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A VERY SHORT HISTORY OF NEWTOWN SILVER BAND
Like towns everywhere, Newtown has always had groups of musicians, playing whatever instruments they could manage, who would play for public occasions. By the 1870s there was one such group who called themselves Newtown Brass Band. Little is known about them and they seemed to have had no formal organisation. They just got together when required, to head the many processions and events that local organisations had in those days.
In 1880 a group of local amateur musicians decided to form themselves into a properly constituted band using instruments that had belonged to the recently disbanded volunteer militia. By July of that year they were in a position to form a committee and appoint trustees. The following month they placed a notice in the Montgomeryshire Express announcing their intention to form "a first class brass and reed band in Newtown." On 23rd July 1880 a meeting was held to bring the band into existence and adopt a constitution. Subscriptions were to be sought from members of the band and from the public to pay for instruments, ownership of which would be vested in trustees who were to "act in trust for the town." The new band was to be named Newtown Brass and Reed Band. Two instructors were also appointed. Mr W P Phillips, an eminent local amateur musician, and Mr Joe Hudson, who had come from Huddersfield to work in the town the previous year. Joe, although only eighteen years old, was already an experienced brass player.
By 1884 the band had advanced enough to start contesting and in August of that year won first prize competing in Llanidloes. To enter contests the band had to adopt the standard brass band instrumentation so the reed instruments were dropped, but the name remained until 1888 when having won a number of prizes, they became Newtown Prize Band. By then they were well enough established to raise enough money to buy a complete set of new, silver plated, instruments. As a consequence another name change followed, Newtown Silver Band.
In 1897 the band extended their range of activities when they were agreed to become the band of the newly formed 5th Volunteer Battalion, South Wales Borderers, whose headquarters were in Newtown.
In 1908 the 5th SWB was disbanded and reformed as the 7th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers. Twenty six members of Newtown Silver Band were enrolled as the Battalion Band. With the ourbreak of the Great War in 1914 the sixteen members of the Band who were of service age were mobilised to fill the traditional role of military bandsmen, that of medical orderlies. Within a year they were acting as stretcher bearers at the Gallipoli landings.
When the Band went off to war they didn't take their instruments with them. They were stored in the HQ, but the following year they were home on leave in time to get them out to give a memorial recital and play at a memorial service to Lord Kitchener in June 1916. When the men's leave ended the instruments went back into store, but by 1917 there were enough players about, just about, for them to play, as Newtown Silver Band at a fete at Plas y Bryn.
With the end of the war, and the men back home, the band was once again up to strength and able to take on its usual busy programme of engagements, but finding adequate rehearsal and storage space had become a problem. The band's then President, local businessman John Cookson, approached Maj Arbuthnot-Brisco of Newtown Hall who offered a site in the Back Lane next to Morris's builder's yard. With further help from David Davies of Llandinam and the people of the town a purpose built bandroom was erected and opened in 1925.
By the outbreak of the Second World War the band no longer had collective military duties but nevertheless most its members were called up into the armed forces. The bandroom was also taken from them "for the duration", becoming the town's Food Office. The instruments were placed in storage in the Baptist Chapel. One member of the band, however, tenor horn player Alfie Corfield, was not called up as he was the town's only gasfitter. He resolved to keep the band going and gather together a number of boys, and for the first time ever in the band, women, and taught them to play.
When the war ended there was already a nucleus of players for the returning service men to join. By 1950 it was felt that the band had regained sufficient strength to once again enter the contest field for the first time in nearly 20 years. In August of that year they entered a contest in Denbigh. They swept the board there by winning both the quickstep and main contests. The Band was back!
Despite this the band still faced problems. Throughout the fifties and sixties there were severe employment problems in the town and the majority of young people growing up in the town had to leave to find work. Nevertheless Mr Corfield and later Harry Leach succeeded in keeping the band together, and most importantly, entering contests. With the development of Newtown in the nineteen seventies and eighties the band was able to keep a more stable membership, although the disappearance of promising young players to colleges and work elsewhere is still a problem.
In 2005, the band
celebrated its 125th anniversary, and did so in some style.
We welcomed back many former members of the band
for a reunion concert in Newtown. With the return of its conductor, Steve Edwards, the band is probably the best it has ever been in all those years. This has been demonstrated by unprecedented success at contests, including first prizes at the Welsh Regional Championships in Swansea and at the National Eisteddfod of Wales at Faenol. This has been achieved with a band whose ages range from teenagers to old age pensioners. All this suggests that Newtown Silver Band, formed at that meeting in July 1880, intends to be around for a long time yet.
David Pugh, August 2005.