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Music to our ears as bands hit high notes
The command was ear-piercing and to the point. “Right you lot. Stop that talking and mucking about. GET FELL IN!”
You would think it was a ranting sergeant major ordering his soldiers about on the parade ground.
But it wasn’t. It was Sandra Gunn, in charge of the Sussex Legionnaires Southern Searchers Youth Band in July 1987, organising yet another rehearsal.
And the youngsters fell in, rapidly and quietly.
Sandra explained: “They don’t mind me shouting at them. Really they don’t. They know that if they are to have any success, they must have discipline.”
Sandra’s stern tactics certainly seemed to have paid off. In the early 1980s the Southern Searchers picked up top prizes at competitions all over the country.
The marching band from Woodingdean had been formed in 1977 and had 40 members aged from ten to 20.
Their wins placed them first out of the 68 novice bands in the whole country. The group also gained them a place at the National Youth Band Championships at Wembley, where they came third in the novice class.
Sandra said: “Being in a youth band is not just a question of dressing up in an attractive uniform and going ‘oompah, oompah’ into a trumpet. To win competitions you have to be good. Very good.”
Newcomers started off playing simple instruments like cymbals, but they were expected to graduate onto a wider choice of brass instruments. Soon the only thing the new members couldn’t play was truant.
In July 1987 the band’s newest recruit was ten-year-old Claire Aston.
Almost hidden behind her cymbals, Claire said: “I like the music, I like the uniform and I like the friends I have made. In fact I love everything about being in the band.”
“Thanks for that Claire,” said Sandra. “Now GET FELL IN!”
In August 1986, people walking along Brighton prom were able to hear a band playing for the first time in more than 30 years.
Fats Baxter’s jazz band was the first to play on the Victorian bandstand near the old West Pier , restored by the borough council.
The bandstand remained disused for so long because councillors thought traffic would drown the music. But it would have taken more than a few juggernauts to stop Fats and his bandmates.
However, bands in Sussex sometimes left listeners brassed off. In November 1985, Lewes Royal British Legion was looking for a new band after that year’s Remembrance Day parade.
June Courtnage, secretary of the branch, said: “Many of the regular military men were a |bit disappointed in the kind of music played this year.
“We would have liked something more military.”
He husband, former sergeant major Edward Courtnage, said: “The band looked good on display but they didn’t play the proper music. You must march to a beat – but they were playing music I wanted to dance to.”
That same year, Kenneth Nutt fondly unwrapped the tarnished silver cornet he had not played for six years and cast his mind back over six decades at the centre of North Sussex’s silver band tradition.
Then in his late 70s, the lifelong East Grinstead musician had played in or conducted most of the bands in the area.
His memories stretched back to playing alongside elaborately moustachioed Victorian bandsmen and under the baton of the great Sir Malcolm Sargeant.
But his failing eyesight, rather than the trumpeter’s usual malady of weak lungs or poor teeth, had ended his playing days.
He said: “I finally gave up because I could not see the music. It was like chewing toffee with the wrapper still on.”
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