I've Got Band.

It's quite a serious condition 'Band'. I've had it since I joined the Gravesend Borough Band in 1949, aged 14.

My dad was in the 'Loyals' stationed as Milton Barracks in the twenties. Tommy Stopford was their Bandmaster, he took over the local band and brought musicians with him, one of them was my father. This must have been when the 'Town Band' changed from being a Brass band to a Brass and Reed band, sometime in the Thirties.

As I showed some interest my dad started to teach me the Clarinet in 1948, thinking that I would soon lose interest!

In the Fifties bands were still very popular, I'm afraid the interest is waning now with all the modern ways taking over.

We used to do what are called Drumhead services for the local branch of the British Legion, I remember Cross Keys, Tunbridge Wells, Preston Hall, Maidstone, Burham, Canterbury Cathedral, and Milton Barracks.

On June 2nd 1953, Coronation Day, we played two concerts in the Fort Gardens, in the rain. A few months later I had a day off of work to play in the morning on the forecourt of the Promenade Cafe as the royal yacht Britannia sailed up to London after the new queens Commonwealth tour. (The BBC's website and other correspondence the band has says that the Queen returned from her 6 month post Coronation tour of the Commonwealth on Saturday 15/05/1954.)

Another event in the town was the May Queen procession through the town to the Fort Gardens. The streets were packed and the gardens filled to capacity. As I worked in a local shop whose busiest day was Saturday I used to take one week of my annual two weeks holiday to enable me to be in the parade.

I didn't have a uniform at first, then a friend hand made me one, and when it looked as though I might be 'staying' I was provided with an ex woman's police uniform adapted to match the men's: dark blue with red cuffs and gold braid, buttons that had to be polished for each wearing, and a cap with a shiny peak. My goodness, I felt so proud as I walked down the road.

Gravesend and Northfleet football club were one of the early clubs to install floodlights and for the home matches on Wednesday nights the band would play pre match and half time in the middle of the pitch. One night it was freezing (literally) and all the valves on the brass instruments froze solid, all that were left playing were the drums and reeds and I had my own little icicle hanging from the bell of my clarinet.

Remembrance Day is a regular spot for the band, that can be interesting too. We've huddled under trees in the wind and the rain, it has been so cold sometimes that you really couldn't feel your fingers, or it can be mild enough to be respectable in the uniforms we wear in the summer. I made some 'bibs' for us clarinet players so that we could still play and keep our instruments fairly dry. Clarinets are woodwind, made of wood with corks to cover the holes; if they get wet the wood can swell up and damage the instrument.

There are about ten lady members in the band now, but when I joined in 1949 they hadn't had a girl in the band before, and I was received with mixed feelings shall we say! Now it's the norm, girls can be in the Brigade of Guards or the Royal Horse Artillery. Wow, how times have changed.

I've mentioned the Fort Gardens quite a bit it's such a lovely setting and a pity that it isn't used so much nowadays. One Saturday afternoon in the early sixties there was a kind of ad-hoc circus for which we played, no lions or elephants! There was a juggling act, some sort of target shooting, I remember because my music folder had a pellet hole in it, I didn't think my playing was that bad! There was also a fire eater who asked if the band had any 'fire' music, all we had to hand was 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes'. A little chimpanzee called Lulu did tricks or something, but she was really upset when the band played, because when the trombones let forth, you know what trombones are like, the sound hit the walls and came back, and the poor little thing didn't like it at all.

Another very popular venue for the band was the Clarendon Royal Hotel where we ran a series of "Bandtime" concerts through the winter season. This ran for about 12 to 15 years. An old tape recording has recently come to light of one of the concerts, December 4th 1960, which with the wonder of modern technology has been transferred to compact disc.

This short trip down memory lane isn't anything like the whole picture, but I do hope that it is of some interest. I called it "I've got band" because even now when I'm asked out to visit, or a quiz or to baby sit usually the comment is 'or have you got band?'

The Gravesend Borough Band celebrates 125 years in 2005. We are now a Concert or Military band with an almost full complement, sometimes even a bassoon.

Recently a training band has been set up and this is really the way forward, because even though the interest in performing bands is less than it was there will always be a nucleus of interest and enthusiasm. And of course we would always welcome experienced players who may like the idea of getting their instruments out again.

We play at various venues: Dover, Folkestone, Eastbourne, Bexhill, Maidstone, Hever Castle, Herne Bay, but the usual story of course money, local authorities are having shorter seasons to cut costs, so all bands can't have all the jobs each season.

I have made many friends over the years in the band and in the wider music circle and hope to continue for some time to come.

Vera Bennett (nee Twist) 2004

A short update:
Vera played her very first solo, the Theme from Miss Marple, in front of the band on Sunday 26/09/2010 at the Annual Bandstand Marathon, on the bandstand in the Fort Gardens, Gravesend. Not bad for a band member of 61 years standing who had been leading the clarinet section for many years. The weather was drizzly and chilly, and the audience small but appreciative. At the next practice Vera relinquished the lead seat, and then, just over a month later, left the band altogether. We wish her a happy retirement.
Vera reappeared briefly on 02/06/2013, the day of the 60th anniversary of the Queen's Coronation, and joined in playing at the flag raising ceremony at Gravesend's Community Square.