Band History

With the exception of 1914 – 1927 there has been a band in Gillingham since the mid 19th century. This began initially as a Jazz Band supporting local charities and hospitals. In 1928 this developed into the town band as we know it today with the title ‘Gillingham Imperial Silver Band’. The band has continually played a role in the community, participating in civic events, fetes, carnivals, concerts, church services, carolling and contests. In particular contesting has featured as a major activity and the band has, on four occasions, qualified to play in the national finals.

Many past members have gone on to become music teachers and professional musicians. This includes five ex members of the band playing together in the Devon and Dorset Regimental Military Band . Other successes are Robert Smith who trained at the Royal Academy of Music and went on to major Director of Music appointments; David Pearce who became Principal Cornet of the National Youth Band and achieved Principal Trumpet in the Royal Air Force Band; Graeme Lewis who is a professional trumpeter and conductor in the Bristol and Wessex area; Malcolm Read who went on to train at the Kneller Hall school of Music and then to a career in military bands; and finally Colin Hudson who is now a successful trombonist and instructor in the Royal Marines Band.

Bringing things up to date, young players Adam March (cornet) and Douglas Ward have recently obtained music scholarships. Douglas (percussion and Eb bass) has achieved a placement at Wells Cathedral School

For more information on the history of gillingham band see this article which was recently found by Gillingham Museum.

 

The article below was provided by Gillingham Town Museum, Courtesy of David Lloyd (Gillingham Museum)

Brass instruments have been played for many generations in Gillingham. In the past, smaller churches did not have organs and had, instead, gallery bands, employing any instrumentalists and instruments that were available. Many of these were brass instruments, including the odd’named Serpent, which, whilst made of wood, had a brass type mouthpiece and was classed as a brass instrument. The Melstock Band still uses one of these. Piston Bugles were used in these days. They were the forerunner of the modern cornet. The first real bands in England appeared in the early 19th century. In rural Dorset, these remained on a small scale, each village having its own Band.

In the 1870s, members of the East Stour Band played around the district (with their instruments!) and at Christmastime, performed carols. They would walk to Inwood House and play to Mr. Merthyr Guest. It was the custom of the Butler to enquire who they were and the reply would come, ‘East Stour Band’, and for this they received half a sovereign. Four days later, they would pop down to the house again and this time the answer would be ‘West Stour Band’ for which they received another half sovereign. It was only a little white lie, if you remember that about a dozen members had walked ten miles to earn their coins!

The records of the Gillingham Total Abstinence Society show that they engaged the following Bands at different times. The Racobite Band from Mere, the Kington Temperance Band, the 11th Rifle Corp Band, and in 1861, the Gillingham Town Band at a cost of 20 shillings plus tea. This was the only time they were engaged, because surprisingly they were not very sympathetic towards Temperance principles.

The Band was much more popular at the local Club days when the Friendly Societies, which were usually based at a Pub, held their annual parties called ‘Club Days’. The largest one in Gillingham was the ‘Red Lion Club.’ They held their ‘Do’ on the second Wednesday in May and it was a tradition that all members planted their runner beans before going out.

The Gillingham Town Band played an important part in the proceedings. They started out at the top of Wyke, outside the Brewery at 10.00am. To open the proceedings, the Brewery brought out beer in wooden buckets. Those that didn’t have mugs knelt down on the ground and drank out of the buckets! The Band then led a procession through the town, all the members carrying garlands of flowers. They were expected to play all day, and later for dancing in the evening.

There has been a town band in Gillingham since the mid nineteenth century, apart from the years of the First World War, and until 1927, when the present Band was formed. This began as a Jazz Band, but soon developed into the high class and very respected Band that we have today, with its present title.

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