Armidale City Band

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Believed to be one of the oldest continually running brass bands in NSW – if not Australia – the Armidale City Band recently celebrated its 140th anniversary.  Ken Peter, Vice President and Band Historian, is justifiably proud of the band’s long service to the Armidale community …

Hi Ken. How did you become involved with the Armidale City Band? 

I learnt to play at the Salvation Army band, starting on the cornet and later changed to the tenor horn. In 1962 the Armidale City Band had a drive to enlist players. The Bandmaster, Geoff Wells and his deputy, George Charlton took on the task of building the band for the Moree Band Contest in September. George approached my parents and asked if my brother and I would like to join the City Band, and we did. Geoff became my mentor then, and the tenor horn is still my preferred instrument. 

Fundraising was always the way the band gained its funds, and I have been a part of it ever since I joined back in 1962. We would block off Beardy Street where the Centre Mall is now on Saturday afternoon and run into the night, with chocolate wheels, old water tanks with fish cut outs, small magnet on a line and stick to catch them, bobbing toffee apples in another – to name some activities. Service clubs helped us raise money to keep going for another year.  

Now, we organise our Breakfast with the Band in Civic Park, our 38th this year in conjunction with the New England Festival. In November we have a Box Trailer filled with gardening goodies for our Christmas Raffle.   

The band has a long and proud history – 140 years, and counting! What can you tell us about this?

The Armidale Express reported a brass band had played at the local show in 1876 and that the MUIOOF Lodge had a small brass band. A group of local citizens called a meeting, with the Council reforming a brass band in December 1878. The meeting was held in the Town Hall, having in view the formation of a City Band. The Mayor was voted to the chair to adopt a plan of organisation and pointed out the desirability of having a band in a city such as Armidale. 

Here we are 140 years later – Armidale City Band still serving the community of Armidale. We are believed to be one of the oldest continually running brass bands in NSW and possibly Australia.   

What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed during your time with the band?

Armidale City Band was always attached to the military, starting from 1886. During the First World War, the 33rd Battalion Brass Band was formed in Armidale at the Showground, with more than half of our band playing in both bands. This arrangement with the military continued, with some regimental name changes of the Army still based in Armidale, until it finally ceased in 1960. 

We continued to assist the local RSL Club with their services each year. The biggest change to all brass bands happened in the mid-1960s, with the changing of the guard to both men and women appearing in all bands. We were one of the first bands to change, and had four young girls join in 1965. 

Our new Band Room was built in 1982, and we purchased a new set of Besson Sovereign instruments in 1987 with the help of two loans from Armidale City Council.  

What are some stats about the band you can share with us? 

We cater for any age; it is considered that one can continue playing as long as possible, and today that is over 80. It’s best to start around 10 years; some children manage it earlier. We have a small core of long serving members, with myself 57 years, Robyn Shanahan 53, Nicky Windeyer 35. Next is Stephen McPhee, David Brown and Sue Vanderwolf, all joining around the year 2000.

How and when was the band’s 140th anniversary celebrated recently?

 Our 140th Anniversary officially was the 18th December. We chose March to give us more time in the new year to prepare for the concert and booked the Armidale City Bowling Club Auditorium. We invited past members still known to be playing in a band somewhere to come and join us. With some supporters from other bands, they are: Norm Sims 1950, Allan Marsh 1970, Peter Carrett 1978, Ossie Jellyman 1994, Cindy Shanahan 1996.  Ken Golden, Ian O’Hern, Sandra Sims, Rob Davies from Coffs/ Nambucca bands, Noelene McGrane, Steve Sullivan, Rod Richardson from Tamworth RSL Band. 

With one short practice all together before the concert, 35 band friends entertained our audience for two hours. Patrons Pearl Moffitt and John Harvey were on cake duties with our President Daniel Rohde. On display was the 1938 /1971 uniforms from Bandmaster Geoff Wells and Drum Major Jack Spinks, George Charlton’s first dark blue double-breasted jacket and light blue tie, and back almost 100 years, the uniform coat of Ray Jopson from 1920.  

For those interested in joining the band, what instruments and skill levels are catered for?

New members learning to play an instrument will be guided by our Musical Director to what may suit them best. This can be changed anytime as progress is made through our music training program. For those who already have brass instrument experience on any level and would like to join, they can hire the instrument they prefer to play, as we have a full range of brass instruments to choose from, or they can come along with their own. We can also offer further training if it is desired; band rehearsals are every Wednesday night at 7pm

What are some of the band’s upcoming gigs?

On Saturday 27th April, the band has been invited to play at the Commemorative Service for the Armistice in 1918 and Remembrance of New England to the Great War Effort, 7:45am at the Historical Saumarez Homestead property behind the Armidale Airport; all members of the public are invited to attend.

Where can we find out further info?

Email: armidalecityband@hotmail.com    

Band mobile: 0427 267 638.  Follow us, Armidale City Band on Facebook.

Thanks Ken.

Interview: Jo Robinson. 

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