||Interview of Mr. Richard Birchall and Mr. Jim Drinkwater
Subject: The Wolverton Town Band
Date: 12.10.2000 _________________________________________________________________________________________
R.B. My name is Richard Birchall...I was born the 21th May 1934.I joined the band at Pottersbury
When I was eleven...and they taught me how to play the cornet at that stage.
J.D. My name is Jim Drinkwater. I was born on the 2nd February 1931 and I commenced playing in my late teens, 17 or 18 years of age, with Hanslope Band and started off as a beginner on a second baritone. I then joined Wolverton Band. I was introduced to it through a friend of mine, Richard Birchall...approximately 1962, and I began playing at the band on a second baritone and then proceeded to play the euphonium.. I played from that time right up until approximately 1978 - 79 when I retired from playing with the Wolverton Band.
R.B. After playing with Pottersbury I then moved over to Newport Pagnell and played with them...for a few years...dates are uncertain...and then I moved back to Wolverton and played with them...once again...till about...1993/94 ...and the last engagement was at Wembley Conference Centre at the Finals where we came second.
J.D. I'd like to mention the fact that I had some very enjoyable times with Wolverton Town Band and well remember the Old Time Dances that we used to have in the canteen ...and also mentioning the fact that we had a ladies supporters Club who did all the refreshments and did a wonderful lot financially for the band. Also I well remember enjoying the Christmas carolling all round the streets of Wolverton... not only Wolverton but in some of the outlying villages as well. And also the fact that we took part in the contests and I well remember going to a particular one at Corby and remember winning the section that we was in and came away...everybody came away feeling quite pleased with themselves.
R.B. Speciality, shall we say, was what we knew as Old Time Dancing. Now, we were the only band in the area that played the type of music that they could use for this Old Time Dancing (J.D.: That's right). Because it had to be 8, 16 or 32 bars sequences which meant a lot of the music we played ...while it was old in content, it got to be arranged so that it all fitted in to 8, 16 or 32 bars all the while. Which led to some very strange key changes and repeats and things like that. And it led to a lot of hard work being put in. But the trouble was a lot of the music was very thinly arranged, which it did alright for the job, but it wasn't a great deal of fun to play.
J.D. No. I well remember some of the dances. Some of the music ...it was old. When I say old, the music went back 30 to 40 years and being Old Time Dancing, with all due respect, a lot of them were elderly people, and...if we played a piece of music that they really enjoyed, they asked to play it again... and we played it again and again and again.... Chuckles. And as players you really...well...not got fed up with playing it, but obviously it became a bit awesome...chuckles.
R.B. And, as I say, the music was extremely old in content and age as well. I mean, there was, I always remember there was one...Follies of 1938 or something like that (J.D.: That's right) and... Waiting For The Robert E. Lee was another great favourite.
J.D. And some used to go on.... And music such as The White Cliff Of Dover and Dancing Cheek To Cheek.... chuckles and...How Can You Buy Killarney and that was the sort of music we used to play.
R.B. Of course it was usually when we got it because it been lying about for...what?...30, 40, 50 years (J.D.: Yeah, properly longer) and it was all....chuckles...yellow and torn at the edges. We used to have to stick it um and rewrite it (J.D.: and cellotape) and cellotape it and the...the annoying part was you could not replace it! (J.D.: no that's right) So, I mean, what's happened to the music since then, I don't know...because...I would imagine it would be worth a lot of money now.
J.D. Having said that...personally I thought it was very enjoyable. The playing was really hard work, it was for everybody, but fortunately...as with everything...we had an interval, and as I mentioned earlier, the Ladies Supporters used to supply refreshments and believe me, by the time you got to the interval, you was really looking forward to it!
R.B. But it was...we always...found it was in great demand. But laterally...people would make do with somebody on an organ...you know...a modern organ would...would cover all those sort of things and of course it was cheaper. There was always the money, because playing was how we made our money...you know...if...if we didn't play, there was no money to buy new instruments or buy some more music to replace all this old stuff that was falling apart.
J.D. I think it's true to say we was always very well supported. I mean...I'm estimating...there must have been properly 100 to 150, possible a few more people there (R.B.: yeah, yeah) in the canteen (R.B.: yeah)
R.B. They used to bring coaches from all around the area...you know...Leighton Buzzard and Bletchley, places like that. And then...
J.D. And also...it wasn't just Wolverton in the canteen that we did them. We used to go to out lying places such as Kempston, which is Bedford way, and...quite a few in outlying places.
R.B. And specially we went...as I say...to one very big one in Aylesbury...on the Stoke Mandeville....Hospital. Their Sports Hall, I think it was. You ....I believe there ...it was so large they got sort of...it was 2 MC's or 4 MC's...I'm not sure whether...all sort of getting up together to demonstrate the dance, that thing...that you were all going to dance. Cause most of them all knew how to do it anyway...But it seemed to be...it was always the way it went. When the music started, the MC's got up and sort of demonstrated and everyone joined in afterwards...but that was really large.... Extremely large...chuckles...yes; it was (inaudible).
R.B. We had ex-police uniforms. They bought ...I don't know if somebody found out that there was a set going from somewhere, from some band that had given up and we bought this set of...ex-police uniforms. Which ...sort of ...which sort of...you know...a bit of braid put round them and that's how we started. The instruments were provided by the band and as was the music. But...all...all the playing we did...there was sort...many involved in it and that just went into the funds. None of the players got anything out...any monetary gain from playing.
And than...I remember going to Newport Pagnell Band and their uniforms...they already got their uniforms. They were the blue ones...they were...they were sort of a dark blue, but they had their uniforms and they were proper band uniforms, supplied by uniform manufacturers. But when I went to Wolverton, their...the uniforms they were using, had just about...sort of ..They decided they didn't want them anymore and what we did...we bought grey flannel trousers with a blue stripe and a black blazer with a badge and then you had...you supplied your on white shirt and a bow tie and that did us until we went and bought ...sort of...proper uniforms.
J.D. Yes, we went to ...we went (R.B.: and then we went mad) black with red lapels on the jackets and gold braid on the...
R.B. Yeah and they were short...they were...they were the ones with the short jackets?...They were like dress...(J.D.: that's right) a dress jacket, but they weren't really practical for when you went out. We were playing Armistice Day in the snow in November (J.D.: laughs...no...laughs...no), so, you know, so...after a few years we changed them and got the ones that hey ended up with now like...that type of thing...which were sort of a bit more...which shall we say?...(Stephanie: Blazers?)...
J.D. Apart from the rare...
R.B. Well, they....
J.D. ...Summer days...it's really only the expectable time you can wear uniforms other than indoor concerts or such things, that...because...with the English weather...
R.B. It tends to rain ...laughs
J.D. ...you need something more than an open jacket.
R.B. Yeah, yeah.
R.B. Of course the question of caps has always come up and with the youngsters that were about then, and the fashion for long hair...there's nothing looks quite as silly as somebody with long hair, and I mean long hair, and a cap, and it's all curling out from underneath...and what we did with Newport Band, with some ladies we had in it, we supplied them with the forage caps...the army...the army style. They had forage caps...the men had normal caps, so...forage caps, which got over that to some degree but eventually we did dispense with caps all together.
J.D. Can I just mention, while we're on the subject of uniforms, the uniforms...uniforms at my time of playing, they were purchased out of the band's funds and which consisted of just a jacket and trousers...we all supplied our own shirts. I think it's true to say that the bow ties came with the uniforms but...I well remember we used to get a...quite a selection of different coloured socks when we was marching - which didn't go...chuckles./ down very well with t'bandmaster. I well remember that.
R.B. And also the odd person that would wear boots....laughs...you know, big boots. But I don't think anybody walked into us.
J.D. No. I often used to think we really should have brought all black socks with each uniform.
R.B. We were always told to supply socks but ... as happens, somebody ...chuckles...hasn't got any black socks or so and amidst cries: "Now, we can always paint your ankles." And things like that. It was never really the thing to do....chuckles.
J.D. The funniest thing I ever did see...going back to marching...not criticising any individual member, but, was a...was a complete, almost complete black uniform apart from the red lapels and...chuckles...a pair of white socks, marching through on of the streets in the local towns...chuckles.
R.B. The basic.... the basic...sort of ruling for the band was done by the committee...which ...were...consists of members or playing members and these committee meetings could be really something, when thorny questions arose, you know, about people not coming to practice for a long time and all that sort of thing. And then there be sort of...well, not physical but sort of literally hand or wrist slapping, about somebody not coming or and then...
We had a chap who had a trombone and...and he was only a young lad, but he was very prone to damage this trombone. And in the end we got to such a pitch, where we told him if he damaged it anymore, he'd either have to pay for it or we would take it away from him. And I remember once he came and...the slide was bend on his trombone, which made...of course, it wouldn't work...and when asked how it happened, I think he said he sat on it! (J.D.: yeah).
And than the funny...the strange part was, he had a brother who also joined the band...on tenor horn. Than he came to...he took this tenor horn home to do the home practice - that we are all supposed to do! - and when he came back again, he said: "I can't get it to work!" I said: "What do you mean, you can't get it to work?" ...He said: "Well, look - it doesn't work!" And he pushed the valves down and nothing...well they went down...but nothing happened. You couldn't get any notes out of it. So, I said: "What have you been doing?" ... "Nothing!"...."Nothing???" ... "No!"...."Are you sure???"... "Well, I've cleaned it."...."And?"...."Well, I had a little bit of trouble getting the valves back in, so I borrowed a hammer!".....chuckles
The valves on an instrument - as you know or may not know - are numbered and each valve sits in...in it's own seat and he had taken the valves out, oiled them and got them mixed up. He never thought about which ones went where, and he just decided, he'd put them back in, one way or another ...and there was a lot of money involved in getting that instrument back to working!. ...chuckles.... But that was the sort of thing, that one has to contend with, and then you're trying to supply instruments for people and so it goes on, and they cost a lot of money.
But most of them, well nearly all of the instruments were Boosey & Hawkes, which we always thought were the best, you know, the best at the time...all very expensive like...well, when I started, you could get ...you used to get a set ...a set of instruments for a band for about £ 10,000. But just lately - I noticed - it takes you about £ 10,000 to buy a set of four basses, just the bass section of a band, which is...which consists of four instruments complete with cases etc. And you still...still talking about ten grand just for these four instruments. And when you think about all the others you've got to supply and keep running, you know, and look after them and get the dents knocked out and not get dropped and all that sort of thing.
J.D. Yeah, but all the instruments...obviously...the purchases of instruments were spaced out...it was done most economically... if for instant we wanted a euphonium and we had a tenor horn that was in worse condition...than the euphonium naturally...they went about getting the tenor horn first. But ... all the instruments were bought out of the bands hard work. The playing and the ...the money from the playing such as concerts and we used to do fetes always pulled and...really most of it went for...for new instruments or replacement instruments (R.B.: and music). But with Wolverton Band...we was very fortunate and I was praising the Ladies Committee earlier. But that...Wolverton Band was never short of money through it's own hard work.
R.B. Yeah, yeah.... The council...The Milton Keynes Council provided us with a euphonium somehow along...along...(J.D.: That's right). Cause that's in the photograph...that's about it...and here they gave us the money (showing photo and article) and we bought a new euphonium with it. I don't know, it was a grant; I suppose, you know, this sort of...
J.D. Didn't they...supply us with a canopy as well for playing underneath out...?
R.B. No, we are...no, they...they had a canopy made and we used it (J.D.: Oh, I see), but we only used it a couple of times. It was like a big sail affair...most peculiar...we only used it a couple of times...but the trouble was it...it took about a crane and a gang of blokes to put that up, so it wasn't...
J.D. There was also a question of acoustics as well, wasn't it?
R.B. Yeah, that's right... and it was open as well...it was strange...I...I think ...I played under it about twice...but it was never a real success...but...it was one of those things...somebody had the idea and we try it and see how it went...but we always seemed to get on with Milton Keynes Council. When they were first...when they first started, but latterly we...I don't know whether we blotted our copybook, things never seemed quite the same. I mean, because the shopping centre is now in somebody else's hand, so it's not quite the same, but when they had it originally...I think.... the council, did they?
J.D. Yes, I think so. We used to...
R.B. Well, anyway...
JD. We used to go up there (both of them)...for christmas times.
R.B. You know, they still do, but...we used to get there a lost more than we do now...we don...we played quite a bit for the council...you know there's places like the ...the Indian...is it the Indian at the station? We were there when they unveiled that...
J.D. Also what I'd like to mention...as I said earlier...I'd remember the enjoyable times and...we somehow got acquainted with Hilary Davan-Wetton. (R.B.: yeah, yeah) ...And he came down to the canteen and...(R.B.: used to conduct, didn't he?) ..yeah, he took...we was doing a concert and he was conducting the concert up at Stantonbury (R.B.: the Mass Bands)... and that seemed to go down very well....
R.B. All the ... all the local bands in the area...used to get together ... and fix a programme...and come together...like all 5 or 6 bands - complete - in Stantonbury Campus (J.D.: That's right - it was called Mass Band Concerts)...Mass Band Concerts - fabulous! And Hilary used to come down and conduct and used to...and I always remember him saying...somebody said to him: "How do you get on with conducting them?" ...He said: "Well, it's like conducting somebody on a length of elastic...laughs...It takes a little while to sort of sink in, shall we say." But ...of course he's moved on to bigger things now, so... He was quite into...into the brass side...
J.D. Yes...we remember doing the 1812 overture up there. That was really something, that....
R.B. Yes, yes. The trouble was us bass players, we always sit at the back and of course you get like...say, you've got 5 bands there...we got...sort of 20 odd bass players, but you've got 5 sets of percussions and they always seeemed to be behind you. And you can never hear anything ...laughing... what's going on....laughing....
I found that brass playing appears to be easier than piano playing, which I attempted to learn before I started on a brass instrument. I think it's possibly because you've only got one set of notes to worry about. You've not got a left hand and a right hand to worry about, what's going on and as the average instrument now has three inch appart from the larger ones, which have four to enable you to get certain notes easier. I always found it a lot easier than the piano.
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