Royston Town Band can proudly boast of serving the town during three centuries, as it was founded in the mid-1800’s. At a time when the population of Royston was less than 3,000, such an organisation was regarded as an integral part of local life.
The ‘wind and water’ band
Records can be traced back to 1865, but the band was probably formed much earlier – when it was first known as the Royston Volunteer Band. In 1880 William Hinkins, a member of a highly respected Royston business family, formed the Royston Teetotal Band, nicknamed then as the “wind and water” band. But the allegiance to temperance waned, and in 1891 the musicians became known as the Royston Military Band, because it included woodwind instruments as opposed to its present-day all brass configuration.
Succeeding his father as bandmaster came Charles Hinkins, and another son, Herbert, was a prominent playing member. A further family member, Jack Hinkins, also a fine musician was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1927. Later on and before the Second World War the Hinkins family moved to Oxford, though their interest in the band was maintained.
The band’s director in the 1920’s was David Beale, another Royston musician of great standing, who was also involved in the Parish Church Choir. His son, Stanley Beale, is still remembered as the church’s long-serving organist.
A prize winning combination
During this period, the band enjoyed several notable successes, including a first prize at the Soham annual contest – when they were helped by an up-and-coming young cornet player named Harry Mortimer. The following year the band was at the legendary Crystal Palace contest, returning home with a well-earned second prize. On this occasion they had been coached by Harry’s then famous father, Fred Mortimer, who was at that time musical director to Luton Town Band.
Another well-respected Roystonian, Frank Greenhill, took over leadership in 1933. With the advent of the Second World War and so many players going into military service, Frank realised that the salvation of the band lay in recruiting and training youngsters, and it is very much due to his efforts that the band managed to function throughout this period with patriotic parades and fund-raising efforts.
A headquarters for the band
Frank’s successor, who wielded the baton with energy and devotion for 25 years, was Fred Drake. It was during Fred’s leadership that the band achieved a long-standing aim – the building of its own headquarters at the rear of the Manor House Club in Melbourn Street. Fund raising events went on in various ways, and the new band room was completed in July 1960. At the subsequent opening ceremony, a member of the Hinkins family came from Oxford, and others present were Bob Clarke, a well known Royston personality and county councillor, who strongly supported the band, and James Course, at that time band president.
Ill health meant that Fred had eventually to relinquish his post as conductor, although his memory lives on through his Son, Franklyn who is a Life President of the band and his Granddaughter, Lisa who played in the band from 1980 until 2010. After Fred’s retirement the band came under the baton of Graham Stroud, a newcomer to the town and an extremely talented musician. A renewed interest in contesting was fostered and the band progressed through the area rounds to compete in the national championships. Alas, after three years, Graham Stroud’s professional career forced him to leave Royston and take up an appointment in Belgium.
In 1980 Graham Smith arrived and took the baton. The image and presentation of the band needed a re-vamp and it was at this time that the band invested in new red uniforms. Also the band has forged a strong link with their counterparts from Royston’s twin town in Germany. The Grossalmerode Musikzug, formerly the local fire brigade band, has hosted the Royston band on many occasions, and with their return visits to the town ensured a lasting friendship.
A learners group
It was also at this time that a learners group was formed, this group was run by John Doughton, a long serving member and now Life President of the band, and Graham. Gradually numbers increased and eventually this learners group reached the standard to join the main band. Having learners at different standards meant that classes were being held on 3 different nights, the main band rehearsed twice a week. The band, with a full complement of players, was very busy playing at local events and also carried out several Sponsored All Day Blows in Royston, fund raising in earnest to buy new instruments and music.
The £20 round of drinks
A decision was made to re enter the contest arena. The band became regular participants at the Easter Pontins Contest in Hemsby and also played at Lewisham and Aylesbury. Aylesbury gave the first hint of success, playing Saddleworth Festival Overture. Arriving late, the band was informed that they were to play first and should be on stage. The percussionist, Slim, panicked at the rush of getting the drum kit off of the bus and the Conductor, Graham promised a round of drinks if they won. The round cost him £20!
The Area Contest beckoned and the band persevered over several years and made it to the finals in London. This meant that they were now in the 3rd Section, a great achievement for the band. It was at this time (February 1992) that Graham suggested the band should capitalise on its success and look for a more experienced/qualified conductor to take the band forward. Alan Goodall responded to an advert and became Musical Director primarily for contesting. Under his leadership the band achieved 1st place at the Watford autumn contest, followed by an 8th place at the 1994 Areas.
The Royston Youth Band
Also during this time Alan Goodall and Graham Smith assembled a youth band of Royston youngsters and some of Alan’s London pupils. Royston Youth band achieved great success coming 4th at the Reading Contest, despite almost not getting there as the coach broke down and the band had to walk up a hill!. They also competed in the first ever National Youth Brass Band Championships at Salford University and came 2nd in the intermediate section playing Tameside Overture. Royston Youth also competed in the National Festival of Music for Youth at the Royal Festival Hall. An unusually high proportion of the Royston Youth Band joined Junior Music Schools and then went onto full time music courses or music related education. Most of them also played in national youth orchestras/bands/ensembles. For several this led to careers as professional musicians. Becky Smith now plays in an all girl trombone quartet, “Bones Apart”, playing all over the world. Alison Balsom, an international Trumpet Soloist, has won two Classical Brit Awards and can often be heard on Classic FM. Others are now music teachers and play with Championship Section bands.
When Alan left the band in 1994 Graham Smith once again stepped in until in December 1995 the position of Conductor was offered to John ‘JJ’ Brutnell. JJ had been a member of the band since 1989 playing percussion and trombone. Under his leadership the band entered several contests and also continued with a full programme of concerts throughout the year.
JJ conducted the band until work commitments meant he had to move to Dublin in 2000. He returned to Conducting the band in 2002, during his absence the band had several conductors and still entered contests. The Area Contest in 2001 was taken by Glen Thomas and in 2002 by Jonathon Jones.
Close links have always been maintained with the Grossalmerode Musikzug playing many joint concerts with them both in Germany and Royston. In October 2004 the band from Germany visited Royston to celebrate 30 years of twinning.
After a break from contesting the band decided to enter the Butlins Contest at Skegness in January 2005. Once again under the baton of Graham Smith, extra rehearsals and an all day workshop was held. Our hard work paid off as 5th place was achieved. The band stayed on the Butlins resort for the weekend and a wonderful time was had by all.
A grand reunion
A grand reunion of members was held in September 2005 in Royston Church. Members past and present were invited to take part in a concert with a theme of “Music from Stage and Screen”. The church was filled with supporters of the band and ex-players to listen to the concert performed by a band of players spanning many years. As well as bringing members back together it was also a family occasion as there have been several families playing in the band over the years. The Simons family can proudly boast having had 4 generations of their family playing in the band with Roger, who joined the band in 1961 and is also the band’s Secretary, and his son Owen, still playing. The Drake family have had 3 generations playing over the years. On the night of the reunion concert the Smith family were out in full strength with Claire, Becky and their parents Graham and Judy all playing. At this concert another long serving member of the band, Brian Edwards, was awarded the position of Life President of the band. Brian joined the band in 1943 and still plays the cornet with them today.
Other people who deserve a special mention and are also Life Presidents of the band are John Doughton, the bands librarian for many years and a long serving member having joined the band in 1943. During John’s time with the band he also spent many hours teaching the junior members of the band. Franklyn Drake was a Trombone and Euphonium player for 45 years with the band and also the Chairman of the band for many years. Franklyn stopped playing due to his health but still supports the band at concerts. Another long serving member was Cecil Adams who played the Trombone. He previous played with Shepreth Band and joined Royston in 1927. Sadly Cecil past away several years ago, a small group from the band were honoured to be asked to play some hymns at his funeral. Len Coote is also a Life President of the band, he played for many years with both Royston Town Band and Cambridge City Band, he also arranged many pieces of music for the band.
In December 2005 Simon Jones accepted the position of Musical Director of Royston Town Band. Simon, who is originally from the town of Tyldesley in the north-west, started playing the tenor horn at the age of 13. He went on to study for a degree in brass musicianship at Salford University and graduated in 1999. Upon moving to London in 2004, Simon has played with several top bands and also been Musical Director of the Enfield and Stonesfield Silver brass bands.
In April 2008, Royston Town Band welcomed Steve Earley as their new Musical Director. Steve has been involved with brass music for nearly 25 years, having started playing the tuba and trombone at school. A graduate of Manchester University, where he had tuba lessons from Andrew Duncan, Steve has played with a number of Championship Section bands including Regent Brass, Redbridge Brass, Virtuois (GUS) and Raunds Temperance Band. He currently leads the bass section of Milton Keynes Brass and plays with the Leaside Brass Quintet. As a conductor Steve has worked with many bands, notably East London Brass who gained promotion to the 2nd Section under his direction.
In 2012 both Roger Simons and Graham Smith were recognised for their long service and support of the band and were made honorary life presidents.
2014 – 150 years
The band celebrated their 150th anniversary in style, a free celebratory concert was held in Royston Church on the 11th October 2014. The church was packed to the rafters and the audience of townsfolk and band supporters were treated to music from every decade of the ban’s existence. The music was interspersed with anecdotes from the band’s history and three ex-conductors returned to conduct a piece of music each. Old photographs and uniforms of the band were on display to show off the proud heritage of the band.
A new home for the band
The band had been informed during 2012 that the Manor House was to be sold and that they would need to move from their home of over 50 years. A lot of scouting for suitable locations for a new home took place and an ideal location was found at the end of the Tannery Drift School playing fields. A large amount of fundraising took place as well as receiving large donations from various local funds and generous individuals, members of the band helped with painting, roofing and many other tasks during the build. After a lot of effort, the new bandroom was completed in 2015. The bandroom was officially opened on the 18th October 2015, many townsfolk attended along with the local MP Oliver Heald and Alison Balsom. The ceremonial opening was performed by the band’s longest serving member Brian Edwards.
This is only a very brief resume of Royston Town Band, who is indebted to so many people over the 150+ years for their continued existence. It is sincerely hoped that with such dedication and future generations prepared to offer their services and support they will be able to met the next century.