George joined the St Albans British Legion Band in 1934, aged 12 on Tenor Horn. After service during the Second World War, George rejoined the City Band, and stayed there until 1971.
After he joined the Legion Band as he became more experienced a trombone player left, and so he graduated onto the 2nd
Trombone. During this time he started playing with the St Albans Light Orchestra, which meant he had to learn Bass Clef in order to play the orchestral arrangements. The British Legion band in the meantime had decided to start contesting, and they did not have an adequate Bass Trombone player. George, knowing the bass clef already was the ideal man for the job, and so this is how George started on the Bass Trombone.
The British Legion Band in 1934 was mainly made up of soldiers who had served in the Beds and Herts Regiment in World War One. It was a very military style band and the uniforms were of the military type. The Bandmaster was one ‘Curly’ Richards, an ex-Naval man who often wore an old style military frock coat. Other members of the British Legion band included Harry Johnson, who gave up a woodwind instrument after the war when the British Legion and St Albans City Bands amalgamated and learnt to play the trombone for the City Band. Charlie Horsley, who played cornet in the British Legion Band, and went onto Baritone in the City Band. George Peck was a cornet player in the BL Band and continued on cornet when the bands amalgamated. Derek Brett played horn in the British Legion Band and it was he who gave George his first Tenor Horn in 1934.
The music played by the British Legion Band was also of the military style, old style selections and overtures, as well as marches such as ‘The Thin Red Line’ and ‘Colonel Bogey’.
George’s father, Jimmy Wright played drums in the City Band in the 1920’s and 1930’s and although he could not recall why he joined the British Legion Band whilst his father played in the City Band, he made it clear that there was no rivalry of any sort amongst the bandsmen at that time. Although you played for different bands you all knocked around together, and often played and practiced together. George’s family did not have a radio or gramophone so playing in the band was actually quite a privilege and passed the time. Music kept people together and you made friends through it.
In the inter-war years there was actually three bands in St Albans, if you counted the Salvation Army Band. This was made up of approximately 40 bandsmen, accompanied by around 20 songsters with tambourines and another 15 players from the Salvation Army Junior Band. On a Sunday evening they would march down
St Peters Street and onto the lake in Verulamium Park. With all the marchers the parade was often nearly the length of St Peters Street.
During the war George was called up and became a Prisoner of War. He also played in the Royal Marines Band on trombone. He also spent some time as a bugler.
During the war in St Albans, the British Legion and City Bands merged in 1940 to become the St Albans Home Guard Band. Most of the bandsmen had been called up and those remaining were either too young or old, or in reserved occupations. Out of those who were called up, one was killed in action and two taken as POW’s.
At the end of the war both bands were much depleated, and so in 1947 the two bands amalgamated permanently as the St Albans City and British Legion Band, a title that was to be used up until 1967. In 1945 the Bandmaster was Herbert Warwick, who had been Bandmaster right back in the 1920’s, and previous to that Solo Cornet right back until the 1890’s. Warwick was a local man and was responsible for bringing into the band several names that became well known, including Nelson Morris and Len Smith. By the end of the 1940’s the Bandmaster was Ted Longland, who was later replaced by Tommy Boyes, and subsequently long standing solo cornet player Nelson Morris.
In the 1950’s the City Band began to contest again and won several prizes. Some of the older members were not keen on this, but the younger ones were and so the band went. Every year the London and Home Counties Band Contest was held at the Albert Hall. Quartet contests were also entered, and George often played on Trombone in these, along with David MacDonald on Trombone and two cornets. They played ‘The Pilgrim’, and won at least one prize at the London and Home Counties Quartet Contest in the 1950’s. Another quartet in the band consisted of three horns and an Eb bass – personnel involved in this included Fred Savory on horn, and Bill Day on Eb Bass. Other notable persons during this time include Bert Golby who was the band secretary for a number of years and joined the band at the end of the war on drums. Alf Martin was also the secretary in the post war years – he came from the Salvation Army band after an argument, but after a few years went back there.
The comradeship in the City Band was very good. Practices were on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings, with some Sunday afternoon practices with the St Albans Light Orchestra. However often some band members would meet up on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a blow. The key to the bandroom was held at ‘The Wellington’ public house so it was easily obtained for some extra practice. Extra practices also took place in the shed at the end of George Peck’s garden in Longmire Road, St Albans – band members Ron Slough, George Peck, Nelson Morris and the Bandmaster Herbert Warwick lived in Longmire Road, and soon these extra shed rehearsals became known as the ‘Longmire Road Band’!
During the 1950’s the band gigs mainly revolved around London Park jobs, from Easter to the end of September the band would be out every Sunday at parks including Crystal Palace, Clissold Park and many others.
George recalls the night when they were auditioning new Bandmasters after Ted Longland stepped down. Tommy Boyes came up to the stand and took the band through a piece. At the end he said that he liked the Bass Trombone very much and that ?maybe? he was the best player in the band! I’ll find out! said Boyes who was later appointed as Bandmaster.
George also recounts a story of funding cuts under a Labour government. In the pre-war days the British Legion Band always played at Napsbury Hospital to the patients there. After the performance there was always a great spread of food laid on for the bandsmen. There was often so much that bandsmen were seen taking food home in their cases! In 1947, the year the NHS started the City band went back to Napsbury and did another concert. At the end of the concert the players in the know started to head towards the canteen area. “Where do you think your going” asked a stern nurse. “well we’re off for the grub” we told the Nurse. “I don’t think so” she says, go down the corridor and there’s a machine there you can get tea out of, a penny a time. “We haven’t got the money for laying food on here”!
George left the City Band in 1971 after a change of personal circumstances. His daughter Barbara played in the band in the 1960’s and eventually married a trombone player, David Gentle.
I must extend my thanks to George who very kindly allowed me to interview him.
Nick Doolan 12th May 2005