I left the Salvation Army in 1952 to join the St Albans City and British Legion Band, starting on Second Baritone, the Secretary was Alf Martin and the Conductor Ted Longland.
The first engagement I took part in was a parade of one mile to celebrate the Coronation of the Queen in June 1953, after this the band was busy doing local concerts and fetes. After six months I was transferred over to Assistant Euponium playing next to Alf Martin who was a very strict disciplinarian ruling over us, not letting anything slip by him. The Band would practice three times a week, Wednesday and Friday evening and Sunday morning with only very good reasons for non-attendance.
The band rehearsed in the Bandroom in Sopwell Lane which was an old church building and was poorly decorated and lit – the heating was an old coke stove which filled the room full of smoke that was lit an hour before practice by the Hall Caretaker, Mr Jack Sibley. The seating was an assortment of chairs, some having no backs which the bass players used, Len Smith on Bb Bass in particular sitting on his the wrong way round so that the bottom of the Bb Bass fitted into one of the holes where the back had once fitted.
On a Sunday morning break during practice several members would go outside in the street to play football – at that time both sides of Sopwell Lane had terraced houses on it – one Sunday morning Len Smith kicked the ball shouting as he did “…how’s this for a Nat Lofthouse…” and ended up smashing a window in a house on the lefthand side of the road, after which all concerned made a hasty exit back into the bandroom.
The band continued doing local work and parades, and then Alf Martin retired, after his retirement the band went through various Secretaries until I took over. Soon after Ted Longland resigned from St Albans to take over Kents Works Band in Luton, after this a Mr Tommy Boyes was appointed conductor who stayed for a few years. There were then several other conductors after this, including the ill fated Captain Kitson, before Mr Nelson Morris was chosen as Conductor (he was on holiday at the time and was told on his return that he was conducting a concert the next day). He stayed on as conductor for many years.
During Nelson’s time the band was rebuilt and took part in contests at which we were very successful, winning many cups in the Second Section and moving up to the old Championship Section. The band then entered a period of indecision so we found ourselves relegated back to the Second Section where we stayed and entered some more contests. We concentrated on fulfilling our engagements and then started to get very busy when we picked up a contract with the London County Council (prior to the GLC) to play in the London Parks. We had to go up to County Hall for an audition in front of Mr Frank Wright, who was Musical Director for the Council. This became an annual event and we were booked to play in a selection of parks and also the Royal Port of Greenwich. Some of the regular parks included Brockwell Park, Clissold Park, Crystal Palace Park, Golders Hill Park, Finsbury Park, Greenwich and Cutty Sark Gardens, Horniman Gardens, Kennington Oval, Parliament Hill, Peckham Rye and Tulse Hill Park. For each performance given we were paid £25 – out of this £12 was spent on transport and any players borrowed from other bands the grand sum of £1 each.
Three weeks before each engagement we had to submit a programme of music to Frank Wright for approval, if he was satisfied with the selection a Performing Rights form was filled in and sent back. On many occasions he would turn up at the park unannounced to count that we had 25 players (the minimum number specified in the contract). At one performance we were a player short, so Mr Jack Sibley the Bandroom Caretaker sat on the bandstand holding an instrument – Frank Wright didn’t notice he had his music upside down and we got away with it! On some Sundays we had to play two parks – one in the afternoon and then followed by an evening concert elsewhere.
We also had a contract with St Albans City Council for a few concerts at Verulamium on a Sunday afternoon for which we were paid £20 per concert. During my time as Secretary I had discussions with the Council about helping the band to purchase new instruments and uniforms as the ones we had were very tatty. The council loaned the band £4000 interest free over 20 years which worked out at approx. £150 per year repayments. The new uniforms were designed by Hardy Aimes and made by Hepworths and the set of instruments were ordered from Boosey and Hawkes. My wife spent a day at the Bandroom taking delivery of the new items as everyone else was at work.
In order to help meet the repayments it was agreed that the number of engagements from the council would increase from four to six per year at the increased fee of £25 per concert. When the council changed to St Albans District Council the debt was written off as a gesture of goodwill.
During my years in the Band.
Starting at the very beginning, I remember playing at an engagement at Cell Barnes Hospital, the members of the band being introduced by the guest opener, a new young singer called Petula Clarke, who went on to be one of the UK’s top female singers.
As Secretary of the band I arranged concerts at the Waterend Barn in conjunction with Mr Richard Thrale the owner of the Barn, and for a number of years a Trustee of the band. These concerts continued as a regular occurrence for 3-4 years and helped to raise funds. I then switched the venue to the newly built City Hall (now the Arena) where I promoted the concerts on behalf of the band. In conjunction with the Council I arranged a number of concerts where the band played massed concerts with the Royal Marines, RAF and Army bands. It was at the first of these concerts that City Band MD Nelson Morris became the first civilian to conduct the Band of the Royal Marines. These concerts were very successful and led to further events with stars of the day including Cyril Fletcher, Roy Hudd, George Chisholm, Susan Maughan and others. The biggest achievement for the band was being asked to play at Hatfield House where the main guest was Her Majesty the Queen Mother. After the parade a reception was held in the Great Hall and we stood in concert formation. As Principal Euphonium I was on the end of a line, as she walked past she noticed I had the word ‘Secretary’ on the badge on my uniform jacket. She stopped and asked to be introduced to me and asked me many questions about the band, and complimented us on our playing. This was a great honour for me personally and one I shall never forget.
As a band we continued to achieve a quality of success, taking part in contests and gaining top marks under the baton of Nelson Morris. I was now having difficulty with my sight and found it hard to read the music, so decided to retire from playing and carried on as a non-playing member as Band Chairman and Trustee.
During the early 80’s I started my own Roofing business (later to become Webster and Day’s Roofing Contractors). At the time the band was struggling financially and was close to folding, but as they were coming up to being 100 years old I decided to sponsor them as I wanted to see them to their centenary, which they have now well surpassed.
I continued to sponsor the band until 1993 when I retired and moved down to Brixham in Devon. I am very glad to hear the Band has been rebuilt and is doing so well. I send you all my best wishes.
ALAN WEBSTER – March 2006