During the early part of 1890, a local businessman, Geo Whittle decided to form Fyfe and Drum band for the recreation of his workers. This was initially received with great enthusiasm and provided enormous enjoyment to the players and villagers alike. By 1892, however, enthusiasm began to wane and it was decided to reform the band into an all brass outfit, under the musical direction of Mr Farrance Glazin.
Fundraising began in earnest throughout the village and by mid 1893, the band fund stood at £16.00. Many members purchased their own instruments and with new uniforms they made their debut in the summer of 1894 as The Long Melford Brass Band.
The band’s first public performance was on July 6th 1894 in a meadow following by a march through the village. The local parish magazine of the day asked ‘for your kindest consideration for first efforts!’ This must have been forthcoming, for the band was booked for numerous fetes and parades during the season.
One event in particular, was held at Melford Hall and had the band playing in a illuminated bandstand built over the lake. During the performance, the bandstand, complete with band began to subside into the lake, leaving the band to swim and scramble to the shore!
This incident was again treated with great amusement by the local press!
The first indoor concerts were held in the latter part of 1895 in the Lecture Hall, now the ex Service and Working Men’s Club. These concerts consisted mainly of bandsmen and friends singing songs to piano accompaniment complimenting the band’s repertoire.
By 1896, Robert Foster took that baton. He had been the bandmaster for the D. Coy 2nd Volunteer Battalion Suffolk Regiment. His arrival and professional approach led to a marked improvement in the band’s performance which was quickly recognized by the press and public. He, in turn handed over in 1899 to Arthur S Lewis, a shoemaker in the village who had been with the band since it’s earliest days and was to remain in the post for nearly 50 years! He was the band’s longest serving bandmaster.
As the 20th Century dawned, the Boer war was in progress. At its end, the band was in demand for celebration processions and was adopted as the Company band, becoming the Band of C. Company 2nd Division V.B Suffolk Regiment. This was an easy transition as nearly all the bandsmen were also members of the volunteers. The band acquired a new uniform and regimental duties kept the band busy. Pies and pints was a popular feature of Tuesday nights after drill practice with the Volunteers.
By 1904, the band had become the most popular institution in the village. Regular performances on the Green were always well supported and dancing to the music of the band was popular in some of the larger houses in the village.
The change from Volunteer to Territorial Unit was completed in 1908 when the band became the Band of D Company (Long Melford Department) 5th Suffolk Regiment T.F.
Again, new uniforms were purchased.
July 11th 1911 was the last time the band appeared as the TA band, losing its military links, to reappear as the Long Melford Brass Band.
The next three years saw the annual run of fetes, parades, and prom dances, until war broke out in 1914 and many of the men went to serve their country from Gallipoli to the Western Front. All of the bandsmen returned after the war, but many had been wounded and bore their scars.
Between the wars
Following the 1918 armistice, the band slowly returned to full strength and by June 1919, was one again performing to the public. Regular bookings at fetes and processions and a season of open-air concerts and dances in local gardens helped to boost the new instrument fund. Known as ‘Fourpenny Hops’, these became major entertainment in the village.
The important occasion of 1920 was the unveiling and consecration of the village war memorial. A large parade including ex-servicemen, the fire brigade and representatives of local organisations assembled at the Lecture Hall and marched, led by the band, to the church for the unveiling ceremony.
At the beginning of 1924, Arthur Lewis retirned as the bandmaster. Mr Gran Bixby took the post for a short time, replaced by Syd Parmenter who continued as bandmaster until 1926, when Arthur Lewis once again took the baton into the 1930s.
The band popularity declined with the advent of wireless and gramophone. To complement this, Arthur Lewis formed a small dance band known as ‘The Captivators Dance Band’. They played at dances in the village.
The Jubilee of King George V was the big event of 1935 where the band headed a huge parade through the village to the church for a thanksgiving ceremony and then to Melford Hall where a Fete, Fair and Sporting events took place, continuing into the evening when the band played music for dancing.
Numbers began to decline and Arthur Lewis handed the baton once again to Syd Parmenter. A move of HQ to an old cattle shed in Spicers Lane led to rapid and successful rebuilding of the band and by the armistice in 1937 they were once again back up to strength.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, again the majority of bandsmen were absorbed into military service. A small number of older players, led by Arthur Lewis kept the band alive. It had been decided that if numbers dropped below 6, the band would cease to function. If this looked imminent, villagers would come to beat drums or clash cymbals to keep the band afloat.
Gradually the men returned from active service and the ranks filled again. Arthur Lewis retired for good in 1946, passing away a year later. In 1947, the inspiration the band needed arrived in the form of a new bandmaster, Frank Widdowson. He immediately set about rebuilding the band and by 1949 had them ready to enter their first band contest. This the band duly won, receiving a silver cup.
The band was renamed The Long Melford Silver Prize Band in honour of this win. This title dropped out of use by the early 50s.
In January 1952, it was decided to form a Supporters Club for the band. Its first president was Albert Webb, a local businessman who had been a friend to the band over many years. By 1954, it’s membership totaled 150 and each member contributed 1/- per year to belong. Many events were held and the band was presented with new uniforms. The icing on the cake was winning the Suffolk Championship that year.
During the spring of 1957, a junior band was formed, led by Fred Morley. Later that year, they took on engagements of their own.
In 1963, Frank Widdowson died. He had worked tirelessly for 16 years and had raised the standards of the band so that it was respected throughout East Anglia. Syd Permenter once again took the baton until 1966 when Bill Newton was appointed. He was a professional trumpet player and teacher of brass and under his leadership, the band continued to win prizes in the Suffolk Championships.
When Bill Newton resigned in 1968, Albert Porteous stepped in for a short time. During this time, Herbie Byham, the longest standing member, past treasurer and tireless worker died. It was a great loss to the band and a cup was purchased in his memory, which is awarded annually to the best instrumentalist taking part in the Suffolk Championships.
Later that year John Durrant became the bandmaster. He had joined the band in 1960 and was a music teacher in Sudbury. His idea was to create a Showband and a series of concerts was given entitled ‘The Beat of Brass’. At first enthusiasm wfor the new look was running high and the band made an appearance on BBC television. John resigned in 1972 and this phase ended.
Bert Leader, solo cornet for many years, took over until the arrival of Kenny Few, a danceband leader from Braintree. He too had the idea of playing more jazz oriented music, which wasn’t too popular with many in the band and by 1974, numbers were depleted.
In 1975, Doug Towers, a peripatetic brass teacher from Elmswell was appointed as bandmaster. The band moved to the Old School in the village and the band was re-built once again.
The improvement was dramatic and November 1975 saw the band once again competing in Norwich for the first time in 7 years. The band was placed 2nd and 3rd in the various parts of the competition. The band played in multiple competitions over that time – Hemsby, Pontins, Watford, Clacton and Leicester.
In 1977 new uniforms once again arrived, but Doug Towers departed. Solo Cornet player Derek Newland took over temporarily until the arrival of Dennis Simmonds. Dennis had spent 20 years as a military musician and he began to guide the band into more concert and marching work than in previous years. Several large concerts were staged – the highlight being held in Long Melford Church, with lighting and sound.
Derek Newland took the baton once again in 1981 following the departure of Dennis Simmonds until Bill Newton once again agreed to become the bandmaster. Massed bands functions were the order of the day for the next few years, including with Woodbridge Excelsior and Haverhill Silver Bands.
In 1984, Roger Green, head of the music department at Great Cornard Upper School was approached to take over the baton from Bill Newton on his retirement. Roger commenced his tenure in 1985. His enthusiasm and ability to teach both the young and the old held him in great respect among the players. In 1986, the band became champions of B section of East Anglia.
In 1988 an international event took place when the band hosted members of Harmonie Municipale de Clermont, Sudbury’s twin town in France and gave a concert with them in St Peter’s Church, Sudbury.
Over the years, Roger arranged many pieces for the band, including Dad’s Army.
Roger led the band until 2002, where Derek Newland once again took the baton briefly until the arrival of Tony Martin. Since 2005, the band has travelled to Ypres in Belgium each autumn for an intensive practice weekend to learn new music for the coming season. This weekend away also gives the band members and their partners an opportunity to socialise and to visit some of the local towns, WW1 battlefields, cemeteries, etc.
In 2015, the band celebrated its 125th Year Anniversary. There was a birthday party where past and present members amassed to practice, perform and celebrate together in a free concert. We also played an open concert on the village green. The Christmas Concert was the last celebratory event to commemorate this occasion.