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The Onchan Silver Band is a community-based fourth section band based on the Isle of Man.

Contents

History

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Early years

The formation of the Onchan Silver Band was first proposed on Monday 4 January 1937 at a public meeting held in St Peter's parish hall, Onchan. The essential components required were a keen interest from the men of Onchan and the adequate support of the public. It was proposed by Hansel Kelly and carried unanimously that a brass band should be formed in the village. Officials and committee members were elected at this meeting. Three members agreed to stand as guarantors to the band for the sum of £150 0s 0d and letters soliciting donations were circulated, followed by a comprehensive canvass. The band was allowed to use a room in Church Road (locally known as “The Butt”) free of charge. At this time 18 instruments (all Besson Class “A”, reconditioned and triple silver plated) together with 19 music stands, 450 pieces of sheet music, 27 complete uniforms plus four extra pairs of trousers were purchased.

Change of name

At a general meeting on 15 March 1937, it was decided that the name should be “Onchan Silver Band” (it had previously been termed as Onchan Brass Band among the membership). Membership rules were adopted, membership cards issued, rules written and approved, and subscriptions set at 3d per week. At the next month’s meeting Mr A.J. Cormode was invited to distribute and fit the men with their uniforms. So within a period of three months the band was conceived, funds raised and the band was on its way; they began rehearsing and awaited their first official engagement.

The coronation of Edward VIII was marked in Onchan by the formation of a Coronation Celebration Committee which were quick off the mark to write and invite the band to perform on coronation day itself, offering a fee of £5 0s 0d. There followed in November the band’s first “official concert” which took place in the Avenue Cinema, Royal Avenue, now rebuilt as the Royal Court apartments. Souvenir programmes were printed and some still exist in the band’s archives. The occasion was marked by press attendance and a short article and accompanying photographs appeared in the Isle of Man Times later in the month. In 1939, the bandmaster William Spence (affectionately known as “Pa”) died and his son took over the baton. From this date the records show that the band took part in a great number of island-wide events, from ploughing matches to church fetes but this was all to be cut short at the start of World War II and the bandroom was requisitioned by the home guard and instruments were stored.

War years and after

Infrequent meetings took place in the war years, and by 1945 the chairman was keen to re-establish the band so a general meeting was held to welcome the returning service men to the band. This, in addition to some welcome new faces at the meeting, ensured that the band could re-commence activities. With a new bandmaster in place (Mr Worsley) rehearsals started again but alas attendance was not as good as expected and the band’s appearance was somewhat sporadic in the immediate post-war period, despite a number of loyal members still appearing twice weekly, rehearsals having been moved from Wednesday to Friday in 1947 in an effort to improve membership; the band has rehearsed on Mondays and Fridays since this time, and continues to do so today. Little is known about the band’s day-to-day operation at this time but it appears that there was certainly still an ensemble of players regularly attending. An effort was made to field a band for the official dedication of the new War Memorial on Sunday 11 June 1950, which was attended by the Lieutenant Governor, at the bottom of Church Avenue, on the site of the modern day Morton Hall. The dignitaries processed from Hawthorn Villa (the commissioners’ headquarters) to the memorial. It seems from the records that the band did not regularly function during this period, but rather that they rallied round to provide the music for civic events as and when required. No regular rehearsals appear to have taken place although committee meetings were held to keep the interest of the men, with varying degrees of success. The band struggled to survive in the early 1950s with rehearsals being few and far between to the point that the band effectively no longer existed. So serious was the situation that on 31 May 1952 a public meeting was called by the Chairman of the Village Commissioners, Mr J.C. Nivison (himself a founder member of the band) to enquire as to the possibility of the reformation of the band. This meeting was held in the new café at Onchan Park. The minutes show that the band was effectively closed down at this point. To secure the future, trustees were appointed, being Mr Nivison, Mrs Gill, and Mr G. Errington. Notices appeared in the local newspapers, Mona’s Herald, Isle of Man Times and Isle of Man Examiner. At a further public meeting in September Mrs Gill became the second band president and new officials were appointed, such was the public support for the continuation of the band. It was no time at all before a surge of interest ensured that the band was once more rehearsing twice weekly in the bandroom.

Keeping going

The first official engagement of the “new” band was for another coronation, that of Queen Elizabeth II under the leadership of Mr William Nelson, having succeeded William Spence (Jnr.) and a brief period under the baton of Mr W. Craven and Mr J. Bottomley prior to the unofficial closure of the band in 1949/50. It is at this point that the name of Gordon Astill first appears in the minutes, a name that was to become synonymous with the band for the next half century. He joined the band along with his brothers Kenneth and Robert, the latter still playing today in the Castletown Metropolitan Silver Band. In March 1953, the bandroom, which was being used free of charge still, changed hands and the band were given permission to use the basement of the Commissioners’ Offices, known as “the dungeon” and it was here that they practiced for many years. As rental was charged the subscriptions were increased to £2/6d. Now well established as an integral part of village life, membership improved to the point that members were known to have to share instruments and mouthpieces. This renaissance was however short-lived and despite a large number of fundraising events taking place, and a Ladies’ Committee being formed in the spring of 1954, and the band proving to be a popular attraction at both concerts in the park and the dance floor at Groudle Glen, membership again decreased. From reports made to the committee at the time, this appears to have been due to a large number of engagements being undertaken by the same group and people leaving owing to this pressure. By the time the band held its annual meeting in October 1954 there were only nine playing members remaining and so it was decided to invite female members into the band. (The world of brass bands was a heavily male-dominated arena in the post-war years.) To accommodate these changes, female uniforms were purchased, complete with air stewardess-type hats, to complement the traditional bandsman hats worn by the male members. In November 1954 a special instrument account was opened with the bank and fundraising continued, it being felt that an influx of lady members would necessitate new instruments being purchased, with many of the 1937 instruments still in use. For the Christmas of 1955 a grand draw was held to raise further uniform funds and this raised £15 14s 6d. It was in this year also that the band began the now traditional street carolling with members of the Ladies’ Committee collecting door-to-door. At this time Onchan was a fraction of the size it is today and each street was visited with ease by two small groups; collections for the festive period totalled £46 10s 0d but still attendance was erratic and after the Christmas period things tailed off once more. There is no suggestion as to why this happened in the minute books of the band; there was much support from the residents with a number of fundraising activities and donations coming in but no playing engagements. It has been suggested that a lack of leadership at this time, with William Nelson having been replaced by Ken Brew as bandmaster, may have attributed to the decline. At this time it is known that quite a number of members had resigned and joined Douglas Town Band. Mr Thomas Craine was appointed as chairman in 1956; his daughter Sheila, later to become Mrs Gordon Astill in 1978, remains a vice-president of the band today.

Trouble and success

Once again, an emergency meeting was held in November 1956 at which time Ken Brew tendered his resignation as bandmaster. As sustaining the enthusiasm had become a struggle to the remaining members, opinions were expressed that the band should fold, but Gordon Astill was against this stance, stating that it would be difficult for the juniors and beginners to be told the band was not continuing, and he agreed to begin teaching the beginners and junior band. He was ably-assisted by the secretary Stanley Kearney. On this basis, the band continued to function in one way or another for another few years. By 1958, at the general meeting on 6 February the elections included Gordon Astill as bandmaster—a post he would hold for upwards of forty years—and Mr G. Lloyd-Jones as treasurer. Within the time Mr Astill had begun working with the younger members, there was a surge of membership and 19 learners were reported as having arrived in 1959. Many fundraising events were held to give the junior members a showcase for their talents, and they performed at coffee evenings, jumble sales, etc., raising upwards of £30 at each performance. A large band was on parade for Remembrance Day in 1959, receiving many words and letters of praise. In 1960, the band made much progress with offers of many more engagements, the highlight of which was a garden fête at Government House, the home of the Lieutenant Governor of Mann, in Onchan, for which the band received an invitation after having performed there over the previous festive period. Many other functions followed including parading in Douglas Carnival and the usual village functions which quickly became an integral part of the band’s annual calendar. The annual report showed a membership of 18, with 13 of them having an average age of just 12. The band performed for the opening of the new Methodist Church on 10 March 1960 and were photographed on the steps of the new building to mark the event. In the summer months the band held a picnic using one of Robert Corkhill’s coaches, from the local firm of operators based in Summerhill Road, the trip ended in Peel where the chairman and president treated the band to afternoon tea. This was also the first year that the band, at the invitation of Onchan Village Commissioners, performed regular concerts in Onchan Park. At the conclusion of the summer season the committee gave permission for Michael Newsom to take a band-owned instrument to an audition which led to him being accepted at the Royal Marine School of Music, he was the first of many members over the years who have gone on to professional music careers.

Strength to strength

1961 saw the first election of a lady secretary in the form of Elsie Corrin and the band started marching practice in the playground of the school. By 1962, two members, Michael Newsom and Lionel Cubbon joined the armed services bands, but membership was still on the increase with 22 playing members. As membership continued to grow, the band outgrew the basement room of the commissioners’ offices and they obtained permission to use the lower schoolroom within the new Methodist Church, just across the road from their existing bandroom; in later years both premises were used, with the juniors in the basement and the main band rehearsing in the schoolroom. The schoolroom area proved to be ideal for the band, with a large classroom including piano for the main rehearsals and several smaller rooms for individual tuition of the junior members. As more and more people joined the band an order was placed for new uniforms from a firm in Leeds, now still in existence as R. J. Handley & Sons, the previous uniforms having been second hand. The original uniforms were time expired and considered to be somewhat dated, being of a more “military” style tunic design, rather than the now familiar blazer. Blue had been the “band colour” since the band's inception and it was decided to replace the black uniforms with navy-blue uniforms with royal blue lapels. The band was honoured to welcome Harry Mortimer for a residential weekend in 1968, culminating in a celebration concert. Mr Mortimer had been an adjudicator at the Manx Music Festival that year, and the band had a long and happy association with him up until his death in 1991. In 1969 Thomas Craine was elected as president of the band, having served many years as chairman. The Isle of Man Steam Packet asked the band to perform on their round-island cruises in the late 1960s as well as short excursions on the steamers to the Point of Ayre and Calf of Man, and these concerts are one of the things that many people remember the band for at this time. In April 1970 a “Concert Rendezvous” was organised by Jim Mitchell of Douglas Town Band and the band were asked to participate at the Villa Marina. With the ever-expanding number of beginners and developing players, the junior section was officially formed under the baton of Gordon Astill, a position he would retain for over thirty years. In the 1970s the bands of the island performed regularly at the Sea Terminal, built in 1965 to replace the former arcade on the site, and made in the shape of a “Legs of Mann” when viewed from above. These concerts provided a staple part of the band’s income until the 1995 season when, with the introduction of a catamaran Sea Cat service, the concert times clashed with departure times, and the concerts were moved to the Garden Room of the Villa Marina. It was not uncommon for the band to play three concerts a week in the Sea Terminal; as a result of a nomination from an audience member at one of these concerts, the band travelled to the mainland for the first time in 1972, for an audition for Hughie Green’s BBC television programme Opportunity Knocks. Although not selected for further televised heats the band were enthused by the attention this audition generated for them. More uniforms had to be ordered in 1972 as the band continued to grow, and in 1973 they were invited to attend the farewell reception for the Lieutenant Governor, Sir Peter Stallard, continuing their links with Government House which had been established with the previous incumbent of the post.

Development and growth

In 1975, it was reported that the band had 36 members, and in addition to this there were a further 26 juniors (now performing as a band in their own right) and 27 beginners and learners being taught by Gordon Astill ably assisted by Willy Kneale. The band looked into buying or building its own premises at this time but no further enquiries were made to seriously consider this for upwards of another ten years. In 1976, the BBC brought their It’s a Knockout programme to Onchan Stadium. (The programme is frequently repeated on satellite channel UKTV Gold.) The 1970s also saw the local version of this competition taking place regularly in the summer months, also in the park, being organised by the Onchan Commissioners. Success was also ahead when, at the 1976 Manx Music Festival one of three quartets entered into the Junior Class and won. This year also marked the centenary of Onchan Primary School and the band was invited by headmaster Ron Cretney to provide the entertainment to mark this milestone which was celebrated in the form of a summer concert, fairs and the obligatory carol concert at Christmas, all of which were well attended. In 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee was marked by many events throughout the year, and this proved to be another busy year for the band. As funds swelled in line with the membership, £4,000 was invested in four new cornets, two trombones, two tenor horns, a baritone and a marching bass drum. Once again the instruments were supplied by Thos. Reynolds & Co., the same company used to purchase the instruments back in 1937. The instruments have proved to be a great investment in the long run, with at least two of the cornets still in use by junior members today, a true sign of their longevity. In 1979, chairman and founder member Jack Nivison was awarded the C.B.E. in the New Year's Honours, and a host of events were held island-wide to mark the one thousandth year of continuous parliament on the island. The band played at Tynwald Fair on the national day 5 July, the open air ceremony being presided over by Queen Elizabeth in this special year. As the 1970s turned into the 1980s the band continued to grow from strength to strength with a great many engagements being undertaken, the village fair at St. Mark’s in the south of the island was resurrected and the band were chosen to lead the parade, a duty it has proudly undertaken each year since. In 1981 a new Eb Bass was purchased for £875 after several fundraising efforts by the band, a busy year which culminated in a total of 21 engagements in December alone. At this time band treasurer Bill Lloyd-Jones completed his twenty fifth year in service and the following year Gordon Astill notched up his quarter century as bandmaster. Each was suitably honoured by the committee for his long-service. With the band still expanding, two Besson Imperial euphoniums were purchased in 1982 at a cost of £800, both of which are still in use today. Fundraising continued apace with a sponsored cycle ride around the T.T. course being one of the highlights. A visiting band from Norway performed a joint concert with the band in the Sea Terminal in 1982 and the band held strong links with them for a number of years after this visit, most notably for the Golden Jubilee in 1987. As the band grew, another EEb bass was purchased at a cost of £1,100.

Royal appointment

In 1984, a royal engagement was undertaken when the band played on the roof of the Sea Terminal when Princess Alexandra officially opened the new breakwater at Douglas, and the band were presented to the royal guest by Sir Laurence New, the lieutenant governor. In the same year Princess Anne opened the new Youth and Community Centre in Onchan and the band was in attendance. There was further good news when the local Commissioners gave a civic reception to the band to honour their success in that year’s Manx Music Festival, winning the Quayle Cup. A presentation was made to Ted Melling after his retirement after many years as chairman; he was succeeded by Ron Cretney. In 1985, a massed band was formed to perform for the opening ceremony of the Inter-Island Games being held on the island, and Gordon Astill had the honour of leading this “sea of bandsmen.” Princess Alexandra attended the event. Later in the summer there was a memorable joint concert with the Ghurkha Band who were visiting for that year's Tynwald Day. 1986 was “Heritage Year” on the island and the band performed outside their original bandroom at a fair that took place in Church Road. Also in 1986, solo cornet player Richard Mylrea left the island to commence a career in the Royal Air Force School of Music at Uxbridge; the band also held their first Garden Party at “Haguewood.” In August, the chairman announced the formation of an Appeal Funds Committee to raise the necessary funds for the band to build its own bandroom. The commissioners installed the restored “Jubilee Lamp” in Church Road in 1987 and another village fair was held to mark its first light; the band played at the installation.

Golden Jubilee celebrations

On 1 February 1987 the band recorded the “Golden Celebration” cassette tape in the parish hall, Royal Avenue. This tape included a commentary by the band’s president J.C. Nivison, and a variety of music from both the junior section and main band. The recording was made over a number of days and was produced by Alan Jackson of BBC Radio Merseyside. The actual process of recording was not made any easier by the fact that passing traffic could be picked up by the microphones; indeed, if you listen very carefully on one track of the master recording you can hear the distinctive growl of a Leyland National bus! The echo that the acoustic in the hall gives meant that the percussion parts had to be over-dubbed at a later date. At the Golden Jubilee Dinner Dance held in the Empress Hotel on 28 February, three founder members, Jack Nivison, Ernest Dodson and Robert Johnson cut the specially prepared cake and a splendid evening of nostalgia ensued, with members past and present being in attendance. Thirty-three band members received tuition from Fred Flynn of North Wales, during a residential weekend at the Royal Hotel in Port Erin as part of the anniversary celebrations during March, and the weekend culminated in a concert in the Erin Arts Centre. Prior to the Manx Music Festival the band held a celebration concert in the Parish Church with guest soloist Philip Summerscales on 2 April, and the local vicar Canon Denis Baggely was appointed as chairman at the annual general meeting. On the island for the Tynwald Day ceremony was Princess Margaret who opened the St John Ambulance headquarters on Glencrutchery Road, Douglas, with the band in attendance. In conjunction with Douglas Town Band who were celebrating their own centenary in 1987, there was an “In Concert” event at the Villa Marina which took the form of a massed band, and Onchan were invited to attend by Ramsey Town Band, who had organised the event. Again, another garden party was held at “Haguewood”, these events always proving to be a highlight in the band’s calendar, and they attended Little Switzerland for St. George’s Fair.

Fundraising and the bandroom

1988 proved to be a year of intensive fundraising once again for the band, with all efforts being concentrated on the bandroom building fund; the commissioners offered some land for a token cost of 10p at the rear of their car park off the Main Road and the band held a number of events from the usual jumble sales and coffee evenings to sponsored swims and cycles. At the annual meeting in March a new constitution was adopted, replacing the original 1937 rule card; although not unanimously agreed, this was accepted and put into place by Secretary Brian Whitehead who had instigated many of the fundraising projects for the bandroom project. The committee visited their friends at Rushen Silver Band to inspect their own premises which had been completed in 1983 and the plans were subsequently drawn up based on this building. By March 1989, Mrs Vera Maddrell unveiled the plaque to mark the first brick laying ceremony and on 16 September 1989 the official opening took place. The bandroom was opened by two founder members, Mr Ernest Dodson and the Hon. J.C. Nivison who cut the tape; the band now had a permanent home, at last. A great number of individuals and local firms donated many of the fixtures and fittings. The bandroom consists of a large rehearsal hall with rear access fire door, vestibule, fully equipped kitchen, smaller practice and committee room, and ladies' and gentlemen’s toilets. In 1991 and 1992 the band held a study weekend culminating in subscription concerts in the Methodist Hall, and these were tutored by Mike Scottson.

Anniversaries and honours

In conjunction with the centenary of the Manx Electric Railway in 1993, the commissioners installed a bandstand in Groudle Glen to replace the time-expired dance floor that occupied the site which had become unsafe. The bandstand was officially opened on Easter Sunday at the same time as a station canopy was opened at the nearby narrow gauge railway. The lieutenant governor Sir Laurence Jones drove the centenary tram to Groudle Station where the cornet section of the band played Major Tommy Thirtle’s fanfare to salute the arrival and after a short walk through the glen the band once again performed when Jack Nivison cut the tape to open the new bandstand. During the summer the band also played concerts at Laxey Station on the specially constructed bandstand as part of the celebrations, along with the other bands of the island. The following year marked one hundred years of the tram service to Laxey and further concerts followed on the station by all island bands. Also in 1994 the rustic water wheel in Groudle Glen, known as “Little Isabella” owing to its resemblance to the famous Laxey Wheel, was refurbished by the Laxey Towing Company. The band provided a fanfare as the wheel turned again for the first time since the mid 1950s, with a concert in the bandstand following in the afternoon. The band holds the honour of being the only band to have performed in this bandstand since its installation. After a busy summer, the band held its Mhelliah, and changed location from the more traditional parish hall, to Molly’s Kitchen & Tavern, formerly the Howstrake Hotel. This proved to be financially successful for the band.

National Contesting

Over the Easter period in 1994 the band headed for Pontins Southport to take part in its first off-island contest; under the baton of musical advisor, the tenor horn virtuoso Gordon Higginbottom. The band competed in the fourth section performing Ralph Vaughan Williams's popular “English Folk Song Suite” but was not placed in the rankings. There was some consolation when the band won the March & Hymn section of the Manx Music festival in April, with a rousing rendition of Kenneth Alford’s “Voice Of The Guns”. Numbers were such that the junior band was also large enough to enter the same class in its own right, which proved useful. In the October of 1994 the band’s deputy conductor Ken Mitchell parted company to pursue a career as conductor of Douglas Town Band; having many supporters in the membership it was unfortunate that this period saw a great deal of the more experienced players also parting company with the band but bandmaster Gordon Astill picked up the pieces and effectively promoted the junior band to the main band en bloc. This act ensured the future was secure but subsequently the smaller and less experienced band was not able to attend the same number of functions as it had done. It was a credit to the youthful band’s dedication and enthusiasm that they entered the following year's Manx Music Festival with a much-reduced number in both players and quality, but they received much praise with their simple and entertaining programme. In 1995, there were many celebrations in conjunction with the Onchan Commissioners' centenary which culminated in a gala concert in the Parish Church, attended by the band and various artists including Charles Guard who played the harp, and Juan Wright, one of the band’s ex-members who entertained on the trombone. The band played at events island-wide including the Royal Agricultural Show, St. Mark’s Fair, Port St. Mary Regatta, and after a break of several years, the Laxey Village Fair. For the first time, the band played on the promenade at Douglas for T.T. week, and this was received very well by the visiting bikers who were most generous in their donations.

Keeping going

In 1995, the band received financial backing from Coutts & Co., to purchase raincapes for playing in the inclement weather in the winter months, and for parades. To cope with an influx of junior players band pullovers were purchased, using a design used by the Fire Service and adapted for the band’s use and a further set of band ties. A band crest was designed based loosely on one used by the islands’ railways, and this was made into brass badges which now adorn the uniforms. In the summer there was a festival on Laxey beach to mark the centenary of their commissioners and the band played to large crowds. The young band proved to be a hit wherever they performed and the audiences were always understanding to their youthful inexperience. The sixtieth anniversary in 1997 was a memorable year. A pre-guild concert was held in the parish hall at which the band performed their proposed contest programme; at this concert a presentation was made to one of the longest-serving and loyal supporters, Dorothy Kelly, known to all as “Do”. Her behind-the-scenes work over many years was marked by the presentation of a specially-prepared commemorative plate featuring a scene of the village and the Onchan crest. While not coming away with any prizes, the band played well at the Manx Music Festival and it was with great sadness that they learnt of the death of bass player Lesley Kennaugh who had only recently returned to the band after a break of several years. The jubilee year was further saddened with the loss of founder member and vice president Robert “Biffy” Johnson who had been ill for some time. This left the president Jack Nivison as the sole surviving founder member. Happier news was received in the honours list when “Do” Kelly was awarded a well-deserved M.B.E. in the New Year. Over the Easter weekend a jubilee dinner was held at the Empress Hotel in the presence of Jack Nivison who had been in ill-health in the previous few years, and it was a delight to see him; he made a very reminiscent speech of his time in the band from its humble beginnings. The prize giving also took place at this event, with principal cornet Adrian Callister receiving the merit shield in acknowledgement of his hard work having been literally in at the deep end following the changes in 1994. The band were bequeathed a legacy of £15,000 from the estate of Eliza Williamson, a retired music teacher, and at the final concert of the summer season a cornet and trombone were presented to Adrian Callister and John Kilgallon by Peter Karran M.H.K.. Elsewhere, to mark the centenary of Douglas Corporation a joint concert between the Douglas Town Band and Manx Concert Brass was held in the Villa Marina, premiering a piece written by Derek Broadbent “Music For A Centenary” which was subsequently released on C.D. and featured his own arrangement of “Ellan Vannin” with band and choirs.

Busy banding life

Through the generosity of Mildred Cooper, the band held a summer Coffee Evening in the grounds of her “Woodlands” home in Douglas at which the band performed and there were various stalls. After many years of established and successful concerts in the Sea Terminal, the Isle of Man Steam Packet announced that the sailing times of their fast craft Sea Cat would be changing which would mean the departure lounge would no longer be available for the island’s brass bands to use. This was followed the next year by the arrival of the new conventional ferry Ben-My-Chree with a regular departure time of 7.45pm so it was clear that 1996 would be the final year of band concerts. Onchan Silver Band had the honour of playing the last concert in the hall, in conjunction with an R.N.L.I. fundraising event in the September and thanks to the support of the Isle of Man Arts Council negotiations were entered into with Douglas Corporation to secure the use of the Villa Marina for future concerts in the Garden Room and later the Royal Hall itself. This switch of venue proved a popular choice and the bands still perform there on regular dates in the summer months, albeit a vastly reduced thrice-weekly schedule, as opposed to the seven days a week of the heady days of tourism, and the busy venue is shared nowadays with more diverse musical groups. For the Jubilee concert, the band were able to secure the services of David Read who had adjudicated the previous Manx Music Festival, and was a member of the “Kings Of Brass”. He attended the bandroom for a weekend workshop and this was followed in the September by a visit from Stephen Pendlebury who tutored the band prior to the Jubilee Concert which was held on 11 September 1997 in the Parish Church. The concert was held in the presence of Chief Minister Donald Gelling and Mrs Gelling, and guest artistes John Riley performed organ solos, while Eleanor Shimmin and Cleveland Medal winner Terry Qualtrough sang. This was followed by the band’s annual Mhelliah in the parish hall with the late Norman “Monty” Faragher auctioneering the goods. At Christmastime the band were honoured by being the recipients of a Civic Reception in the commissioners’ boardroom to acknowledge their sixty years serving the parish and indeed the whole island. The year was rounded off by the annual Christmas Coffee Evening at which long-standing percussionist Norman “Joe” Cain was honoured for his many years hard work for the band.

A fitting tribute

As early as the summer of 1997 plans were put in place to mark Gordon Astill's forty years as conductor of the band. On the back of the success of the jubilee concert, the Parish Church was secured as a venue, and invitations were sent to many local dignitaries by Grant Taylor, as the secretary Sheila Astill could not have done all the inviting herself in case the cat was let out of the proverbial bag. The concert would be a total surprise to Gordon Astill, so no advertising as such could be done in advance, all seats were filled by invite only, and as a true show of the high esteem in which he was held, the church was packed, including members from all the island’s other brass bands, the Chief Minister, all Onchan’s political members, and his many friends. The programme of music was largely put together by the young band, with Stephen Pendlebury rehearsing them in secret and conducting the concert. Gordon’s brother Robert was invited to play with the band for the evening. On the evening itself, just as the Astills were due to arrive through the church door to be met by dignitaries and band chairman Peter Karran, through the vestry door - the opposite end of the church - arrived the legendary funnyman Sir Norman Wisdom! Right on cue he stumbled through the band, with music and stands flying in the air, starting what proved to be a memorable evening. His arrival did little to steal the thunder of the honoured guest and the evening, which took the form of a This Is Your Life was compéred by Geoff Corkish who also sang, and Stephen Pendlebury played a solo, with Norman Wisdom giving an unforgettable turn conducting the band. At a reception held in the parish hall Mr Astill was presented with a new conductor's stand by members of the junior band, and a presentation box of two new conducting batons, suitably inscribed, and the committee presented him with a commemorative plate depicting The Butt and Onchan Crest. Further praise was to follow when Gordon Astill became the first recipient of the “Crosh Pobble Chonnaghyn” (Onchan Community Cross) for his tireless dedication to not only the band but a number of village-based organisations including the Parish Church and the Rotary Club. Renovations were made to the bandroom in 1999 to mark the tenth anniversary of the bandroom. A birthday party was held and stalls and attractions outside the hall ensured a good day was had, with the band playing outside in the sun. Later in the year, to mark the anniversary of the opening on 19 September an open evening was held. In a break from tradition which was felt necessary owing to the large number of young players in the band, the annual dinner was not held, but instead a 1960s night took place in the Onchan Park Social Club, the Austin Powers film having been released that summer this theme was deemed suitable. The prize presentation also took place at this event which was held at the conclusion of another busy summer. There followed a 1970s night the next year in a similar vein but the costs of these evenings was proving to be a major factor so after the millennium no further “official” band dinners took place. Christmas proved to be a bumper season in 1999 with receipts for the year being very encouraging.

Into the new millennium

To mark the millennium the Isle of Man Arts Council commissioned a piece of music from the composer David Ellis for performance by the massed bands of the island. The piece, entitled “Island Seascape” was distributed to all the bands and rehearsed in readiness for the premiere which was recorded by the BBC and took place in the Villa Marina. The new work closed the first half of the programme, with the remaining repertoire having been selected by each of the bandmasters, each selecting two items. The island had been rocked by the sinking of the Solway Harvester in its territorial waters, and this tragic event had received much national press coverage and so, to this end, the band’s own “Millennium Celebration” concert which was into the planning stages, was re-jigged to ensure the proceeds were dedicated to the Solway Harvester Fund. This concert also featured the children of both Onchan Primary and Ashley Hill Primary School choirs and guest artists which was organised largely by Gordon Astill and his team of supporters. The band were asked to play at the summit of Snaefell, the island’s highest peak, in connection with a Churches In Mann event to mark the millennium, to be called “Two Thousand Feet @ Two Thousand Feet” (i.e. one thousand people at the summit); in the event a cap of fog at the summit ensured that the event took place at the Bungalow but nonetheless the band were there. The local commissioners also held a millennium concert in the community centre.

Time for change

As the young band grew older, it was still ostensibly made up from those who had been promoted from the junior section in 1994; many of the players had turned into accomplished musicians and were beginning to want a say in the operation of the band, repertoire choices, etc., rather than be ruled by their parents. The band still functioned quite happily and met for rehearsals twice weekly, but it was felt by a number of the players that a change of direction was required, and some young blood. Throughout 2001 the band was as busy as ever, with the committee busying themselves with changing the band’s constitution, and Gordon Astill having been elected as a member of the local commissioners. The previous set of rules implemented in 1988 had never quite been finalised, and did not allow democratic control of the band and although the changes were not felt necessary by everyone, they went ahead and were adopted at the annual meeting. The happenings at the 2002 general meeting have been the subject of much discussion in the ensuing years but with the band wanting a change of leadership, a democratic vote was taken and Gordon Astill was not re-elected as bandmaster. It was his fiftieth year as a member of the band and sadly this occasion was not to be marked at the time, with Juan Wright (an ex-member who had returned from university with a degree in musicianship) being installed in his place. Mrs Astill accepted a vice presidency to maintain her links, her father having been chairman and president. The input of both Mr & Mrs Astill over many years will never go un-noticed and their absence was felt very much by the incoming secretary. Also at the 2002 annual general meeting local commissioner David Quirk replaced Peter Karran M.H.K. as band chairman.

New leadership

The band’s annual meeting takes place in March of each year, and is followed closely by a concert for Peel Senior Citizens, then the music festival, the prior concert usually being used as a “dry run” for the guild repertoire. However in 2002 the band decided not to enter the music festival which was held in the Gaiety Theatre, the Villa Marina being closed for refurbishment. At this time the band did lose a number of long-standing engagements but some new ones were introduced, noticeably the invitation to Government House on 4 July from the governor Sir Ian David Macfadyen to provide the music prior to the arrival of the military band for the beating of the retreat. The band has been made equally as welcome by his successor Sir Paul Kenneth Haddacks. The band were also invited to lead the parade the following day, being the first official event of the day leading the march of representatives from each of the island’s secondary schools from the new school to the foot of Tynwald Hill. For this, the first year the band attended, it was a double honour, for presiding over the ceremony was Prince Charles. In her own Golden Jubilee year the ceremony was presided over by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003 and the band were again in attendance. Tynwald Day is now established as the band’s busiest each year, with the parade and an afternoon concert, with many members also playing with the Isle Of Man Wind Orchestra and other brass bands that perform at St John’s throughout the day. The band have been criticised since the departure of Gordon Astill for not undertaking as many events in the village, but a conscious decision was taken to not hold the somewhat old-fashioned dinner dances, and with the death of Norman Fargher, the band lost a valuable auctioneer for the Mhelliah each year so this was discontinued. Trombonist Jaaahn Kilgallon returned to the band at this time. There was no carol concert for a couple of years but this has been revived and now takes the form of a joint concert with the Lon Vane Ladies’ Choir. The times have changed and the band has changed with them latterly. As a replacement for the dinner dance and prize giving, the band held a Ceilidh at the Glen Helen Lodge in 2003, incorporating the prize presentation by chairman of the commissioners Terry Black. The bandmaster Juan Wright had taken on his new role as the manager of the Erin Arts Centre which necessitated him spending periods of time at the centre when the band was due to rehearse. Grant Taylor was appointed as deputy bandmaster in 2002 but his input was needed to play the BBb bass (at this time he had been the only tuba player and had been for a number of years). The band welcomed Paul Devereau back in 2002 on Eb bass but Juan’s absence was felt. It was in 2003, just prior to the music festival that the band secured the services of Michael Fowles for a study weekend; he had been the adjudicator at the previous guild in which the band did not participate. The band was full of enthusiasm having had a year out and the workshop weekend gave a final polish prior to the guild. It also established a happy relationship with Michael who has since visited the island on several occasions for both the band and the Isle of Man Wind Orchestra. Juan introduced much-needed new repertoire and 2003 also saw the introduction of the “Friends Of…” organisation at the suggestion of chairman David Quirk, and this has been another success. Christmas 2003 saw the band’s first appearance outside the Tesco store in Douglas which was very profitable, although they have been criticised for reducing the number of door-to-door street collections at Christmas; it is increasingly difficult to field a band for this, and although extremely regrettable, the band do still “go carolling” on a number of occasions. The festive season was darkened in 2003 with the passing of the last surviving founder member, The Hon. J.C. “Jack” Nivison, C.B.E. after long illness. The longstanding members of the band attended the funeral service in full band uniform as a mark of respect to “Mister Onchan”. The official opening of “Nivison Stadium” in July 2004 was attended by the band. By the time of the 2004 annual general meeting bandmaster Juan Wright decided that he was considering not standing for re-election to the post, and had made his feelings known to the band.

Passing the baton

In 2005, Michael Fowles visited the band once more; at the annual meeting a letter was received from Juan Wright tendering his resignation and nobody came forward as a replacement, the position being left open, with the deputy bandmaster to fill in as required in the intervening period. Retired music teacher Paul Dunderdale stepped in the fray. He is one of the last leaders of the Laxey Brass Band, (latterly ensemble) and leader of the Isle of Man Wind Orchestra. He agreed to conduct the band for the guild contest and was first seen by the public of the village at the village fair. He remains with the brass band to date having written arrangements for the band of “The Laxey Wheel” and most memorably his interpretation of “Praise, My Soul, The King Of Heaven” which was performed to great acclaim at the 2006 guild where the band were thrilled to be placed third of five bands. With a new leader and steadily increasing numbers the band has flourished in the last few years, with the ever-growing junior section and most recently the introduction of an Oom-Pah Band named Baron Van Chindel’s (cleverly an anagram of Onchan Silver Band). Through their regular performances at the Villa Marina, and island-wide at many events, the band has established a name for itself as a fledgling group of dedicated and talented musicians. In 2006, cornet player Russell Gilmour began his period at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and David Karran is studying under Philip McCann at Huddersfield, playing with Sellers International Band. The band welcomed tuba player John Wood in 2006, a former Ramsey Town Band member also studying at the Royal Northern, and trombonist Alice Quayle is at the Royal Marines School of Music in Plymouth. The band were saddened by the passing of long-term supporter Frank Massey in May 2006 and were honoured to perform at the Funeral Mass in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Douglas, where trombonist Juan Wright returned to perform the popular solo “The Acrobat” by J.A. Greenwood as the coffin left the church. Following the service the band played “Death Or Glory” at the crematorium in line with Frank’s wishes.

Seventieth anniversary

2007 marked the seventieth anniversary of the band. Past treasurer and mother of the band’s secretary, Cynthia Taylor died after a long illness in June; it was a touching tribute and said a lot for how much the she was held in high esteem by the band, when they provided the music at the funeral service, with a full complement of players, with several returning from the mainland just for the service. On a happier note, the year culminated in “A Brass Celebration” concert in the Villa Marina Royal Hall on Sunday 30 September; this concert featured the Championship Section B.T. Band (now Stockport Brass) under the baton of musical director Michael Fowles and saw both bands performing both together and separately, culminating in a memorable rendition of Howard Snell's arrangement of Procession to the Minster and ex-musical director Gordon Astill taking to the stage to conduct the massed bands in Ellan Vannin to close the concert. Also in the year, the band undertook its inaugural inter-band five-a-side football tournament (as a fundraiser), and held a ceilidh as well as the usual activities.

The Future

The band received a visit from members of a Shropshire-based band Sabrina Brass in the summer of 2007 who intend to return in Easter 2008 for a joint concert, with the possibility of an exchange whereby Onchan Silver Band return the favour and visit them. This would be the first band tour of its kind for the band. In addition to this, the junior section continues to grow and is ably managed by a dedicated group of members and parents. The band focuses each year on its appearance in the music festival and continues to exist in one form or another.

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