Celebrating the past, looking to the future - Special commemorative issue

Issue 5967

Standing upon giants' shoulders - paying tribute to the lineage of BB Editors

BB looks forward to British Open and Lower Section finals

The brass band repertoire - use it or lose it?

 

 

Conducting opportunity in Lincolnshire

Thursday 8 March, 2018

Mareham le Fen Victory Brass Band, was founded in 1919, hence its unique [?] name. The change to ‘Silver’ was made ten years later, when the band had progressed so far as to be able to afford new, silver-plated instruments.

For these past 99 years, the band has been more than ‘just a village band’: a village society, central to village life and open to all, regardless of playing ability so long as they had the enthusiasm to play their part. No player has ever had to audition in order to join. Thus, like so many other bands in this period, it has never really been able to consider contesting and making a name for itself but it has, in this corner of Lincolnshire where Wolds meet Fens, provided pleasure for many, both players and supporters.

Throughout these years, the engagements undertaken by the band have followed a similar pattern. The most common have been church and chapel services, garden fetes, agricultural and horticultural shows and various concerts to raise money for the band or some other cause. Bandstand concerts have not often been part of the band's activities, for the one, local Bandstand in Woodhall Spa is too small to accommodate more than a few players, though performances were given on the wooden platform in Boston Park until it was demolished in the early 1990s.

In 1972, the band was given an unusual and enjoyable engagement, which became an annual event: to accompany the Rogation Sunday service to bless the animals and crops and held in a farmyard on the Fen. The congregation sat on bales of straw and the cows invariably reacted quite noisily to the music. Sadly, this Service has now ceased. Also the band has played annually, for a service held on the site of the church in the neighbouring deserted village of Claxby Pluckacre, which fell down in 1749 and for the RAF Reunion Service at the former airfield at East Kirkby (now the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre). Playing for the launch of Poppy Day Appeal at this same venue has been added in recent years. Also, for many years, members of the band have provided the music for the service at the memorial site of the crashed Lancaster, in the Fen, at Sibsey Northlands, near Boston.

Marching used to be a regular activity of the band, in engagements with the British Legion in particular but this ceased some years back. This is probably not a bad thing when the hazards of marching on main roads today are considered! The risk to lips, teeth and gums from stumbling on some unseen imperfection in the road whilst trying to keep in step and in line is probably the least problem; far worse now would be marching in unmarshalled parades on public roads, with overtaking traffic (who, in their right minds, would ever agree to march along Mareham High Street, on a Summer Sunday when the Skegness traffic is passing through? Mareham Band used to!).

Even away from modern traffic, Mareham folk lore relates many hazardous moments in the band's history. On one parade, a very short-sighted young bandsman (so it has been said!) was only saved from marching off towards Skegness Boating Lake by the quick intervention of one of his fellows, who grabbed him by the shoulder; at the same venue, in another year, a bass player in the front rank was unable to see the conductor's signal to stop marching and was not pleased when he discovered he was engaged on a solo march through the throng of holiday-makers. A similar misfortune befell another of our bass players while guesting with a Lincoln band before a crowd of 18000 at a Lincoln City football match: he carried on for a dozen yards or so on his own and received almost the biggest cheer of the day! In 1989, the whole Band, marching along the A17, south of Boston, missed the turning into Sutterton Village because the Marshall failed to turn them and kept heading towards King's Lynn; an undignified back-peddle resulted!

As mentioned above, Mareham Victory Silver has never been tempted to add ‘Prize’ to its name. For a long time, the only reference to the Band's involvement in a contest was an item in the Treasurer's Account Book: ‘Music for Contest - 8/-‘ in 1932 but that is the only reference and there is none in the minutes, to contests. However not so long ago, at one of the Butlin Contests, a copy of a programme was discovered; it was for the first Butlins Contest, in September 1933, and it lists Mareham le Fen Victory Silver Band in the 4th Section, test-piece: Country Life, which is still in the library. When research unearthed the results in the Lincolnshire Echo, however, the band's name unfortunately was not mentioned.

One of the proudest boasts of the Mareham Band is that it owns its own bandroom, freehold and, since the beginning of 1994, with all loans paid off. For this we must thank the far-sightedness of the early members. The first bandroom was a wooden Hut, built by the band's drummer, the village carpenter, with the help of other bandsmen, in 1922. It was a 24' by 14' wooden structure with a corrugated iron roof.

After being in use for 65 years, the wooden hut was found to be nearing the end of its life unless very extensive and expensive restoration was carried out. The band thus took the decision, in 1987, to set up a New-Band-Room Fund and take the bold step and build a new, brick bandroom.

The band was fortunate that one of its members, John Evison, was a retired builder. He did not take on the task of building the bandroom but he was able to organise fellow members to do some of the preliminary work and co-operated with the builder so that final costs were reduced. Demolition of the hut and digging the footings and the trench for the services, was done entirely by members and the builder completed his work early in 1989. Furnishing and decoration was likewise completed by the members and in May the new bandroom was officially opened by the President, Mr. John Ellwood. The final cost of the furnished structure was under £11,200, of which £10,350 was the builder's charge. The only grant received was £100 from the County Council but a low-interest loan from the District Council of £3,500 made it possible to complete the work. The band continued its fundraising and paid off the loan in under five years.

By the beginning of this century, whilst still experiencing as many downs as ups, the band continued its happy existence and eventually began to look forward to an event which had always appeared to be in the distant future: 2019 and the achievement of a centenary. Sadly, between May 2013 and July 2014, the band entered probably the worst period in its history and came very near to folding altogether.

The strength and weakness of the band has long been that playing ability has not been a criterion of membership. Anyone, of whatever age, has been able to join and play whilst learning how to. This inevitably lowers the standard but has proved a working system and created a happy village society playing a valuable role in the village. The current writer gave his first concert with the band at the age of 32, when all he knew was the seven positions of the trombone and the scale of B flat and suffered a most embarrassing evening as a result! With perseverance though and the patience and tolerance of the more able players, this proved a very good way to learn. However, some who have joined the band as already competent players, have often found it difficult to appreciate this policy. Some well-intentioned but short-sighted actions in 2013-2014 left the band without a conductor and with only four long-standing players.

Today, those four players, all of whom started their playing with the band, one in the 1950s, the other three in the 70s, have agreed, together with four much newer members, to at least keep the band in existence till July 2019 and to try to attract a conductor and new players.

So, if there are any interested people in either [preferably both] of those two categories and are within reasonable distance of Mareham le Fen, please do come and join us. At present, Rehearsal Night is Thursday at 8:00.

Mareham Band Requires an enthusiastic conductor to rebuild our non-contesting community band in rural Lincolnshire.  We rehearse each Thursday in our own bandroom. Enquiries by 31st March to christinepanton@outlook.com / 01790763687