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The History of Harrow Concert Band

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The Harrow Concert Band was formed in 1928 and was originally known as the ‘Kodak Military Band’ with its inaugural Conductor being Harold Gear. At the outbreak of war in September 1939, the Band found it too difficult to carry on, so activities were suspended. The Kodak Orchestra absorbed some of the Band’s players, and they carried on during the war under the baton of Frank Sandford. The Orchestra was often called upon to play in the pit at the Harrow Coliseum Theatre and similar local venues, probably under the Frank Sandford name.

In 1948, Tom Mann got together with other musicians who worked for Kodak to try to re-form the Kodak Military Band. They approached Kodak management, who supported the idea and set aside a place in the Kodak Social Centre where the Band would keep its stores; music, music stands, etc, providing a room for regular Sunday morning rehearsals. However, the Band was required to prove its reliability and quality before it could use the Kodak name. The new band was formed and used the name ‘Harrow Military Band’. In the late summer of that year they played its first engagement, an open-air event at Harrow Town Football Club, now Harrow Borough FC. The Band’s ‘uniform’ consisted of white shirts, grey flannel trousers and black shoes. The weather was kind that day and the engagement was a musical success. All the Band members were unanimous that the Band of pre-war memory was back in business. So the Band Committee jubilantly arranged for another meeting with Kodak management, with the express intention of putting the Band back on a more permanent footing, using the Kodak name. Kodak management looked with favour on the Band’s application. So the ‘Kodak Military Band’ was re-born, incorporating members of the local Home Guard Military Band. Tom Mann is remembered for his choice of programmes, which nearly always included an opera. His programmes were considered by some to be too highbrow, however he always included a novelty number as a complete contrast.

From the late 1950s, the Sun Printing Works Military Band, situated at Watford, had been struggling for survival. In the mid-1960s it finally merged with the Kodak Military Band. In 1963 the Band secured the services of a conductor from Tottenham, Charles Gardner, who had previously conducted the City of Bombay Police Band. The Kodak Band seemed to be going downhill and had few engagements. He was a very capable musician, but said he “didn’t do anything fancy”. By this he seemed to mean he did not “swing” and played only straight music, conducted to perfection. In the early 1970s, the Band did not get any Royal Parks jobs and took no part in contests. Typical engagements were at sports days and fétes, and in places like Barham Park, Wembley and Roundwood Park, Willesden. There used to be probably only one or two concerts for Harrow Council, one of which was at Headstone Farm.

After Charles Gardner moved on in about 1970, there were only a few members left, perhaps down to seven regulars, all of them on the Committee. A meeting was held to decide the future and it was decided that the Band could not continue without a good conductor. Magnus Hedge was very good, but at the age of 75 he was not seen as a long term solution. He recommended Charles Smith, who had previously been Regimental Bandmaster of the Royal Scots. One day in 1971, Charles announced that he had entered the Band into the National Band Contest in Reading. He always ran the Band in a very autocratic way, without consulting the Committee, but this was needed at this time, because nobody else was prepared to get involved in the running. The contest piece was Aida and when the results were announced, the Band, much to the surprise of its members, had come first, scoring 85 points out of 100. The following Sunday at rehearsal, the Band sounded so much better, much more professional. Suddenly, all the members believed in themselves.

Charles Smith entered the Band into the contest again for the second year running, and this time the piece chosen was Festive Overture by Alfred Reed. The principal rivals to the Kodak Military Band were the Salford Police Military Band. The contest was open to European bands too, even though it was billed as a National event. An excellent Swiss Harmonie Band took part and Kodak won by 1 point.

Sadly, in c. 1973 Kodak management decided to withdraw its support for the Band and could no longer bear its name. So the name ‘Harrow Concert Band’ was born. In 1975, Charles Smith was appointed to the London Fire Brigade Band and so he introduced Stan Newsome to take over. He had worked for the BBC Variety Orchestra and after leaving them, worked extensively in theatres, films and TV. With his vast experience as a professional musician, he brought a lighter tone to the Band. His motto was “We aim to entertain, not educate” and achieved this by introducing a lot more modern music especially from America, which refreshed the library since this had been showing its age. His extensive contacts in the professional world of music always allowed him to bring in professional instrumentalists to fill the gaps when attendances were low.

In the early 1980s the Band changed the rehearsal venue from Kodak to the Cedars’ Community Centre, just off Uxbridge Road in Hatch End. In 1987 the Band again entered a competition, which took place at Watford Town Hall. The selected piece was the Slavonic Rhapsody No. 2 by Friedmann and the Band also featured Tooting Trumpets, a trumpet section feature written, arranged and performed by Stan. The Band received some positive comments from the adjudicators and was placed fourth from seven bands.

The Band had been affiliated to the Harrow Arts Council for a number of years, and had performed a number of free concerts for them, for example at the Harrow Heritage Festival. However, the Band had never managed to obtain a grant from the Council. At the end of 1988 Brian Pickering, Chairman, who had spent many years in business, managed to persuade them to provide a grant. From then on relations between the Band and the Arts Council became much closer. Stan always had a very good rapport with the audience and it was very sad that he passed away in 1989.

Having deputised for Stan for the first half of 1989 Brian Pickering took over the conductorship,. His first contribution to the Band was persuading the membership to run on democratic principles of teamwork and shared responsibility. In 1990, the Committee accepted his proposal to look for sponsorship. A number of local firms were targeted and, after some negotiation, Glaxo Pharmaceuticals UK Limited agreed to a three-year sponsorship. The company agreed that the Band would help to achieve its community relations aims of quality of life and help for the sick and aged. This was through performing at locally arranged fêtes and galas, whilst acknowledging the support they received from Glaxo. The money provided enabled the Band to redesign its whole presentation as well as improving and updating the library and equipment.

The standard of cleaning and management of the Cedars’ Community Centre had deteriorated over the years and, following some disputes over heating, payments and cleaning in the period up to 1991, the Band decided to move to the Harrow Arts Centre, in the Uxbridge Road. Younger and less experienced musicians were encouraged to join and play in the Band even at important performances. Brian’s belief being that the most important thing was to maintain and develop the interest of the members and that their enthusiasm would transmit itself to the audience and thus increase their enjoyment.

In 1991 Bob Holness, the television and radio personality, who had lived in Pinner for many years, agreed to accept the appointment of Band President, and compered the Band’s performances at some charity shows. He held this position until he passed away in 2012.

Roger Hewitt took over as Conductor in 2004 having been a member of the Royal British Legion Central Band for many years. Recently the Band has enjoyed performances in Hampstead Heath Bandstands and local venues such as Pinner Show and Harrow Recreation Ground. In the 21st Century the Harrow Concert Band continues to be part of the local community it has served for over 85 years.

by Terry Hissey, 13 August 2015

Have you played with us in the past or seen us perform? Do you have any photographs, stories or information about the band? We would be delighted to include your experience in the official band history. Please contact our secretary, Kim Westbrook.