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"Don’t be afraid of it". These words of guidance come from the leader of the assembled organisation, and are directed at a group of members currently getting to grips with a particularly challenging obstacle. The speaker is Alan Thorpe, bandmaster; the aforementioned challenged party are a trio of tenor horn players, and the focus of their troubles is a complex page of manuscript from an upcoming concert programme. It is a Thursday evening in darkest Battlesbridge – the weekly rehearsal venue for the members of Rayleigh Brass.
An early photograph of Rayleigh Brass
The current bandmaster is Alan Thorpe, a civil servant in the city, and a member of many musical organisations in the region. As well as conducting, Alan also arranges music for the band, and sits in as a player when there is a gap to fill in a section. "I joined the band over thirty years ago, while still at school. My first instrument was an old "peashooter" trombone that emerged completely black from storage in someone’s loft, and I lovingly polished until it shone! I had my first spell conducting the band in the early 1980s for about ten years, followed by a few years’ break, returning in the late 1990s. The band is able to deliver high quality and entertaining concert programmes at the same time as maintaining a very friendly and inclusive atmosphere. We don’t enter contests like many bands, and seek instead to broaden the appeal of the band beyond the traditional ‘brass band’ image, playing a wide and challenging repertoire, at the same time trying to relate to our audience."
The band’s relationship with its audience is at the heart of most of their performances, and the conduit for this is compere and former bandmaster Peter Hammerton. Peter has a long history with the band, having played a variety of instruments with them for nearly forty years. He tells me he has had only one music lesson in his life – a C major scale on a trumpet. It transpires that shortly after he was de-
At concert functions Peter adopts the role of compere, a role which has resulted in the publication of his own book on the subject, and an award at a local band contest. "We’re a friendly band – there’s no back-
In a forward thinking move, Rayleigh Brass has recognised the need for a constant injection of new talent into the ranks, and so to this end has formed a training band where anyone (not just youngsters) can pick up a brass instrument and experience playing in a brass band. Under the guidance of principal cornet player Bob Bearman, the training band regularly performs alongside the senior band at concerts – even putting on shows of its own -
Rayleigh Brass acknowledges its role in the community, and has raised funds in the past for BBC Children in Need and local hospitals, and is always willing to consider appearing at charity fund-
The fortunes of Rayleigh Brass in its many guises have certainly had some ups and downs, but for nearly a century there has been a body of men and women playing – and enjoying playing – their musical instruments to bring listening pleasure to their audiences. With concert bookings on the increase, and appearances at new venues continuing, the future of Rayleigh Brass is looking very promising indeed. The future’s bright – the future’s brass.
Alan Thorpe -
Peter Hammerton -
Rayleigh has had its own brass band for the best part of a century, and has undergone many name changes. These have included the Rayleigh Mission Band, Rayleigh Brass Band, Rayleigh Town Band, and Rayleigh and District Silver Band. The shortened, punchy title of Rayleigh Brass was adopted in the early 1980s. Today’s group of players are enthusiastic amateur musicians who are able to put on a first class concert performance, as well as provide music for a variety of functions including school fêtes, garden parties and civic occasions. In fact, there is little the band will not consider tackling, as the band secretary, Kevin Hall, recounts. "We were contacted by one of the popular tabloids around the time of the Euro 2000 football tournament. It seems that the German supporters had rustled up a large oompah band to play all night outside the hotel where the England squad were staying. As a retaliatory strike, the newspaper thought it would be only polite to return the compliment for the German team, so they were out to hire a full English brass band." Whether it was due to the short notice given, or the desire to avoid involvement in an international incident, the band graciously declined the invitation.
The band has had an eventful history. Rayleigh Town Band is known to have been in existence shortly after the end of the First World War, but some sources suggest the band predates 1910. In the early 1920s the band performed regularly on summer evenings in Rayleigh High Street, retreating, somewhat unsurprisingly, to the local hostelries in the winter months. The players were accompanied by a local character known as Singer Nash, who would make a couple of musical offerings to the patrons, and pass a hat round to swell the band coffers. At this time the band rehearsed at Charlie Smith’s builders shed in Bull Lane, and the proprietor was permitted to sit in with the bandsmen and play his clarinet. Uniforms were acquired around this time, purchased second hand from Thurrock Band. These were replaced in 1934 by new, made to measure garments. With the outbreak of the Second World War the band folded, but re-
An Article covering the History of Rayleigh Brass by Rob Hall