Swinton & District Excelsior Band

Copyright © 2012  Swinton Band                                                         All rights reserved.

(Registered Charity No. 509054)


Band History


With much gratitude to the late Hugh Baxter on whose book "Sixty years of Puff and Blow" the following is largely based.

EARLY DAYS – Albert Barker (1936-1940)

Swinton and District Excelsior Band began when, after a successful series of impromptu sessions, playing Christmas music in neighbouring public houses, six local men decided to set up a permanent band. They did this early in 1936, meeting each week in the unused Methodist Chapel at Swinton, the large, stone rectangular shaped building in Middle Street now known as "The Band Room. They were soon joined by new playing members and learners. By 1938 the band had about twenty playing members including two of our present players, Ray Dalton and Colin Cooper. According to Ray, the learners came to practice half an hour before the official starting time and were allowed to stay on with the band when good enough.

In the beginning the "band room" had no electric light and practices during the winter months were lit by candles in bottles on tables. Interest and enthusiasm grew to such an extent that extra learning sessions and practices took place at some of the playing members’ houses. The band at this time supported local events and fund raising activities. They would play some of the well-known "standard" brass band pieces in addition to marches, hymns and dance music.

To keep the momentum going among the youngsters in 1938 a solo contest was arranged which Colin Cooper (who was ten years old at the time) won on Cornet. He still has the judge’s mark sheet and criticism. It was also in 1938 that the band entered its first contest and played at Pickering in the Douthwaite Dale Competition for the well-known "Jingling Johnny" Trophy. Ray Dalton still remembers his first public performance at Norton Cinema around this time as one of a quartet playing a piece called "Clouds and Sunshine".



WARTIME – Ernest Cartwright (1940-1946)

As one might expect, the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 brought about many changes. Very soon some members of the band left when they were called up for service, but the band still continued. In some ways it was doing "it’s bit" for the war effort and it certainly seemed as though no week went by without the band contributing to some event: "Spitfire concerts", "Tank weeks", "Soldiers’ Comforts", "Red Cross Parcels" or entertaining the troops billeted in the area. Within weeks of the outbreak of the war the bandroom was requisitioned as an official billet for the army and the band members were given two days notice to clear out all their equipment. Colonel Behrens came to the rescue and allowed the band to use a cattle shed on the Broughton Road for practices. This became the base for the band throughout all the war years and for about two years afterwards as well. Although smaller than the bandroom and something of a tight fit, it did not pose any problems during the summer months. In winter it was a different story. This was a testing time for both bandsmen and air raid warden as this was a genuine cattle shed, - cobble stone floor, hayracks around the walls and two paraffin lamps for lighting. A large gap under the door tested even the keenest of players during the cold frosts and storms of winter. Practices always infringed the blackout regulations, since the lamps were suspended from the ceiling and light would escape from between the tiles.

After the war it was some time before the band was allowed to move back into the bandroom but eventually they did so. The local church, the then owner decided to sell the property, by auction, a decision that caused consternation and apprehension for the band. Col. Behrens came to the rescue, and, aware of the band’s plight and their genuine interest, undertook to purchase the building for the band’s continued use. This he duly did, and since this time the band has enjoyed a permanent and secure base and been very grateful for Col. Behrens’ generous intervention.


PEACETIME – Clarence Cartwright (1946-1976)

On his return from war service, "Clarry" took up the baton in 1946. This was a bandmaster who knew exactly what he wanted to do. He aimed to make Swinton Band into a band of good repute, following the brass band traditions of musical entertainment and contesting. Clarry set about the task with authority and great energy, despite the fact that the constraints of wartime had left him with a band of about 15 players, a set of decaying instruments and a limited selection of elderly music. Undaunted he began by making active fundraising a priority, while improving the playing standard of the band by regular practices and the encouragement of new players, which led to an increasing list of paying engagements.

First, this money was turned into better second hand instruments. At the same time the band joined the York and District Brass Band Association with the intention of taking part in their annual contests. Gradually the music library was expanded and uniforms were purchased. The first uniforms were bought in 1950 and eventually every playing member had one. In 1955 Clarry felt the time was right to enter the Nationwide Brass Band Contest, held annually at Belle Vue, Manchester. Next year the band played very well and was placed 5th out of the 25 bands taking part. Their experiences here obviously stood them in good stead, because in the following year, 1957, they won the Kitching Challenge Cup at the York contest.

This was a golden period for Swinton Band. They had developed into a complete entertainment unit. The concert of music would often be interspersed with a comedy or singing event. Charlie Johnson, who was a very good tenor, would perform two or three solos in each half of the concert while Moss Parnaby, who was a very keen supporter and worker for the band was also something of an amateur comedian and would readily stand up and entertain the audience.

The late sixties saw the decline in interest for brass bands and the band was down to 12 or 14 regular players when in 1968 the first girls started as learners. Around this time changes in educational practice favoured the band with the introduction of peripatetic music teachers, who went from school to school to teach pupils to play instruments. These able and enthusiastic young players soon made their way into the local brass bands of the area – as they continue to do today. Now, the majority of Swinton’s players are under the age of twenty-one. This has in no way detracted from the quality of the music. What the youngsters lack in experience they more than make up for in skill, energy and enthusiasm. Our only problem is that such gifted youngsters almost invariably leave us when they leave school to attend universities elsewhere. Bands between Bristol and Dundee have cause to be grateful to Swinton!



TIMES OF CHANGE – Clifford Hicks (1976-1977, 1981-1985), Raymond Taylor (1977-1981),George Veysey (1985-1989), Geoffrey Emerson (1989-1992),

Paul Jones (1992-1993), Stewart Thorp (1993-1997), Robert Coates (1997-1998)

Clifford Hicks became bandmaster in 1976. He had learnt to play as a boy and gained in experience with Swinton and other bands. After qualifying as a schoolmaster he soon found he had a flair for combining teaching and music, so Cliff seemed to fall naturally into the bandmaster’s role, for a very short period to begin with, before he left to play with Rowntrees Band in York.

Raymond Taylor, our next bandmaster, was also a player of many years’ experience. He had spent many years with White Star Band, Malton, but after the war he came to Swinton and took over the position of bandmaster in 1977. He soon settled to the task and continued the traditions and regular commitments of the band but in 1981, he had to step down, after medical advice.

Cliff Hicks once again rose to the challenge and was re-instated as bandmaster. He soon felt they had achieved sufficient exactness to resume contesting and the band took 2nd place in their section at the York and Humberside Association’s annual contest at Tadcaster in 1984 and 1985. Cliff left to play with Kirkbymoorside Band in the summer of 1985.

George Veysey, a former military bandsman, ably took over at this very difficult period in time. Without faltering he continued straightaway with a demanding programme of engagements. Although thrust in at the deep end he not only rose quickly to the surface himself but also steered the band through a demanding first experience of making a set of recordings on tape. He followed this up with guiding the band through a record-breaking season of Christmas playing. He then set about developing a substantial repertoire in preparation for the 1986 programme of concerts celebrating the 50th anniversary of the band.

It was decided to celebrate this occasion in as many ways as possible. Among the normal commitment of summer engagements two very big events were organised, both handsomely supported by all the band members and followers. These were a "Bed Push" from Pickering back to Swinton, and a Garden fete at "The Lodge" in Malton. To help commemorate the anniversary we published a booklet covering the history of the band – "Once upon a Christmas Time". The year was rounded off with the normal busy round of Christmas playing as well as contributing to the newly introduced Dickens Festival.

After the excitements of the 50th Anniversary year the band soon settled down with some relief to the normal programme of events. The first months of each year were set aside for preparing the summer programme of music. Contesting with the band was always a discussion point and usually resolved itself by agreeing to do the Yorkshire and Humberside Brass Band Contest in May, the Easingwold March Contest at the end of June and the Malton Brass Band Contest in November. The need for a continued supply of funds had to be addressed regularly and consequently several features became regular fixtures in the band’s calendar including making tape recordings from time to time – "Brass Montage" in 1988, "Derwent Brass" in 1989, "Rye Brass" in 1994 and our first CD "Brass Rubbings" in 2000.

In June 1989 George Veysey left, and Geoffrey Emerson was invited to take over. Recruitment was tackled by the promotion of the band in local schools. This resulted in a dramatic increase in numbers and gave a new prominence to the Saturday evening "learners’ session". Following on from this a Junior Band was formed which began to have its own engagements under the baton of Ray Dalton. March 1991 saw the birth of another new venture for the band. To help members of the band to cope better as featured players when performing in public, Ray Dalton instigated an internal competition for all band members to take part in either as solo performers or as part of an ensemble. June Emerson adjudicated the first competition and Ray himself donated the prizes.

In August 1992 Geoffrey felt he needed to move on and his place was taken by Paul Jones of the R.A.F. Regiment Band, at Catterick. Unfortunately the R.A.F. had other ideas and he was posted out of the area. To keep the band going Stephen Popham, Ray Dalton and Les Maw all lent a hand. In June 1993 Stewart Thorp was made Band Master and began with a period of consolidation and development whilst maintaining the full programme of engagements Another new venture for the band was to have a "music workshop" for a full weekend in October 1995 under the leadership of James Shepherd. This was repeated for the next few years with visiting soloist/conductors including Nick Hudson and Steve Sykes. Contesting success soon followed at both Malton Brass and the Yorkshire and Humberside’s Brass Band Contest at Scarborough.

Sadly, in 1997, Stewart resigned as bandmaster, continuing to help out when needed, and the band appointed Robert Coates as his successor. An experienced military bandsman, Robert had not conducted a band before and set to the task with great enthusiasm. A high point was the re-opening of the Bandroom after the building of new practice rooms and kitchen with the help of a Lottery Grant. However after little over a year, Robert had to leave the band for personal reasons and once again Stewart Thorp and Steven Popham found themselves holding the fort. They were greatly helped at this time by Philip Carter from Kirkbymoorside who while unable to commit himself to becoming Bandmaster ably steered the band through a year’s contest season culminating in winning the 3rd Section at Scarborough.



RECENT TIMES – Robin Rutter (1999-2005), Patrick Macbeth (2006), Kevin Donaldson (2006-7), Nigel Sutherland (2008-

At length, in 1999 Robin Rutter, then playing Bass Trombone for Kirkbymoorside Town Band was appointed bandmaster. He had experience both as Deputy Bandmaster for their main band and as conductor of their junior band. The band responded to his leadership by obtaining a creditable 5th place in the 4th Section of the Area Contest at Darlington in Spring 2000. The floods of that autumn caused the cancellation of Malton Brass in 2000 so the next serious contest was a return to Darlington for the Area Contest in March 2001. The band had prepared well and worked hard but the result surpassed the most fevered imaginations as Swinton and District Excelsior Band were declared North of England 4th Section Champions. This meant that they qualified for a place in the National Finals taking place in September at Preston, and further, for the first time in the band’s history were promoted into the 3rd Section on a National basis. While the results at Preston were not exceptional, playing there was a wonderful experience. Swinton have continued to hold their own in the 3rd Section at the Area contests, continuing an annual improvement.

In 2005, Robin found that demands of work and family combined (he got married in August) meant that he could not carry on conducting the band and he returned to playing with Kirkbymoorside. After an interlude where Phil Carter once more came to the rescue enabling us to continue contesting, Patrick Macbeth was appointed as bandmaster in Spring 2006.

Sadly, Patrick soon found that the demands of his job at Ampleforth College made commitment to the band impossible so with much regret on both sides he had to give up the position in September of the same year. Despite fears of another long interregnum, within weeks a new and experienced bandmaster came forward in the person of Kevin Donaldson.

Kevin had great ambitions for the band and set out to build them into a strong contesting band. After promising results at Malton, however it became clear that he was finding the pressure of his work hard to reconcile with the needs of the band. Things were brought to a head when serious injury to our principal euphonium player Ian (one of his employees) meant that Kevin's workload rocketed and he was forced to leave us in the summer of 2007.

An interregnum saw us conducted by a number of helpful people including John Woodward of Kirkbymoorside and Derek Worley of York Railway Institute along with several more familiar faces. In November Nigel Sutherland agreed to take us to our next two contests and in April 2008 he agreed to become our first Musical Director.


Click here for history of the Bandroom