A TOUCH OF NOSTALGIA
A Potted History of Merton Concert Band
by Mavis Cale
It was in 1981 when the then mayor of Merton Council, Councillor Watts, showed an interest in setting up a concert band in the borough of Merton. He advertised for a conductor and the post was offered to STAN NEWSOME. Stan was a foremost trumpet player, whose iconic solos can be heard on recordings of the famous Mantovani orchestra; ‘Around the World’ and ‘Charmaine’ being the most notable. The band was given a rehearsal venue at Cannizaro House, Wimbledon Common (now Cannizaro Hotel). After a few years spent there, it was then moved to Dundonald Park, Wimbledon, where the band happily rehearsed for many years. With a nucleus of members, the band was often supplemented with friends of Stan’s from the music business. It established a formidable reputation for itself and got regular engagements in London and also many other venues. Two of the regular ‘gigs’ which we loved, and which brought a bit of fun to the band, were Norway day in Battersea Park and the regular service at St. Katherine’s Dock in London.
On Norway day the band was required to march round Battersea Park, with about 200 Norwegians following us, waving flags etc. No way was Merton a marching band so it was quite an experience, but one which we pulled off for many years. At St. Katherine’s dock we often had to cope with inclement weather conditions and on one occasion a strong gust of wind took our trombone player’s music off into the waters of the dock, never to be seen again.
Stan was instrumental in getting us to play at Eastbourne bandstand and, in fact, we were the first civilian band to perform there for a whole week during their summer season.This involved 16 different programmes of music, with two concerts a day and three concerts on two days a week. Luckily, with a strong nucleus of players who were willing to make this week part of their annual holiday from work, and with many other players who were retired etc. we were able to provide some very enjoyable concerts and we received much acclaim from the audiences. Sadly, Stan passed away in 1989 and was only able to do one season at Eastbourne.
Our solo clarinet player, Ted Ashwood, took up the baton at this stage. He conducted one season at Eastbourne, when he excelled himself by playing the extremely difficult Artie Shaw Clarinet Concerto, accompanied by the band. The band did one more year at Eastbourne, this time conducted by ex Irish Guards member, Vivian Davies. Sadly, by this time the Eastbourne season was being cut back and the band did not perform there again. As Ted had many other commitments, he could not be with the band all the time and we called upon quite an assortment of deputy conductors, some from the Brigade of Guards, some from the Military School of Music at Kneller Hall and some from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. One of these was ex Scots Guards player, ARNOLD BIBBY.
However, in 2005, while my husband and myself were attending a Musicians Union evening in Croydon, we met up with professional trumpet player MARTIN BUNCE. As Arnold had many calls upon his services, we put it to Martin that maybe he would be interested in becoming our regular conductor. He agreed, and so began his reign at Merton, with Arnold being associate conductor. Martin moved away from London in 2016, ending his long reign as conductor and Arnold Bibby became our principal conductor.