Farndon & District Brass Band History in Pictures

Below are extracts from “Farndon The Friendly Band - An illustrated history of Farndon and District Brass Band 1897-1997“

The brass band started life as the Jubilee Brass Band in October 1897 with 25 members selected from Fardon and Holt.  Tuesday and Thursday nights were practice nights under the instructions of Bandmaster Corrison of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.  The band was funded by voluntary contributions from gentlemen in the neighbourhood and local performances.


 


 

The First World War caused the death of millions of men. The disappearance of many brass bands was the inevitable outcome of those dreadful, long casualty lists. Documentary evidence in the 1920s and 1930s is scanty apart from the photograph below and a reference in the Farndon section of the March 1939 Malpas Deanery Magazine.

"At the Congregational Party on Shrove Tuesday ... the evening was a jolly medley of odds and ends of entertainment. The Farndon Brass Sextet, under the conductorship of Mr. Yearsley, provided good music: the whist drive showed that card playing need not be a very grim affair."


 

Frank Evans, who joined the Band in the early 1940’s recalls that “at that time practice took place in a redundant stable at the end of a range of farm buildings in Church Lane. The wartime blackout did not help in finding the pathways to and from the building on dark winter evenings”.

Frank continued.. .“The Bandmaster, Chris Yearsley, lived in Churton and was a security guard at the Royal Ordnance Factory. He was an enthusiastic bandsman and during his younger years in the Sandbach area knew many people in Foden Motor Works Band, including the renowned Harry Mortimer. At fund raising concerts in the Memorial Hall solo items by Harry Mortimer, violin solos by Chris Yearsley and selections by the Farndon Band made up a concert that was of a very high musical standard. Farndon Band owes much to Chris Yearsley for his dedication and tireless efforts during those difficult wartime years”.

This new Farndon and District Band quickly began giving public performances. The programmes of two of these war time concerts survive, no doubt because the soloist was the famous Harry Mortimer.


 


 

The late 40s and early 50s saw an influx of new members to Farndon Band where they received a warm welcome. The word “friendly” was, and still is, the one most frequently used to describe the band. This is a remarkable tribute in a leisure activity which can easily become an obsession riddled by professional jealousies and rivalries. The new players were welcome, not just because that is the band’s way, but also because many of them were fine players.

Peter Evans, now a vicar in Cumbria, wrote of the generous and openhearted friendship extended to all comers by the bandsmen. He played with the band from 1946 to 1957. As a member of the Royal Horse Guards, the Blues, he played at both coronations of our present Queen. He reminds us that she was crowned Elizabeth the Second in London and Elizabeth the First in Edinburgh. His memories of the coronation in London are less than rapturous. It was a long, wet, tiring day that started at 4.30 am and included a packed lunch of beetroot sandwiches.

Great occasions of state may not have excited the admiration of Peter Evans but the euphonium playing of John Slinger did. This fine player was a national serviceman at nearby Saighton Camp. On learning of this Chris Yearsley ‘captured’ him for Farndon Band. The programme of a concert dated the 25th October, 1952 and thought to have been held at the Village Hall, confirms that John Slinger was occupying the Solo Euphonium seat in the early fifties. It is thought that John Slinger went on to join the famous Black Dyke Mills Band after serving his apprenticeship with Farndon.





By 1955 the band had enough confidence in the quality of its players to enter competitions. Their first entry was with Bill George as conductor. They competed in the eighth Sunny Rhyl Brass Band Contest in class D for small bands with a minimum of 18 players. They played Dawn of Spring and the adjudicator was Reg Little. The other adjudicator at the event was Harry Mortimer. Perhaps he recalled that evening 13 years previously when he played “Zelda” and “Alpine Echoes” in Farndon Memorial Hall.

Later that year the band achieved their first recorded competition success. Conducted by Chris Yearsley they won the Thomas Reynolds Silver Cup at the eighth annual rally of the North Wales Brass Band Association with their rendition of “Salute the Brave”.


 


 


“The band secretary. What is he?” asked the Brass Band News and promptly went on to answer its own question. “In a great many cases, the band secretary is the band. Many a modest secretary hears the praises of the conductor, the soloists, yet all the while he knows that he is the prime mover. All honour to the secretary. He is the true music lover, the true amateur.”

This quotation reproduced from The Amateur Band Teacher’s Guide and Bandsman’s Adviser published in 1887 sums up
the role played by Tom Brown in Farndon Band. He is the supreme representative of all those dedicated people who have achieved minor miracles in the creation of our brass bands. Though fundamentally a music lover and player, on a variety of instruments, Tom dedicated his life to the success of ‘the Band’.  Chris Yearsley and after him Les Williams provided a strong musical talent whilst Tom Brown contributed formidable powers of organisation. As band secretary he attended all the meetings and wrote the minutes.

Among other things he bought the headed notepaper, opened the bank account and wrote to British Celanese asking for material for curtains.  It is not clear exactly when he became the official secretary, so successful has he been in effacing himself from the limelight. His name is given as secretary in the meticulous minutes of the meetings for the planning the first Carnival. Few examples of his name in print have been found. Appropriately enough one appears in the advertisement for the band in the programme for that first Carnival in 1955.  The advertisement says it all; it is a model of simplicity, restraint and quiet confidence. Another was ‘Chronicled’ about the end of 1956 when, at a Social Evening organised by the Band Committee at the Memorial Hall, Chris Yearsley finally retired after 18 years service and handed over the baton to George Booth.

“Paying tribute to Mr Yearsley, Mr H.T.Brown, secretary, said the band had been brought to its present standard of efficiency and numbers from very humble beginnings due to the untiring work put in by Mr Yearsley, both as conductor and teacher. It was up to the committee to see that his efforts were rewarded by seeing that the band carried on in the best traditions.”

Twenty years of patient and tireless work for Farndon Band were to pass before his name appeared again in the surviving records of the band. Sadly it is to lament his loss that his name features in the minute book for 1976. “Mr Brown had in fact been the general factotum as it were, leaving not one gap to be filled but several gaps”. There follows a list of the officers needed to replace Tom Brown: secretary, treasurer, trustee, junior band master, librarian and manager.  It was death alone that could sever the link between Tom Brown and Farndon Band.

The circumstances of his death are unbelievably poignant. Tom Brown had devoted much time to the training of young instrumentalists and the junior band featured in concerts with Tom as the conductor. He had just raised the baton for them to begin to play “The Chieftain” when he fell forward over the rostrum. Suddenly and shockingly Tom Brown was dead, a very public end for such a very private man.

The final proof, if it be needed, of Tom Brown’s enduring influence on the band came, 6 years after his death, in 1982. The chairman, Phil Mason, wrote a desperate sounding appeal to all band members at one of those low points that can occur in the life of any group.

“I somehow feel that this could be our last chance to reestablish ourselves as a force (albeit in the 4th Division ) in the Brass Band World — for the sake of us all and for those who remember with affection the late Mr Farndon Band — Tom Brown — let’s get stuck in!”.

And that is exactly what they did.


 


 


 


 


 


The band continued to develop in spite of the sickening lurch in its progress caused by the death of Tom Brown. The members “got stuck in”. They shared out responsibilities and brought about several important organisational changes. These cannot be attributed to any one person. They are the result of cooperation between anonymous committee members.

In 1985 the band adopted a constitution and achieved charitable status. This settled its name as Farndon and District Brass Band. Its main aims are “to provide opportunities for those persons who wish to learn to play a brass band instrument” and to “advance the musical education of young people”. In the same year funding was arranged to refurbish the hut. When it was first built it must have seemed palatial in comparison with the pigeon ringing shed behind The Raven, but its condition was described as “one of neglect with the roof requiring extensive repair”. Also the hut lacked certain basic amenities.  Alas! The refurbishment could not improve matters in this respect as a letter from John Jones shows.

“An easement for water supply and drainage cannot be negotiated with the adjoining owners. Therefore it will not be
possible to install toilets, desirable though that would be."

Small wonder that band rehearsals traditionally end at the pub.

 



In spite of these inconveniences(!), the band continued to enter competitions, but they have not been allowed to dominate the life of the band. There has been no compulsive pothunting. The list of prizes on the programme from the Pavilion Theatre, Rhyl. Farndon ‘swept the board’ in section 4 and performed admirably in the third section. The band also won third prize in the North Wales Annual Rally in 1981 with conductor David Veysey. Other prizes have proved difficult to trace or to confirm. This relaxed attitude towards cataloguing their prizes is only to be expected from a band which has valued companionship above competition.

 



Farndon Band’s calendar is always full. In the days before the motor car Farndon itself was the centre of the band’s activities: Rushbearing with its procession to the church and Farndon Ladies’ Club Day when the High Street was lined with stalls. Holt Wakes at the end of August warned the wise that colder weather was on its way. “Get your long johns out when Farndon Band plays National Anthem at Holt Wakes” was a favourite saying of Arthur Tapp’s youth. Now that players no longer have to transport themselves and their instruments by bicycle, the band can accept engagements farther afield in Cheshire and North Wales. The summer fetes and club days of Tattenhall, Malpas, Whitchurch and Crewe have all been enlivened by the sound of Farndon Band. One regular feature is playing at Chester Groves. Although it is more pleasant and more profitable if the band is given a sunny Sunday, their engagement diary does not finish with the summer.

Since the first occasion in 1977 the Remembrance Day Service at Mold in November has been a fixture in the Band's calendar and the Band is clearly appreciated. In December the band is much in demand, adding some seasonal sparkle to local celebrations. Christmas cannot come to Farndon until the band has toured the village on the very opposite of a Silent Night. No doubt that first band of nearly a hundred years ago played carols in the cold and knocked on doors for their reward of a mince pie and something a little warming. A hundred years have passed and nothing has changed. Or so it appears. Appearances can be notoriously deceptive.

 



In 1997, at the centenary of the band’s founding in 1897 it was appropriate to look back to that first rehearsal which so upset Mr. Miller’s cows to see how the band flourished before briefly fading. Since then it has risen from the ashes like a phoenix. From its reincarnation in The Raven when Vera Lynn was the Forces’ Sweetheart, it has become an organisation of substance, with an unrivalled reputation for friendliness. It has absorbed women into its ranks and has been a successful nursery ground for young players.

The above photo outside the Farndon Arms, previously The Raven, emphasises these points. Comparing with the photo of 1912 — the format is still there but what is striking is the swing towards youth and mixed sexes.