Archived Histories of Brass Bands 
Bands Directory   |   Events   |   Products & Services   |   People   |   Organisations   |   Reference   |   About IBEW   |   Contact

This page is part of an archive of historical details from existing or defunct brass band websites. This is being maintained to provide a record of this information in the event of a band folding, its website disappearing or other loss of the historical record. Where possible, and appropriate, the information cached will be updated from time to time - and any corrections or updates are welcome.

St Albans City Band

St Albans City Band was formed in 1892 and very quickly established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the contest field, going under the name of the St. Albans City Silver Prize Band.

In January 1900 the band took part in the first ever massed band concert to be held at the Royal Albert Hall. The concert, the idea of John Henry Iles, was conducted by Sir Arthur Sullivan and featured fifteen bands from around the British Isles, including the Black Dyke Mills and Besses O' the Barn.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the band became the Home Guard Band. In June 1945 a rehearsal was interrupted to announce that the war had ended! In 1947 the band joined forces with the St Albans British Legion Band, adopting the equitable, but somewhat lengthy title of the St Albans City and British Legion Band. The British Legion part was dropped in 1967 to leave us with our current identity.


Alan Webster's Memoirs

I left the Salvation Army in 1952 to join the St Albans City and British Legion Band, starting on Second Baritone, the Secretary was Alf Martin and the Conductor Ted Longland.

The first engagement I took part in was a parade of one mile to celebrate the Coronation of the Queen in June 1953, after this the band was busy doing local concerts and fetes. After six months I was transferred over to Assistant Euponium playing next to Alf Martin who was a very strict disciplinarian ruling over us, not letting anything slip by him. The Band would practice three times a week, Wednesday and Friday evening and Sunday morning with only very good reasons for non-attendance.

The band rehearsed in the Bandroom in Sopwell Lane which was an old church building and was poorly decorated and lit – the heating was an old coke stove which filled the room full of smoke that was lit an hour before practice by the Hall Caretaker, Mr Jack Sibley. The seating was an assortment of chairs, some having no backs which the bass players used, Len Smith on Bb Bass in particular sitting on his the wrong way round so that the bottom of the Bb Bass fitted into one of the holes where the back had once fitted.

On a Sunday morning break during practice several members would go outside in the street to play football – at that time both sides of Sopwell Lane had terraced houses on it – one Sunday morning Len Smith kicked the ball shouting as he did “…how's this for a Nat Lofthouse…” and ended up smashing a window in a house on the lefthand side of the road, after which all concerned made a hasty exit back into the bandroom.

The band continued doing local work and parades, and then Alf Martin retired, after his retirement the band went through various Secretaries until I took over. Soon after Ted Longland resigned from St Albans to take over Kents Works Band in Luton, after this a Mr Tommy Boyes was appointed conductor who stayed for a few years. There were then several other conductors after this, including the ill fated Captain Kitson, before Mr Nelson Morris was chosen as Conductor (he was on holiday at the time and was told on his return that he was conducting a concert the next day). He stayed on as conductor for many years.

During Nelson's time the band was rebuilt and took part in contests at which we were very successful, winning many cups in the Second Section and moving up to the old Championship Section. The band then entered a period of indecision so we found ourselves relegated back to the Second Section where we stayed and entered some more contests. We concentrated on fulfilling our engagements and then started to get very busy when we picked up a contract with the London County Council (prior to the GLC) to play in the London Parks. We had to go up to County Hall for an audition in front of Mr Frank Wright, who was Musical Director for the Council. This became an annual event and we were booked to play in a selection of parks and also the Royal Port of Greenwich. Some of the regular parks included Brockwell Park, Clissold Park, Crystal Palace Park, Golders Hill Park, Finsbury Park, Greenwich and Cutty Sark Gardens, Horniman Gardens, Kennington Oval, Parliament Hill, Peckham Rye and Tulse Hill Park. For each performance given we were paid £25 – out of this £12 was spent on transport and any players borrowed from other bands the grand sum of £1 each.

Three weeks before each engagement we had to submit a programme of music to Frank Wright for approval, if he was satisfied with the selection a Performing Rights form was filled in and sent back. On many occasions he would turn up at the park unannounced to count that we had 25 players (the minimum number specified in the contract). At one performance we were a player short, so Mr Jack Sibley the Bandroom Caretaker sat on the bandstand holding an instrument – Frank Wright didn't notice he had his music upside down and we got away with it! On some Sundays we had to play two parks – one in the afternoon and then followed by an evening concert elsewhere.

We also had a contract with St Albans City Council for a few concerts at Verulamium on a Sunday afternoon for which we were paid £20 per concert. During my time as Secretary I had discussions with the Council about helping the band to purchase new instruments and uniforms as the ones we had were very tatty. The council loaned the band £4000 interest free over 20 years which worked out at approx. £150 per year repayments. The new uniforms were designed by Hardy Aimes and made by Hepworths and the set of instruments were ordered from Boosey and Hawkes. My wife spent a day at the Bandroom taking delivery of the new items as everyone else was at work.

In order to help meet the repayments it was agreed that the number of engagements from the council would increase from four to six per year at the increased fee of £25 per concert. When the council changed to St Albans District Council the debt was written off as a gesture of goodwill.

During my years in the Band Starting at the very beginning, I remember playing at an engagement at Cell Barnes Hospital, the members of the band being introduced by the guest opener, a new young singer called Petula Clarke, who went on to be one of the UK's top female singers.

As Secretary of the band I arranged concerts at the Waterend Barn in conjunction with Mr Richard Thrale the owner of the Barn, and for a number of years a Trustee of the band. These concerts continued as a regular occurrence for 3-4 years and helped to raise funds. I then switched the venue to the newly built City Hall (now the Arena) where I promoted the concerts on behalf of the band. In conjunction with the Council I arranged a number of concerts where the band played massed concerts with the Royal Marines, RAF and Army bands. It was at the first of these concerts that City Band MD Nelson Morris became the first civilian to conduct the Band of the Royal Marines. These concerts were very successful and led to further events with stars of the day including Cyril Fletcher, Roy Hudd, George Chisholm, Susan Maughan and others. The biggest achievement for the band was being asked to play at Hatfield House where the main guest was Her Majesty the Queen Mother. After the parade a reception was held in the Great Hall and we stood in concert formation. As Principal Euphonium I was on the end of a line, as she walked past she noticed I had the word 'Secretary' on the badge on my uniform jacket. She stopped and asked to be introduced to me and asked me many questions about the band, and complimented us on our playing. This was a great honour for me personally and one I shall never forget.

As a band we continued to achieve a quality of success, taking part in contests and gaining top marks under the baton of Nelson Morris. I was now having difficulty with my sight and found it hard to read the music, so decided to retire from playing and carried on as a non-playing member as Band Chairman and Trustee.

During the early 80's I started my own Roofing business (later to become Webster and Day's Roofing Contractors). At the time the band was struggling financially and was close to folding, but as they were coming up to being 100 years old I decided to sponsor them as I wanted to see them to their centenary, which they have now well surpassed.

I continued to sponsor the band until 1993 when I retired and moved down to Brixham in Devon. I am very glad to hear the Band has been rebuilt and is doing so well. I send you all my best wishes.

ALAN WEBSTER - March 2006


Some interesting stories from Andrew Walford

I came from Cornwall originally, starting out with the Saltash Town band - 4th section, but was quite keen so would often play with many other local ones when I could - Liskeard, and Tavistock (both 4th section), Plymouth Silver (1st/2nd), St Pinnock (2nd), and Bodmin Town Band (1st). Then I moved to the Midlands where I played with the Hathern Band (3rd) and Ratby Band (1st), before coming to St Albans. I always wanted to go on to one of the top bands, but eventually different priorities meant I couldn't dedicate to the amount of continued practice necessary. Shortage of time has resulted in me having to stop banding altogether, which is a shame, but I still try and follow what is going on.

I used to live in lodgings where it was not possible to practice properly, so I held a key to the Sopwell Lane band room and used to pop in there at lunchtimes and evenings to keep in trim. I loved the excessive reverberance of the place, it made the band all sound better than we probably were!

The Conductor when I joined was Matt Robertson who was a little Scots guy, with false teeth (he kept dislodging them during practice). A larger than life person - totally dedicated to banding. I understand he was a pretty good Euphonium player in his time, I learned an awful lot from him particularly with regard to tone production. He'd taken a chap called Anthony ? under his wing as a Euphonium player and I think was quite upset when he left (Anthony's wife stayed on as second Trombone player for a while). A chap called Steve took his (Anthony's) place and came on leaps and bounds under Matt's direction.

Matt was a lovely chap but very forthright, and outspoken, and not afraid to say when something was poor, he upset a few people, because if someone from the back row would improve, he would have no hesitation in moving them forward, possibly displacing someone on the front row. He desperately tried (quite successfully) to raise the standard of the band, and as a player you had to understand that this was his mission - not to make friends particularly - you had to be the type not to take offence when he had a go at you. He brought out a lot of the very old music, and stuff that wasn't played very often which was interesting...also quite refreshing, and got quite a good reception, and positive comment from the judges when going in for an entertainment contest. (With regard to contesting - we were always pretty close to the top of the Third section, despite not winning whilst I was there).

I went with Matt to the National Finals one year at the Albert Hall - ("Blitz" was the test piece) - he didn't spend a lot of time in the concert hall, being quite difficult to keep up with rushing around chatting to his old friends - he seemed to know everyone - the principals in all the top bands and the Adjudicators. He introduced me to Tom Paulin (Grimethorpe) and, when I managed to catch up with him, Major Peter Parkes, John Clough, and many others who were part of his circle. I remember that his wife would get quite frustrated with him on concert day, as he would just disappear.

Matt would sometimes turn up on practice night with one of his virtuoso player friends - coming for a blow. I particularly remember a trombone player once who completely put me to shame. He was a jazz player, and we had a go at "South Rampart Street Parade" and the guy completely took over - amazing (he certainly didn't follow the score - very Don Lusher)!

The Euphonium player was Anthony ? His wife (I am terrible for names it appears) played 2nd trombone. When he left, she stayed on for quite a while. She was playing first trombone when I arrived, until Matt, true to form, unceremoniously swapped us over!! She was ok about it, quite relieved in reality I think. She was pretty good, but I think I was a lot louder! Anthony and his wife were married within about 2 weeks of me appearing on the scene, I'd only turned up to about 2 practices and they invited me to their wedding and reception - with a lot of the rest of the Band. It was very gracious of them, and made me feel very welcome. It was a nice way to get to know other members as well.

I was principal trombone player - and at the moment I am struggling for names. I can remember Len Smith very well. Roy Hall was principal cornet player, his daughter was a learner baritone player, Geoff....? was the flugal horn player who together with Anthony....? (euphonium) left to join the Hitchin Band (1982-ish). Howard Oldham was the soprano cornet player. Bridgette McClean was on back row cornet. Alan Webster wasn't there when I was, I knew of him, and think I met him, he no doubt came for a blow on occasions, but I understand that he was busy with his business at the time. We weren't officially sponsored by Webster and Day's when I was there, although he would help out financially with uniforms and instruments I think.

We did the regular London park run, Battersea, Alexandra Palace, Golders Green etc, plus contests in Brighton, Milton Keynes, and Watford I think but the memory is a bit fuzzy. I do remember some work I did with Ken Smith. He and I had a meeting with the local British Legion at one time to explore ways of strengthening links between our two didn't really come to anything - perhaps a concert or two (at one of which our Bass Trombone player inadvertently pulled his slide off during the final part of "Hootenanny" - the bit where we trombones stand up - how we laughed - and found it quite difficult to continue).

I note that your web site infers that the 70's and 80's were a bad patch for the band - my recollection was that it was no worse than any other band in the Third Section. We were having 2 practices per week during the time I was there, Monday and Thursday I think and every night leading up to a contest.

I liked the contesting and concert side of banding, but I wasn't really into the 'playing in the park' or carnivals aspect. I like concerts best - when played inside so as to get a feel of the power of a band, but I do get a buzz when a band plays a good tune well. A "challenge" to the listener is ok if it is in a contest when you can hear it over and over again, and get to know it, but unless the listener actually know the piece first then it can be dull in a concert setting.

'Playing in the park' I feel never does a band justice, and more often than not has to rely on some stand-in players, because of the weekend commitments of regulars. I think I was traumatised in my early playing years when my then band (Saltash - 4th section) had a load of stand-ins - including the conductor (from Bodmin band - top section) - a guy called Alan Jenkin (who got them into the finals, and onto the TV programme Best of Brass in about 1980....) - he picked something for us to play at some fete, which should have been routine (typically "Y Viva Espania" or something of that ilk) but which we made a complete pigs ear of..........terribly embarrassing for all concerned......his face was a picture....he couldn't believe what was happening to him!


Memories from Richard Banks

Richard Banks joined St Albans City and British Legion band in 1962 - his reason for joining was that he was in the RAF at RAF Stanmore and had been keen to get back into banding – he had been brought up in St Albans and had relatives in the city and often spent most weekends in the area. His original position in the band was on 2nd Cornet and he first sat next to Archie McDonald, father of Dave McDonald. By 1963 he was playing 1st Cornet, but by 1964 he went on to Horn where he stayed until leaving the band in November 1972 when he joined Hemel Hempstead Band. Another reason for his joining St Albans Band was the fact that he had distant family members in the band – Joe Smith, the longest serving member when he joined was in fact Richard Banks' Mother's Cousin. Joe Smith had been in the band since 1909 and had been one of the original trustees and signatories on the deeds of the Bandroom when it was purchased in 1926. His son, Les Smith was in the band when Richard joined and his Grandson, Ken Smith joined soon after Richard. Other long serving members included George Wright, George Peck, Len Smith and others. Tommy Boyes was Conductor whilst his son, Kenny Boyes was top man. Nelson Morris was second man down and Bandmaster, followed by George Peck on third man. Other players at that time included Alan Webster on Solo Euphonium, Dave McDonald on Solo Trombone, Les Smith on Eb Bass, Alan Carter on Horn, Bernard 'Buddy' Allen on Flugal, Bill Day on Bb Bass, Jimmy Johnson on Soprano. Later on players such as Charlie Wickenden (Eb Bass) and Dennis Ayton (Soprano) joined up. Dennis Ayton was a player who had come down from the North East and relocated down here along with another player, John Janes. Latterly they left the band to go and play with Hendon Band. Other notable players from the 1960's / 70's include Alan Vass, who was George Peck's nephew and played cornet. He later left and joined Hemel Hempstead Band, and is now living in the Croydon area. Harold Oldham was a Soprano player and was band chairman in the mid-1970's and again in the early 1980's. Ian Davis was a euphonium player and band secretary in the mid-1970's. He latterly played with Bedford Band.

The band at that time were a decent 2nd Section band and had a good record at local contests and reasonable results at the area. At that time the Area contest was sponsored by the Daily Herald and was organised by the old London and Home Counties Band Association. In 1969 the band won the 2nd section areas and went to the Nationals where they came a respectable 6th place in the 2nd section. However due to a number of players, and Nelson Morris the Conductor who did not want to accept the promotion to the 1st Section the band refused this honour, and thus stayed in the 2nd section – something that many players did not like – the band lost a lot of players over this decision.

The band instruments were a mix of mainly old and pretty worn out examples – it was this problem that promped the negotiation of a grant from St Albans District Council in 1967 for the purchase of a new set of instruments at around 4000 pounds plus the Hardy Aimes uniform jackets. The new set of instruments were of the low pitch variety – there was a great trend at that time for converting instruments from high to low pitch and so the new set of Boosey and Hawkes instruments were all low pitch. A few remnants of this set of instruments continued to be used in the band right up until around 2003. The music that was played at that time was very traditional and consisted mainly of old transcriptions of overtures, operas, music from the shows and old marches – there was very little in the way of new pieces being written for brass band at that time. One of the first 'modern' pieces written for brass band in the 1960's was 'Bandology' by Eric Osterling – a piece that was a favourite finisher for the band at this time and must have featured somewhere on the programme for the majority of concerts. Richard recalls how the band got thoroughly fed up with it by the end of a summer season!

The London Park jobs were an important part of the band's portfolio at this time and it was not unusual to have at least one London park job every weekend through the height of the summer. Sometimes 'doubles' were done, where the band performed in one park for an afternoon and then onto another one for an evening concert. At that time the GLC organised and oversaw all the bands in the parks and they employed Frank Wright to go around the parks and check that everything was going smoothly, and more importantly, that the GLC got their money's worth out of every band! If it was raining, the band was only allowed to go home if every listener had gone and the park was empty – even if there was one member of the public still in earshot the band had to play on! There was always a rule that the band had to take a minimum of 24 players to London park jobs, and players would be counted whilst on the bandstand playing to check this rule was adhered to. On a number of occasions a couple of wives and girlfriends had to don band jackets and sit on the bandstand during the performances pretending to play! At that time every band who wanted to apply to play in London parks had to go and audition at County Hall in front of Frank Wright, normally in about February in order to check that the band was still up to standard. Programmes for London park jobs had to be submitted one month in advance of the performance and changes were only allowed in very exceptional circumstances. Normally, the programme would be checked against the ones from the surrounding weeks just to make sure that there were no duplications of pieces – at least the audience knew they would hear something different every week! Generally the band played in North London parks including Golders Green, Parliament Hill, Clissold and others. These park jobs were well organised and were for many bands at that time a lifeline that kept them going financially and helped boost morale.

After Richard left in 1972 the band went through a number of years of uncertainty and although Richard followed the fortunes of the band he did not rejoin until early 1999. The band at this time was in a poor state, struggling at the bottom of the 4th section after having gone through a number of conductors and numerous players in a short space of time. Richard teamed up with his old colleague and friend Bill Rumford (who had previously been MD of the band back in 1993 – 94) and they devised a plan to pull the band out of the 4th section and back onto some sort of straight path. Bill Rumford took the MD's job which had previously been occupied by Mark Jarvis. After a lot of work they managed to start seeing some results with a trip to the 4th section finals at Nottingham in 1999 followed by a success in the 3rd section in 2001. It was in this state that current MD Stuart Garman took over in November 2002.

Richard latterly played Solo Horn and then 3rd Cornet and retired from playing in early 2004.


67 Years With St Albans Band - Len Smith's Recollections

Len Smith joined St Albans City Band in April 1939, just a few months before war broke out. At the tender age of 12 it was his goal to learn to play the cornet and join his cousin, Nelson Morris and other friends of his from his home in Longmire Road, St Albans in the City Band. The Bandmaster at the time, Herbert Warwick was a painter at Napsbury Hospital and had led the band for many years – firstly on Solo Cornet from 1892 and from the early 1920's as Bandmaster. A rather dour man with a lisp, Herbie Warwick commanded the respect of all who had played under him – his favourite saying being “…It's no good polishing it if you can't play it…” – a saying which probably drove many a young player away from his tin of 'Silvo' and back to the practice stand! Len remembers chasing after Herbie Warwick on his bike, stopping him and asking him to teach him the cornet. Later, Herbie gave Len a mouthpiece and told him once he could buzz 'The King' on the mouthpiece he should come back and see him. Len also recalls how at his first music lesson Herbie sent him out to fetch a pint of beer before the lesson commenced!

So it was that in the first week of April 1939 Len attended his first band practice in the Sopwell Lane Bandroom. In those days, as a junior member of the band his duties included pushing the big instruments down to the lake at Verulamium Park on the band's handcart before regular performances there and also stoking the old stove that stood in one corner of the Bandroom. On the night war was declared in September 1939 Len recalls he was attending a band practice – halfway through an old woman who lived in a nearby cottage came running in and shouted “…the old bastard's declared war!...”. Preparations for war were made which included the hanging of blackout curtains in the Bandroom which Len did along with Herbie Warwick. In due course many members of the band were called up which left the number of players seriously depleted. A similar thing was happening with the St Albans British Legion Band, who practiced at a hall in the Market Place, near the Clock Tower in St Albans. It was therefore decided in 1941 to form the St Albans Home Guard Band which was an amalgamation of the two bands to form one band of full strength. The aim of this band was to do parades and collect for the war effort especially during Government Campaigns such as War Bonds Week, Victory Week etc. Bob Anderson, who had played percussion in the British Legion Band became Bandmaster of the Home Guard Band. Following the end of war in 1945 Len was called up, having reached the age of 18 and spent the next three years in the Army in Germany clearing up and rebuilding after the war.

Following the war and subsequent demobbing of thousands of men, the St Albans City Band reformed in 1946 and was restored to virtually full strength through amalgamation with the British Legion Band. It quickly made a name for itself in the contest field whilst still having a strong presence in the city of St Albans. At that time the band still did a lot of marching – the band would assemble in the city centre on a Sunday morning, march to the Abbey with the Mayor and Council walking behind, attend the Sunday service there and then march back to the City centre. The Bandmaster would lead the marching and carry a whistle – when he blew the whistle you would stop playing at the next double bar. On leaving the Army in 1948 Len rejoined the City Band and went straight onto Bb Bass, the instrument he would stay on for the next 58 years! His colleagues on Bass included Bill Day, a player who often had large amounts of denture powder with him, should his teeth come dislodged at an inopportune moment! Another, more embarrassing incident occurred to Euphonium player John Irving on a march when on taking a brief break from playing to sneeze, fired his teeth out into the gutter!

Post war the Contest scene was one of interest for St Albans City Band – it was usual for the services of a professional conductor to be engaged to prepare the band for big contests. In 1948 the famous conductor of Luton Band Albert Coupe came and conducted St Albans for their trip to the Belle Vue contest and later on a professional from Rushden Temperence Band was used for several contests. Tommy Boyes, who later became Bandmaster in the mid-1960's was also used for a number of contests. Contesting had it's funny sides too – on one occasion Len and Nelson Morris were left behind in Brighton after the end of the contest after the coach left while they were in the pub! A side drum was also the subject of an incident when it was stowed near the open door of a coach the band were traveling on and it rolled out of the open door! At that time the band were out every weekend – if not contesting at jobs in London parks – in many of these jobs singers and pianists were also provided so the band did not have to play every item. At one contest a duet was played on Cornet by Nelson Morris and Charlie Horsley – the local paper report of the day carried the statement “…the Cornet duet was played by Nelson and Morris…!”. Needless to say Charlie Horsley was not impressed!

The band enjoyed moderate success in the contest arena during the 1950's and 1960's until October 1969 when the band won the Second Section Finals. However this was not the blessing that it appeared – Nelson Morris, by now Conductor decided that he was not prepared to take the band into the First Section so, after a long meeting the promotion was refused. Sadly this was the beginning of the end for the band's contesting career and although it contested on and off for the next 25 years it was not until the late 1990's that it became a force to be reckoned with in the contesting field.

Going back to the post war era – all things had an air of neglect at this time, not least the St Albans City Bandroom! It was decided to refurbish the Bandroom, with a new stove and new windows, which also involved the filling in of the windows at the front of the Bandroom. This was done by Nelson Morris and George Peck whilst Len mixed up the cement. Bass player Tommy Knight offered to fit the new small framed windows in and he was justly proud of the job he had done 15 foot up in the air on a ladder, until it was realised that actually the handles were on the outside and the windows opened inwards! (less said about the brain power of Bass players the better – thank you!). At that time the majority of the band were tradesmen so work of this nature was more easily done than it may be today.

In 1955 Len got married and the band played at his wedding. They formed a guard of honour and George Peck played the posthorn at this engagement. The 1950's and 60's were great times for the band, with Ted Longland as Bandmaster a variety of concerts and contests were played. In the early 1960's the band took part in a radio programme on the BBC during the time Tommy Boyes was Bandmaster. Bert Golby, the long standing band Secretary was interviewed and a piece from the 'Sound of Music' was played. From 1967 – 1980 Nelson Morris was Conductor of the band – his appointment marked some changes – the title “…and British Legion…” was dropped reflecting the small number of ex-British Legion players still in the band. The band also stopped marching and became a concert style band. In 1967 the new uniforms designed by Hardy Aimes were purchased, along with a brand new set of uniforms thanks to a grant and loan from St Albans City Council. Although the band effectively withdrew from contesting from 1970 several high profile concerts were arranged including several at the St Albans City Hall (now the Alban Arena) and the Waterend Barn, where the proprietor was a Trustee of the band. Two concerts were played together with the Band of the Grenadier Guards, two with the Band of HM Royal Marines and one with the Central Band of the Royal Air Force at the City Hall between October 1969 and November 1972. It was in this period that Nelson Morris became the first civilian to conduct the Grenadier Guards band, and he made the front page of the paper doing so!

By 1975, when the final concert at the Waterend Barn was held on 3rd February the band was basically going downhill. After Nelson Morris retired in 1980 the band lost a lot of players from both retirement and the fact that the band went through a number of mediocre conductors very quickly. Len recalls how for much of the 1980's he was the only Bass player. It was only due to the commitment and forethought of a few players at this time that ensured the band survived for the future. Since 1998 the band has developed beyond everyone's expectations – Len could have scarcely imagined in 1970 the massive changes that would occur in the band over the next 36 years – we are now at about the same position as the band was in 1970 - and Len has been here every step of the way!


Dave MacDonald's Recollections

Dave joined St Albans City and British Legion Band in 1947, aged 10. His father, Archie MacDonald had joined when the family moved up from Plymouth in 1945 and the young Dave soon followed in his father's footsteps. He started on Baritone and then moved onto Trombone where he stayed until called for National Service in 1955. After two years in the Army Dave came back to the City and British Legion Band and then variously played Trombone, Baritone, Horn, Euphonium and Bass Trombone, but mainly Trombone until the late 1960's.

With their military style uniforms, the City and British Legion Band had many engagements both within the City and in London parks. During the 1950's 'doubles' were often done in London Parks – one job in the afternoon and one in the evening. At that time every band that played in the parks had to audition at County Hall every January before the jobs were allocated, just to check the band still met the high standards of the time. The Band at this time still marched, and took part in many parades in the City, often along St Peters Street down to the Abbey. Every time there was a parade there was a man who turned up and marched in front, although he didn't play an instrument. Strangely his name was also George Wright! The band used to play regularly on the band's own 'piece of concrete' in Verulamium park – situated in a natural hollow hundreds of people used to sit and listen.

At the time Dave joined the band there were a number of members who had been in the band for many years – Joe Smith and Alf Martin had many years experience between them, whilst George Peck and Harry Johnson had joined the City band after the war from the British Legion band. Harry Johnson had played Clarinet in the British Legion band, and taught himself to play trombone for the City band. The long running joke was that his trombone playing sounded like someone playing the clarinet!

The band owed a lot to a selection of good MD's in the post-war years. Ted Longland had taken over in 1945 when the band was revived after the war. His father, affectionately known as 'Pop' Longland had been in the City band since soon after the First World War. After Ted Longland stepped down in the late 1950's another band member, Ernie Ewings conducted for a short time before a certain 'Captain Kitson' was appointed. Formerly the conductor of the Heath and Reach Band, Kitson was a strange chap who was always keen to point out the fact that he had been a commissioned officer in the Army, and made money from his Army musical background. However in practice his direction was less than satisfactory. After one particularly bad performance the unfortunate Kitson was pelted with an assortment of fruit and vegetables as a clear indication from the audience of his unsatisfactory musical direction! Shortly after this news reached the committee of some more information on Kitson – it happened that actually he had never been a commissioned officer in the Army, had never had any Army musical training and had in fact only ever been a Private in the Territorials. Needless to say, 'Captain' Kitson's employment as MD of the City Band was swiftly terminated.

After this, Tommy Boyes was appointed MD, and in 1967 Nelson Morris took over. The standard of the band at this time was very good and the band won lots of contests. It was in 1969 when the band won the Second Section that things started to go downhill – an Extraordinary General Meeting was called and the proposal put to the band to not accept their promotion into the First Section, and instead stay in the Second Section. MD Nelson Morris was not keen on progressing any further and so, it seemed were many of the band and so it happened that St Albans City Band refused their promotion. At this point many of the good players, who wished to continue contesting began to drift away. At that time there were two excellent players who the band had moved down from the North of England, Dennis Ayton on Soprano and John Janes on Euphonium. The band had found them jobs in the area and they played with the band on the understanding that it was going places – especially the First Section. Both players moved on to Hendon Band after the decision was made to refuse the promotion – at that time Hendon Band took many players on from St Albans.

Once it was clear the band was not going into the First Section Dave Macdonald left and went on to play with a number of other bands, including Hemel Hempstead and Luton. His father, Archie stayed on with St Albans band until around about 1990, when he was well into his eighties. Dave meanwhile rejoined St Albans in mid-1999 when he was asked by the then MD Bill Rumford to play Baritone at the Fourth Section National Finals, which St Albans attended in 1999. Dave continued to play both Trombone and Baritone with the City band until he retired from playing in 2004.


Memories from George Wright

George joined the St Albans British Legion Band in 1934, aged 12 on Tenor Horn. After service during the Second World War, George rejoined the City Band, and stayed there until 1971.

After he joined the Legion Band as he became more experienced a trombone player left, and so he graduated onto the 2nd Trombone. During this time he started playing with the St Albans Light Orchestra, which meant he had to learn Bass Clef in order to play the orchestral arrangements. The British Legion band in the meantime had decided to start contesting, and they did not have an adequate Bass Trombone player. George, knowing the bass clef already was the ideal man for the job, and so this is how George started on the Bass Trombone.

The British Legion Band in 1934 was mainly made up of soldiers who had served in the Beds and Herts Regiment in World War One. It was a very military style band and the uniforms were of the military type. The Bandmaster was one 'Curly' Richards, an ex-Naval man who often wore an old style military frock coat. Other members of the British Legion band included Harry Johnson, who gave up a woodwind instrument after the war when the British Legion and St Albans City Bands amalgamated and learnt to play the trombone for the City Band. Charlie Horsley, who played cornet in the British Legion Band, and went onto Baritone in the City Band. George Peck was a cornet player in the BL Band and continued on cornet when the bands amalgamated. Derek Brett played horn in the British Legion Band and it was he who gave George his first Tenor Horn in 1934.

The music played by the British Legion Band was also of the military style, old style selections and overtures, as well as marches such as 'The Thin Red Line' and 'Colonel Bogey'.

George's father, Jimmy Wright played drums in the City Band in the 1920's and 1930's and although he could not recall why he joined the British Legion Band whilst his father played in the City Band, he made it clear that there was no rivalry of any sort amongst the bandsmen at that time. Although you played for different bands you all knocked around together, and often played and practiced together. George's family did not have a radio or gramophone so playing in the band was actually quite a privilege and passed the time. Music kept people together and you made friends through it.

In the inter-war years there was actually three bands in St Albans, if you counted the Salvation Army Band. This was made up of approximately 40 bandsmen, accompanied by around 20 songsters with tambourines and another 15 players from the Salvation Army Junior Band. On a Sunday evening they would march down St Peters Street and onto the lake in Verulamium Park. With all the marchers the parade was often nearly the length of St Peters Street.

During the war George was called up and became a Prisoner of War. He also played in the Royal Marines Band on trombone. He also spent some time as a bugler.

During the war in St Albans, the British Legion and City Bands merged in 1940 to become the St Albans Home Guard Band. Most of the bandsmen had been called up and those remaining were either too young or old, or in reserved occupations. Out of those who were called up, one was killed in action and two taken as POW's.

At the end of the war both bands were much depleated, and so in 1947 the two bands amalgamated permanently as the St Albans City and British Legion Band, a title that was to be used up until 1967. In 1945 the Bandmaster was Herbert Warwick, who had been Bandmaster right back in the 1920's, and previous to that Solo Cornet right back until the 1890's. Warwick was a local man and was responsible for bringing into the band several names that became well known, including Nelson Morris and Len Smith. By the end of the 1940's the Bandmaster was Ted Longland, who was later replaced by Tommy Boyes, and subsequently long standing solo cornet player Nelson Morris.

In the 1950's the City Band began to contest again and won several prizes. Some of the older members were not keen on this, but the younger ones were and so the band went. Every year the London and Home Counties Band Contest was held at the Albert Hall. Quartet contests were also entered, and George often played on Trombone in these, along with David MacDonald on Trombone and two cornets. They played 'The Pilgrim', and won at least one prize at the London and Home Counties Quartet Contest in the 1950's. Another quartet in the band consisted of three horns and an Eb bass – personnel involved in this included Fred Savory on horn, and Bill Day on Eb Bass. Other notable persons during this time include Bert Golby who was the band secretary for a number of years and joined the band at the end of the war on drums. Alf Martin was also the secretary in the post war years – he came from the Salvation Army band after an argument, but after a few years went back there.

The comradeship in the City Band was very good. Practices were on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings, with some Sunday afternoon practices with the St Albans Light Orchestra. However often some band members would meet up on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a blow. The key to the bandroom was held at 'The Wellington' public house so it was easily obtained for some extra practice. Extra practices also took place in the shed at the end of George Peck's garden in Longmire Road, St Albans – band members Ron Slough, George Peck, Nelson Morris and the Bandmaster Herbert Warwick lived in Longmire Road, and soon these extra shed rehearsals became known as the 'Longmire Road Band'!

During the 1950's the band gigs mainly revolved around London Park jobs, from Easter to the end of September the band would be out every Sunday at parks including Crystal Palace, Clissold Park and many others.

George recalls the night when they were auditioning new Bandmasters after Ted Longland stepped down. Tommy Boyes came up to the stand and took the band through a piece. At the end he said that he liked the Bass Trombone very much and that ?maybe? he was the best player in the band! I'll find out! said Boyes who was later appointed as Bandmaster. George also recounts a story of funding cuts under a Labour government. In the pre-war days the British Legion Band always played at Napsbury Hospital to the patients there. After the performance there was always a great spread of food laid on for the bandsmen. There was often so much that bandsmen were seen taking food home in their cases! In 1947, the year the NHS started the City band went back to Napsbury and did another concert. At the end of the concert the players in the know started to head towards the canteen area. “Where do you think your going” asked a stern nurse. “well we're off for the grub” we told the Nurse. “I don't think so” she says, go down the corridor and there's a machine there you can get tea out of, a penny a time. “We haven't got the money for laying food on here”!

George left the City Band in 1971 after a change of personal circumstances. His daughter Barbara played in the band in the 1960's and eventually married a trombone player, David Gentle.