The First Decade

1973 was the band’s first full season of public performances. During 1973 the band played in local parks, working men’s clubs and at the St Helens show.  Joining the band required considerable commitment by the parents as the children had to be taken to two rehearsals a week (Wednesdays and Sundays) as well as performances  and the average cost of a musical instrument was £100. (and at that time a brand new Ford Escort 1100 car only cost £900).

Fred Matthias, the Musical Director,was a firm believer in competition to bring the band forward – and in 1973 he entered the band for the Solihull Festival of Arts, where they were placed 5th out of 10 bands, and won a Merit Award, an excellent result for a band with an average age of 11 years old. By this time Ron Feeney was the only player remaining from the original St Helens Military Band, and the band consisted of 25 children aged 9 to 15 years old, and 3 of their parents.  The first Annual General Meeting  took place in October 1973 at the Elephant Hotel, and John Henderson was elected Chairman, with Harry Hampton as president.

On March 18th 1974 the band played its first 2 hour length concert at Reeve Hall Rainhill, followed by its first appearance at St Helens Theatre Royal to help raise £2000 for a kidney machine for St Helens Hospital. The bands success continued with 9 awards from the Wigan Music Festival.  At the Solihull Music Festival the band came 6th out of 10 bands, receiving a further Merit award. In November 1974 the band played without any adults at the Manchester Youth Festival, achieving 3rd place out of 8 bands. At this time the band consisted of 5 trombones, 3 basses, 10 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 euphoniums, 3 flutes, 12 clarinets, 3 percussionists, and 6 saxophones.

The next three years were very busy for the band, with a series of concerts and festivals, with further awards.  In March 1976 the band recorded its first LP, “Presenting St Helens Concert Band”, and later that year the Fred Mathias Orchestra, or FMO, was formed from band members to play dance music

In 1977 the band added to its list of awards with the 1st prize for the best float in the St Helens Queens Silver Jubilee Parade, but this year was also a sad time for the band as they had to say goodbye to two of their staunchest supporters, Mr & Mrs Harry Hampton, the licencees of the Elephant Hotel where the band rehearsed.

In 1978 the band recorded its second LP, “King Size” at Pilkington’s Canteen.  The band did not have sufficient money of its own to do this, but Lord Pilkington provided a loan, and the band were able to repay the loan from the sales of the LP. In that year a German band,  Handharmonika-Spielring Holzminden, visited the band and played at five concerts in the 8 days they were at St Helens including a reception by the Mayor at the town Hall and a concert for the workers at Pilkington’s canteen during their lunch break.

In 1979 the St Helens Concert Band again entered the Solihull National Military and Concert Band Festival, where the percussion section Elaine Howard, Mark Feeney and John Henderson won the Percussion section trophy.    They went on to win the same award the next  year. The band also visited the German band in Germany.  The band entertained their German hosts with several concerts, including one at the British Army barracks at Detmold, and a concert at Hamlin, home to the famous pied piper.

In 1980 yet another award was added to the band trophies as Elaine Howard won the best solo percussionist award at the Manchester National Youth festival, and the band had the excitement of a second visit from the German band.  In 1981 the band again visited Germany,visiting the Allersheimer Brewery, and playing at Holzmiden, Bevern Castle and Essen.  1982 was the band’s 10th anniversary and the band decided to hold its own contest , in April 1982 at Sutton Community Centre, where 7 bands took part.  The 10th anniversary was celebrated with a dance at St Anne’s Club Sutton