorous fortissimo movement (which he would describe as a storm or a battle) would have his bald head steaming, with perspiration running down the back of his neck. He would turn to the top end cornets and grab Don Owen’s clean white handkerchief to mop himself down. The sodden handkerchief would then be returned. The expression on Don Owens’ face was unforgettable. This clearly showed how much effort Mr Jenkins put into the music.
By the time I was thirteen, my battered old cornet was long past its prime, and was no longer playable. I was given a soprano cornet, which I tried very hard to play; after all it was a lot like the solo cornet parts. During this period I had self taught myself to read down the octave, and I was often advised by Mr Dai Harris who was playing the flugelhorn. He of course sat next to me on soprano. By this time the band had moved band-room from the Nanthir Hotel to what became later to be known as Wally Carpenters Stables on the ‘Bala’ yard. I had now decided to play soprano cornet proper. The only seat available for me was a window sill. Whilst going for a top G in “Silent Night”, such was the pressure involved I leant back in effort and pushed the window out of its frame.
One day a gentleman named Percy Ingram arrived at the band-room. He possessed a Bb cornet with a gold bell. Percy wanted to play soprano cornet. I immediately handed over the soprano to him in exchange for the Bb cornet. The gold bell made no difference to my playing, and I was demoted to second cornet, with my old mate Harry Davies. Some six or seven months later there was another disruption. Mr Zac David asked to join the band on soprano. Zac being a slightly better player than Percy was given the soprano cornet. Unsurprisingly, Percy took offence and immediately resigned from the band and took his Bb gold bell cornet with him. I was devastated. No cornet available for me, and the only chance of having a blow was when my brother, Herby was working ‘afternoons’ which was once every three weeks. I sat out for what seemed a very long time until Jack Hibbert finished with the band. When he did he gave me his well looked after cornet and his mouthpiece that I kept for many years. As Jack had kept his instrument in such a fine condition I tried to keep it that way.
As I sat in the back rank In was in awe of the front row cornets and dreamt of the day when Mr Jenkins would instruct me to join them. In 1947, The ‘Daily Herald’ was sponsoring a Great Contest in London. All competing bands had to qualify bt finishing first or second in an area contest. Blaengarw Band had never qualified for this prestigious event. The decision was made to engage the services of a professional conductor to take the band in the area contests. The test piece was ‘Sirius’. There was a Scotsman called Walter B. Hargreaves conducting the illustrious Cory Workmen’s band in the Rhondda. We decided that this was the man we should engage. The problem was affording the three pounds per practice fee he charged. We had been paying Mr Jenkins forty pounds per annum. We took the plunge and engaged Mr Hargreaves for five rehearsals. After all, we had to deal with complex music with its 5/4 and 1/4 time signatures. Mr Jenkins may not have been able to handle such mysteries.
Mr Hargreaves was duly engaged, and what a wonderful and interesting musician he proved to be. The highlight for me was that he chose me to play the flugel horn as Dai Harris had retired. I was over the moon about that. Another thing about Mr Hargreaves apart from his brilliant musicianship was his wonderful personality and magnetism. When Mr Fred Lambert (treasurer) handed him a cheque for fifteen pounds (his fee) he immediately gave Fred a cheque for ten pounds as a donation to the band funds. What a man! With all his hard work, we still didn’t qualify for the finals. At this stage only Class B and Class C bands played at the Belle Vue in Manchester. The area test piece was the same piece played in the finals. Mr Hargreaves also conducted the band on another occasion with a test piece called ‘The Labour of Love’, an extremely popular original work. Mr Hargreaves said something to Ron Pinches (first trombone) about his part. Somehow Ron was a different player. It was outstanding, but none of us knew what was said and Ron wasn’t saying anything.
Harry Davies told me many stories of the London finals. I dreamt of the day I could afford to go. It was was around the period when John Absolam would visit us. He was playing second man down to Mr Robert Oughton, at Ransome & Marise Works Band in Nottingham under the direction of Davis Aspinall. I considered John to be a virtuoso. Other older bands-men would also tell me of another outstanding player called Billy Gwyther who also signed with another works band in Bristol. Unfortunately I never knew him.
At this time Herby Parker had gone down to Margam to work, and could guarantee that he would be available on a regular basis. By this time, my brother Freddy was in the Royal Navy and his family was settled in Wrexham. Jack Hibbert had left, and Gilbert Griffiths who was renowned for his flugel horn playing in the extensive solo from Dr Keighley’s ‘Crusader’ (an old Crystal Palace test piece) defected to Pontycymmer Town Band along with Don Owen leaving a massive hole in the top end of the band.
It was the Salvation Army that provided the band with new recruits. There was a wonderful teacher at the Blaengarw Salvation Army corps called Fred Beadles. He had played with the Blaengarw band before my time. I had heard of a boy playing the cornet at the Pontycymmer Salvation Army and on some occasions took a walk down there. I would peek through the door and listen. Someone told me he was called Marcus, but I wouldn’t dare go in.
There was somewhat of a lull in the band-room. The band moved back into the Nanthir Hotel. The Nanthir boundary wall was right opposite my back gate in James Rd. The lane would be lined with ladies listening to band rehearsals on nice Summer evenings. My mother was nearly always there. Mr Jenkins would insist that we play outside on occasions if an open-air competition was looming to get used to open-air acoustics. Up to fourteen bands-men hailed from James Rd. They were the Pinches, the Lamberts, Will Pritchard, Ron Gwilliam, Mock Roberts and of course us Parkers.
There was a bandstand in the park. It was too small for a big band like Blaengarw. While I was longing to get to the top end, It was Norrie Hughes who told me to “put more beef into it, you would be alright for the second cornet team”. It proved to be good advice. The beef went in and our new top end was formed.
The top end now consisted of Herby Parker, Gilbert Griffiths who had returned to the band, Trevor Gibson, and myself. Norrie was happy to give up his flugel horn (his natural instrument) to play soprano cornet. The additions to the back row cornets when my brother Alan had left were Malcolm Bevan, Harry Davies, Eric Gibson and Mock Roberts.
Malcolm Bevan (Big Bev as we called him) had a strong influence in the band-room, and would draw cartoons of various characters attending the band at the time. There were drawings of Mr Jenkins, Jack Davies (Librarian) and our Chairman Mr Fred Thomas. Fred also played the bass drum on the march and his two sons, Tommy and Ivor would play the side kettle drums. Unfortunately, Ivor, the younger of the two died a young man. Fred was a stern but very kindly man and was much respected not only in the band but also in other circles. One of his sayings was ”Hey, don’t bang that instrument”, referring to his big bass drum. Another man we youngsters respected was Harry Owens, a stately man who played the G trombone, who in turn joined his nephew, Don, in Pontycymmer Town Band. Harry Owens was the only man who ever gave me a proper music lesson. He was also the Deputy Band Master while playing at Blaengarw.
Sadly, Harry was tragically killed a few days before his retirement from the Ffaldau colliery. The whole valley was deeply shocked, Harry having been a member of both town bands. It was the Blaengarw band, which played at his funeral. To march slowly and play going up Alexandria Rd towards the cemetery was quite a task. On the same day as Harry’s funeral, the band had an engagement in the village of Wick to play in an open-air concert at a Carnival in a field. When the band started playing ‘Washington Greys on the road’, we were immediately ordered to stop by the Parade Marshall. We soon knew the reason. Horses and cattle were stampeding in the nearby fields, We had to wait several minutes before the cattle settled down and we could resume playing.
Mr Jenkins had never had a pint of ale in his life, but the event organiser announced “There’s a free pint of ale for all the band at the Lamb and Flag” Mr Jenkins had a pint of cider. Needless to say, it was at the end of the concert. Tommy Thomas said, “They go in like lambs and come out like flags”. He was right, and a good time was had by all. Prior to Big Bev joining the band, a lad named David Richards had signed up on the euphonium. He had learned under Mr Fred Beadles and was a capable player. He sat next to Mr Tom Davies who I think was a cousin of Mr Harry Davies. I also think it was David who introduced Big Bev to the band. A new recruit to the band prior to Wick was Owen Day, a very good trombone player from Ogmore Vale. I mention this, because Blaengarw Band somehow had a knack of replacing leaving players with others of similar merit.
On the Sunday after the Wick carnival, a young lad of about my age walked into the band-room. It was the very same lad that I had spied on at the Pontycymmer Salvation Army Corps. After a discussion between Mr Jenkins and a few of the ex Salvation Army people that knew him, Marcus was placed on solo cornet immediately. Herby quite readily relinquished the solo cornet spot and took on the soprano cornet, allowing Norrie Hughes to go back onto his much loved flugel horn. Gilbert Griffiths retired again due to work problems. His sons, Ray and Brian were already proficient players in the band. The top end now was Marcus, Trevor Gibson and myself. This remained so for many years.
The previously mentioned Easter festival was held in Abertridwr this time. The committee, under the newly appointed Secretary, Mr Mock Roberts had decreed that the band would leave the concert at a more respectable time of eight o’ clock, win or lose. In those days, the contests sometimes went on until the early hours of Sunday morning. Mr Jenkins would not leave the contest hall until he had heard all the bands, and a Class A was always on last. Even so Mock Roberts (Sec) came into the Panteg Hall looking for bands-men asking the barman “Have you seen any bands-men wearing this uniform?” pointing at his own uniform. “Our bus is waiting outside”. The barman answered “No, definitely not”. Mock then left to look in all the other pubs and then back to the contest hall in search of the missing bands-men. As soon as Mock had left the Panteg Hotel, about a dozen Blaengarw bands-men emerged from behind the bar. Us younger players were not involved in this conspiracy.
Rehearsals had to be attended regularly or face the wrath of Mr Jenkins. If anyone missed a practice, he would enquire about their whereabouts. He would say with grave concern “Where is so and so tonight?” “Gone to the pictures with his girlfriend”.
“Bah, tell him to leave the wenches alone, tell him to bring her here, I thought as much, I noticed that his hair was all greased up last Tuesday”.
Tom Davies was solo euphonium player for years. Tom was a very powerful player. On one occasion, Tom had a cadenza to play. In a cadenza the entire band stops playing and the soloist is left to show his capabilities. Tom started in his usual confident manner. Alas, one of his valves stuck making the euphonium temporarily unplayable. Tom used a well-known expletive that can be found in the dictionary but not in the Bible.
Assisting Tom on second euphonium was Dave Richards, who sometime later converted to the trombone, who to this day is known as ‘Gower’. Eventually took over first trombone when Ron Pinches left. It was around the time that Charlie Ward brought his son Tony to the band-room. He wanted to learn the how to play the cornet. I was asked if I would teach him. I agreed, and I was appointed as Deputy Bandmaster with a salary of £2 per annum. During one lesson, Tony ended up in tears. I bribed him with a sixpence not to tell his father. Tony is still playing today.
Tom Davies was a miner at the International Colliery, stopped playing after a mining accident resulting in an injury to his left hand. The band bought all sorts of straps available to enable Tom to hold the instrument. This resulted in Tom being unable to deliver the unvarying pressure required to suit his embrouchure. Tom was very distressed by this, but ‘Gower’ was there to fill the gap, although very reluctant to part with his first trombone spot. Another Salvationist, Bill Lacy, joined the band on euphonium. Bill was the Bandmaster of Pontycymmer Salvation Army Band.
At this stage, I must not forget to mention other gentlemen, some of which were in the band during my father’s days. There was Ike Hudd, a stalwart for many years who I would converse with at the W.E.X.A. Club, Blaengarw, where he was doorman, and I certainly will not forget Mr Selwyn Jenkins who served the committee for many years while playing in the band. There was also his brother, Doug. Both these men were the sons of Mr William Jenkins.
Mr Henley Jenkins, a Bridgend businessman formed a band in Bridgend, taking players from the defunct Aberkenfig and Kenfig Hill bands. Unfortunately, three or four Blaengarw players and some from surrounding bands went to Bridgend. As always, we managed to survive the loss. At one Sunday rehearsal at the Blaengarw Hall, there was an audience of about twenty five young lads, who were accompanied by a gentleman called Jack Milton. Jack had been in the band in my father’s time.
Jack Milton had started a band in Porthcawl, and he asked Marcus and myself to help out at the top end. We agreed to do so, as their practice nights did not clash with ours. This was no hardship, as the nights we did not have practice in Blaengarw, Marcus and I would practice in each other’s houses. Neither my mother or Marcus’s parents ever complained about this arrangement.
By this time, Blaengarw had been promoted to Class A. on the South Wales and Monmouthshire Brass Bands Association. This promotion had come about through a change in the system of promotion and relegation. Norrie Hughes, our representative had tried to keep us in Class B. at the meetings held in Cardiff, and the result was a promotion into Class A. which we were not ready for.
Fixed test pieces such as Dean Griffiths’ ‘Rhapsody in Brass’ and ‘Themes from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth’ were purchased. ‘Rhapsody in Brass’ was a mystery at first with its semi-quavers joined together over the double bar line, double sharps etc. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful piece of music. We did not compete that year, which meant we were relegated down to Class B. for the following year. It was during this period that I frequently went down to the Porthcawl band, and this was the time that I noticed an advertisement in the ‘British Bands-man’ magazine, which read “Cornet player required. Sankey’s Castle Works band. Employment and accomodation supplied. Only first class players need apply, all practice during working hours.” At that time Sankey’s were a really fine band. Marcus applied and was accepted. Accomadation was a shared room with three other men. When Marcus got up on his first morning, he found that all his money had been stolen. He returned to Blaengarw and the band gave a collective sigh of relief, we were all very sympathetic towards him.
By now the Association had introduced another class, Class D. This was to accommodate the overflow of bands in Class C. and allow newer bands like Porthcawl to compete. Porthcawl competed and gained a second at the Daily Herald Competition held at Treorchy. I was playing the principal cornet for Porthcawl, which was against the rules as I was a registered player with Blaengarw, a Class A. band. My registration with Blaengarw was under my real name W.T.Parker. My registration with Porthcawl was under the alias of David Hogg. If I was found out, I would have been suspended for six months, which would not have mattered too much as Blaengarw were not competing in Clas A. that year. Porthcawl qualified to compete at the Belle Vue, Manchester. In the Autumn finals via their second at Treorchy. This was one opportunity I was not going to miss.
The Porthcawl band stayed in Blackpool for the week-end and travelled to Manchester on the Saturday for the Belle Vue contest. Bob Ivey, Secretary of the Porthcawl band had asked Mr T.J. Powell, (President of the Association and the Wellingforth band), to coach the band for the Belle Vue. He was a prolific march composer and often refferred to as ‘The Welsh Souza.’ He wrote several test pieces that are still used today. Mr J.T.Powell, was travelling by bus from Cardiff. I met him at Bridgend and gained a lot of useful tit-bits from him on the bus journey to Porthcawl. I must have been around 19 at that time.
When Porthcawl went to Oxford for an ‘own piece’ contest, the piece they chose was Eric Ball’s ‘Holiday Suite”. After we played, there was a man beckoning me.”Parker” he said, “Is your name Parker?” I nodded, but I was full of fear. What with being keyed up after playing principal cornet, and him knowing who I really was, especially as I had signed the register as David Hogg just minutes before I went on stage. I thought this was it. I had been caught out as a ‘ringer’ and now faced six months suspension.
I hid for most of the day just as one of the Porthcawl players advised me to do. Later on, I was informed that some big-wigs wanted to see me in the boardroom of the Oxford Town Hall. After about three or four hours he caught up with me. He said “I was brought up in the Garw valley and I moved to Oxford some years ago for employment, I know you because because of your Parker features”.
Mervyn Roberts from Kenfig Hill came with me to see the big-wigs, Mervyn was and still is a good friend. I still see him sometimes when we bump into each other in Bridgend. Well, we stood bewildered in front of about ten men. The one in the middle was the President of the City of Oxford band. He was also a Doctor of Music. His cigar was similar to that of Winston Churchill’s. After he had offered us both a bottle of ale. His first words to me were. “Where do you work?. “In the local colliery sir” I replied. He continued, “How much do you earn?” I sad a little lie. “Ten pounds a week.” I wasn’t earning that much as a haulage driver in the Bala colliery. “How would you like to double that.” He asked. “Yes sir” I answered. Finally he said “Then come to Oxford to live. We have accomodation for you with a Mr Hughes.” You can play for the City of Oxford band and work at the Pressed Steel company, who also have a works band. We won’t stop you if you desire to join the Morris Motors band.” I was greatly honoured. “I will have to go home and think about it sir.” Was my answer. Had I left the colliery, I would have been called up for 18 months of National Service. I wrote to them explaining this. They replied telling me to leave the colliery, do the National Service and then go to Oxford. They were prepared to wait for me. I couldn’t face the army. Blaengarw band was my first love, so I declined the offer. On reflection, I might have been a lot better off musically if I had gone into the Army, as they have many fine bands.
The thing that interested me most about playing on the top end was the fact that on a lot of solo cornet parts, or conductor’s parts as they were often known. There would be an indication above the solo cornet line of the chords that the rest of the band would be playing. I read these with great interest, although most of the were a mystery. I wanted to know more, so I purchased various books on the rudiments of harmony. It became more and more intriguing.
Still thinking about Oxford, I would like to mention Mr Arthur Gregory from Pontycymmer Town band, who used to play in the Morris Motors band. Mentioned earlier John Absolam who was playing in the Ransome & Maries Works band in Nottingham. My brother went to Wrexham to play in the dance bands after the War.
I can recall hearing him on the radio programme ‘Plug on the wall’ in one of the dance bands. I think it was the ‘Ray Irving band’ which was one of the well known bands at the time. They would have been as popular as the ‘Harry James band’ was, down here in Wales.
My own experience of jazz bands was one of my more embarrassing moments as musician. I regularly went to the ‘Grand Pavillion, Porthcawl on Saturday nights for a dance. On these nights, I palled up with Nye Gardner and Emlyn Morgan. They had convinced me me to join them at the ‘Old English dance’ being held at the Casino. Being somewhat fond of a hop around the dance floor I agreed. After two or three pints of Worthington BB in the Knights Arms, we went on to the Casino. The M.C. was none other than Mr Fred Thomas, drummer and chairman of the Blaengarw band. A lovely lady who I think was called Mary Perkins led the dance band. Fred had a word with her and then approached me and asked me if I would like a blow on the stage with the dance band. Being full of confidence, or cheek, I agreed.
After listening to the resident trumpet player, what was being played did not sound that difficult and I thought that sight reading was one of my stronger points. I took up my position in the band, and then I noticed it was not sheet music but a thick book. Mary Perkins then informed me very graciously that “We play all of page two, then turn to page five, omit pages three and four and then when page five is complete, go back to page two and use the coda at the foot of the page to finish”. “Easy peasy, “I thought. This would be no problem, but page two had a three sharps key of A major. This was a little rare for a brass band Bb instrument player, but I thought this would still not present any problem. 1-2-3-2-3 the band started. In this English waltz, I had to play eight bars and Madam Perkins was to play eight bars on the violin. Everything was going fine until I got to page five. I continued to play in the key of A three sharps, but un-noticed to me the key had modulated to B. Whilst Madam Perkins was playing her eight bars in B (the key of B has five sharps). The noise I was producing was enough to make anyone cringe. I was unfamiliar with this key, as the brass bands at this time did not use it very much. This proves the necessity to learn all the scales thoroughly. Needless to say I made a quick exit via the back door of the Pavillion only to face Fred Thomas in Band practice the next day. I never went back to the Casino, but I did apologise to Madam Perkins in a note I sent with Fred Thomas.
The thing I noticed about players from the salvation Army bands was their glorious sound. This was probably due to the fact that they played tremendous amount of hymns. At the start of any Salvation Army band rehearsal, a hymn tune would almost certainly played. I would rather believe that in the case of the girls I mentioned it was the teaching of Fred Beadles that was responsible.
During the Summer of 1951, the Festival of Britain was celebrated. This was a busy time for the band. There were Carnivals and street parties every Saturday, some times two or three the same day. The band tried to oblige every request, but it was an almost impossible task. The requests would often overlap, with some concerts also having parades it meant that some streets were disappointed. There would also be Carnivals at Llangeinor and Pontyrhyl as well as street parties. Numerous photographs were taken at this time. I was photographed at the street party in The Avenue, Pontycymmer. This one was published in some newspapers, possibly the Echo.
Another new player came from the Salvation Army. A tenor horn player called Malcolm Williams. Malcolm Bevan (Big Bev) had a tremendous impact on the younger members. Practice evenings would turn into social evenings after practice. Enoch Davies, the Licensee of the Nanthir Hotel would allow us to remain in the band-room after rehearsals had finished, usually around eight o’ clock then we could play Monopoly, draughts and darts. He kindly let us have a small room at the top of the stairs and someone gave us a Gramophone. We could listen over and over again to the ‘Black Dyke Mills band with Arthur O. Pierce playing ‘Poet and Peasant’ and ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’. When the needle wore out we replaced it with an ordinary sewing needle? Nearly all the 78s had worn out anyway. Regal, (Red labels Salvation Army, Blue labels secular), manufactured most of the records.
News was received that Mr Wally Carpenter was running a trip to London on the same weekend as the Brass Band Finals of November 1953. The fare was twenty-five bob (£1:25). I was in ecstasy and booked immediately. Malcolm Williams, Mr William Jenkins and his son Doug, along with Mr Harry Davies all went as well. We booked our hotel in Paddington, the Norfolk House Hotel in Norfolk Square at a cost of twelve and six (62p) a night. Malcolm Williams and I were in a state of great excitement. However the contest was to be held at the Empress Hall, Earls Court instead of the Royal Albert Hall. Saturday morning came and we caught the Tube to Earls Court. Foden’s bus, with all their famous players on board passed us as we were walking from the Tube station. This experience alone was wonderful for me. We met Mervyn Roberts and one or two others from Porthcawl and then we entered the Hall.
The stage was set just as Harry Davies had often described it with the magnificent trophy on a table in the centre of the stage, several spotlights shining on its gleaming surface. The first band came on. The test piece was “The Frogs of Aristophanes” by Granville Bantock. As the sound reached my ears it felt as if my hair was standing on end and my arms were prickling with goose pimples. After I had recovered there were a lot more to come. Black Dyke Mills band, Fairey Aviation, Foden’s Morris Motors, Cresswell and many other fine bands. The two Welsh bands that had qualified that year were Cory Workmen’s conducted by W.B.Hargreaves and Gwaun Cae Gurwen conducted by George Thompson (formerly of Grimethorpe). Their principal cornet was Eric ‘Slim’ James. Malcolm Williams and I met him after the contest. A friendship was formed until he was tragically killed in a mining accident in 1995.
Before any results were announced at this wonderful competition, the eight bands that came first in their area contests, along with the previous years winner massed together on stage to play ‘The introduction to Act three of Lohengrin’ by Wagner. This was a sound I will never forget. Since 1953 there are not many London Finals I have missed. Wally Carpenters son drove the bus home, and it broke down in Aberkenfig.
I can’t remember when the Firework displays started in the Arena at Porthcawl’s Coney Beach. It wa put on six nights a week. The event organisers engaged three bands, Bridgend, Ogmore Valley and Blaengarw. There were complaints from Ogmore Valley and Blaengarw about the dates. It appeared that Bridgend had the best dates.
By this time, Frankie Hughes had joined the band playing fourth man down on solo cornet. Due to his shift work at Margam, Herby and Trevor Gibson at Ffaldau it meant that Marcus and I could not afford to miss any of these shows with Herby and Trevor unable to play at the top end. The three pounds fee the band received was valuable revenue. On one occasion, Marcus and I went for a stroll around the fairground, when all of a sudden we could hear our band ‘striking up’. We ran as fast as we could to get back to the arena, knowing that only Herby and Frankie were left to play at the top end. We arrived out of breath and unable to play as we were still panting. A lesson was learned on that occasion.
We were transported to and from Porthcawl in a type of military van that had hard wooden seats. We had to squeeze together with our instruments and stands in some discomfort. Boxing matches also took place at the Arena, and we would see these when we were engaged to play there. We also fulfilled engagements at Dunraven Castle in Southerndown every other Sunday. The castle was a Workers Travel Association guest house at the time. These concerts were usually held in the open air, but in bad weather we played in the Conservatory. Mr Nigel Smith, the manager would heave a sigh of relief when the indoor concerts were over. He always feared that the loud music would shatter the glass. We had secured these concerts through my sisters four of whom were employed at the castle. During this period Pontycymmer band was not experiencing a good time. Their rehearsals were not going well. There were rumours circulating about a possible Blaengarw/Pontycymmer amalgamation.
By this time my interest in music theory was growing. I was reading a growing number of books on the subject and I thought that there had to be more to music than the notes. The notes and chords were just a means to it. I wondered what made the sound so agitated. It was not just the Italian word ‘agitato’ that made it so. How was it that some music would sound very sad, and some very happy? It was then I came across an advertisement in the ‘British Bandsman’ for the Parr School of Music in Manchester. One of my strongest desires was to arrange music for brass bands. So I sent off for a prospectus. It was going to be costly, but the cost of the course of advanced rudiments, which included ‘ornaments, harmony, brass band scoring and conducting.’ This was also to include viva voce and aural training.
My tutors were Leonard Davies, a well known arranger who wrote under the name of Aubrey Winter, and Judith Alston. An old school friend, Ray Thomas assisted me with the aural as he was a pianist. On a particular train journey back from Manchester to Cardiff (a journey of five hours at the time) I asked Leonard why he wrote under the name of Aubrey Winter. He explained that he was a pupil of Dr Dennis Wright, the Editor of Boosey & Hawkes, music publishing department at that time when someone requested a brass band arrangement of the ‘Paso Doble Amparito Rocco’. Dr Wright would have had to work over the weekend to complete it in time. It was the good fortune that Leonard Davies had just written a score for that particular piece. Dr Wright asked him to bring it in for him to look at. It was used to everyone’s satisfaction. When it went into print Dr Wright had signed it Aubrey Winter. Since then, Aubrey Winter wrote everything that Leonard Davies wrote for Boosey & Hawkes.
At one point in the course I had to have conducting experience. This was a problem. I had had one or two helpful offers from people who had been on the same course. Arthur Bryant, who was conducting the Bridgend Band, was one of them. He offered to help me out, but Bridgend and Blaengarw bands were rivals. The offer was conditional on me signing for the Bridgend band. This was not an option for me. I had another from Mr Evan Richards, conductor of a band in the Rhondda. This was impossible for me to accept as I was working shifts in the Bala colliery at that time and I did not have the transport. Mr Stan Brown was conducting the Blaengarw band before my time, and sometimes obliged when Mr William Jenkins retired. On rare occasions would let me conduct the band.
One day, Mr Bob Ivey contacted me. Jack Milton of Porthcawl had been taken ill. ‘Tex’ Hannaby had taken over temporarily. Bob asked me to come and conduct the Porthcawl band. As the bus service to Porthcawl was good, this represented a wonderful opportunity for me. Most of the players from my days as solo cornet with them had moved on, either to college, or to join bands in other areas. What was left were a dozen or so learners, four reasonable players and about half a dozen who could not read a bar of soap, let alone a bar of music. It was hard unrewarding work, but I was wagging the stick. I started with Porthcawl band as bandmaster, and I was paid two pounds ten shillings per week, which included my bus fare twice a week. It was early September when I started. It was going along nicely until early May of the following year, when to my horror only about half a dozen of the boys turned up. I asked Bob Ivey what was happening. It turned out that the rest of the boys had seasonal jobs in the car parks and fairgrounds. I was not going to tolerate this, and duly resigned.
Back at Blaengarw, Stan Brown was something of a refined musician, which was a new experience for us younger members. He was also ambitious. I was still deputy bandmaster at Blaengarw band. Stan explained that bandmaster and deputy bandmaster were terms used in the salvation Army bands. In the secular bands, it was conductor and assistant conductor. Stan brown rehearsed the band intensively on a rather difficult Wagner piece called ‘The Flying Dutchman’. It was a real challenge to us. We were in Class B. and confident we could get amongst the prizes. Just about five practises before the contest, he gave out ‘Labour of Love’, a piece we had played many times before. I asked him why. He said that the way the band was handling the ‘Dutchman’ he was going to enter them into Class A. on that piece, and play ‘Labour of Love’ in the Class B. I knew that this was a mistake, and as assistant conductor I told him. But as he was the conductor he had the last word.
The luck of the draw meant that we played last in Class B. and remained on the stage to play first in Class A. The headline in our Class A. adjudication started ‘This is not a Class A. band’. Needless to say, we went home without any prize at all.
Malcolm Bevan was now the President of the Students Union at the University of Wales, Swansea, studying for his B.A. He was also the editor of the university ‘Rag’ magazine. They had booked Blaengarw band and the Carn Rajah’s Jazz band to head the ‘Rag’ parade through Swansea town centre and back to Singleton Park where the university is located. I don’t know what went on behind the band. The band was in full uniform, with everyone taking evening clothes for a night out in Swansea, excepting me. At the conclusion of the parade, the students loaded us onto a float to transport us back to the university campus. As the lorry moved off, some of the students turned a powerful hose on us, much to the dismay of the band and the delight of the onlookers. I didn’t get too wet. But in the evening I felt a right Charlie, being the only one in Madame Patti’s Pavillion dressed in a damp band uniform.
Quite a while after the ‘Rag Parade,’ the South Wales and Monmouthshire Brass Bands Association decided to move the area qualifying contest from Swansea to Porthcawl. It was quite successful. These contests were held over two consecutive Saturdays, early enough in the year to avoid the holiday period. Every band would make prior rehearsal arrangements at the Ship Hotel. Stan Brown was conducting the band, and the band was still competing in Class B. The test piece was ‘The Call of the Sea’ by Eric Ball. On arriving at the ‘Ship’, we were directed to a back room. It was a large bar that many Garw Saturday night revellers, including me, would frequent during the dancing days at Porthcawl Pavillion. After rehearsal, we had a little refreshment purchased at the public bar. Sam Tame went for a look around, and found himself behind the bar. Two strangers walked in and said ”Two pints please”. Sam, with his pipe hanging from his mouth picked up two glasses and started to pull from the pump. Lo, and behold, out came clear water to the amusement of the band boys. The two strangers didn’t know what to make of it.
By this time, band funds were dwindling. Stan Brown had learned that the band was paying a cornet from Ogmore travelling expenses. Stan wanted £2:00 per week as he was travelling from the Rhondda in his car and picking up the Ogmore player en route. The Pontycymmer band was financially better off than us at this time, but it was rather short of players. Two or three of them paid us the occasional visit and had a blow with us. We were not at 100% strength at the time, so it seemed to fit in well. This planted the seed for amalgamation of the two bands. I suppose it was the natural course of events, considering that the four collieries, namely Ocean, Carn, Bala and Ffaldau were contributing on a shared basis of ‘one penny per miner per week’ to be shared by the bands and other organisations in the valley.
I personally was against amalgamation, as were a few others in the Blaengarw band. However, a meeting was convened at the Ffaldau Institute in Pontycymmer. The hall was full to capacity. Representatives of the joint lodges and members of both bands attended. After many verbal battles, some bitter, it was agreed to merge into the Garw Valley Silver Band. Trevor Gibson and myself were the last to agree to the merger. The issue for us was the band room. We both argued that the room in the Ffaldau (Pontycymmer’s old band room) was too small for such a large band. Mock Roberts argued that if Stan Brown was to be the conductor, he should have the last say over the band room. Stan thought that the Ffaldau was the best band room available.
Herby, Arthur and a few other Blaengarw members did not join the Garw Valley band. Trevor and I joined just to see and hear the acoustics of the band room. It was not a patch on the old band room in the Nanthir Hotel. The election of officers was next on the agenda. Mr Badmington, the retiring conductor of the Pontycymmer band was elected as Treasurer. He was ex- military who had taught most if not all of the players in the Pontycymmer band, and certainly most of the ones that I knew. He was a true musician whose knowledge not only covered all the brass instruments, but also he was a proficient violinist. My only association with him had been when I had played with the orchestra that Mr ‘Chick’ Jones had assembled to accompany the Operatic Society in Pontycymmer.
Mr Ebby Howells was elected as Secretary and Mr Patsy Corcoran was elected Chairman. Patsy remained as Chairman of the Garw valley Silver band until he left the valley to go and live with his son, Ken. Patsy needs no further description, as he was well known throughout the valley for his committee work. By now, Mr Fred Thomas, was fully occupied as the Chairman of the W.E.X.A. Club in Blaengarw.
On the advice of Mr Sid Hince, I called on Mr Badmington at his home to see if he could assist me with the course I was undertaking. I was reluctant, as I thought it unfair to impose on this fine mannered gentleman in his well deserved retirement. The full brass band score showed his dedication that he wrote from the sheet music that the Pontycymmer band had purchased when no published score was available. This was a very meticulous and laborious task. I am still in possession of that score today.
However the new band was not the same even though the top end remained the same,
with Trevor Gibson and me plus the addition of Danny Williams. There were changes in the back rank of cornets, horns, baritones, and euphonius trombones and in particular the basses. Sid Hince, who for many years had played top cornet in the Pontycymmer band, took on the Eb bass with Sam Tame. Cyril Williams was a horn player with Pontycymmer, and he had joined Len Worgan on the Bb bass. Cyril Williams had been a diligent worker for the Pontycymmer band over the years, and continued to be so with the new band until he went to Doncaster to work. It took a long while for everybody to settle down and even longer to achieve musical cohesion. New friendships developed over time.
Eventually the position of permanent conductor was advertised. There were a few applicants and the short list narrowed down to Stan Brown, who had conducted the new band on a temporary basis since amalgamation. Chick Jones, Evan Richards and Don Hendy. I was not able to attend all the auditions due to my shifts at the Bala colliery. Stan was eventually appointed. I was always a little confused by his being known as Stan. I heard many Rhondda people call him Sam, but when he was ajudge at the Class D. finals in London, he was named as Enos Brown in the programme. ( all section finals had now moved to London from Belle Vue in Manchester). After a few months , he resigned as conductor of the Garw Valley band to conduct the Cory Workmen’s band based in Pentre, which was a far better band as well as being nearer to his home in Llwynypia.
John Absolam had returned to the Garw, and he was appointed as conductor of the Garw Valley band, which by now had experienced another change of players. Three or four senior players from the original Porthcawl band came up for an audition and they were accepted. We started playing some ‘club’ type concerts, and started competing in Section C. The South Wales and Monmouthshire rules clearly state that new bands must compete in Section C. If a Section C. band won their their class they would be automatically be promoted to Section B. if they came last they would be demoted to Section D. We remained in Section C. for some time until things started to come together, we competed on a very hot day around 1955 in a marquee in Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd where we won first prize.
The ‘own choice’ we played was ‘Indian Summer’ by Eric Ball. Harry Mortimer, the adjudicator wrote in his adjudication “It was a superb performance for a Class C. band”. Things were starting to move our way. The Garw Valley Band was now becoming a threat to other more established bands in Section and C. We got ourselves into a position when the first questions that other band’s reps was “Are the Garw Valley here?” In the following Spring, the area qualifier was held at the Porthcawl Pavillion. We were poised on stage; John Absolam raised his baton to give us the introductory beat, when a glorious trombone sound echoed around the hall. A nervous Alan Stead had misread the introductory beats. No further note was played. We just sat there baffled. What would happen now? Five or six minutes passed which seemed like an hour. When the introductory beats were offered. No error this time, only a full-blooded opening to Henry Gheel’s ‘Normandy’. After Class C. was completed, Garw Valley had come first and qualified for the finals in London in the Autumn of 1956.
There was much jollification that night, tinged with some sour grapes buzzing around the pubs and clubs. The rumour was that the note before the band started was a cue to inform the adjudicator that we were ready. What a load of bull. From then on the band was very busy right up to October 1956 playing in the clubs and at other events to raise money for the London trip. There had not been a band from the Garw playing in the London finals since the Crystal Palace burnt down in 1939.
In other contests we were rarely out of the frame. John Absolam formed a little dance band, with Marcus on trumpet, Trevor Bibey on valve trombone and John played the saxophone. A lady called Mrs Simmons played the piano, her father, Harry Hatch had played in the Blaengarw band in my father’s days. The band was called The Hi-Five. I don’t know who played the drums. They played the Ambulance Hall in Pontycymmer every Saturday night. Some of the bands-men, including me would take it in turns to man the door. Albert Hawkins was now Secretary of the band, and his wife along with my Mother would make sandwiches to sell at the dances. These events raised valuable funds for the band.
At this time, the test piece for the London finals was not announced until six weeks before the event. We all waited in anticipation. We wanted to know what it would be like. Would it be difficult? Would it be ‘James Hook’ by Harry Gheel again? Had it been sent to us? Or was it something we had never heard of? We duly received the piece and started rehearsals immediately. No-one was going to miss practice. News came to us that Len Worgan had had an accident and damaged his foot. He would not be able to travel with us to London. We all felt sorry for Len. He was a good and committed bands-man, so it was sad that he would have to miss this opportunity. Len had played Bb bass ever since I had known him. David Garnon was already playing the Bb bass, leaving Sid Hince alone on the Eb bass, as Cyril Williams had gone up North.
By now, Albert Hawkins was Secretary again. He had booked a coach, booked lunch in Gloucester (There was no Severn Bridge in those days) and a room for us to practice en route in a pub, of course, in Slough. We were late arriving in Gloucester, and lunch had become ‘high tea’. The meat was curling at the edges, and there were many comments about it that will not be repeated here. We arrived at Slough for our rehearsal, and apart from four or five last minute adjustments we were musically fine. We stayed in a bed and breakfast in Sussex Gardens. On the Saturday morning, we were back on the coach to Hammersmith Town Hall and Albert Hawkins our ever efficient Secretary had made arrangements for us to rehearse at the Angel Hotel, Hammersmith.
The Brass Band Federation rules allowed a maximum of 25 players on stage for competitions. We were still 26. even with the absence of Len Worgan. Someone would have to drop out. This was discussed at length. We couldn’t drop a bass, we were one short there. There was only Marcus, Trevor and me on the cornet bench as Danny Williams had already gone to the R.A.F. I kept a low profile. I don’t really know how the decision was arrived at, but Cyril David was the unfortunate one who had to drop out. Rehearsal was happy and vibrant, and the sound we produced reflected this mood, until John Absolam announced that he was to resign after the competition. I have since heard many stories about this fateful day, but I am not prepared to comment about it here. Despite this sad news, we went on stage and played a ‘stormer’ and came away with a third place. Considering the opposition from all over the British Isles. This was a good result for us, and we celebrated it at the Angel Hotel, Hammersmith.
Roy Williams from the Ogmore Valley band was appointed as our next conductor. We had a quiet Winter, with no contests, parades or concerts. We were looking forward to the next big event. By now, the Daily Herald newspaper, changed the venue for the area qualifier, back to the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. The day of the contest, it was snowing. We arrived late, and used the weather conditions as our excuse. The South Wales and Monmouthshire Brass Band Association rules clearly stated that any band arriving late should not be allowed to compete. Most of the other bands in the section were delighted that we could not compete. Our officers exercised a tremendous amount of persuasion, citing the weather conditions and arguing that our area had experienced more snow than any other area, and that we had made an extremely hazardous journey to get to the competition. Our argument was eventually accepted, we were allowed to compete and came second. This was not quite the performance of the previous year, but enough to qualify us for the London finals in October.
During 1957, we competed in several competitions. In the Spring, The daily Herald announced that they were putting on an open National Contest in Birmingham, which we entered. By now Herby Parker had decided to forget past grievances and re-joined the band, much to the delight of Alan Stead. They formed an immediate friendship, and as they say, the band was still “on pomp”. Roy Williams, our conductor had chosen to play Rake Rimmer’s ‘Othello’ which was a real big blow, especially for the top end boys. Luckily for us, help came in the form of Brian Cannon. He was an excellent exponent of the cornet. He came to us from the Ogmore Valley, where he had played principal cornet for several years. He had followed Roy Williams with two or three others. Albert Hawkins made all the reservations for Birmingham. Unlike the previous trip to London, we arrived rather early, so we decided to stop for some liquid refreshment at a pub in Worcester. The barmaid warned us that we could have as much one and threepenny beer as we liked. It was on special offer. It was rather special indeed; it was Ansell’s Special. After about an hour everybody was ‘well oiled’.
We arrived at our digs in Birmingham. Dave Richards and I were to share a room. The room opposite was to accommodate four others, and the rest of the band had other rooms. A few of the older more staid members used another hotel down the road where we were all to have breakfast in the morning. The hotel we were younger ones were staying in did not have a resident proprietor, but there was a gentleman occupying another room. A couple of the lads put some music stands in David Richard’s bed, which did not amuse him. About a dozen of us were playing cards in a room intended for four people. David Richards locked the door on us, and we were trapped for the night, unable to get out to use the toilet. As luck would have it, there was a biscuit barrel available. Herby managed to open one of the windows, and we all managed somehow. Also sharing the room with us was a tailor’s dummy that Howard Summers had ‘found’. We all signed the dummy and made it our mascot. Alan Stead was wearing a big black jacket that he had ‘found’.
With all this nonsense going on, Marcus somehow hurt his lip. No one knew how, but by the morning his lips were quite swollen. He pulled out his cornet, and tried to produce a note. All he managed was a feeble squeak. This was a potential disaster, as he was playing principal cornet, and the ‘Othello’ has some long and difficult solo’s. Albert Hawkins and Sid Hince took Marcus to what seemed like every chemist in Birmingham in search of a remedy to no avail. However, we went on to the rehear. Brian Cannon was on stand-by to take over in case Marcus was unable to play. As stated earlier, ‘Othello’ has some long cornet solo’s, and is very demanding for the entire band. Strong staying power is required from all the instruments and sections. The rehearsals went very well, apart from two slight mishaps from the euphoniums, they also had some lengthy solo’s to play.
Marcus was able to play all his solo’s superbly, much to the relief of Brian Cannon. Our reward came when the adjudicator announced that we were the winners of the Open Band of Great Britain Championship, 1957. As this competition has never been repeated, Garw Valley Silver Band still remains the Daily Herald, Class C. Champions of Great Britain. In the evening, we celebrated. Herby, myself and a few other band boys went out on the town. Come the end of the evening we hailed a taxi to take us back to our digs. When the driver asked us “where to?” None of us could remember. We had to try and describe the area. There was a cinema close by, but we couldn’t remember the name of it. The driver took us to nearly every cinema in Birmingham before we eventually found our hotel. To this day wherever I go I never leave a hotel without making sure I pick up a card.
A very proud Albert Hawkins brought the cup back to the pub where we were having a little refreshment. Albert filled the cup with Port for each of us to have a drink from it. It wasn’t large enough to take a whole bottle from one filling. The bottom of the cup was revealed quite often. It was Joe Pantol who discovered that it was engraved class D., and therefore the wrong cup? Albert took it back and came back with the correct one. He filled it again, this time with beer. It had a six pint capacity. Travelling back home on the Sunday, we stopped for a liquid lunch around Gloucester at a pub called the Bird In Hand. Some of us got talking to a man who had lost his right hand, he had a hook in its place. Someone offered him a drink out of the trophy. The cup was duly filled, he held the cup to his mouth and downed the contents in one go, all six pints!
Some time after our championship win, the band went to Cardiff gaol to perform a free concert for the inmates. For the last piece the warders asked us to play a march for the audience to be marched out of the hall and back to the cells. We played ‘Colonel Bogey’ and as they marched out, prisoners joined in with the appropriate responses and words. It can be said that we had a truly captive audience that day.
By the time Mid-summer came, we learned of an open-air competition in Lydney, Gloucestershire, and we decided to enter. It was near enough to do in a day trip.
The bus was loaded up, and we all boarded. We were picking up the Porthcawl boys at the Embassy bridge in Bridgend. We reached the bridge, Albert Hawkins and Jim Prosser, the librarian realised that the music had been left in the band-room. Albert advised us all to go into the nearby Angel Hotel and have ‘one’ drink and wait as there was nowhere to park the bus while he returned to collect the music by taxi. This delay would make us late for the competition. Someone had the bright idea to go and buy a ‘chamber pot’ so that the bus would not have to stop on the way.
Albert took ages getting back to the bus. He had great difficulty finding a taxi. He then had to catch up with the bus. By know someone had drawn an eye in the bottom of the chamber pot. That pot served us well on this and many future trips. The contest itself was virtually a wash-out. The platform was erected in the middle of a field. The stage was about three feet off the ground at one end and about six feet at the other. The music stands wouldn’t stay up in the wind, which was blowing a gale, and the rain was periodically pouring down. So much for Midsummer! Most of the players were ‘under the weather’, no doubt through the extended delay at the Angel Hotel earlier. This was one competition we did not win.
In the evening we went to a pub called the ‘Rifleman’s Arms’. Alan Stead was first to the bar. He ordered two pints of bitter. There was a laughter from the regulars. The landlord replied, “Are you sure? We have got beer, but no-one drinks it. I sell a lot of rough cider.” We tried the beer, and soon discovered that the cider was much nicer. After a few pints we were ready to go home. I think we had a good time, but I don’t think that many remembered much.
On our second attempt at the London Finals, we decided to travel to London in style, by train. George Roberts, the landlord of the Ffaldau Hotel fixed up with enough crates of beer to see us through the journey. Beer can be a bit expensive on the train. By the time the train got to Newport, there wasn’t drop left.
This time, the competition was held at Fulham Town Hall. The fixed test piece was ‘Symphony Concertanti’ by Gerald Boedjin. We never had a look in. Marcus had said beforehand that the achievement was getting there, but the objective was to win.
In the evening out on the town, we found a nice bar called the ‘Green man’. It was also a carvery. It consisted of a large piece of beef, roast pork plus ham, which was set up on the other side of the counter. When we first entered the bar; one of the two ladies behind the counter looked us up and down, and said. “Sorry we don’t serve gangs”. They agreed to serve us one pint each as long as we did not start singing. We were all very well behaved, especially as the bar was rather up-market. When they realised how much we were spending, the two ladies soon relented and started to give us free goodies from the carvery. The gents toilet was down near the cellar, and was down about twenty or so stone steps. The toilet was next to the boiler room, and the boiler itself was coke fired. After a visit to the toilet, Bert Day called me to one side and said “Billy, go down to the toilet and sort your brother out, quick!” I dashed down the steps to find that Herby had shovelled all the coke from the boiler room into the gents toilet? Needless to say we made a quick exit.
Soon after the London finals, the opinion of several of the bandsmen was that it was apparent that the band was in decline. It was decided that something had to be done to stop the decline in the level of performance. Some of us thought that the problem to be with Mr Roy Williams, the current conductor. It was decided to challenge Roy on his musical ability and knowledge. Alan Stead, David Richards and myself were appointed to make the challenge and an extraordinary general meeting was convened.
On the day of the meeting, a Sunday, around 90% of the members showed up. Two very important members did not, namely Alan Stead who said he was working and David Richards who said he had fallen asleep on the sofa. I mounted a challenge to the best of my ability to no avail. In the end it was I that had to resign. This taught me an important lesson.
A month or two after, the Ogmore band struck up again and Roy Williams left to conduct them, taking with him two or three of the former Ogmore players that had followed him to the Garw band. I must say the Roy held no grudges over this episode. He asked me to help the Ogmore band as assistant principal cornet. Our personal differences were resolved. In the mean time, John Absolam had been invited to come back and conduct the Garw band. It wasn’t the same, enthusiasm had faded and the Porthcawl boys had finished. The Ogmore boys had gone, Sid Hince returned to his pigeon racing as well as Tony Ward. Colin, Sid’s son had lost interest. Numbers were diminishing; Herby and Trevor Gibson had joined the 6th Battalion of the Territorial Army (T.A.) band in Maesteg. There was little enthusiasm or atmosphere in the band room. Marcus had moved to Windsor to work. Quite a lot of workers from his factory had gone as well. There was little hope of competing or revival.
John Absolam had taken on some learners. One evening I turned up for practice, and Alan Stead met me, and David Richards along with John Absolam. Jon informed me that he had been invited to conduct the Maesteg T.A. band in a Class C. competition. And David and Alan were going too. John invited me to join them. I remembered passing a very forlorn looking Albert Hawkins earlier. I told John “No thank you, I will not see the Garw band die.”
Following a discussion with Albert Hawkins, we met on the next learners night, along with Patsy Corcoran. Just one solitary learner turned up Gwyn Day aged nine. Gwyn coaxed a few of his chums to turn up. Albert rustled a few others and I persuaded a couple more youngsters to come along. I started in earnest with around eight or nine players out of a possible thirty or so. I started writing simple arrangements of little tunes for the first and second cornets, one horn, one baritone or trombone and an Eb bass to give them the sound of a brass band. At first, I would play the tune as none of the young players could manage the first cornet part yet. We did not have anyone to play the Eb bass, so I would take on this role for rehearsals. We did this for a few months, together with another set of new players. I managed to coax Tony Ward, who had never played solo cornet before to come along once a week and play solo cornet. Tony saw this as an opportunity to develop his playing, and a challenge, him being thrown in the deep end a bit.
Tony has proved to be an asset to the band many times over since. Malcolm Williams used to poke his head around the door from time to time. N He was on the Eb bass. Four more learners started to fit in. I searched the extensive library for easier published music. Herby started dropping in with Arthur. One of the biggest surprises I received was when an old school mate of mine Terry Ward, turned up for a blow. Terry had learned to play from his father-in-law, Tommy Rees, bandmaster of the Blaengarw Salvation Army.
By now, we had something like two top cornets, three tenor horns, two baritones, one trombone and one Eb bass plus eight or nine learners, which was very promising. Around this time, E.J. (nobby) Clarke came out of the Marines to conduct the Pencoed Band. Nobby asked me to join him as his deputy. I declined his offer as I was far too busy with the Garw band. However, I made the occasional visit and we came to an agreement. I would play for Pencoed when required, and he would play for the Garw when required.. he also told me of two ex-Pencoed members who may be interested in joining the Garw band. One was Ron Westcot, soprano cornet and the other was Kieth Williams, trombone. They were both good players. I tracked them down and they joined us some weeks later. Following a chat at the WEXA club, Sid Hince and Len Worgan started to show up at to out of three practices a week. With the inclusion of these two bass players, it still left us without three vital instrumentalists, namely a bass trombone, the flugelhorn and the euphonium. Without these it was impossible to compete, but we did manage to play at concerts or similar functions and at Christmas carol concerts etc. Sometimes we managed to import a euphonium player from another band. I believe that the euphonium is as vital as the solo cornet.
One evening, Terry Ward suggested I ask his brother-in–law, Croyden Rees. Croyden was playing in the Salvation Army band only on the occasions that his father needed him. Croyden then joined the Garw band. We moved the band-room to the Blaengarw Hotel. The patrons, Tom and Myffanwy Thomas had invited us. It was a logical move as most of the young players were travelling from Blaengarw to Pontycymmer for practises, and a few adult players were travelling on to their social clubs after practice, especially on Sunday evenings. The band was beginning to take shape. The buzz around the band-room was about competing. I knew that the older and more experienced players were ready, and I also knew that the lifeblood of ‘banding’ was competition, but the experienced members knew that the band as it stood was not near ready, especially with the amount of inexperienced players we had.
However, there was an ‘own choice’ being held by the Milk Marketing Board in conjunction with the ‘Dairy Maid’ competition forthcoming in Aberavan. A meeting was held to discuss our possible entry into this competition. Patsy Corcoran advised us of the minute in the band rulebook that the band entry into competitions was subject to the discretion of the conductor. Under a certain amount of pressure I reluctantly agreed to our entry. Albert Hawkins sent off for the registration forms. Under the rules of the South Wales and Monmouthshire Association, all players have to be registered in Class C. The piece we had been rehearsing was Eric Ball’s ‘Holiday Suite’. We were still woefully short of players.
Bert day came along, no doubt to support his son, Gwyn. Brian Young showed up for the first time since he finished with the Salvation Army band, and David Rees, another son of Tommy Rees, and Croyden’s brother played soprano cornet. We took a chance at the open air contest, knowing we were not good enough but at least we were competing which in itself was an achievement considering where we were not so long past.
The contest itself was a big event. It took place in the middle of the summer holiday period. There was no Class D. available, but the sponsors offered small prizes for any fourth section bands taking part. Shortly before the announcement of the results, Fred Tyrell and Bob Ivey (Association Secretary and Treasurer respectively) called me to one side. They informed me that due to the amount of new names and the obvious young age of our players they had decide to place our band in Class D. This was good news, because the adjudicator awarded us second highest place for having a try in the third section.
Despite this success, the band did not seem to grow. A number of the younger players were turning away from ‘banding’ to try other instruments. Once they could read music, they found that they could use this knowledge to play guitars and such like. One should remember that we were now entering the age of Rock and Roll, brass band were not the right image for a teenager. Nevertheless, people often approach me and say “Hello, Mr Parker. Do you remember me? I was in the band with you twenty years ago”. It would be difficult to remember them all. I checked one year and found that I had dealt with around eighty in that year alone. That’s a lot of wasted players if the brass band don’t bite.
The Bala Colliery closed and I was transferred to the Ocean Colliery. In my job as Patrolman, I frequently came into contact with Mr Ernie Jenkins, son of retired Blaengarw bandmaster, William Jenkins. One day, the fireman gave Ernie the message to go home immediately. It was a private message, but the fireman was able to tell me that one of Ernie’s relatives had died. I was concerned that it was his father. William Jenkins served the Blaengarw band as conductor for twenty five years. No-one ever thought of giving him a retirement gift. I had a terrible feeling of guilt, and perhaps now it was too late. On this day in March 1962. I met Malcolm Williams, who was now Treasurer. He assured me that it was not William Jenkins who had died, but Ernie’s brother, Doug.
At our next rehearsal, we held a meeting and all members were asked to contribute to a belated retirement gift for William Jenkins. Malcolm and I were designated this task and we were able to buy him a gold Hunter pocket watch, suitably engraved. We knew that this gift delighted him. A presentation evening was held at the Blaengarw Hotel band-room. Representatives of the South Wales and Monmouthshire Brass Band’s Association, including the new President, Mr Fred Weston and Mr Bob Ivey, Treasurer attended. The band although somewhat huddled in a corner played Handel’s ‘ Largo’ conducted by Mr William Jenkins. He later presented me with the ebony baton that he used to conduct the Blaengarw band in the London final of 1935 held at the Crystal Palace. Mr Fred Thomas retired Chairman made a speech in the form of an appeal to the old bandsmen to return to the band. This had an effect. Soon after, John Rees, son of Tom Rees of the Salvation Army approached me at the WEXA club wanting to join the band. Another capable player and another friendship was formed.
The next contest we entered was the Daily Herald Area contest. (It is no longer called the Daily Herald) but it is referred to as such. The Brangwyn Hall, Swansea was still the venue. All the necessary arrangements were made. The test piece was ‘ A Rural Suite’ by Eric Ball and Charles Woodhouse was the arranger. The composer Eric Ball was the judge. We had poor rehearsals leading up to this contest, and consequently we made many errors in our performance. We came last, but had the valuable experience of competing at this big and important event. Eric Ball’s comments in the written adjudication were very intensive, and extremely helpful both to the band and me. He seemed to know that the make up of the band contained a number of young players, where they were playing and where the more experienced players were placed? Even though he could not actually see us during the judging.
The measure of the help this critique was is the fact that we never came last again. We had many fourths and thirds, and on one occasion we missed the C.I.S.W.O. finals at Blackpool by one point at the qualifier in the Parc and Dare Hall, Treorchy. Usually, we would finish around mid place in the league tables. Despite many players working shifts at the colliery, and the fact that we had three bus drivers who also worked shifts and overtime on their day-shift week, the contest itself was a worthwhile learning experience. Brass band competitions ar3e somewhat different to other competitive art forms. If a painting is entered into a competition, it is only the finished article that is seen by the judges. If the artist is not satisfied, the painting does not get entered. With any kind of musical contest, the end product of the hard work is the performance. Outside influences can enter performances. Some players, normally perfect in rehearsal can get an attack of the nerves or their can be the odd ‘sticky valve’, or unforeseen illness. There is also the ‘sick note’ system to contend with. If a band can produce a doctor’s note stating a player is unfit through illness, a band may borrow players from another band. I recall one bass trombone player at a contest in Pontypridd that must have played for eight out of a dozen brass bands, including the Garw under the Doctor’s note system.
The Miner’s Gala, in Cardiff was always a good place to be, especially if the band was entered on the march. It was more or less obligatory. There was a free entry to the stage contest later on, and meant that we were named in the programme. It was impossible to play in this magnificent contest if the band was undermanned. My day would be sometimes be spoiled by ticking off that I received from some of the lodge officers who had entered the Sophia Gardens Pavillion to hear the Garw band play. These verbal attacks saddened some of the band members.
On the lighter side, some of us would go out on the town, only to find that on one particular occasion we were refused permission to the selected club. We could gain admission on the payment of £1 per person. We were not pleased, especially as we were all CIU club members. There was an alternative. We could all go downstairs free of charge if we ordered a meal, also at the cost of a £1. This would entitle us to go upstairs. We took this option. Sam Tame sat next to me by the wall at one table and the other four band members sat at the next table. The waiter approached and I ordered chicken on the bone and a bowl of curry. Sam chose the same. The others ordered the same all round. After a while the waiter brought out six bowls of hot curry. He returned with six plates of chips, and again with six portions of chicken. He places a portion of chicken on the plates containing the chips. Sam then said to me “Billy, Billy, duw that soup was hot!” Sam had already eaten his curry.
On another night out after the Miner’s Gala, Keith Williams took us all in relays down to the bay in his Ford classic car. On one return trip eight of us piled in. Keith told us to make sure the door was properly closed. This was duly done with an almighty slam. Peter Pryor complained that his thumb was stuck in the door. We all thought he was joking. When I called on him the following morning his thumb was black and blue.
I will never forget the time at the Gala, when the Parade Marshall asked our band to lead the parade. Usually, there were around twenty-three bands there. We were the first band in the line that was in uniform. We readily agreed. Some in the band then reminded me that one of our drummers was George Parker (no relation). The bass drum is the main director for a marching band. His duty is to start the band at the stroke of eleven. The recognised sign for this is a double-tap (get ready) then 1-2-3- miss and on the very next beat the band should start playing and marching on the left foot. Sometimes, George would get this mixed up by doing an extra 1-2-3- putting every player and marcher on the wrong foot. In fear that this would happen again, it was suggested that I should start the band. The following conversation between George and myself ensued. “George, give me the drumstick please. No, its strapped to my wrist, and I am not taking it off now,” “All right then, let me guide it on to the drum, with your arm taking up a limp position.” With that, George gripped the drumstick even more firmly and lifted it up into a threatening gesture. I let George start the band off on that occasion.
Another drummer we used on the march at the Cardiff Miner’s Gala was Jim Struthers. Jim was also playing rugby in the Bridgend ‘Seven’s’ tournament for Blaengarw R.F.C. Jim always regarded the march as a good warm up for the rugby. Jim was a pretty good drummer and his tempo was steady. More importantly his Rhythm was regular. It never varied, but one thing peeved me a little. I was playing top cornet, and therefore calling the tune and instructing Jim through pre-arranged gestures. Jim did not follow the gestures, but insisted in keeping close to me in case he missed anything. His head was almost on my shoulder, and he was hitting the drum hard enough for anyone to hear. There is not much else you can hear that near to a bass drum. Despite this, we won second in the marching competition, which was excellent, as the marching competition was an open competition where all classes of band could compete together. The first prizewinners were a class A. band, Markham and District Colliery band. Our success delighted our own colliery officials for once.
Another feature on Gala day, was after the march. My six sisters along with several in-laws and friends would form a circle on the field. All the instruments would be placed in the circle, and guarded while the band platers visited various stands, maybe listen to the other bands in the competition and listen to a speech or two from the mining delegates. The beer tent was most certainly visited. Those wishing to return at six o’ clock would collect their instruments and catch one or the other ‘lodge’ bus’s. The revellers would come home later on the band bus. Gratitude must be expressed at this point to Mr Len Lacey, who always drove the band bus on Gala day. No matter what time we showed up, Len would always be there to drive us home.
After one of the Ebbw Vale competitions, the bands-men decided to visit a club further down the valley in Cross keys. This club was a bit special. Downstairs there was a large bar, on the middle storey, a large ballroom and on the upper floor, a Cinema. About twenty of us assembled in the ballroom and we sat on the one side. On the opposite side, about thirty to forty ladies were sat. Herby wanted to dance. At this time of the evening there was nobody dancing. Herby walked across the dance floor and asked one of the ladies to dance. She declined, as did twenty or so others. Herby persisted until someone agreed to dance with him. We all gave a big cheer. As soon as they started to dance, Herby hopped around on one foot. The lady took it very well, and the ice was broken. From there on we had a good evening.
By now, I had finished in the colliery and had started a new job at Zimmer’s in Bridgend. The band was in another period of change. Most of the youngsters I had previously taught were now becoming seasoned players. To keep up the supply of recruits, I continued to take on more learners, including some young girls. Amongst them were Jacqueline and Lesley Hillier, Janet Clarke and one called Janet Davies. She is the daughter of Viv and Vera Davies, and the grand-daughter of Harry Davies who is mentioned earlier. Viv and Vera are both descendants of banding families. Vera is the daughter of Mr Roderick, whose grandson started with me when he was eight and I believe now plays the solo cornet with the South Wales Police Band. Janet on the other hand went on to become a Doctor.
I taught Janet and Stephen on more or less a private basis as they had started to play from a much earlier age than most other children. Janet Clarke was also from good banding stock. Harry and Don Owen were related to her as well as her father, Glen along with Malcolm Clarke have been associated with banding in one form or another.
The two Hillier girls’ brother, Billy, who I also taught together with Keith Davies and John Leach as adults. Doug Archer had started to play with Tommy Rees at the Salvation Army, but didn’t stick it out, but made a comeback around this time.
Doug Archer, Keith Davies and Billy Hillier all fancied playing the trombone. It only took them six months to form the new trombone section. John leach played the baritone.. Terry Williams, Malcolm’s brother had joined the band, and like Doug Archer had not done a lot at the Salvation Army. He fitted in on the Eb bass in no time at all. It was quite amusing to see Terry, one of the smallest in the band playing on e of the biggest instruments and John Rees, one of the biggest people in the band playing the smallest instrument, the soprano cornet. Banding is very much a family affair everywhere. Bernard Prouts’ three sons were regular players until the family moved back to Coventry. They all learned with me and I believe they still play in Coventry.
Croyden Rees and I occasionally went to contests as spectators when the Garw band was not competing. Sometimes, Mr Frank Wareham the conductor of the Pencoed called to ask if we could help out. On one occasion at Caerphilly, he asked us to play the Eb basses as the bass players had not turned up. This was a challenge, with no knowledge of the piece and no rehearsal, having to play by sight reading. On a different occasions, I have played flugel horn, tenor horn, rep cornet and baritone for Pencoed. I even played ‘bumper up’ cornet for Treherbert at the Gala. Evan Richards, conductor of the Treherbert band had come into the Rose & Crown in Cardiff, which was a regular watering hole for the Garw band in those days, and asked if there were any cornet players around familiar with ‘Othello’. Nearly all the Garw members looked at me so I volunteered.
By now, the band was beginning to sound a lot better, even though we were not at full membership. Our bass end consisted of Malcolm Williams, and Sam Tame on Eb bass, Terry Williams alone on Bb bass. Our cornet section was enhanced with young Steve Roderick on Soprano cornet, Marcus, Tony Ward and Danny Williams on the top end, John Rees on flugel horn, Janet Davies on rep, the two Hillier girls on 3rd and Jack Hibbert and David McClaren on 2nd cornets. Trevor Bibey, Arthur and Martin Pinches played horns and baritones, on baritones were David Richards and John Leach, and euphoniums were Croyden Rees and Herby. The three trombones were named earlier. We competed in several contests in the mid to late sixties, usually coming third or fourth in Class D. it is well worth noting that this class has the largest number of bands in it, which adds to the value of a third prize. Very often I have heard bystanders comment that there were better bands in Class D. than some of those in Class C. There’s a thought.
Then came the annual competition at Cwmamman (Aberdare ). I decided to work on two test pieces ‘Voice of Youth’ by Edward Gregson and Eric Ball’s ‘Negro Spirituals’. We entered both Class D. and Class C. After we had played in Class D. I knew the band could do better even though we won third prize. I insisted we go back to the club we had booked for rehearsal. I knew that this would stop the players from ‘straying’ and we had another intensive rehearsal session. We took to the stage still warm, and the performance was excellent. I did very little conducting this time, just a few gestures. We came first in Class C. and came away with the cup, two certificates and a plaque awarded to me ‘for the best interpretation of the day’. The written adjudication of our win must be the best I have ever seen for a Class C. judge, Mr Tom Atkinson wrote the following.
CLASS C. “Rhapsody on Negro Spirituals” Band 8.
Nice thoughtful opening
Neatly expressed and various entries nicely given. Good sense of climax at
Nice Flugel at N8.
Later detail extremely fine, very expressive accompaniments under good
11 and 12 going well and pleasing me.
Neat effects at 12 you are not overdoing the effects. BRAVO.
Chords at 16 very fine. Again details very fine.
I have enjoyed this very much.
CWMAMMAN 12/9/1970. FIRST PRIZE. Marks 184/200.
Following the success at Cwmamman, the band met at the Charter Club the next evening for a celebration, which was enjoyed by all our members. A week later, we held a concert at the W.E.X.A. club and displayed our trophies.
Other great days in the history of the Garw Valley Band were the annual carnivals. There had been a massive revival of these event of late, and all the clubs and other organisations participated. For example, the W.E.X.A. club displayed a Moby Dick float, A massive whale constructed at Carter’s out of scrap material. David Morgan made a large Trojan Horse. This horse was kept for a number of years at the Nursery in Victoria St, Pontycymmer for the children to play on. There was also a large Viking Ship and a giant from Gulliver’s Travels both made by David Morgan’s. These items were nothing short of fantastic. The band played its part, by always leading the parade.
We had lost the services of our drummer, Jim Struthers, as he was heavily involved
in the creation of the displays. His replacement was Richard Hughes (Chunky) who, happened to be the son of Tommy Rees. ‘Chunky’ had no previous percussion experience. I outlined the details to him. He was very good, just as Jim Struthers had been. We worked out a code. I would give him two fingers, (the polite way round), and this would indicate a ‘double-tap’. Then he would strike 1-2-3, miss one 1-2-3. To be fair to him, he never messed up once. I give Chunky the same two-fingered gesture, and he would give another ‘double-tap’ and the bans would stop playing at the next double bar on the music. This had to be anticipated very carefully as we always stopped under the bridge on the square in Blaengarw. A band cannot march up a hill and play at the same time. Once the band had correctly stopped at the correct salute, I was naturally delighted with Chunky and turned to give him a ‘well done’ thumbs up salute. He mistook this for the two-fingered signal. There was quite a dilemma when the exhausted band got up the hill to the Blaengarw Hotel, but everyone was fine when Trevor Stoneham gave every member of the band a free drink.
At the time of the carnival it was possible to have a few pints at seven o’ clock in the morning, especially for anyone involved on the WEXA club float. On this particular carnival day, Jim Struthers and some others had taken advantage of this special offer.
At this time, Jim used to have a lift to and from work with me. On carnival day, I would not go out until the evening until the last hour or two, as I would be working in the morning. In was leaving the WEXA at about seven p.m. when I saw Jim’s wife, Jennifer standing outside Meadows’ shop arms folded and looking down. I saw that Jim was spread-eagled on the pavement. One foot on the shop doorstep, and the other in the kerb, his arms were in similar position. I suggested to Jennifer that I go and fetch my car and take him home. “No way! He should have not got in that state in the first place”. I asked Jim “What about work in the morning?” He replied something which I could not understand, he kept repeating this same garbled sentence. Jennifer insisted that I leave him there, there was plenty of help around. So I went home. Next morning , no Jim at the meeting place, I drove around to his house. I knocked the door, no reply. I knocked more firmly a second time and peeked through the letter-box. I saw a figure rising from the passage floor like a U-boat surfacing at sea. I heard the flushing sound of water, and saw the same figure stagger into the deeper limits of the house. Next Vernon Harding was piling Jim into the back of the car. Jim immediately went back to sleep and on arrival at the works car park (now Carter’s) some thirty minutes later I once again woke Jim. In asked him “What were you trying to tell me last night?” He replied, “I was telling you not to call me for work in the morning.”
Following our great victory at Cwmamman I realised that the band was ‘on pomp’. We decided to do the same again in the next West Wales championship. This was held in Cwmtyrch, and was only a few weeks away. This contest was somewhat bigger that the previous one. Our plan did not come off this time, and the band did not seem to have the same atmosphere. Later in the same year, November to be precise, the South Wales and Monmouthshire Association championships were being held in Pontypridd. This is one of the biggest and most prestigious contests in Wales, and second only to the Brangwyn Hall Area Final in Swansea. This time, the Pontypridd fixed piece was William Rimmer’s suite, ‘Three Days’. I thought this piece was beyond the capabilities of the band. The situation was made worse by the very poor attendance at rehearsals. Many of the players were shift workers, and were working overtime and some were just not bothered enough to turn up. This led to the situation, that we had been unable to sufficiently rehearse the test piece. We had been busy with the other two pieces used in the previous competitions, and the concert at the WEXA club.
After having a meeting with Patsy Corcoran, the band Chairman reminded me of the rule that stated that: the final decision of whether to enter a contest or not was the conductor’s I decided we should not enter the Pontypridd contest. It would have been a waste of time and money. Many of the players were unhappy, but the real truth was that a lot of the players could not manage most of the difficult passage that they were required to play in this particular test piece. I faced the wrath of some of the most experienced players. I don’t know if there was a conspiracy or not at the time, but one evening over a beer in the Charter club, I mentioned my intentions for the coming year. I was considering what music to purchase and concert music to look at, as well as some possible instrument changes for some players. Doug archer then said to me “I would wait until the AGM to see if you are going to be re-elected bandmaster if I were you”. I was certainly not going to do that. I handed in my resignation to Croyden Rees, Secretary the following day, I did not attend the AGM the following Sunday as I did not want to know who the instigators of the plot were.. This course of action meant that I was able to remain friends with everyone in the band. Some thought that my resignation was not in earnest, but it was. By this time, I had had enough. I was going to settle down without having to worry about the band, the music and who the next conductor was going to be. After all I had left the band with a first prize, gained in a section above what they were playing in at that time. What took place after that, I don’t know.
I went to Pontypridd on my own as a spectator and listener. I never felt rejected or dejected, but quite a few people wanted to know what was going on. At the contest, I met my old friend, Eric James (Slim). He was conducting the Glyneath Band in Class A. As always he was very nervous. It is well-known that people with little or no nerves have little or no artistry in them. He was shocked rigid when he heard of my situation. He immediately asked me to join Glyneath band as a player. I thought that this was a long way to travel for rehearsals three times a week, especially with Winter just around the corner. He then suggested Rhondda as it was not far especially for me and all the best bands come from the Rhondda. He also told me that I should not even dare to consider joining any band lower than Class A; unless I went as a conductor. His words certainly gave me food for thought.
I had always liked the Parc and Dare Band, and admired their conductor, Ieuan Morgan. I had watched him develop the Treorchy Comprehensive School Band from ‘Youth’ through all the classes to Class A. They were the only youth band to compete in the Royal Albert Hall, Championship of Great Britain playing Verdi’s ‘Force of Destiny’ arranged by Frank Wright. Most of the young players from Treorchy now formed part of the Parc and Dare band. Ieuan Morgan is now the resident conductor. I had always liked the idea of playing in a Class A. band, especially as W.B.Hargreaves ( now a Professor) was the band’s professional conductor.
I was still good friends with John Rees, and he loaned me a trumpet so I could ‘get my lip in’. This took about six weeks before I was satisfied. I was very apprehensive about walking into the Parc and Dare band-room and declaring that I was a first-class cornet player and would like to join the band, especially when their standards were so high. It was not going to be easy. Anyway, off I set in the car but by the time I had got to Ogmore crossing I had ‘chickened out’. Instead , I decided to go for a blow with the Ogmore band. I was made very welcome, given a cornet and sat down. By the time Roy Williams had started the rehearsal, I felt sickened. In walked several Garw players. I felt hurt that these people could desert the Garw band so soon. I left the Garw band as a functioning band. After two or three weeks I went to Treorchy full of confidence. On arrival I found that there was no band practice that night, someone advised me to go over to the Pengelly Hotel that was frequented by some of the Parc and Dare players. The Pencelly landlord was none other than Emlyn Bryant, who was a renowned soprano cornet player who had played with famous bands such as Munn and Felton, U.S. Footwear, the world famous Foden’s as well as Harry Mortimer’s Men of Brass. Indeed, Harry Mortimer himself described Emlyn as “so precise with his octave playing it is like an organ stop”.
What a compliment! Harry was known to make occasional visits to the Pencelly Hotel to visit Emlyn. I also met a committee member of the Parc and Dare band, a gentleman called Ben. Ben informed me of the practice nights and invited me to come over for a blow and that gave me a lot of encouragement. I immediately felt welcome.
Ben was able to tell me more about myself than I thought I knew in the banding world. He was able to tell me that Marcus had left the Garw band and was now playing in the Mid-Rhondda band on the top end. That was something I could admire. He was going up the ladder. Ben had never been a player, but he was a tireless worker for the Parc and Dare band. On my first night in the band-room, Malcolm Picken, principal cornet, met me. He asked me a few questions, and then introduced me to Dad Jack, who was the Chairman and Librarian. Phil Morgan the Trombone virtuoso and secretary arrived followed by Ieuan Morgan. After just a couple of minutes, he told me how awful he thought the treatment I received from the Garw was, and how they would not have got away with it if it had been him. I immediately changed the subject and asked to play third cornet. They agreed and I sat next to a gentleman called Alan Rowe. By the time that the rest of the band arrived at 7:30 we had started to play the ‘New World’ by Dvorzak and then ‘In the mood’ and ‘Poet and Peasant overture’ by Suppe plus many more. I seemed to be accepted which amazed me as the band was about thirty strong and there were six or seven youngsters with hope in their eyes waiting for the opportunity to ‘sit in’. By youngsters, I mean teenagers around sixteen and seventeen plus. Derek Holvey, deputy conductor pointed out to me that they were youngsters whereas I was an experienced musician which heartened me.
After three or four practices, I realised that no-one could afford to miss any rehearsals as there was always someone who could step in. Something else I realised was the chordal work. The ensemble of the band came alive, and in the aural studies I had done so many years earlier came to fruition. I found that I could easily distinguish the chords by sound alone without seeing them written in small print on the copy, as I did in the old days in Blaengarw. I wondered what I had been doing these past years. There were hardly any reading problems in the band. The production and articulation was different, the cohesion from one instrument to another linked beautifully, and the top end blended as one. I had never heard such clean playing on the bass end. I could hardly believe it. With all the other interesting features, It was quite a thrill for me. When a competition loomed, only the twenty-five registered players would be allowed on the stage.
The big one in Swansea, the area qualifier was just around the corner. I was told that was not a registered player yet as they had only registered me seven weeks previously. The Association rules clearly state that players must be registered eight weeks before they qualify. This is to stop players ‘flitting’ from one band to another. I was left out of this particular contest. It is the only one I missed. My debut appearance with the Parc and Dare band came at the Annual concert shared with the Treorchy Male Voice Choir, held at the Parc and Dare Hall, Treorchy. Obtaining tickets for this prestigious event was as difficult as getting tickets for a major rugby international. I was one of the new boys, and I was given the name of Bill Garw, a name I am still known by in Treorchy banding circles.
The discipline and attitude of these players was such, that on one practice, David Thomas, ex principal cornet player in the Welsh Guards walked in and immediately without question Malcolm Picken relinquished his position as No 1. cornet and stood down for David. I was quite flattered when David Thomas formed what he called the Parc and Dare ensemble of twelve players, three of which were cornets. These consisted of David, Malcolm Picken and myself out of the back rank. I felt honoured to be selected. Of course, I was sitting in the back row cornets in the big band. This reminded me of my early years in the Blaengarw band under Mr William Jenkins. This time I had no intention of aiming for the front row cornets. The way those boys played was nothing short of superb.
The year before I joined The Parc and Dare band, they had won the National Eisteddfod at Ammanford. They were going again, this time to Bangor. W.B.Hargreaves (the Wee Professor) was engaged to conduct the band in Eric Ball’s ‘Resurgem’. At the first rehearsal, I was chuffed once again. The Wee Professor kept looking over his glasses at me. He said “Hello my old son, I have had dealings with somewhere before”. I replied “yes” and I reminded him of the early days in Blaengarw on ‘Labour of Love’. He remembered, and I had no choice but to believe him. He did the same thing when he promoted me from third cornet to second. While at Bangor, we were to play in a massed bands concert in the main pavilion. The other band was the Lewis Merthyr Colliery band from Porth, which was a top-class band from the Rhondda. The guest conductor was Mansel Thomas. One of the pieces he had selected Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. At the first rehearsal at the Y.M.C.A. in Porth it was found that each band had a different arrangement. This problem was soon ironed out. Sadly Mansel Thomas was taken ill at this rehearsal and professor Hargreaves was appointed as conductor of the massed band.
At the billet in Bangor, I was sharing a room with Phil Morgan, David Thomas, Derek Holvey and a young man who I did not know called Ian Grant. As it was holiday time, there were a few strangers in the band of long registration. They were strangers to me only. We had private rehearsals on ‘Resurgam’ from 10:am to 12:30pm and massed band rehearsals from 1:30pm to 3:30pm. There were a couple of hours to ourselves before the big concert which started at 7:pm. Between 4:pm and 5:pm David asked me if he could do his usual one hour practice routine in my room. I enjoyed every minute of it. The concert was a howling success. The only thing that disappointed me was that we could not have a pint of beer anywhere as there was no bar. I harped on about this so much that Dennis Jenkins (Shink), soprano cornet and band ‘character’ said, “Oh for Pete’s sake Bill, take the key for my room. There’s four bottles in my locker, take them.” His room was on the first floor. I was overjoyed. I wanted to pay him for them. Shink would not hear of it. I went to his room thinking what a nice man he was. I found the bottles, all light ale. What Shink had not told me was that they were all empties.
I noticed that the television camera’s were focussed on us when we were playing the test piece ‘Resurgam’. The performance was on the Welsh News about six times the following week. This was all new to me, but apparently ‘old hat’ to the Parc and Dare boys. When the results of the contest were announced (in Welsh) we had beaten Lewis Merthyr Colliery band by ten points. In the following January we took part in a Songs of Praise from Treorchy. This was something of a musical oddity. The programme also featured a children’s choir. The children sang the first three verses with the band, the second verse unaccompanied and the band joined in from the third verse. During thev dress rehearsal, it was discovered that the children unknowingly had raised the key by half a note. The band being on fixed tonality was therefore flat, or so it would appear. A quartet was formed within the band to play the second verse to keep the key stabilised. During the same dress rehearsal, the ladies from the church were advised not to wear bright colours, as the programme was being televised in colour. I don’t think I have ever seen so many bright colours as on the evening of that recording. We went through the final run before the actual filming as if it was actually being filmed. The presenter/ director had asked for a short break between the final run and the final ‘take’. It turned out that the final run through was the final take! The band were quite used to TV broadcasts, but this was a novel experience for me.
A week or so later, the band was asked to appear with the newly formed Cowbridge Male Voice Choir at their first ever public performance at the Cowbridge Town Hall. We obliged, and it was quite a big event. We were treated very well, the compere gave us a wonderful reception. He also informed us that there was a buffet prepared for us in the cellars of the hall, and if we wanted a pint or two, we were welcome at the club across the road.(the name I don’t recall) Tom Everson (Eb bass) thought it was a good idea if we had our buffet at the interval to have more time at the club after the performance. About six of us agreed, and as soon as the interval arrived we went straight down to the cellar. We poked our head around a partially open door. There was a large table full of goodies, which was all high quality stuff. It was not the usual sausage rolls, pasties or sandwiches but large chicken portions, slices of ham coiled around buns and crispy vol-au-vents filled with prawns and there was gateau as well as some things that I did not even recognise. The only word to describe that buffet was fantastic. We each had what we considered to be our fair share. Later on, as soon as we had finished the Welsh National anthem to mark the end of the concert, Tom Everson, the other four and myself made a beeline for the club. Forty minutes later the rest of the band arrived at the club clutching the tail ends of pasties and sausage rolls etc. One of them told us that there had been a bit of trouble back at the Town Hall, someone had rifled the Mayor’s banquet. We must have gone into the wrong room. Our buffet was in the room next door. In spite of this they still invited us back the following year.
Sometime later, we had another broadcasting engagement. A German recording company wanted to record two programmes for the Overseas Network. This took the form of massed bands and the Penryhs Male Voice Choir. The other band that was the illustrious Cory Band, our neighbours from Pentre. This delighted me, because I would be under the baton of Major Arthur Kennedy, a highly respected musician in National Brass band circles. However the German company appointed the famous Geofrey Brand. This was another unforgettable experience for me. By this time, David Thomas had left the Parc and Dare through work commitments and had moved to Bristol where he was playing principal cornet for the Stanshawe Band, which later became the Sun Life Band. They were a very famous band indeed, and they were one of the top bands in the country, and maybe even Europe at the time. David’s replacement was Gareth Pritchard who incidentally was one of David’s students. At the time of writing, David was making a name for himself as a Teacher/Conductor in Norway.
At Christmas of that year, Ieuan Morgan called me to one side and told me I was wasted on the back row cornets. He asked me if I was interested in taking on first baritone or euphonium. He had identified a weakness in that section and saw the solution as Dai Spot ( I don’t know his real name) and myself. I decided to give it a whirl and took on second euphonium next to Patrick Davies, who was a youngster and a very good player. Dai went to first baritone, but he couldn’t manage it so we swapped. Dai eventually finished with the band. Ieuan was happy and I was happy and everything was o.k. until Patrick resigned and went to play for another band. At the next practice, a little boy walked in carrying a euphonium. He must have been about eleven or twelve years of age. In perspective, the euphonium looked like an Eb bass in his hands. He sat down by me and told me his name was Kevin. On one side of me there was another young lad of fourteen named Geraint and on his other side was a lad called Chris who was the same age as Geraint. I felt a proper Charlie surrounded by these youths. I had a word with Ieuan. He told me not to worry as his son, Kevin would play the solo spot. I was very pessimistic until we started the rehearsal. Kevin sounded absolutely gorgeous on the euphonium. I had never heard playing like it from one so young, apart from his older brother, Gregory who played the trombone and sat directly behind us next to Phil Morgan.
An example of young Kevin’s capabilities as a euphonium player is best described as follows. At the age of thirteen he played a massive cadenza in Gilbert Winter’s ‘Variation on a Ninth’ at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea in the area competition. Any knowledgeable bandsman would know its a challenging task to even the finest adult players in Class A. not to mention the euphonium solo in ‘Symphony of Marches’ also by Gilbert Winter.
I was late arriving for one practice and the band was in mid-flow with a trombone solo. I waited outside listening until the end of the solo. I have stated earlier that Philip Morgan was a trombone virtuoso who had previously won the National Eisteddfod. I was enjoying his fine playing, the easy articulation and perfect intonation not to mention the glorious sound. When I entered, I found that it was not Phil playing but Gregory. On the subject of trombones, there was a young man called John Hendy playing the bass trombone. He is now playing for the Welsh National Opera company. When these three played together as a section I don’t think there was a finer trombone section in the country.
The Finals of the C.I.S.W.O. competition held at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool was another brilliant contest in which the Parc and Dare competed on some occasions. Parc and Dare were waiting to go on when it was decided that due to the seating formation of the band that we would go on in order from the middle of the band outwards. The intention was that no-one would knock a stand over, which was always a danger in the cramped conditions on the stages. The euphoniums were first to enter. Unfortunately, Kevin dropped his mouthpiece, which unknown to me had rolled under some chairs. I had to go on first. I walked on full of pride and confidence into the arena and took my seat on stage, I was alone for what seemed a very long time. Evidently, some of the boys had trouble retrieving Kevin’s mouthpiece, which delayed them somewhat. I felt a proper Charlie sitting there alone before they arrived. Anyway, we came fourth in what was a very strong competition, which was against some very good bands, some which included Grimethorpe Colliery, Cory Desford, Carlton Main, and some Scottish bands.
On our second visit to the CI.S.W.O we stayed at the Imperial Hotel which is one of the hotels used by the political parties for their annual conferences. I shared a room with a young man called Marsden Hammond, an Eb bass player. I was really tired, and had had a few beers that evening and went to bed at around 11:pm. Unknown to me there had been a bomb warning. When the police came in to search the hotel, according to Marsden the police had me out of bed in a standing position while I was still asleep, and still failed to wake me. The police allegedly said, “Leave him there. If a bomb does go off he won’t know much about it”, I still don’t know if that story is true or not.
In the spring of the following year, I was at home when my sister, Clare, told me that there were two strangers coming up the garden path. When I took a look, I recognised them as Brian Cannon and Harold Pope, principal cornet and secretary of the Ogmore band. They asked me if I was doing anything this Saturday night and the following day. When I told them I was not, they told me that Roy Williams had done his back in, and therefore not able to conduct the Ogmore band at the Annual Invitation contest in Weston-Super-Mare the following day. They asked if I could help them out. After a little thought I decided to go. The own choice test piece was called ‘Three Inventions’, a three movement suite by Jake Way. I had never heard of him or the piece. I studied it on the bus on the way to Weston. A rehearsal was arranged so we were able to have a crack at it. It was a lovely modern little piece. I turned up there at 8:30am on the Sunday morning and we had another practice. The Ogmore band won first prize in Class C. with a magnificent adjudication from Harry Mortimer. The band boys were delighted. It must be said that it was down to Roy Williams’ hard work that paid off with a little help from me. The following year the Ogmore band took me to the same competition as their guest to show their appreciation for my assistance.
The Parc and Dare were a very busy band and travelled a lot, especially within Wales. In the lead up to a major contest I often travelled over the Bwlch for practice and rehearsals seven times a week. In times like this we would practice twice on Sundays. I was well looked after at Graham Fitzpatrick’s home where I was given Sunday tea during the time between the two Sunday rehearsals. I was impressed by the commitment of band members who returned during their holidays to play in competitions. One such event was the Eisteddfod in Carmarthen in 1973. We won this competition playing the test piece, ‘Rhapsody in Brass’ by Dean Goggin’s. That was the third successive year we had won the National Eisteddfod of Wales. Not only did the band win, but also our soloists won their respective sections. This period with the Parc and Dare was the most enlightening time of my banding career. Even now, I retain my friendships with past and present members of this excellent band. During another Area contest at the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea, Mr David Griffith approached a group of Parc and Dare players about taking on learners to form a junior band at Mid Rhondda as a teacher for the then Mid Glamorgan Education Authority. As I had recently got married, I thought that this would provide a little extra income so I applied. I was accepted, so every Monday evening I would drive over to Tonypandy to teach a group of a dozen or so boys.
Around the same time, Pencoed British Legion Band, now in Class C. asked me to become resident conductor as Nobby Clarke had resigned. I agreed to take the post. Pencoed were pretty strong at the time, and they wanted me to keep them in Class B. in the following eight months they entered in just four contests and between us we managed to end the season in around the mid table. The officials of the joint lodges of the Garw Valley invited me to a meeting at the Charter club, where the now defunct Garw Band had their band-room. I went along to the meeting, where there were several people present including a forlorn looking Patsy Corcoran. Patsy informed me that since I had left some three years previously the band had failed to find a replacement conductor and was in complete demise. I was asked if I would consider returning to try and restart the band. I refused, but offered a compromise. I would endeavour to start a youth band, all children, with none of the old or ex-members in it and with an age limit of eight to eighteen.
In order to cope with this great demand on my time that I had self inflicted, I had to
resign my precious membership with the Parc and Dare band, which was something I could not easily do. Ieuan Morgan persuaded me to stay with until the band completed and engagement at the Royal Albert Hall. On St David’s day. It was every band man’s dream to play there, so I stuck it out, even though this was just a concert. For this special occasion I managed to persuade my wife, Rhonwen to come and her cousin Ann accompanied her, with her husband Ken. The concert was a tremendous success. Nine choirs from throughout Wales participated along with a very classy dance group with several top artistes, including Iris Williams. Miss.Williams sang ‘Amazing Grace’ in Welsh unaccompanied and without a microphone. Rhonwen, Ann, and Ken were up in the balcony and heard every word clearly.
After the show, we took a taxi to a rather posh Chinese restaurant on the Edgware road for a slap-up meal. The amusing thing was as soon as we went in, the diners on two of the tables were beckoning me to go over. I immediately thought that these people had been at the concert and wanted to ask me something or say something about it. I was wrong. As I arrived at their table one of them offered me their bill and fistful of banknotes. They had mistaken me for a waiter, as I was still in my band ‘uniform’ with a white shirt and black ‘dickie’ bow tie.
The next item on the agenda for the Parc and Dare were a couple of radio broadcasts and more television competitions. One in particular was called ‘Sounding Brass’. It was made more interesting for me as Marcus was playing for one of our competitors, the Mid Rhondda band. These battles of brass would continue when Marcus and I met in the WEXA club, but they were great fun and conducted in a spirit of friendly rivalry, are as all brass band competitions. One of the biggest impressions I made with the Parc and Dare was when we arrived at the BBC studios at Llandaff in Cardiff when someone I knew came rushing up to me shaking my hand and asking how things
were. The boys looked on in awe when they recognised him as the Head of Music for BBC Wales. What they didn’t know was he was Alun Johns, born and brought up in Pontycymmer, who like myself was a long time friend of Michael Bevan.
On another occasion, Rhonwen came with me to a television broadcast at the HTV studios at Pontcanna Fields in Cardiff for a competition called Challenging Brass. I think Parc & Dare came second to the famous Fairy Band from Stockport. Phil Morgan won best solo. His prize was a new trombone. Harry Mortimer judged the competition.
While I was conducting the Pencoed band, the Bb bass player was called Joe Stowell. His son, David and daughter, Pam both played the cornet. There was something special about the way they played. It was not just enthusiasm. Their father brought them up from Pembroke twice a week for practice, which is long way to travel for a blow. Eventually Joe bought a house in Pencoed.
The first evening that I started the Garw Valley Youth band at the Charter club in Blaengarw forty-five children applied to join. I only had twenty instruments suitable for small children. It would not have been viable to give a nine year old a massive Bb bass or a long trombone, at least not at the total beginner stage. This meant that some of the children would not have an instrument to start with. I could not discriminate in favour of children I knew to come from a banding family background so I asked Ieuan Morgan to come over and individually assess the youngsters. As he did not know any of them, the instruments would be allocated fairly on a basis of aptitude. I was grateful for his help.
The boys and girls soon sorted themselves out. During this period Malcolm Williams acted as Secretary/Treasurer. As Christmas approached I had about a dozen youngsters playing as a band and they were all coming along nicely. It was about six weeks to Christmas when Michael Thomas came to me. Michael was unique. It took him just weeks to catch up with the others in the little band and he was able to play with them in the mini-concert that Mr Floyd Timbrell had requested for the old-age pensioners Christmas dinner in the Blaengarw Hotel. I had arranged half a dozen Christmas carols plus a few other Christmas type songs in a simple version. The ‘new’ Garw Valley Youth band had an average age of eleven. As usual, some stuck with it and some didn’t. It is and always will be a difficult job. As time went by we performed many little concerts at the Top club, the Charter club, the WEXA club and what was the Half-way club which eventually became the Blaengarw Rugby club. We also played at the Workmen’s Hall on their Bingo nights and on rare occasions at the Constitutional club and the Vets club, Pontycymmer.
To give some idea of the agony of it all, we performed an extended concert at the Blaengarw Rugby club one Christmas with seventeen children and my old friend Sid Hince, who acted as Librarian playing Eb bass. There was a group of children from Blaengwynfi appearing as the Black and White Minstrels. The band did not just play the easy music that I arranged but played some published music as well. By the time the band had restarted the following January I was left with about half a dozen and I had to start all over again with some new learners. This happened almost every holiday time.
Some of the youngsters went to other bands in the area, which they were not fully prepared for or equipped and they did not have the necessary experience to take on the important parts that the test pieces demanded. As a result, they became demoralised and gave up playing altogether. If it was possible to select twenty-five out of the hundreds I have taught over the years, I am confident I would have a good band in the Garw. Alas, life does not work like that. However, there are still some youngsters that I have taught that have gone on to do well in the band world. Rhian Hills started with me when she was ten and has since played principal cornet with the Lewis Merthyr Band of Porth and went on to play cornet for Tredegar who were the current Welsh Champions at the time of writing. They also came second to the world famous Fairy Band at the Great Britain Championships at the Royal Albert Hall. She also played for Tredegar when they got into the frame in the European Championships.
David Stowell, who played under my direction at Pencoed with his sister, Pam both came to play for the Garw Youth band. When David was old enough, he joined the Coldstream Guards band and played euphonium for them. The last time I spoke to David, he was about to go on stage at the Royal Albert Hall to conduct the Flowers Band at the Great Britain Championships final. The previous year he conducted the Hyundai Band (at the Heart of England finals) at the same venue, and he has been previously involved with the Rigid Containers band (previously known as the G.U.S. band and before that the Munn and Felton band).
There are not many London Finals I have missed in the last forty years (at the time of writing) I still go for the fine playing, but I am not to keen on the music they play nowadays.
There have been many memorable London trips, both musically and socially. John Rees very often came with me. We made it into a long weekend. Several of these weekends come to mind. One in 1986, the Parc and Dare band were competing. Phil Morgan asked me to do the draw for the band, which I agreed to. I was at the Royal Albert Hall at 8:30pm and John Rees came with me. I entered the hallowed room where the representatives of twenty-two of the finest bands in the country were assembled. I loved the idea of rubbing shoulders with these men who were from such bands as Black Dyke, Fairys, Brighouse, BBS just to mention a few. I had earlier asked John to occupy a specified telephone for me to phone Phil Morgan immediately after the draw at the bands hotel where they were rehearsing to inform him what number they were playing.
Each representative was introduced to the top three judges, who were Eric Ball, Roy Newsome and Sir David Wilcox. James Abbot, championship controller asked if there was anything they would like to say before they were locked in the adjudication box, Eric Ball asked if they had to go back in the box after the results were announced which produced much mirth all round. It could be sometimes be verbally dangerous with one or two disgruntled losers. Sir David added that he hoped to chose the right band. Roy Newsome said “leave that to me”.
I drew number six for the Parc & Dare which they were happy with.
A few years ago it became rather difficult to get tickets to the Royal Albert hall. Even though I never failed to get in, one year John and I had lousy seats, so we spent a bit of time standing behind the organ pipes. There were other times when I had the choice of half a dozen tickets by wheeling and dealing outside the Albert Hall. It should be added that no-one was ever asked to pay more than face value for a ticket.
The Royal Albert Hall finals have always been the highlight of my banding year, not only for the bands but the fun we had when we were out on the town in the evenings. There were many incidents that I recall, but it was always a bit special when my brother, Herby came with us. I remember when we went to the Dudley Arms behind Paddington Station for a ‘hair of the dog’ on the Sunday afternoon before catching the train home. Herby went up to the bar just as the barman was placing three plates of delicately cut triangular sandwiches on the counter. Herby asked whom they were for? The barman replied that they were gratis, with the compliments of the management. Herby replied “Duw, that’s nice of them I’ll have four pints of best bitter please”, by the time the barman got back with the beer there wasn’t a crumb left on the plates, Herby had scoffed the lot.
It wasn’t just Herby that made us laugh. We were like lost souls late one night after all the pubs had shut. The only thing left was a meal. Martin Pinches saw this Indian restaurant open so we decided to go in. That was all of us except Roy Lambert. “No” he said, “I’m not eating that stuff, you boys must be off your heads if you eat it.” A very convincing lecture then followed. Roy was quite a few years older than the rest of us. Martin spotted the small print on the menu ‘English food served here.’ He pointed this out to Roy, who conceded reluctantly. We each ordered our meals and last of all Roy demanded the English menu as such, the waiter there was no English menu as such, but Roy just had to tell him what he wanted and the chef would cook it. Roy ordered an omelette and chips. The waiter asked Roy what he would like in the omelette. Roy replied “Well, bloody egg isn’t it!” At this time foreign food was viewed suspiciously by the uninitiated. Back in 1957, on Alan Stead’s recommendation both Herby and I had our first Chinese meal. The waiter looked at Herby very strangely when he started to put milk and sugar on his rice.
After Herby left Margam steelworks he went back to work in the Ocean Colliery. His mate was Brian Richards. Brian told me some of these stories over a drink in the WEXA club. Brian and Herby had decided not to ‘work on’ on this particular day, after showering, they walked down David St together and Brian decided he was going for a pint in the WEXA club before going home. Herby told Brian he had better things to do at home. He told Brian he would go straight home to Bettws. Herby didn’t go straight, he went to Brian’s house instead. He knocked the door and Brian’s wife. Ann answered with a look of dismay. “Don’t tell me Brian has had an accident” she said, Herby replied, “No, he asked me to tell you he’s working on.” She went on to say that “She did not know that he was going to work on, and she had cooked him a dinner offer of pork chops and roast potatoes and all the trimmings.” Ann said “it will go to waste now.” “Don’t throw it away” replied Herby, “I will have it, I have not got anything ready for myself today.” Half an hour later Brian came home to egg and chips.
Brian and Herby worked down on the railway line slacking down the coal trucks under the screens. As part of their alternative, they were obliged to oil the rope rollers with a thick tarry substance that was kept in an old tin teapot in their cabin. One day, an Inspector of Mines paid a visit accompanied by the Colliery Manager, Mr Clark. On arrival at the line, Mr Clark was called away for a telephone call and he had to return to his office. He suggested that the Inspector should wait in the cabin. As it was a cold day, Herby offered the Inspector a cup of tea. This was excepted and Herby put the kettle on the cabin’s coal fire. It boiled in two minutes and Herby put one teabag in the oily teapot. The Inspector noticed and quickly changed his mind. He went quite red in the face fighting off Herby’s coaxing.
Back at the children’s band, Sid Hince was a great ally to me, both as a Librarian and even more as an Eb bass player. Unfortunately, both of his hands were riddled with arthritis, and he still managed to play by using both hands on the valve assembly. Around this time, the instruments had fallen into a poor condition, mostly due to their age and some by mishandling by some of the more careless youngsters. David Haines of Norman’s Ltd offered me four new Melody Maker cornets for two hundred pounds. Even at this bargain price, we could not afford that amount of money. My wife, Rhonwen told me to leave it to her. She organised a raffle and some other events that she put together raised the sum of one hundred and fifty pounds, and we were able to buy three new cornets. As time went by, we also bought some second-hand instruments from Norman’s. David Haines was the managing director of Norman’s, and he used to live in Nanthir House when his father was manager of the Bala Colliery. When David was younger he used to play in the Garw band.
Another ally of the band was Councillor William Trigg. Through Will, we succeeded in obtaining two grants of five hundred pounds from the Council, which was a great help to the band. Following Rhonwen’s achievement along with Malcolm Williams,’ who was a registered player with the Ogmore band desire to resign as Secretary/ Treasurer of our band. Patsy Corcoran, band chairman, and I and a few interested parties asked Rhonwen to be the new Treasurer/Secretary on a temporary basis for a few months until someone else was available to take over. No one else ever became available, and Rhonwen holds the position at the time of writing.
Youngsters came and went. Some like Mandy and Karen Farmer stayed with the band for about nine years. Others ‘flitted off’ to neighbouring bands. Nevertheless, we were still able to make appearances around the local clubs especially at Christmas. It was amazing the amount of funds we raised. People were very generous, and they appreciated the hard working players. The local choir invited us to Pontycymmer Rugby Club for their Christmas draw. We had a great time and they gave us a generous contribution to our funds. Weather permitting; we played Christmas music around the Christmas tree in Blaengarw Park, which went down very well. The Chamber of Trade asked us to play at their Christmas event on the arrival of Father Christmas. On some occasions Maesteg Salvation Army played there as well.
With the arrival of Valley and Vale, we had to give up our band-room at the lesser hall in Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall, as they required it for office space. We were given the old ‘reading room in the same building, but eventually we had to relinquish that to Valley and Vale as well. We were given a room under the Library, but even though the room was repainted and made to look good, we were not happy there, as the room was cold and damp. We moved again, and this move took place during the 1984 miners strike. I would like here to give my appreciation to the men who helped us move the contents of the band-room, especially Mike Clatworthy who took over as Chairman as Llew Morgan retired through health problems. While we were in the Lesser hall, two euphoniums were stolen in a burglary along with a baritone cornet that had been recently been bought with the Council grant. Even though Will Trigg called the Police in to investigate, the instruments were never found, nor the culprits caught. This was a bitter set back.
Following some discussions with other ex older band players, some of them started to show up in the band-room. Brian Young joined as an Eb bass player and he soon became Chairman, as he still is at the time of writing. About fourteen former adult members rejoined. Prior to this development, we had to ‘borrow’ players from other bands to do anything. The little youth band performed mini-concerts at the Parc Hospital, the Triangle at Blaengarw Park, the Old Peoples home in Bettws plus the Christmas concerts performed at the Old Ambulance Hall in Nanthir Rd, Blaengarw for the Old Age Pensioners Christmas Dinner.
Mike Sweet of Valley and Vale did us the best favour by organising a video featuring the band in 1986. It was the one and only time the BBC broadcasted the Garw Band. The broadcast came about when Frank Hennessy brought the Road Show to Pontycymmer. Wendy Phillips had a connection somewhere, and it was her persuasion that started the ball rolling. Immediately after the broadcast on Radio Wales I travelled to the European Brass Band Championships being held in Cardiff for the very first time at the St David’s Hall. It was very interesting to compare the differing styles of the bands, which came from such diverse countries as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium along with top British bands. For a long time the Continental bands have been searching for the great British band sound. They are very close. The contest was unique in format. Each band played their own choice piece first and then followed with the fixed test piece. The points were then totalled up to find the overall winner. Desford Colliery won a very close outstanding competition that year.
The local branch of the British Legion has been good to the band, and it was a great pity that we could not raise a band for Armistice Day. Unfortunately, the guest players that normally helped us on such occasions were engaged with their respective bands on that day. We did however manage to raise a band for the inauguration of the splendid new War Memorial. At Victoria St, Pontycymmer.
The highlight of this particular period was when Brian Young approached me about performing a major concert at the recreation centre in Pontycymmer on St David’s day 1988. The programme included the Cor Meibion Cwmgarw conducted by Ieuan Rhys Williams, the Garw Ladies Choir conducted by Andrew Pinches, Blaengarw Junior School with Iona Davies and the Garw Youth Band. I felt proud to stand out in front of the band, the masses of choristers and the audience to waggle the stick for the National Anthem. Mr Roger Price, as concert compere did a marvellous job. This was not the first time that I had met him. A few years earlier I made several visits to Rhydfelin in Pontypridd, where every Saturday morning hundreds of young people congregated just to make brass band music under the expert guidance of Mr Ieuan Morgan and half a dozen other top class teachers. I wondered that there was nothing like this in the Bridgend area.
I contacted Will Trigg who in turn put me in contact with Roger Price. Mr Price advised me that if we could demonstrate that there was a need or demand for such a facility then there was a possibility that Ogwr Borough Council would support it. I then wrote to the Ogmore Valley band, The Garw band and Pencoed band. A meeting was duly convened at the Fox and Hounds Hotel in Brynmenyn. Roger price attended representing the Ogwr Borough Council, Croyden Rees represented the Ogmore band, Rhonwen represented the Garw band and I attended to present my plan. It was accepted by all the representatives on the condition of their respective committees agreeing.
We were offered two large rooms at the Bridgend Recreation Centre on Monday evening from 7 until 9:pm at half the usual rental as the players were all under eighteen years of age. The Garw youngsters were very fortunate. Ivor Davies, son-in-law of our old stalwart Albert Hawkins acquired and drove a mini-bus each Monday for a mere nine pounds, which was very cheap. Jim Morgans, whose three daughters were in the band took his car. Jim Struthers’ son was also in the band, and he filled his car with other players and needless to say I used my car in the same way.
The financial arrangement was that I paid for the two rooms on the first week, Pencoed the second, Garw the third and Ogmore the fourth. There were fifty children there the first week. I was absolutely certain that the numbers would grow. Youngsters came from Porthcawl and Maesteg as well as the three initial bands. Ron Wescott took one class of the more advanced players and Sid Hince and myself looked after the absolute beginners. I was a little premature in hoping this venture would grow to anywhere near the popularity that the Rhydfelin project had achieved.
By the sixth week I was informed that the fourth weeks ‘rent’ had not been paid. On making enquiries, the Ogmore band committee told me they were not going to pay. They were of the opinion that if the Council wanted this scheme then they should pay for it. I was devastated. Ron, Sid and I decided to let it go. It was a pity as this scheme could have been the answer to the recruitment problems that many local bands faced.
There was a period when I was not a registered player with any particular band. Pontins Holidays were running area contests throughout Great Britain. The Wales and West area contest was held at Brean Sands Holiday Village near Burnham on Sea in Somerset. Rhonwen and I decided to go there for the Easter holidays. We actually went there several years in succession. I played for the Ogmore band on one occasion signing in as Gordon Davies. On another occasion I played for Pencoed signing in as someone else again. This practice has now ceased as Brass Band registration cards now have a photograph of the holder on them, Never the less we had a cracking good time.
The winning band was invited along with three or four runners-up to compete in the national competition in the Autumn held at Prestatyn. The area qualifier is no longer held at Brean Sands and another system has been put in place. I never went to the finals in North Wales as there are three other major finals held over week-ends in London, Manchester and Blackpool all within five weeks of each other. The difficulty in arranging time off work and the expense involved made it impossible to attend every competition final. Only the very top bands that attract sponsorship could maintain this schedule.
The constant changing of band rooms within the Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall had been a source of irritation to us. Brian Young and Tony ward convinced me that we would be better off moving into the vestry of Tabernacle Chapel across the road. We were satisfied with the available space there, so Tony ward went to see Mt Roddy Davies, a layman of the Chapel and they agreed to rent us a room, where we have been ever since. Unfortunately, a few members drifted away which left us down to about eight or nine members.
Brian Young instituted another major concert at the Pontycymmer Recreation Centre. It was similar in structure to the previous successful one held on St David’s Day 1987. This time it was a Christmas Carol concert, and Mr Gwyn Jones from Cor Meibion Cwmgarw acted very ably as the compere. This again was a great success. Brian Young and Mark Swift had the added tasks of both playing in the band and singing in the choir as they were members of both.
We were very grateful to the WEXA ladies who arranged an excellent concert at the WEXA club one evening. This event raised over four hundred pounds that they kindly donated to our dwindling funds . The kind patrons of the Squirrel Hotel also raised another hundred ponds for us by holding a weekly Quiz, for which we were grateful.
The teaching and development of youngsters is an ongoing project. Now and again we came across a learner with exceptional potential like Gavin ward, Tony ward’s son. Since he left us he has played principal cornet with the British Steel Company band in Port Talbot. At the time of writing he is in college and does not have much time to play. A major reason that there is so much waste in the Brass band fraternity is that the youngsters come to band practice regularly for two or three months, during which time they learn the basics of reading music and develop their emboucher (lip muscles.)
This is a vital process, which will be lost if not maintained like any other form of physical fitness regime. They then go off on holiday for two or three weeks after which they return to practice still possessing the theoretical knowledge but find they are unable to play as they have lost the emboucher. Once the emboucher is lost, it is very difficult and frustrating for a young person to get a satisfactory sound out of their instrument. It takes about two or three weeks of dedicated practice to get the lips back in condition. If frustration is stronger than the desire youngsters tend to give up. I have lost many promising players in these circumstances.
During this period I was virtually dormant on the playing side of banding. The exception was helping the Pencoed Royal British Legion with their contest attempts in Class C. under John Harris. I had previously stopped conducting the Pencoed band after about nine months in that position. There was enormous pressure on my time in those days. Monday evenings I was Tonypandy with the Mid Rhondda Junior band, Tuesday with the Garw Youth, Wednesday was the Pencoed Senior band, Thursday the Garw Youth again, Friday it was Pencoed again, I had Saturday night off and Sunday it was Pencoed again. In the Summer Pencoed had a fixed engagement every Saturday night at the Manor Suite in Porthcawl.
This was all getting to much for me, especially as I was working full time at Carter’s in Bridgend. After discussing matters with my wife, I packed it all in except for the Garw Youth and the occasional ‘blow’ with Pencoed. When Pencoed band started to go downhill, I felt that I was being left behind in the banding fraternity. One day at work I lost my eyesight and was taken to the Princess of Wales hospital, Bridgend. While I sat in the waiting room, I was thinking about what I could do if it didn’t come back. Fortunately it did. I had a feeling it would.
I realised with all my knowledge of music I had never written a piece of my own, and the realisation that I may have been able to do so without sight. I set to work and composed what I called a concert overture that I scored for a full brass band. All that remained was to find a full band to play it and record it. This was no easy task. I tried it out with a small group of loyal players who were coming along to the Garw practices just to try out some of the harmony. I then gave it to John Harris of Pencoed, which was when I learned of the seriousness of their situation. They had insufficient players to play it properly. They duly returned the music to me. I then took down to Nobby Clark at the Steel Company band. At that time they were running high in Class B. and they gained promotion to Class a. for the following season. As this was late in the competition season they would not have a lot on until Christmas.
Three our four weeks later, my music was returned to me along with an audio tape that I had provided. When I got home from work, I switched on my stereo but got very little or no sound came out of the speakers. I thought there was something wrong with the stereo. I phoned Nobby Clark who informed me that they had recorded another piece that had not recorded either. Apparently the heads of their recorder were not working properly. I travelled to the London Finals in 1990 with the Mid Rhondda band under Alan Gibbs. They had qualified at Swansea earlier that year. After they played at the Royal Albert Hall, I asked Alun if he would play and record mu piece of music for me with the Mid Rhondda band. Alun has some really good recording equipment and he agreed to do it for me. However, Mid Rhondda were a busy band at the time, and they had a Welsh Brewers Championships seven or eight weeks away at the Parc & Dare Hall in Treorchy. Time went on, it must have been three months before I asked for my music to be returned to me. It came back unrecorded.
The music itself started out as a simple little piece originally intended for young bands but it developed into something more complicated. It was evident that it would require a lot more rearsal time than I had first thought. I went to Treorchy to my old friends in the Parc and Dare band-room and I handed the music to Malcolm Picken. They were also busy, but I was informed that they had run through it once. Time went on again, and one day in the Spring of 1991 Malcolm Picken phoned me to tell me that it was recorded. I met Malcolm in the Stags Head Hotel and he gave me the music and the tape. He informed me he had not rehearsed the piece at all, and it was recorded of the first sight reading. It was fine, but the recording itself was not very good. The balance, and acoustics were not good and the microphone was obviously in the wrong place, melodic and contrapuntal work were in evidence so I was more or less satisfied. I have since adjusted various bits and pieces of the music with the intention of having it recorded with a composite band in the Garw at a later date.
Following a visit to the British Steelworks Band, I received an invitation to join them. As I was getting out of touch with banding, I gave the invitation some serious thought, around the same time, Mr David Walters, then conductor of the Gwynfi band asked if I could stand in for him at a concert as he was otherwise engaged that day. I immediately agreed, and I greatly enjoyed the event. To my great surprise I was handsomely rewarded, considering that I had not asked for anything nor did I want anything. This also meant I made some new banding friends, along with my old friend Don Owen who was playing on the top end for the Gwynfi Band. I know that I can rely on any help I need from Don for the Garw band.
By this time Marcus had finished playing with the Mid Rhondda band, and I had a chat with him about joining the British Steelworks band. We went to see them. They had now been promoted to Class A. I opted to play the baritone cornet once again. Marcus was very busy at the time with his jazz music, and therefore was not able to attend practice as often as I was, and it was.’t long before he stopped attending altogether. Once again I made some new friends and met some old ones. It was a jolly good band, but nothing like the old days with the Parc & Dare neither on the social or playing side.
The music we were playing was of a high standard, reminiscent of my experience with the Parc & Dare twenty years or so previously. The standards in all sections were so much higher than twenty years ago, which left me wondering where it would go or stop. I hoped it would never decline. The British Steelworks band was playing music in Class A. that was considered difficult in the Championship section twenty years previously. ‘Symphony of Marches’ and ‘High Peak’ were just two worthy of mention. It was the balance and the beautiful sound of the trombone section that impressed me the most. The basses came a close second, not that there was much wrong with the rest of the band.
There were some good musicians around once again, and I felt that I had been fully accepted. I was quite happy musically, and we played some splendid concerts at the British Steel canteen in conjunction with Aberavan Male Voice choir. We also played a ‘Band in the Park’ episode in Port Talbot and at the ‘Band on the Pier’ at Penarth, just to mention a few. There were some good performances on the competition stage, but while I was with the band it was always a case of ‘hard lines.’ Soon after I left the band, they came in a well-deserved first at Treorchy.
While I was still with the band, we played at Ebbw Vale. It was on that occasion that Nobby Clark approached me to ask me about Gavin Ward (Tony Ward’s son). I told him what I knew of his playing abilities. Gavin had been under my tuition some eighteen months previously. Gavin joined the British Steel Company band on the top end. Tony joined soon after playing third cornet.. Tony ended up playing the baritone cornet and as stated earlier Gavin went on to College. He did a stint sitting on the end as it was.
The British Steel Company band played a concert at the Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall on St David’s Day 1995 that was a success both financially and musically. The band played a varied and rich programme quite well. Unfortunately, the lack of a full house (the auditorium was only half full) did dampen the atmosphere. Grafton Radcliffe did a magnificent job as compere. The band members were quite happy, certainly the majority of them went up to the Top Club for refreshments with a buffet provided by Mrs Angela Ward. I was unable to join them as I was travelling to Scotland the next morning.
A lack of an audience was also evident when I attended a concert at the same hall given by the College of Music and Drama Symphonic Brass under Nigel Seaman. I think the lack of support toward brass band music shows that the Garw people are not really motivated by brass bands. It is a pity as brass bands are part of the heritage of mining and valley communities throughout the South Wales valley’s. Brass bands are particularly strong in the Rhondda, Gwent and Swansea valley’s, but not so in the Ogwr area.
I can name at least eight bands that have ceased to exist in my lifetime from the Ogwr area. They are namely; Blaengarw, Pontycymmer, Bridgend, Porthcawl, Aberkenfig, Kenfig, and Pencoed, what was the 6th Battalion of the Welch Regiment Territorial Army, Maesteg, and Garw Valley. Then again, there were no fewer than eight people from the Garw valley including myself that travelled to play for first class bands elsewhere. There were also the others who travelled to play for lower section bands.
There is a similar situation with Pencoed band. Just half a dozen faithful players, and Ron Wescott teaching a class of young learners. I sometimes go down on a Monday evening for a blow. I should mention that travelling to a band is part of the dedication of playing brass band music. Prior to my days at the Parc and Dare Band, there was a young man called Roger who travelled twice a week for rehearsals from Weston Super Mare to Treorchy. There was also a young lady called Claire who travelled from Tredegar to Port Talbot to play for the British Steel band. These regular and costly journeys make my travelling insignificant taken into context. This is especially so when no-one receives expenses apart from the conductor. Like many other pastimes, when the addiction bites, it is difficult to give up.
At the time, British Steel had an abundance of players, especially on the euphonium and baritone section. I volunteered to stand down in favour of a young lady, also called Claire. She was studying at Swansea University at the time, and was finishing with the band after the Area qualifier to take her final exams. This concert was being moved Swansea to Aberystwyth and was to be held at the University’s Great Hall in Aberystwyth. This new venue meant that it was more accessible to bands from North Wales, and therefore should in theory give a truer Welsh Championship.
Being in the fortunate situation that I was, I travelled to Aberystwyth with the British Steel band on the Saturday morning and took in the third, second and first section as well as the fourth section and big championship section on the Sunday. I travelled back on the Parc and Dare coach. I did not play in the next competition at Ebbw Vale, which was to be my last. I resigned from the British Steel Band, as I no longer had the necessary enthusiasm and commitment to play in a band at that level.
During this time, the struggling Garw Band was not totally dormant. Miss Janet Flawn, the resident Minister of the United Reform Church in Alexandra Rd, Pontycymmer asked me to visit her at her home. She asked me if I could assemble a band to accompany the hymn singing for a special service. I was able to do this thanks to half a dozen people already in the band with another half a dozen ex-bandsmen who were willing to help out. We than did this annually for the three years. The main problem was that we played under the gallery at the Bethel chapel in Oxford St. The acoustic were disastrous from the bands point of view when the sound produced barely escaped into the open space in the Chapel. Some tuning problems were also in evidence. This could have been corrected if we had been aware of the acoustic oddity earlier. Never the less, the choir and congregation seemed happy, and the event was a success.
We kept on struggling, hoping to arouse some interest and possibly attract new players. I had plenty of contacts with other bands, so when anything turned up such as carol concerts at Christmas. I was able to raise a band and find the players for sufficient instruments. A few local chaps such as Trevor Bibey, Marcus, David Ford, Gwyn Day, Tony and Gavin Ward and of course Chairman Brian Ward were almost always on hand with the few promising youngsters I may have had at the time. Although we were able to fulfil these occasional commitments, it was not the same as having a regular band to work with. I remained a registered player with Pencoed band until I transferred to the British Steel band, and John Harris was their conductor.
To mark the ten years since the last colliery in the Garw valley closed, Valley and Vale organised a march up the valley. They asked if the band could play some lively music at the Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall for the arrival of the marchers, We obliged, only through the help of other bands helping out, with our regular half a dozen stalwarts and some capable learners.
It was the Summer of 1996 when I received a telephone call from Bournemouth, it was a lady film director called Sarah Sugarman, (Wendy Phillips had given her my number), Sarah asked me if I would rustle a band to appear and play in a film she was making in and around Pontycymmer. We did this with the boys I mentioned earlier, plus Don Owen who brought a young man called Craig with him, who at that time was playing with the Gwynfi Band. We played at Pontycymmer’s Gelli-Ron Cemetery, just one hymn tune; what made the band boys chuckle was the fact that we had to be made up with cosmetics. The whole thing was quite a novelty. When I say just one hymn, we played it several time to make room for the local extras and the actor’s to file past. The band had to stand behind a handrail that was fixed to the wall leading up to the Chapel of Rest in the cemetery. This was rather awkward, not only that, the band being set up in single file meant that the overall sound was not satisfactory for the technicians doing the actual sound recording, so we had to mime in the set up, then re-assemble along side the Chapel to do the actual sound recording. They asked how much this was going to cost, knowing they were on a very low budget. We said we would do it for free, but Sarah Sugarman gave me a twenty pound note. After a brief discussion with the band boys we decided to donate this to a young girl suffering from cancer, to help with her travelling expenses.
Previously I mentioned the Gwynfi Band, I had been involved with this band in a small way. Mr David Walters, their resident conductor phoned one day, a week or so before Christmas 1995 At the time he was also conducting a ladies choir, but the choir and the Gwynfi’s band concerts clashed. David could not be at both venues, so he asked me if I would conduct the Gwynfi band for this one concert. This I did, I have together with Brian Young helped them out a few times since then; on Armistice Day Parade for example. There is always the best of welcome over there. The Gwynfi band, like the Garw band is short of proficient players, as they lose their better players to better surrounding bands; a great pity. I mentioned earlier about Belle-Vue, Manchester, that magnificent set-up has long gone. It has been pulled down, so the contest (till called the Belle-Vue Contest), takes place at the home of the Halle Orchestra, The Free Trade Hall, so, in the last most recent years (Sept, 95) I have travelled up to Manchester as a guest (No playing) with the Cory Band. This competition to me anyway, is a more satisfactory event than the London Finals, the atmosphere and the friendliness of the Northern people is overwhelming. The bands plus the music is very enjoyable.
As I have stated before, I have many contacts in most of the South Wales bands. One such contact in the Cory band is Phillip Harris, Phil worked at Carters when I was there. He is the son of John Harris, the conductor of Pencoed band. The second time I went to Manchester, the competition had moved again, to the stupendous Bridgwater Hall, close by the Free Trade Hall. This contest was held in Sept, 96, was the first big event to take place in this brand new hall, I am grateful to the committee and the members of the Cory Band for treating me so well.
The Garw Band was now down to half a dozen learners, and a young lady called Caresita Roberts was coming along nicely, she was learning the piano. Her dad Carl would bring her up every week together with her younger sister Isabella, but like most youngsters, Caresita had started work and had no time or desire to continue her music activities, a point worth mentioning here, when I started writing this, I said about us five Parker brothers in the Blaengarw band, Ironically, during 1996 there were another five Parker’s in it. My brother Alan’s two grandsons Daniel and Ben from Porthcawl and grandson Neil from Pyle, Arthur’s grandson Thomas from Penyfai and my Grandson Gareth from Tondu. This meant everyone had to be transported to and fro from Blaengarw. This was rather difficult maintain, these youngsters can play to a particular standard, the unfortunate thing is we have no regular band for them to graduate to, so they become daunted, the one and only airing of their talents in a ‘public’ performance have had, was when Anne, Rhonwen’s daughter, invited us down to Tree Tops, a Residential Care home for the Elderly in Brynmenyn, for us to play Christmas carols etc, in order to entertain the residents. As we were in the area, we went next door to Abergarw Manor, another Residential home nearby and played there as well, some faithful adult members played along As well, that was Christmas 1996.
I too have become a little disappointed, not with music or banding, but travelling two or three times a week to a band elsewhere. My lifelong dream is to have a local band in the valley once again. Then again, when I do get invited to help out somewhere, I still thoroughly enjoy it and make new friends and renew older friendships. The most recent invite I had, was February this year (1998), when the Gwynfi band asked Brian Young and myself to go down to Port Talbot, they were doing a show with the T.V. comedian, Lenny Henry which will be screened in September 1998. Only one piece of the band played ‘Delilah’, it was a bitterly cold night, we all had to wear white shirts, (no jackets), in an open-air set up, we just about froze, Lenny Henry looked at us and said in a strong Welsh accent “Duw, innit freezing”, but I must say ‘well done’ to the BBC, they looked after us well, they gave us all a cooked meal from a menu of various choices, (two courses may I add), from a catering van, again all outside.
I got involved with the South Wales Echo through a lady seeking some very old piano music called ‘The Wreck of the Titanic’, interestingly it came about with the release of the blockbuster film Titanic. I wrote to the Echo because I recalled the music, I had borrowed it from my old comrade Mr. Em Morgan way back in the fifties, as I was advised by my band tutor, Mr Leonard Davis, to write as many brass band scores as possible and ‘The Wreck of the Titanic’ was one of them. I got in touch with Em and he still had the original music intact. The lady requesting the music was delighted when we turned up on her doorstep with it. The Echo then phoned me to ask about the Garw Band, I told them all they needed to know. Their last words were “Leave it to us.” The next thing I know, an article appeared in one of their following editions, also giving my phone number. Lo and behold, people phoned me who I have not heard from or seen for many years. At the moment I am optimistic about reforming the Garw Silver Band, so I will end here and hope for the best.
“LEAVE IT TO US……….”