O, listen to the band

MUSIC has always played a great part in seaside entertainment, and it is significant that Weston's first seasonal entertainer was an organ grinder. He was followed by

MUSIC has always played a great part in seaside entertainment, and it is significant that Weston's first seasonal entertainer was an organ grinder. He was followed by Johnnie Patchback's one-man band. With big drum, cymbals, and triangle attache to his back, the drumsticks strapped to his elbow and with his hands free to play the accordion, Johnnie provided more music about Weston than many of its residents and visitors wanted to hear!As the resort grew, every summer brought the little groups of itinerant musicians - Italians, Germans, Hungarians - in uniforms some of which were once resplendent with gold braid, but which had become rather shabby. Relying as they did on what they got from passing round the collecting bag, these early music-makers had a rather hard time. Mostly it was bare subsistence, and they had nothing to pare for wardrobe replacements. There was competition among them for possession of the best playing positions along the seafront; rivalry often led to differences, even blows.There were no bandstands. Carrying their wooden music stands and music with them, the musicians would form a group on the green at the Prince Consort Gardens. The length of performance was governed by the number of people promenading, and the weather. If there were few people about the group would cut its stay short and move on to a pitch at Grove Park, or to the Royal Hotel lawn, or Ellenborough Park. Quality of performance varied. Some of the foreign groups included first-rate musicians, but often Italian or Hungarian bands might include players who among their friends answered to such names as Jack Smith and George Brown.A hint at the varying standards of performance is given in a reference in one of the earliest Weston guidebooks. It commented: "Music is one of the attractions of every watering place, and in this respect Weston is generally fortunate. The Town Band is very efficient, every morning and evening, at the most frequented parts, it may be heard discoursing sweet melodies. There are other bands that visit the town and vary much in their respective merits."Weston had a succession of bands that were given official recognition by the local authority and consequently designated the Town Band. The Rev Roy Kilvert in his diary referred to sitting in gas-lit Holy Trinity church at evensong "while from the town below came up on the sultry air the strains of the Italian band".The Weston Italian Band was conducted by Signor Ulrico, and in the morning and evening during the summer season it regularly appeared at the Prince Consort Promenade, the Grove, Royal Hotel Lawn and Ellenborough Park.Fred Dale, a popular former-day entertainer, who used to write a greatly liked humorous feature Local Nutshells for the Mercury under the name of 'Hutton Moore' once penned some memories of two local rival foreign bands."The Italians," he said, "played in Grove Park in the summer, and in the winter gave concerts inside Grove House. They squeezed themselves in to the conservatory which was on the War Memorial side of the house, and the audience spread themselves in the various ground floor rooms. On Saturday nights they played in the Town Hall."The leader, Coviello, was a beautiful cornet player. After his time at Weston he was for years first cornet in the Alhambra and Empire in Leicester Square, and eventually professor at the Paris Conservatoire. The trombone, too, Visconti, was a fine player and a great favourite - he'd a smile that just wouldn't come off his face."Among the many local music combinations of former years was that of Corelli Windeatt, which achieved national note. His orchestra often played for balls at the manorial home of the Smyth-Pigott squires at Brockley, when the music played through the night was for such old-time dances as the Roger de Coverley and quadrilles.A town band of excellent standard for many years was that conducted by William Pfaff, and there was also the 66 years' history of Mogg's Military Prize Band.'Mogg's' was there on every Weston big occasion, glad or sad. There was its playing at the 'Big Lamp' corner to welcome the New Year, and there were its annual benefit concerts in Grove Park, when it always rained.In addition to its regular seasonal programme at Grove Park, the Rozel and Beach Lawns bandstands, it was in great demand for harvest homes and fetes all over Somerset, and in adjoining counties. The last hectic shopping days in High Street before Christmas always had the accompaniment of carols by Mogg's Band.Among the many music combinations in Weston in former years were those of the volunteer army units, and it was with one of these that Mogg's Band's founder, Harry Mogg, began his remarkable music career. In early life Harry was a postman. He became an expert clarinet player, and for several years was bandmaster of the old Rifle Volunteer Corps Band.Then, at a period when Weston had no band, Harry decided to form one. He mastered the playing of several instruments and taught youngsters to play the range of brass as well as reed instruments.Throughout its history the band's practice room was the upper floor of a former mineral water factory at the rear of houses in Jubilee Road, owned by the band's president the late Alderman Henry Butt, the town's Charter Mayor. Here Harry trained his band so well that in 1912 it won the national championship at Crystal Palace.There was a celebration concert at Knightstone Theatre which the organiser of the Crystal Palace festival attended especially to present Mr Mogg with a baton in recognition of the fact that he was the only amateur conductor who had ever taken a band to the Palace and won first prize. It was customary for competing bands to engage a professional conductor when they took part in this, the biggest band contest in the country.In addition to its first at the Crystal Palace in 1912, Mogg's Band was fourth in 1908, second in 1909, and third in 1911. It also won a first at the National Eisteddfod of Wales in 1899. Conductors who followed Harry Mogg included Frank Somers, Reg Rossiter, Charlie Gibbs, Ernest Rowsell, and lastly J B Gilbert.Harry Mogg died in 1929 at the age of 69. A few months earlier townspeople had shown their appreciation of what he had done for local music by making him a presentation of a cheque for £200.When Harry Mogg founded his band recruits were not hard to get, because in the Weston of those days there was little on offer for recreational or entertainment to occupy young men in their leisure time. But in the years following Mr Mogg's death the band came on a more difficult period, and eventually the band was disbanded in 1953.I remember especially its brilliant reed section; what a glorious disciplined sound that long row of clarinets made! Fond memories of 'Moggziz' remain with many Westonians. Happily today (1968) the Weston Silver Band conducted by Tom Shearman ably carries on the tradition.When Weston's Old Pier opened in 1867 it also featured bands for dancing and concerts in the pavilion and in the square. Herr Hubner's Band and Christy's were two popular combinations there.And what memories are linked with the military bands on the Grand Pier - the Gordon and Seaforth Highlanders, with their dancers, and the rest. What splashes of colour the bandsmen lent to the Weston summer scene.On weekdays there were theatrical shows in the Pier Pavilion and the band of the week played in the bandstand outside. These were more leisurely programmes with long pauses between the items, which gave the red-sashed bandmaster plenty of time to mop his brow, cool off, and take in the evening scene. The first sign that a resumption of the programme was near was when a bandsman casually rose to change the item number in the box at the side of the bandstand.There were the popular overtures, the marches, fantasias, and the solo items, with the euphonioum player oozing the sentiment of Friend o' Mine, and the cornet player trilling the charm of Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes. Sunday night band concerts inside the Pavilion, like the theatrical attractions, could be attended for as little as sixpence if you were prepared to promenade at the back of the balcony with 'the sixpenny lean-over' fraternity.At these concerts the bands were often joined by famous singers, and there was always a special finale, such as "1812" - with effects, a work wending with the tubular bells ringing through the band's fortissimo and fireworks. For an extra-special '1812' the late Alderman J J Leaver, High Street ironmonger and gunsmith, on occasion fired a small cannon from one of the Pavilion turrets!Signor Bocchi's Milan Orchestra performed at the pier's opening in 1904, and other early bands there were the Austrian Blue Band and Kandt's Band, conducted by Herr Julian Kandt. The Spiegler ensemble was led by the handsome Arnold Spiegler, darling of the ladies.The story of seaside music at Weston is by no means told. I have not dwelt on the history of the local Salvation Army Band which in stormy times for the Army was attacked as it paraded through Weston's streets, or the years of H C Burgess and his Orchestra at the Rozel Bandstand. This is for future telling; there will now be an interval!* This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on June 21, 1968

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