Origins of St Helens Concert Band

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  • Origins of St Helens Concert Band

The origins of British Concert Bands can be traced back to the 1600s, when the key components of British military music were the trumpet, fife and drum, such instruments being used on the field of battle to transmit orders and maintain a steady march beat. In the 1700s, double reeded instruments, such as the oboe and bassoon were included in military bands, and the function of the bands were expanded to include social occasions. By the 1800s, Military bands typically had about 10 wind players, and alongside their military duties functioned as the officers’ private band, playing music for the officers’ entertainment in the Mess, and performing at balls and concerts.

At about the same time, Church bands, militia bands and village bands were being formed. Some of these bands converted to brass bands, others remained as wind or concert bands. They were very popular, and in the 1920s there were over twenty brass, concert and military bands in the St Helens area alone. One of those bands was the Ravenhead Brass Band. The Ravenhead Brass Band was first mentioned in the Liverpool Mercury newspaper on October 1st 1859. They played at the wedding of an Edward Sullivan, manager of Ravenhead Plate Glass Works . They later changed their name to Ravenhead Military Band, and are listed in St Helens Town Council Minutes in the General accounts passed on 23 September 1925 under the heading of Bands in Parks. The Band was paid £11.00, for its performance.

In 1950 the Ravenhead Military Band changed its name and became the St Helens Military Band . At this time nearly all the members of the band were from the Thatto Heath/Ravenhead area of St Helens. The band was then under the leadership of Mr. Ellis the bandmaster. Older members were dissatisfied with the change in name and this led to a decline in membership. From the mid 1950s the band had to struggle to survive but amazingly the band lasted until 1971. At this time the band was reduced in number to about 15 members and for every engagement the band had to borrow players from other bands. In 1971 the St Helens Military band was under the leadership of Mr. William Burrows who sadly died in the summer of 1971. The band played for the last time in public in Victoria Park St Helens in late summer of 1971.

After the final concert of St Helens Military band Mr. Ron Feeney, the Band Secretary, wrote to Mr. Fred Mathias who had previously been musical director to the Scottish and Northern Ireland Royal Marines Band. Fred had been appointed as a brass peripatetic music teacher in the St Helens schools. Ron told Fred of the death of William Burrows, and of the dwindling membership of the band, and asked for his help. Fred agreed to help, and set up a new band. Fred taught many children and he selected the most advanced children to help him form the new band. Mr. and Mrs. Harry Hampton, licensees of the Elephant Hotel, offered their function room for band rehearsals, and in 1972 the new St Helens Concert Band was formed, with Harry Hampton as president. The first rehearsal took place in January 1972 at the Elephant Hotel. The first public performance took place on October 25 that year at Thatto Heath Junior school.