Abridged from Tales from the Bandroom: Abingdon Concert Band, The First 25 Years, 1977–2002, by Anthony D. Sadler, October 2002
1977: The birth of a ‘military band’
‘It was 15 years since I had left my enjoyable position as solo clarinet in the Prince of Wales Own Yorkshire regimental Band and started to look for musicians in Oxfordshire. It did not take long, the county was teeming with them, including former bandsmen and several bandmasters.
Through their association I was drawn into teaching the clarinet and formed a clarinet choir at the Old Gaol in Abingdon. Our first ‘gig’ was for a Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebration event at West (or was it East?) Hagbourne. Although we had a good time it was difficult to find music with popular taste and the choir lacked power and tone colour, particularly for outdoor playing. What I needed was a ‘Military Band’ with its rich variety of music.
It was there all around me: Les Perrem’s Holiday Orchestra, Ron Morton’s Cowley Orchestra, Oxford Studio Orchestra, Abingdon Operatic Society’s Orchestra, Abingdon Symphony Orchestra, Harold Elmey’s (Yorkshire man) Big Band, OCC’s woodwind teachers amongst whom were two bandmasters, Geoff Daniels and Mike Sumner (both Yorkshire men). Oh yes, and my clarinet ensemble.
So when Derek Jones, former bandmaster and yet another Yorkshire man, came to teach at Abingdon School where I also taught, I asked him if he would conduct a meeting of these friends and colleagues. He agreed and the “Abingdon Military Band” came into being.
Alan Bolder (Yorkshire Man), September 2002
Thursday night was, and still is, Band Night. Rehearsals were first held in the Youth Community Centre, Stratton Way, acoustically not ideal but the only room in town financially viable.
In October 1980, there was a change of conductor when Anthony Sadler, one of the solo clarinets, took over the baton.
Here I must acknowledge a big “thank you” to Mrs Sumner, the wife of our drummer, who set to and made the banners which still adorn the stands. We were also able to leave the Youth Community Centre and rehearse in the newly acquired Band Hut of Abbey Brass by the swimming pool.
John Morgan took over the Conductorship for the 1988-89 Season. John was on attachment from the Royal Greenjackets to re-establish the Territorial Army Band in Oxford. This he did very successfully, but found the commitment to two Bands was too great so once again Anthony Sadler took up the baton until his retirement in 1988.
It was at this time, in late 1988, that the name of the Band was changed to ‘Abingdon Concert Band’. To many people the term ‘Military Band’ means an army band. This is not so. The name simply denotes a band consisting of the same instruments as laid down for the army bands after the Crimean War.
The 1980s was a period of heightened IRA activity and, playing as we did at a number of RAF stations, it was deemed prudent to distance ourselves from any military ‘connotations’. We also ‘lost’ a number of potential new members, believing a ‘Military Band’ only played marches!
For two years 1998-2000, the Band went through an unsettled period with a succession of conductors, Ted Smith, Mike Pegram, Harold Elmey and Vicky Hemmings. David Wirdnam took over in 2000 and the Band looked forward to a more settled period. However, David left the Band at the end of the 2002 season and Anthony Sadler was recalled from retirement to wield the baton once more.
Mention must be made of the tireless work on behalf of the band by Cicely and Bryan Bilverstone. Cicely was secretary for 17 years from 1981-98. She and Bryan rarely missed a rehearsal and were always on hand for setting-up, PR duties, and, to many members, most important of all, having the mid-rehearsal ‘cuppa’ ready on the dot!
Throughout its 25 years, the band has played, not only for ‘Dining-in’ nights, but for Fetes, Shows, Charity events and ‘set’ concerts. Records show almost 150 public performances altogether.
Anthony Sadler, 2002
In November 2002 the Band celebrated its 25th Anniversary at Trinity Church in Abingdon. It was fitting given all that he contributed to the Band over many years that Anthony Sadler stepped back in to conduct on this occasion. The programme for the following concert “Around the World in 80 Minutes” in April 2003 notes that part of the Band’s celebrations, a Reunion Playing Day was arranged in January 2003. Over forty past and present members attended for the full day, with a number arriving for the cutting of the cake, shaped in the form of a French Horn, and were highly appreciative of the final ‘Concert’. A varied selection of music was studied under the direction of one John Morgan OBE, MD of the Waterloo Band, the Royal Greenjackets.
Philip Burditt was recruited to the Band as Musical Director at the end of 2002 and continued to conduct until summer 2011. During that time the Band continued to develop and performed at numerous concerts and events in and around Abingdon. Particular highlights were the sell – out concerts (‘Broadway Rhythm’ (March 2010) and ‘Return to Broadway’ (March 2011)) at Abingdon Guildhall when we were pleased to be joined by Wesley Smith who took us through the history of MGM and later film musicals. We also undertook joint concerts with the Oxford Welsh Male Voice Choir (June 2006) and a proms concert at Abingdon Guildhall with Abingdon Town Band (October 2007). In June 2008 the Band performed with Bicester Concert Band at the bandstand in Garth Park at Bicester Town Council’s “Proms in the Park” event. Unfortunately the rain didn’t quite hang off until the end but we still enjoyed the firework finale.
The Band celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 2007 at ‘Thank you for the Music’ (March 2007) at the Baptist Church in Abingdon. Along with cutting the cake we also said goodbye to Bob Eccles (who played bassoon and had produced programme notes for concert programmes for many years), who retired from playing in the Band that night.
A personal highlight was the Halloween concert at Kennington Village Hall on 31 October 2009, when Philip, complete with talons and hooded cape, made his entrance in the dark to the accompaniment of a thunder clap. Suitably spooky happenings included the piano mysteriously starting to play apparently of its own accord and an appearance by the three witches from Macbeth!
In the summer the Band played outside in Wallingford Castle Gardens on numerous occasions and also at the Northbourne Centre in Didcot. Abingdon Market Square also continued to be a favourite spot. The Band also played at the Bandstand at Mill Meadows in Henley, although were rained off due to the floods which affected Oxford and the surrounding area in July 2007 when it unfortunately became an island.
Since the Band became a charity in 2001 small groups from the Band have performed carols at various locations in and around Abingdon in December. A favourite location is Millets Farm, where we have played every year since 2005, the Clarendon Centre in Oxford, and Abingdon Market Square. “Abbey Sax”, which was formed by Alan Bolder in ??? , have also performed on behalf of the Band on various occasions in and around Abingdon during the summer months and the Band is grateful for the charitable income made through those events.
The Band has continued to hold an annual playday at the Manor Preparatory School early each year. Occasionally an extra one has been held in the summer too. Philip generally shared the conducting with Stephen Bell, who subsequently became musical director in September 2011.
In late 2005 the Band moved from the Abbey Brass Band Room on Abbey Meadow to the Abingdon Music Centre. From September 2006 to date the Band has rehearsed at Dunmore Primary School on Northcourt Road, Abingdon and we are very grateful to the school and the caretaker for looking after the Band and its equipment so well.
Awards for All Lottery funding received in 2007 enabled the Band to buy two new timpani drums and Anthony and Margaret Sadler were part of the group who collected these. Further successful applications for grant funding meant we could also replace the original maroon and yellow banners with new blue ones incorporating the Band’s logo, designed by Thomas Shepherd in 2002, in 2008. The band also changed to wearing black and while and the original Band jackets, blue, black and white with a maroon bow tie were donated to a Band in Africa.
Band members were sad to learn that Anthony Sadler had passed away in September 2011. Margaret Sadler subsequently left the Band in 2012 to move closer to her family having been a member since the late 1970s.
Kathy Wilcox, Chairman, 2013