Newmarket Town Band

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History

Newmarket Town Band 2007 - 60th Anniversary
Brief Recollections of Dedicated Members – David Precious

The Band was re-formed as a brass band in 1947 by Geoffrey Pratt, a retired military musician. He gathered players together for an engagement on Newmarket Town Football Ground. Three of the players, Don Taylor, Jim Lewis and Reg Papworth, were youth members of a Band, including woodwind instruments that existed before the war. We know little of this Band except for a 1935 photograph, Bandmaster, Arthur Clarke and a 1910 photograph, Bandmaster Samuel Wiseman.

Geoff was a Civil Servant who lived in Bury St Edmunds. He was Chairman of the East Anglian Brass Band Association and Musical Director of the NOMADS, who performed musicals with live musicians in the ‘pit’. Usually two cornet/trumpet and two trombone players from the band joined with orchestral players to provide the backing for regular musicals performed in the Kings Hall Theatre, where we also held our Wednesday night rehearsals, in what is now the bar and refreshment room. Geoff’s daughter Wendy, a professional soprano singer, often featured at Band concerts as did another outstanding singer, Thelma Ely, whose husband Ron was a fine violinist and a partner in Balaams music shop. A memorable occasion 40 years ago was when Wendy and Thelma had both performed solos at a Band concert in the Sparrows Nest Theatre, Lowestoft. They returned on stage with Geoff’s wife Olive to perform the ‘Three Little Maids’ from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado. It was hilarious to witness their superb version of song and dance, complete with costumes.

Geoff led the Band to impressive contest performances including, our highest ever, runner-up in the East Anglian Championship Section in 1966 and Suffolk Champions in 1969. His conducting style was passionate and he was a gifted player of many instruments including the piano. He would borrow a Band instrument to show the player the style he wanted and he could play it perfectly. We were known as one of the best concert bands in East Anglia and we have a 1970 programme where teenage Principal Cornet David Precious played a solo together with three illustrious guest soloists. They were Wendy Williams (nee Pratt), Charles Shipp, one of the top Euphonium players in the country who would perform the technically exciting Grandfathers Clock and later was a successful conductor of the Cambridge and Haverhill Band; and professional Trombonist William (Bill) Blackett, whose speciality was glorious slow melodies. We moved our rehearsal venue to Newmarket Upper School and another concert around this time was organised by Myrtle Rolfe, whose two teenage daughters Hazel and Margaret played with the Band. This featured Tom Paulin, one of the country’s top cornet players, who later emigrated and performed with great distinction in Australia and New Zealand.

In 1973 twelve members of the Band took part in the BBC’s ‘Dad’s Army’ series in a programme about a Russian Ambassador’s visit. We played ‘The Red Flag’ with the cast saluting in a guard of honour. The stars were Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, Ian Lavender, John Laurie, Bill Pertwee, Arthur Ridley and James Beck. There is a splendid photograph of these actors with the Band, including a teenage trombonist, Paul Filby, who went on to perform at the highest level and is now Musical Director at Soham Comrades Band. The Band was paid a £200 fee and we received a few further payments of £50 each time the programme was repeated.
There have been few finer players of the Band than Don Taylor who was a musician with the Royal Marines, from 1937 to 1953 and returned to Newmarket to be a local postman. He was capable of playing the full range of solo cornet repertoire. Illness struck in the late 1960’s but he returned to play the Flugel, equally effectively. We performed one of the opening shows at the celebrity Cabaret Club, around 1980 and Don’s solo was Chopin’s ‘Tristesse’, enthralling everyone. He continued playing superbly up to a few months before he died in 1990. We held a dedication concert in 1991 with compositions by Alford, Berlioz, Bernstein, Elgar, Gershwin, Handel, Lloyd Webber, Mozart, Rimmer and Wagner, truly befitting this legendary player.

Other characters from the early days include Jimmy Dale Bb Bass and Frank Stebbeds Euphonium, who both lived in Mildenhall and cycled to Newmarket to play with the Band. Jimmy was thrilled to be awarded best soloist prize at an East Anglian Contest in Norwich, playing percussion! Their families were always supportive of the Band, with Mrs Dale often coming on the coach with their dog when we were away all day, playing afternoon and evening concerts in the Oulton Broad Park bandstand or Yarmouth’s Beirgarten and Marina halls. Frank’s wife Ella and daughter Betty attended most band concerts in his 47 years with the Band. He is also fondly remembered in Mildenhall by many generations, as the Primary School caretaker. Despite often being offered a new instrument, he would never be parted from his original. When Frank died, Ella donated a significant sum of money to purchase a new Euphonium in his memory.

A true gentleman of that era was Wally Hopkins, initially a counter clerk at the Post office when demobbed as a Captain from the Army and later, in retirement, the caretaker of the Memorial Hall. As Deputy Bandmaster and Solo Trombone, his long service included impeccably looking after the Band’s considerable music library for over 25 years, in a large walk in cupboard in his house. He was meticulous in his cataloguing and care of the music parts and was always present when the respective Bandmasters Pratt, Badcock and Precious wanted music for rehearsal, to ensure they signed for them and were responsible for returning them in perfect condition!

The only person to play with the Band for over 50 years was Gilly Farr. He worked at CI Caravans and Tillotsons and was a long term Band Chairman. He was always a popular member of the Band and became an inspirational Eb Bass player at a time when he was often the only Bass player. During the mid 1990’s Mark Grainger learnt to play alongside Gilly and is now pursuing a Masters Degree at the Royal College and making a name performing in London. Gilly made light of a heart attack and an eye disorder in later life, closing shut one eye to be able to focus with the other but still played magnificently in our engagements to a month before he died.

Our oldest player now is Doreen Precious who will celebrate her 80th birthday this year and has been playing 2nd Baritone with the Band for over 40 years. She is still as regular at rehearsals and engagements as she has always been. Doreen has also been an important influence as a dedicated committee member, organising the annual band dinner and other unseen administrative functions until recently. She celebrates her own 60th wedding anniversary to Gordon, next year. Her great friend Bill Miller, played his beloved Bass Trombone for over 30 years before illness struck, resulting in two leg amputations. His immense courage enabled a remarkable recovery and he still comes to listen to the Band with his wife Doris.
A loyal servant and positive influence in setting a good example in the early years was Cyril Watson, Tenor Horn and long term Band Chairman. Katie Watson is our President who purchased impressive stand banners in his memory. Their daughter Sheila married Arthur Badcock, who worked for Cambridge County Council and he became Bandmaster in 1978. During the next 16 years, with rehearsals mainly at St. Mary’s Methodist Church, Arthur devoted extra time to a learner’s night, rejuvenating the membership. In 1980 the Band linked up with the Lakenheath, Breckland and CI Caravans Bands to form the Forest Heath District Bands. Local Councillor Bill Sadler, a Band player in the 1960’s, lead a twinning initiative with the Sheifbahn Mandolin Orchestra from Germany that has continued each year ever since. Arthur retired early and subsequently had a quadruple heart bypass operation but a month later passed himself fit enough to conduct the bandsmen’s hymn Deep Harmony at one of our concerts. Arthur has returned to playing the Tenor Horn, originally taught by the Bandmaster of Soham Comrades Band, Fred Talbot in 1940. His musical knowledge and experience is still invaluable and he and Sheila are often to be found assisting in Band contests around the country.

Long serving member David Bailey joined the Band in 1965. He learnt to play at school with David Precious when they were 12 year olds. A neighbour of David in Ashley at the time was local butcher Eric Tenant who gave him lessons and introduced him to the Band. Eric was the popular trumpet player with the DC4 dance band and still plays with the Galaxy Big Band. David has played Soprano Cornet but has reverted to be the dependable Assistant Principal Cornet. He is Managing Director of his own electrical contracting company and has generously sponsored some of our Band concerts. His significant efforts helped to raise the required sponsorship from local companies to stage our 50th Anniversary Concert in Tattersalls from which we went on to raise over £3,500, donated to the NSPCC. We continue to support this charity each year when playing at the July Racecourse for their charity race day. David was Secretary of the Band for many years and is now Vice Chairman. His influence has been largely responsible for the friendly reputation of the Band. David became a Governor at Isleham Primary School whilst his two daughters Catherine and Sarah, now teenage playing members, attended. We have donated instruments and brass learning continues to be promoted at the School.

In 1965 David Precious also joined the Band and would cycle to rehearsals from his home in Exning, if neighbour John Cross Eb Bass was unable to give him a lift. David has been the Principal Cornet of the Band for most of the past 37 years. He worked for Barclays Bank so was the obvious choice of Treasurer of the Band for 20 years. He is a member of Barclays Brass Band, where he was Secretary and now continues as Vice Chairman. David took over as Bandmaster in 1994 and invited Steven Booth, Black Dyke Band’s Baritone player to perform with the Band at a successful fundraising concert for the Headway charity in Cambridge and this was repeated in 1995. Steven last year emigrated to New Zealand where he now conducts their top brass band. David developed strong links with Forest Heath Council and Newmarket Racecourse Trust, leading to many supported concerts, including two in our twin town Maisons-Laffitte in 1996. David invited guest Conductors David Goswell, Malcolm Allerton and Les Ager to develop the Band’s repertoire and win our section of the East Anglian Brass Band Championship in 1999. David’s three son’s Angus, Duncan and Fraser have all played with the Band, with Fraser currently a Solo Cornet with the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain.

Ken Eyres, Baritone and Tenor Horn player, was appointed Bandmaster in 2000 but shortly after was diagnosed with cancer at age 64. He inspirationally conducted the Band carol playing, whilst undergoing chemotherapy treatment but sadly died a few weeks later. Ken, whose teenage son Michael played with the Band, had amazing energy, particularly remembered for being an extraordinary compere at concerts. We dedicated a concert in his memory in February 2002.

Stuart Cawkwell, Euphonium, has played with the Band for 30 years, originally as a cornet player and has been Chairman since 1999. He learnt to play in his native Hull and joined the Band after moving to Newmarket with his employer, British Gas. Stuart’s positive influence on the Band is immense, both in playing, assisting younger members and administratively. He and wife Angela’s fund raising efforts have brought huge benefit to the Band over many years, enjoying a special relationship with the village of Kennett with their car boot sales, race nights and carol concerts. Their son Matthew played with the Band and now plays for the Portsmouth Band and Orchestra but is a welcome member when he returns to visit his parents.

Phil Halliwell, has been a member since 1978, playing Solo Cornet and Assistant Principal throughout that time. He was heard practicing his trumpet at home by neighbour Arthur Badcock and responded to Arthur’s request to join the Band. Phil has played in most of the annual ‘Carols in Tattersalls’ choir concerts since they started in the mid-1980’s. He is a Lancashire lad who moved to Newmarket with the Library Service, working throughout East Anglia. Son Phillip played Trombone with the Band when a teenager. When Phil retired last year he became our Librarian.

During 2000 the Band appointed Jane Johnson to be Bandmaster for a few months before long serving Baritone player David Shaw took over for a similar period of time. In April 2001 Derek Bullman was appointed Bandmaster and continued to lead the Band until the end of 2006. Derek has an unenviable pedigree of training young people to learn to play brass instruments, having been the Wicken Youth Bandmaster for 25 years before joining Newmarket. He has been responsible for forming the Newmarket Youth Band and tirelessly dedicates many evenings a week to private tuition at his home for these young people. The Band has further prospered musically winning two East Anglian Brass Band Championships during his time in charge. In 2002 Derek was appointed a member of the prestigious Worshipful Company of Musicians for his outstanding commitment to teaching young players to play brass instruments. Derek also learnt to play with Fred Talbot at Soham in the 1950’s and has played most instruments in the band during this time. He has been supported throughout with his banding by wife Joan as well as running their own carpet and upholstery business. Daughter Valerie is our Flugelhorn player and son Tim our Bass Trombone player.

Many more good people have made important contributions and continue to give their time to make the Band what it is today. Les Ager, previously Bandmaster of Haverhill Silver Band, where his son Mark is now in charge, was appointed our Bandmaster in January 2007 and is committed to continuing this rich heritage.