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Penicuik Silver Band
Penicuik Silver Band, as we now know it, was founded in 1835 as a Reed Band when Sam Millar, a music teacher from Rosewell was engaged, and Tom Paterson was appointed as bandleader.
The first practice room was the old Free Gardeners' Lodge where the Emporium, part of the Co-operative Store, is now built. Soon the band was taking part in the life of the community, playing at picnic parties, Gardeners' Walks, etc. They must have looked smart in their white duck trousers, blue jacket and cap, with black glazed waist-belts.
A great misfortune was the death of their leader, Tom Paterson. The band had been playing through the streets one afternoon and had turned up towards Kirkhill, nearing Pentland View, when Tom Paterson dropped dead.
The original Reed Band had been in existence for about 12 years when a move was made to change to brass. Money was raised and a Committee was appointed to act as trustees to hold the instruments in trust for the Town. Second-hand instruments were bought and a new team was employed. David Young was appointed leader, and John Wood as teacher.
John Wood was a Yorkshire man, born in Leeds and was for 14 years Trumpet-Major in the 3rd Dragoon Guards.
It is not known exactly when John Wood gave up teaching the Penicuik Band. David Young however went to America and Thomas Nevison was appointed as leader and teacher of the band.
Under Thomas Nevison the band steadily improved until his resignation in 1888. Nevison must have been a member of the original Reed Band, as records state that he had been associated with the band for 50 years.
Among the red letter days during Nevison's time were excursion parties in 1851 to Stirling and to Glasgow, some 135 years ago. In going to Stirling and Glasgow, the band members had to be driven to Edinburgh in hay carts.
In 1859 the Volunteers were formed. The band had accompanied the Volunteers on marches and at drills. The Government issued an order that all bands being present at marches or drills must be sworn in. Captain Cowan and the other officers sent for Thomas Nevison to see if he would join. After making conditions for new instruments, etc., the band joined as a whole and it ceased to be the Town Band. The difference was scarcely felt as the Band continued to play at local functions, although in the uniform of the 2nd Midlothian and Peeblesshire Rifle Volunteers.
In 1888, much to the dismay of brass bandsmen, the Volunteers introduced the pipes and the band was broken up. During the 20 or so years that the band had been connected with the Volunteers, the instruments had been renewed. The Company claimed that the instruments belonged belong to them and duly kept them. The situation was resolved however when the officers put a comparatively small price of £45 on the instruments. Subscriptions were again raised, a Committee appointed, and the instruments became the Town's property.
Following the resignation of Thomas Nevison, Mr. Steedman of Edinburgh was appointed bandmaster. A difficulty arose because many of the bandsmen were working 12-hour shifts and, as a result, insufficient players were attending for rehearsals. However, Andrew Wishart, the secretary, succeeded in substituting day-shift workers for night workers. The re-organised Band of 1896 had a Mr Robert Stoddart as bandmaster. Robert Stoddart had served with the regimental band of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders as well as other brass bands.
The combination of Robert Stoddart as bandmaster and Andrew Wishart as secretary proved to be a great success. The years between 1895 and 1898 were years when great interest was shown in the band. The band took part in local events and organised some of their own. One outstanding event was a promenade concert held in the High Park on 11th September 1896 in which eight bands took part. Of the concerts that were held it is of interest to note that among the artistes was Mr J Peebles Conn who in later years was to become the leader of the Scottish Orchestra.
Instruments don't last forever and in November 1898 a 2 day bazaar was held in the Drill Hall for the purpose of buying new instruments and securing the services of a professional teacher. The bazaar was a great success. It was organised under the chairmanship of the North Kirk minister, Mr. McKerrow, assisted by such men as Charles Cameron, Robert White and Bailie WA Thompson. The first day's drawing was £90 and they went on to a final figure of £200. Needless to say, the Committee were cock-a-hoop with such wealth as this then was. Twelve new instruments were purchased, six old ones were overhauled and those not needed were sold. The cost of this improvement was £100. George Johnstone, a former bandmaster, remembers when he was looking for £6,000 for a similar project. Such is the price of progress.
To secure a professional teacher 13 applications were considered. The final choice was J. Ord Hume of Glasgow.
John Ord Hume commenced his duties on 25th February 1899. This was a red letter day for banding in Penicuik as Mr. Hume also gave much of his free time to help the Salvation Army Band.
Hume seemed to be all that any forward looking brass band needed. He may at once be claimed as a typical Scotsman, being of Scottish parentage and was born in Edinburgh in January 1863. At the age of 13 years he joined Her Majesty's 64th Regiment, and from that time his career as a musician commenced. He soon became solo cornet player of the regimental band although just a boy, and he studied harmony and instrumentation from an early age.
The Ord Humes were a musical family, his brother James being a prolific writer and in great demand as a contest adjudicator, whilst David was a first class pianist and vocalist.
As a cornet soloist, John Ord Hume had few equals. He had a rich mellow tone, very powerful and a wonderful compass. He also had great experience as teacher. and conductor of brass bands. Previous to becoming teacher of Penicuik Band, he was in great demand as an adjudicator at contests, two of which were the largest ever held in England. Pieces that he composed are still going the rounds today.
This then is the man who in 1899 took over Penicuik Band, with great things expected of him..
One thing that he emphasised was that failure on the part of the bandsmen to practice at home created great difficulty for the teacher. That was said 80 years ago and bandmasters have been echoing the same words every year since then.
Under Hume the Band entered for a contest. This was their first contest and it was held at Armadale on Saturday, 19th August 1899. The Band were unsuccessful on this occasion but their enthusiasm was not diminished. It was a sad day for Penicuik when Hume announced that he was leaving to take up an appointment at Inverness, but a year later he returned to Penicuik and resumed his old position.
In 1896 the Midlothian Brass Band League had been formed. The idea was to foster a good relationship between the bands in the county and make bands strive to play better. Mr. Ord Hume once remarked, "If there were no contests there would be no good amateur brass bands. It has brought up the standard of taste as well as that of execution." It was this league that Penicuik Band joined and, under Mr. Ord Hume, were successful in winning a place in the first three. It must have been difficult for Penicuik to hold such a prominent teacher as Hume, and so it proved when, in August 1902, he left to take up an appointment with Edinburgh Postal Band.
It is interesting to note that J Ord Hume arranged the first two pieces for the Crystal Palace contests where the best of bands competed. These pieces were arrangements of compositions by Sir Arthur Sullivan. At the time Sullivan was still alive and it was he who initiated the contest. In his honour his works were played in competition two years running.
The Band was in a serious position in 1902. Practices were at a standstill and eventually the instruments were called in pending the reorganisation of the Band. To secure a bandmaster in succession to Ord Hume was not easy but eventually Andrew Ireland was engaged.
Ireland took duties as bandmaster on 9th April 1903. He was a success from the start and he got the Band into contest shape again. Lack of money still shadowed the efforts of the Band however. One new way to raise funds was a singing competition for amateurs. This was held in the Cowan Institute, now the Town Hall, and attracted singers from Edinburgh, Leith and Musselburgh, as well as one or two locals. In all 21 competitors took part. This venture had meagre support.
The Band still continued to play before the public, playing in Valleyfield House Gardens and - a point of interest here - also in the Public Park which had been gifted to Penicuik by Provost Wilson in 1904. Money was still hard to come by. All sorts of ventures had been tried - even whippet racing - but none seemed to be successful. Ireland was beginning to lose heart because it was impossible to have a balanced band for want of cornet players. The bandsmen were doing extra work at the mills, and night after night only half the Band were attending because of this. Lack of practice made it impossible for the Band to turn out, with the result that the public were grumbling. Eventually in 1906 Ireland left and a Robert Dickson took over, but the Band was on the downhill. Half of the instruments that they had could only be described by the chairman as "old brass".
This was not very encouraging to players who were still trying to keep going. At a public meeting, it was agreed that instruments should be called in until such time as public interest resulted in funds becoming available. Hence, in 1907 the Penicuik Town Band became defunct.
For a year the instruments lay unused. To say that the Band was missed was putting it mildly. People had listened to it, talked about it, sung with it, and danced to its music. Now they wanted it again, and wanted it badly. There was talk of reorganising the Band. Councillor Thomson was asked to report to the Town Council upon a proposal to get things moving again. As a result, the Band Committee of the Council consisting of Provost Wilson, Baillies Conn and Chisholm, and Councillor Thomson met former members of the Band on Monday, 1st April 1908.
The revised rules were read over before the instruments were handed out to the men who signified their willingness to conform to the new conditions. They also unanimously agreed to give their heartiest support to George Purves, one of their number whom they had chosen as leader. In all, about 20 instruments were available. It was also reported that the Episcopal Church School had been granted for the use of the Band on very favourable terms.
Once again articles on the Band began to appear in the papers, such as reports that the “Town Band had a turn out through the principal streets”, or that “under Mr George Purves the Band played a number of selections in the High Street on Saturday evening.”
When the Band was suspended the instruments were almost useless. Moves were made to raise £300 and buy new ones. With aid from the Cooperative Society and from public donations, this was accomplished.
The new instruments were used for the first time in November 1910. A march out on the Saturday and a programme of music in the High Street on the Sunday afternoon. Even though the weather was unfavourable a large crowd turned out and Purves must have been a happy man as he conducted.
The Band Committee still kept on the lookout for a professional conductor. They found one in the person of William Allison. From 1911 when Mr. Allison was appointed, the Band entered on a new lease of life. From the very start his enthusiasm was reflected in the working of the Band Committee and the bandsmen, each one working wholeheartedly
together and backed by generous supporters. The work of George Logan as Secretary and Alex Allen, the President, were particularly noteworthy during Allison's period as conductor.
When Allison was contacted by Penicuik Band he was solo cornet player with Polton Band. Here indeed was a great brass bandsman. He was born in Bradford, Yorkshire on 4th September 1881. At the age of six he commenced to learn the cornet under the tuition of his father who was bandmaster and founder of Bellevue Band. At the age of eight he joined Bellevue Band on 3rd cornet. Two years later he succeeded his brother Louis as solo cornet and was much sought after by other bands.
In 1892 he settled as soprano cornet with Rutland Mills, but after a year as soprano he was asked to take solo cornet. In 1895, aged 14, he was engaged as principal cornet with Dewsbury Old Band, where he gained considerable experience. It was in 1898 that he came to Clydebank Band as solo cornet. Clydebank was Scotland's premier band at that time. One of the first contests in which Clydebank took part after Allison joined them was the Championship of Scotland, where young Allison won the Gold Medal for cornet. He stayed four years with Clydebank and then returned to Yorkshire as solo cornet with Louchwaite Band. However, owing to the indifferent health of his family, combined with tempting offers from Clydebank, he returned there as bandmaster and solo cornet.
During 1905 he had the unique experience of winning 21 first prizes in 21 successive solo competitions. His combined winnings consisted of three silver cups, three cornets and over forty gold and silver medals. This then, was the man Penicuik Band were fortunate in having as conductor.
Allison was famous and this taste of fame encouraged him to throw all he had into making Penicuik Band famous. Under Allison, Penicuik entered for the contest which was held at the Marine Gardens, Portobello in October 1911. At that time there were only three sections in the competition. The test piece for the third section was Audran's "La Mascotte''. Penicuik came second. A special train had been laid on for Penicuik that day, and now Penicuik was buzzing with excitement. The Band really meant something to the public. The band fund was still a source of worry to the committee, but now it was easier to appeal to the public.
In May 1912 a choir of some 100 voices was formed with Allison as conductor. A concert was held in the Tower Park to raise funds and Polton Band were there to add support. In addition to music, there was football, hoop-la and shooting, as well as tea and refreshments. It is said that 2,000 people were there The success of the programme was due to George Logan (Secretary), John Smith (President) and John Blair (Treasurer).
The Band and conductor gained more honours when they took part in the 1912 contest in the Marine Gardens, Portobello, coming second out of nine bands. The test piece that year was "Macbeth". The Band continued to improve, and in the 1913 contest they tied with Buckhaven for first place (of eight bands) in the third section, playing the test piece “National Songs of Great Britain and Ireland”. This win put them into the second section.
Unfortunately 1914 did not bring any competition success.
In 1915 the Town Band and the Salvation Army Band joined forces as the Band of the Third Royal Scots. Of course they would all be back soon, so most people thought, but as time went on they were disbanded. The sound of music gave place to the din of war. The Band did not go through the war unscathed. Five members of the Silver Band and two members of the Royal Scots paid with their lives.
In November 1918 a public meeting was held to consider the reconstituting of the Band. Provost Chisholm was in the chair and after a lengthy discussion it was agreed to make application to the Town Council to release the instruments which had been in their custody since the Royal Scot Band was dispersed. Eight old members and 16 new members promised to join, and Mr Purves and Mr Wm. Ritchie, the former bandmaster of the Salvation Army Band took up the duties of bringing on new players until March 1939 when Allison was demobbed. In no time at all the band was in contest shape. In fact several contests of a minor nature were held. In four of these Penicuik won prizes. The usual concerts to which the public were accustomed were revived. It is interesting to bring to mind some of the artistes. Mr Charles Smith, Miss Mary Allan, Mr John Watson of Innerleithen, Miss Love, Mr Robert Black, Emma Quiiln, Nettie Monteith and Adam Stewart. The Band was now in the second section and in 1920 they gained fifth place. In 1921 there were so many entries in the second section that it was decided to have an east section held at Kirkcaldy and a west section in Glasgow. Penicuik won first place at Kirkcaldy and the Band was now in the Championship section.
Penicuik were now up against the best bands in Scotland but with Allison at the helm, Penicuik were placed third out of fourteen bands in 1922. The test piece was "Jossonda". 1923 was the last time that the Penicuik Band appeared in the first section at championship contests. During preparations for the contest Allison fell ill. Noel Thorpe was brought up from England two weeks before the contest. Thorpe and the Band worked hard and gained third place, although this was altered to second place when the band which had been placed first was disqualified. The medal for the best euphonium soloist went to J McLean.
1924 was not a good year in terms of prizes and 1925 was the end of the Allison era. Allison handed in his resignation, as did the Chairman Alex Allen, who resigned on the death of his wife. J Logan had also recently resigned owing to illness. You can imagine the disappointment that was felt by the Band, and by the public. Two excellent men from the committee and their hero, Allison, had resigned. There were however still good musicians, and Albert Taylor took over as Conductor. Albert Taylor was a very fine French Horn player, playing in the Royal Scots Band where he doubled on viola. His Tenor Horn playing in Penicuik Band was first class.
Contests are looked forward to very much by bandsmen, no matter what section they are in. One meets old friends and rivals. Penicuik was still in the first section as they entered the 1925 contest. Noel Thorpe was the conductor and they took fifth place. 1926 saw the deterioration of the Band in every way. Taylor resigned, some players were “past their best” due to old age, and others had left Penicuik to obtain work. It was difficult under these circumstances to secure the services of a professional teacher. The former principal cornet player of the band, Alex Rae, took over for a few years but it was a struggle. Eventually in 1927 the committee issued an appeal for funds to secure the services of a professional teacher.
The new teacher, from England, Israel Almond, worked hard but left after a year. George Purves who was still to the fore could not see his beloved band go down and he kept things going until the war years intervened.
With the war over there was a move to begin the Band again. After three short-lived attempts to lead it by George Peden, Band-Sergeant Teviondale, and Peter Dempster, the committee appointed John Faulds as professional teacher.
John Faulds had a band in fourth place of the third section in 1908 and his name continued to appear in the prize list through many years. In 1945 he had six bands in the first section, two in the third section and three in the fourth section - all were on the prize list. Messrs Cowan & Sons paid his fees. He was a hard task-master, and his work paid off when the Band took first prize in the fourth section in 1952. However, John Faulds was ageing and there were no more prizes. After the departure of John Faulds and his successor, Jim Main, the Band was kept going by devoted members such as John Kerr, Jack Forrest and Charlie Peebles who deserve special mention.
In 1965 Mr Cairns appeared on the scene. He was a schoolmaster at Roslin with a great deal of enthusiasm. He soon had the Band entering contests again. But in 1969 failing health forced him to give up.
The committee then approached George Johnstone, conductor of the local male voice choir, to take over. He consented to become bandmaster on a temporary basis. This temporary appointment lasted nearly eight years. These were relatively happy years for the band. Johnstone, with a policy of encouraging youth, laid the groundwork for the continuation of the Silver Band. He had solid backing from a committee in which J Scott, a local banker, and Sandy Findlay, were prominent and things looked promising. These years are described here by George Johnstone, who until his recent death was still a highly respected member of the community.
“I decided that there would be no competitions until I felt that the band was fit. As a result, three good players left to join another band. I had only 15 players. It was hard work but I gathered together some promising youngsters and gradually we got better.
“In 1972 the Band entered the Edinburgh Charities Contest in the Usher Hall, and in 1973 we entered the major contests but with poor results. Our instruments were poor and we had to raise funds. The test piece for 1975 looked frightening. I began to increase the practices, especially with the youngsters. I had begun teaching the junior band and while I took them on a Sunday afternoon, Ian Forrest, our euphonium player practised in another room with his section. Then the band came together for an hour and a half. The practice Ian put in with his section meant a lot to me. The 1975 contest was held at Motherwell. The piece was "The Seasons" by John Carr who was the adjudicator. When we left the platform I felt we had done well.
At the end of the contest, Jack Forrest, our secretary, took his place on the platform. Jack had always said, "the day I carry something from the platform I'll get drunk." The hall was too crowded for me even to get in so I went for a cup of tea and a chat with two friends. All of a sudden there was a commotion and Peter Hawkins and Iain Peaston came rushing towards me. Peter was shouting, "We've won, we've won" and waving his hands in the air. By three clear points we were the winners - champions of Scotland's fourth section. I was the first non-professional conductor to lead the Penicuik Band to championship in a major contest. (There is no record as to whether Jack Forrest did get drunk).
“As winners of a regional section we were eligible to compete in London, but we came out of it rather badly, playing off-tune either through tiredness or excitement, or a combination of both. "Promenade" by Frank Bryce was the piece set for the third section in 1976. We practised hard and were doing well until disaster struck. Iain Peaston was taken ill. He was our principal cornet player. For the sake of those who had practised so hard we decided to go on but were placed last. A year later with Iain fit again we were runners-up in the third section. This was my last contest with the Band as I felt that I was taking on too much. I still kept on the junior band and, of course, my work at the school."
Jack Frier, bandmaster of the T.A. Band and a tutor with Lothian Region Council coached the Band for the 1977 contest in section three. Hopes were high but the Band fell away on the day of the contest. Jack Frier had only been temporary and so the Band was without a bandmaster again. After some weeks Fred Jones was appointed. Following the 1977 contest, the Scottish Brass Band Association reset the sections and Penicuik was placed in the fourth section.
Fred Jones, a former playing member of the Silver Band, received his training at Kneller Hall, the army music training establishment. Under his guidance it was not too long before the Band tasted success again. In successive years 1980-82 they were third in the fourth section, fourth section champions and third in the third section, going on to the National Finals in London each year and acquitting themselves well in the face of tough competition. However, as had so often happened, snags have cropped up. A bid to obtain exclusive practice premises within a local school foundered on the rocks of finance, viz. local authority rates. The management committee was reconstituted and, under the enthusiastic guidance of Band President Councillor J Hope, the storm was weathered. Assistance was obtained from Midlothian District Council and financial help was given by the people of Penicuik themselves both in the business and the private sector.