Many things have changed in the fifty plus years since Uckfield’s Man of Brass, Freddie Martin, begged and borrowed, and Eastbourne Bandstand persuaded enough people to reform a Brass Band in the town. No men on the moon, no hole in the wall money services, but a concept of a Band in the town is the same now as then, to provide a place for brass enthusiasts to learn, play and to give and receive enjoyment in music making.
Freddie knew who to approach when he and a few others decided in 1957 to reform a Brass Band in Uckfield. Local bank manager, Cecil Pye, Estate Agent William Clarke and Comedian Jimmy Edwards were prime targets, and following jumble sales, dances and countless other fund raising events enough money was in hand to buy some second hand instruments and music stands. A legend had begun.
Freddie recruited and trained youngsters to play alongside senior members, just as they do today, and gradually engagements were undertaken to both publicise the band and to raise more funds. Freddie handed the baton on to Tony Barton, a trombonist and pupil of his, who continued to improve the band’s standing, and contests became part of the improving bands scene.
In 1972, Steve Johnson, an accomplished musician in his own right took over the position of conductor and being from the land of brass in the Midlands, he bought many new ideas to the bandroom. One of these was to enter the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, and the other was to work with “Professional” Conductors, a whole new idea for a small town band like Uckfield.
Lt. Col. Sir Vivian Dunn was the first professional conductor the band had, Sir Vivian had been the Director of Music to the Royal Marines for many years and obviously brought much experience to the youthful band members and success was soon registered with highly successful local concerts and full to capacity audiences as well as the band becoming well known and highly respected on the contesting circuit. Success followed success, and the band became London & Southern Counties Champions (4th Section) in 1974.
Like all amateur organisations, players come and go, and times change but good fortune has often been on the band’s side and an association with local companies existed for a long time, the band being know as Uckfield (Industries) during this period.
In 1992, the band became area champions again, this time in the 2nd section and also gained promotion to the 1st section. To mark this occasion, the band made a tape recording, Dimensions, under Musical Director of the time, Nigel Simmons, copies of which are still available. Nigel has moved on to pastures new and Andy Wooler then took over the Resident Conductors position. Andy, who studied at Kneller Hall whilst a member of the Parachute Regiment had been a member of Uckfield Concert Brass for the past 14 years and remained as a Vice President and Chairman of the band following the appointment of David Hughes.
Uckfield Concert Brass appeared on the National Lottery Live, Wednesday 24th December 1997! – Like many other bands, Uckfield Concert Brass have received funding from the National Lottery through the Arts Council of England – the grant was used to purchase new instruments and at the same time, release older ones for use by Uckfield Youth Brass, our junior band. As an organisation that has benefited from lottery funding, we were asked to close the show on Christmas Eve playing a selection of carols. The band were delighted to be asked and looked forward to the live performance with varying degrees of terror!
Looking forward to further success in 1998, the band retained the services of Frank Renton for 3 rehearsals to help prepare for the area contest at Basildon in 1998. The band engaged Mark Andrew-James, Conductor of the Sussex Symphony Orchestra to conduct on the day- this association has brought us fresh ideas from outside of the brass band movement. Mark made an immediate impression on the band with his ability to get that “extra mile”out of the players and we will no doubt be using his services again at some point in the future.
For the first contest of the 1999 season, the Regional Contest in Stevenage, the band engaged Bruce Gentry to put them through their paces with the test piece “Kenilworth”.
Following a period during which the band lost a number of key players, we were pleased at the end of 2002 to welcome back Nigel Simmons to the post of Musical Director – together with a publicity campaign, helped by BBC Television South, we were able to increase the membership to a level where the band could once again accept engagements. However, the membership once again dropped and for a lengthy period, the band were only able to survive with the help of our good friends in Lewes Glynde and Beddingham Band – thanks guys!
The latter part of 2005 saw the band numbers increasing once again – Nigel Simmons departed for the wilds of Ipswich and after another period under the baton of Andy Wooler, the band appointed Kevin Spencer as our new Musical Director. Unfortunately, Kevin stayed only a few months and the band was down to less than a dozen members. During this period, we continued as a ten piece ensemble under the baton of Gordon McGhee to whom we are eternally grateful for keeping the band going through some very difficult times. But a lot has changed since then! With the band close to folding, Steve McIntyre came along and revitalised the band, bringing contest success back as well as quality concerts. He was certainly the first MD of Uckfield Concert Brass to arrive onstage in a coffin!
The appointment of Nick Morris in 2010 takes the band into a new era – watch this space as history is made!
Study of the Uckfield Band by D Shepherd