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.
An article by Herbert Hinkins in the Crow from the 1950s traces the beginnings of the band back to 1863. At the Royston celebrations on the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra three bands are listed 1. “The Drum and Fife Band” 2. “A brass band recently formed by F C Carver” 3. “The Temperance Drum and Fife Band”. Mr Carver’s new band quickly became known as the “Royston Amateur Brass 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.
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 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.
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 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.
It was at this time that the first band link with Royston’s twin town Grossalmerode, in Germany, was established. At the start of the liason between the towns in about 1974/5, the Meridian School Band were sending a group of musicians on an exchange visit and asked for several band members to assist. Roger Simons and Brian Edwards went on that first exchange, and established a long friendship and link with the Musikzug in Grossalmerode, which has resulted in over 40 years of happy visits and friendships between the bands and towns.
Ill health meant that Fred had eventually to relinquish his post as conductor, but strong family links remined in the band as his son, Franklyn became Chairman and Life President of the band. Franklyn was a Trombone and Euphonium player for 45 years with the band and his daughter Lisa also played in the band from the 1980s and was also a long serving and dynamic Chairman. She later left the band to play with Ware Brass, but conducted the Royston Development Band from its foundation and maintains strong links with the band to this day.
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.
Some notable personalities in the band at this time were Cecil Adams and Len Coote. Cecil played the Trombone previously with Shepreth Band and joined Royston in 1927. Len Coote was 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 1980 Graham Smith arrived and took the baton. Graham’s wife Judy and his two daughters Claire and Becky all played in the band. 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. At this time that a learners group was formed, run by John Doughton. John, now a life president, was the band’s librarian for many years and a long serving member having joined the band in 1943. Gradually numbers increased and eventually this learners group reached the standard to join the main band. 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.
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!
In 1982 Roger Simons became Secretary of the band. The Simons family can proudly boast having had 4 generations of their family playing in the band. Roger joined the band in 1961 and was the band’s Secretary for 36 years until Roger’s playing career was cut short in December 2017 when he suffered a stroke and was unable to have complete use of his right hand. Despite this, he remains an active member of the committee and enthusiastic archivist of the Royston Town Band story and memorabilia.
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.
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 competed in the first ever National Youth Brass Band Championships at Salford University and came 2nd in the intermediate section playing Tameside Overture.
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 groups. For several this led to careers as professional musicians. Becky Smith now plays in the internationally renowned trombone quartet, “Bones Apart”, and is Principle Trombone of the English National Opera. Alison Balsom OBE, has been a professional solo classical trumpet player since 2001 and is passionate about musical education. Others are now music teachers and play with Championship Section bands.
When Alan left the band in 1994 there began a period of flux. John ‘JJ’ Brutnell conducted the band from 1996 – 1999 and as well as help from Graham, 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. In December 2005 Simon Jones accepted the position of Musical Director of Royston Town Band.
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 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. 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 has only recently retired from playing the cornet.
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. As a conductor Steve has worked with many bands, notably East London Brass who gained promotion to the 2nd Section under his direction.
Steve has led the band on an intrepid journey through some weird and wonderful concerts and projects. To mention but a few – an arts project ‘On Landguard Point’ which involved playing on a pier in the rain covered by red umbrellas, taking part in the Whit Friday marches, contesting at the annual National Brass Band Championships and the Butlin’s Mineworkers Open National Brass Band Festival, supporting the Royston Arts Festival, honouring our servicemen and women at Remembrance Day services and a packed Christmas programme of concerts and carolling.
Charmian Flowerday became Chairman of the band in April 2012, and her first happy duty was to make Roger Simons and Graham Smith life presidents for their service and dedication to the band. There was work to do though, as with the decline of the Manor House Social Club, it became apparent that the band would need to find a new place to rehearse for the first time since 1960. On April 2013 the band held its ‘last blast’ in the bandroom with headtorches, stand lights and camping lamps as the electricity had been cut off. A two year search for a new home followed, the band rehearsing temporarily at Tannery Drift School. Finally after the hard work and dedication of the committee and with the help of many donors and the support of the local community, the new Band Room at the end of Tannery Drift held its official opening in October 2015. The band marched from the site of the old bandroom along Melbourn Street to the new bandroom, and we were joined by many old friends including our life presidents.
In October 2014 the band held a special concert in the parish church to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Also in April 2015 the Development Band was formed, led by Lisa King.
This is only a very brief resume of Royston Town Band, who is indebted to so many people over more than 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 continue for many more years to come.
Charmian Flowerday, October 2019
(Adapting short history of Royston Town Band by Brian Edwards and sections from Roger Simons’ memories of Royston Town Band)