Members of Shaftesbury Town Silver Band say they are ‘ecstatic’ following their success in a regional band competition last Saturday.
Our town’s players came fourth out of seventeen finalists in the Wessex Brass Band Association West of England Regional Finals at Torquay.
Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred visited band practice on Thursday evening and heard that the result has energised the club. “It’s like we have won,” beamed Town Band vice-chairman, Alex Drake. “I think we’re all in a little bit of a shock, still,” he added.
Last weekend’s result represents a turnaround in the band’s fortunes and Alex says it’s the highest ranking he can recall during his 19-year association. “The previous few years have not brought such a good result. This one meant a lot to us,” Alex explained.
“In the last few years we’ve had some disappointing results which don’t reflect the band because they do play really well and put a lot of time and effort in,” said musical director Martin Hill. He believes that gaining fourth place was like ‘winning the championship’.
24 brass players and three percussionists set off on their Devon day trip before dawn on Saturday. Their performance was clearly a team effort of which each player can rightly be proud, but Alex says their musical director of six years was pivotal to the band’s success. “Our secret weapon was Martin. He’s put a lot of effort in, above and beyond, to help the band,” said Alex. “He has done a really good job with us and he is certainly the star.”
Shaftesbury Town Silver Band has given Martin his first conducting role, although he’s an experienced player. He travels to the Stonehenge area to play with Shrewton Silver Band and he’s also been a member of Wincanton, Sherborne and Yeovil bands.
The Shaftesbury musicians put a lot of work in ahead of the Torquay competition. “We held Sunday rehearsals, in addition to the Thursdays. During the week leading up to the event we met on Sunday, Thursday and Friday,” said Alex.
The band only had one track to perform so they had to get it right first time. “It is a ten-minute long piece, called Stantonbury Festival,” explained Alex. “It was chosen by the committee of the Brass Band Association so every band in our section has the same piece of music. Two judges sat in a tent to judge us – they could not see who was on stage,” Martin said.
Alex added that knowing they only have one opportunity to make an impact added to the pressure. “And what made it even worse is that when we got there, we were drawn first. We got there at 8.45am and we were on stage at 9.30am. We had to play ‘God Save The Queen’ to start the day and we were first to play.”
The Town Silver Band members had to wait around for the results at 2 o’clock. “It wasn’t a hardship, that’s for sure,” said Alex. “The bar opened at 11 o’clock and it got a bit merrier from there.”
So does Martin think that the band could achieve even better marks next time? “Yes, definitely. We have players who come from far and wide, not just people who live in Shaftesbury,” said Martin. “It is nice that we have the junior or youth band and they rehearse before the main band. Emma and Harry came up from the juniors to play on Saturday. They are now playing, full-time, in the main band.”
Alex told me that the players are very supportive of each other and that firm friendships have been forged within the group. He lives with two band members. The band has clearly been an important part of the 29 year-old’s life since he was 10 years of age. “It’s basically my social life,” Alex laughed. “This band is a bit like a family and is very important.”
Alex hadn’t intended to join the committee but was convinced, by colleagues, that it was the best way to ensure that the band had a future. “Some younger members felt that a younger committee would keep it going forward.” It’s an approach that has worked well elsewhere in town. Recently Shaftesbury Carnival found that involving younger members in decision-making has paid dividends. “We have quite a spectrum of players on the committee, including Ray (Humphries) who is ‘Mr Shaftesbury’, down to the youngest member who is 28,” Alex said.
“We are certainly picking up,” Martin confirmed. “When I took over we were struggling for numbers, with probably ten full-time players. As you can see tonight, we are filling up and we get full at rehearsals.”
Saturday’s competition could be considered the band’s biggest annual challenge but now that’s over for another year, members can’t take things easy. There’s a busy summer of event attendance ahead, starting with a spring concert in the Town Hall on 28th April. “We will crack on now and work hard throughout the summer and we’re hoping to do another competition – a local one in Poole – at the end of November,” said Martin.
Incidentally, in case you’ve ever wondered why northern bands are usually called brass bands and in the south, silver band appears to be the preferred term, Martin says there’s very little difference nowadays. “A silver band traditionally had just silver instruments. Today they can be called a silver band, a town band or even a colliery band. It’s all to do with roots. It’s like football teams that can be called town, city or even academicals. Generally, around the country it is brass band though,” Martin explained.
Let’s hope Shaftesbury Town Silver Band builds on Saturday’s achievement and gains gold sometime soon.