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From humble beginnings

by Mark Wardle


I always remember those Khaki short trousers and grey socks, the thin blue and red striped 'T'-shirt and brown sandals that I'd wear to go and listen to the band practice. The old original Ollerton Welfare was home to Ollerton Silver Prize Band, who every Tuesday and Thursday would turn out intriguing renditions of all sorts of musical pieces I would grow to love, pieces which as a six year old wouldn't have an earthly's chance of having their titles pronounced properly, but, nevertheless, 'Cornflowers and Poppies' and 'Die Felsemhule' or whatever it's called became more and more familiar as the weeks went on.

My brother, Keith, had been taking lessons from Bill Appleton for some time now and had followed in the footsteps of Mum, Thelma and Uncles Joe and Les in taking up a position with the band. However, 'Cornflowers and Poppies', colouring books and the odd glass of lemonade was the order of the day for 'ar Mark'.

After around a year of experiencing this twice weekly experience, my family left Ollerton band and joined the Edwinstowe based Thoresby Colliery Welfare Band. I didn't really want to go there as I liked to play on the fire escape at the old Ollerton Welfare. Keith finally persuaded me with the promise of two huge marble spiral staircases which led upto the enormous concert hall that had a stage and 'everything'. This was too much to miss, so I stopped sulking and got my sandals out again.

During these early years at Thoresby, I did some of my very best colouring, paid many visits to Nana and Grandads to cadge as much ice cream from Manfredis as I could, and like no other 7 year old at the time, I learned to 'Peg-up' at bowls. You see the Welfare overlooked the perfectly kept bowling greens and tennis courts and on the long, warm, sunny summers evenings I'd stand with the bowls players, all of pensionable age, and 'make friends'. They seemed to take a shine to me, all this added to the atmosphere which should have been bottled for posterity.

After some months, in the evenings, at home, I started to realise that every time I was on my way to bed I noticed Keith was staying up after me. I asked Mum on many occasions why this was and the explanation I got was that he was 'learning his words'....... Seemingly a brilliant ploy to stay up half an hour extra, I too decided that I wanted to 'learn my words' and to this end started to learn the C major scale at the age of Eight.

After a few months practice it seemed that I had taken a shine to the cornet. So much so that along came a dark haired chap called Mr Parkin who frightened me to death as he looked just like Captain Black. Mr Parkin carried two heavy maroon music folders containing 'yellow' music which had it's own special smell of damp. On one of the folders, it had printed in large silver letters '2nd Cornet' and the other 'Repiano Cornet'. I chose Repiano after much deliberation because there were a few more tuneful bits to play, yes even in 'Indian Summer'. After Mr Parkin had left I realised that I had just become a member of the Dukeries School Band.

This led to special treatment from my Head-Mistress at Walesby Primary School, Mrs Robinson and her secretary, Mrs Ostle. You see Keith had already been made Head Boy, so our family was looked on as 'O.K.' enough to have certain privileges. One of these was to allow me to travel to Ollerton on a bus in my lunch break and back again before afternoon lessons, so I could attend school band rehearsals. It always seemed strange that the next youngest people there were Three years older than me, nevertheless, I suppose it brought me on a bit quicker.

Banding started to become a more and more important part of my still very young life. Not only had I established myself with the school band but I had also joined Thoresby juniors and 'sat' in at rehearsals with the main band. This was indeed a thrill. Not because Thoresby had just been promoted to the Championship section and the standard was very high, but because I got to sit next to Ruddy Mason, who for all his worth was an ageing man from Northumberland, a 'Boat-person' through the mining mass exodus of the late 50's and early 60's. Very much a cross between Wilfred Brambell and Andy Capp amongst the numerous stories generated by Ruddy's own experiences I remember wondering what he was doing when I caught him in the Gents sprinkling his false teeth with a white powder that I later found out to be Sterafix. "Why, am juss pudd'n salt on ma chips man!".....a strange fraternity indeed. Names still echo through my mind. Names that seem to have become the original foundations, the very building blocks of my banding career. Seth Appleton, Tommy Cale, Johnny and Jimmy Curly, Howard Barratt and who could forget names like Jock Watters, Eric Hollingsworth and George Allison.

The main man was Mr Lippeatt.

Mr Lippeatts son, Stan, played the Flugel Horn. Mr Lippeatt was the Conductor after Bill Appleton left Thoresby. My Dad, Eric, and the late great Phil Bilby went up to Yorkshire to ask Mr Lippeatt if he'd come to conduct the band. He did, and soon after that is when the band went up into the top section. Soon after that is when we were all dodging 60 mph flying batons and being called 'duck-eggs'... Standards had to be kept high.

Mr Lippeatt ended up becoming my Dad's closest friend, which was handy because Doreen, his wife got on really well with my Mum.

I started to 'sit in' on the concerts through the summer and looked forward to going to Blackpool in October feeling more a part of the band than ever. Blackpool's another story which I'll talk about later. That year I vividly remember the annual Christmas party that the welfare would put on for the pensioners. We'd play there every year, just for half an hour or so. I was asked to play 'Away in a manger' as a solo and found great pride in giving my first solo whilst still in my short trousers. Nana and Grandad were there of course, eating trifles from doily shaped paper dishes above trestle tables covered in rolls of holly printed paper. I remember the tinsel and my greatest prize being the halfcrown pressed into my hand by my Nana and the big wet whiskery kiss that I had to endure to prove to the other trifle eaters that I was her 'baby'.

Many engagements came and passed without me even realising I would be witness to them year after year. I remember my first visit to the 'Open at Belle Vue in Manchester. All the top bands would be invited to perform in the great Kings Hall that was immediately recognisable from the Saturday afternoon wrestling. Whilst all the grown ups were watching full pint pots float across swamped bar room tables, in a smoke-filled room, heaving with hundreds of Bandsmen, I found a little secret. There was something about sneaking through the fire escape to sit perched on the very top wooden benches which encircled the posher seats and steeply stepped their way down to the small square stage. The fusty smell of old timber, cigarette and pipe smoke and the feel of old spongy carpet underfoot only added to the sense of 'something very special happening'. When the bands came to a general pause or slow movement, the rattle of the 'caterpillar' and the 'Bobs', the scenic railway and the music from the twister only just whispered into the hall to remind you of where you were. But then again, the constant shaking and trembling of the benches wouldn't let you forget that. At that time, the zoo was still very much a part of Belle Vue, and although I can't remember the specific year, I can remember my best friend, Peter Hicks being pulled towards the safety netting under the safety barrier by a thin black thing attached to his very blue Anorak. The white snowy stuff that was floating around was the padding from his coat. The thin black thing was the front leg of a full grown Puma which had reached out a good three feet to grab Peter, he was lucky to escape with his life. - it made the national press at the time!

By the age of ten, I had established myself as a regular member of the band. Happily sat on the back row next to Peter Bradley and a chap they called "Phantom". I always wondered why he sat above me when I'd never actually heard him play anything. This in itself wasn't a problem, it's just how did anybody know how good he was? Adding all this up, I finally realised why he had gained such a nickname, he was..."there", but.. sort of.... "wasn't", if you know what I mean. Anyway, 1971 was here and the C.I.S.W.O. qualifier at Berry Hill Park in Mansfield. This was my first ever contest, and it's a pity I don't remember much other than the title of the test piece, which was 'A Joyful noise'. I can tell you, the jip I got from my school mates when trying to explain that one! The event itself was great. I felt comfy here as we played in the Mineworkers demonstration and gala each year. Not only was there some serious totty on the different welfare floats, but if you played on the march you actually got paid! - twenty five shillings! Yes, once a year, I turned professional for three hours and nearly thirty years later, the tax man still ain't got me! This was a truly splendid day. We would set off from Chesterfield Rd, march through the market place, up by Bridge Street, Nottingham Rd and then came the annual folly, ... the "big 'ill". It wasn't big, it was Ben Nevis, and that was to a young, spritely cornet player, how do you think the 60 plusses at the front carrying a BBb Basses were coping!? It only took a couple of years for me to realise what the likes of Geoff Benson, Steve Maynard and Dave Finch were doing when they suddenly broke rank from the back and ran to the front to take the weight of these enormous instruments from our more senior members, then everyone would break and climb onto the nearest float cadging a ride. Finchy was always first with the fags.

The celebrations carried on at the park. there would be the Coal Queen contest, five-a-side football, dog shows, stalls, exhibitions and I remember the train that just did a couple of circles near the running track and went under a very small tunnel made of pit rings. You didn't have to pay but a donation of pennies was expected. After this and the inevitable damp cheese and tomato sandwiches, it was time to walk around the lake and do a spot of tadpoling. My Dad at the time was working for Dowty Mining, they had an exhibition in a darkened bunker. It was some kind of mining machine that the public could operate. I was more impressed with my Dad in his overalls showing everyone what it did. Of course there was the beer tent, with what seemed to be the very same hundreds of Bandsmen stood outside it as were stood inside the bar at Belle Vue.

Never did work that one out?...