When bands folk go to the great band room in the sky it is always sad and particularly so for me when I read of the recent passing of the legendary Trevor Mumford, who, here in South Wales and much further afield was a ‘once met, impossible to forget’ bandsman for all the right reasons.
It got me thinking about some of the older and dearly departed, quirky characters that have graced the hallowed floorboards of many a band room.
There was one who invented unique sandwiches that could burn the hairs off nostrils. Gwyn always travelled with a sack-full of satanic fodder that would have Gordon Ramsey lost for swear words. You could always tell when Gwyn was on the band bus as everyone else was a nasty shade of green, such was the volcanic stench.
I can still see him in my mind’s eye, smiling through the acrid haze, with a rollie in one hand and a baguette containing lime pickle, chilli chicken, Jalapeño peppers and well past sell date pork rinds in the other.
Then there were the ‘choirmasters’ on the home leg of a contest. I recall one in particular…you know the type, early draw, a good result, band tie with the contest history of fish, chips and ale down the front, having consumed umpteen pints of Old Speckled Hen at 6.5% proof, turning mild-mannered Clarke Kent into a demonic Gareth Malone with a voice like Pavarotti’s cat.
This same person was also responsible for drunken bingo with some tasty number calls and the world’s worst quiz.
Talking of singers, one of my all-time favourite contributors to rehearsal time was a lovely lady who made the band tea. She could etch glass with her dulcet tones and would even be heard over the band when we were blasting nine shades out of Procession to the Minster.
Then, as an encore, she would remove the enamel from your teeth with one swig of her ’40 tea bags in a teapot’ special brew.
Some characters didn’t have to say anything to have me in awe.
A certain bearded euphonium player from way back when wore a heavy sheepskin coat in all weathers in the band room. 1976 was one of the hottest summers on record and he sat in his hundredweight coat sweating like a baritone player with a cadenza.
He also had an unusual vibrato technique, where his bottom jaw moved rapidly from side to side, accentuated by his large beard, sweeping back and fore across the woolly sheepskin collar, adding some unusual percussion to the mix. If you have never heard ’To a Wild Rose’ accompanied with what sounds like a set of furry snare drum brushes, then you haven’t lived!
My grandfather used to play the cornet back in the good old days when Drake Rimmer conducted his band. He always played ‘Happy Birthday’ to his friends outside their bedroom windows at 6 am (it’s a wonder he had any friends!).
In later life, after he lost a leg from World War Two shrapnel wounds, he still carried on his celebratory crusade, a little later in the day, propping open the door of a telephone box to play down the phone to his victim.
On one birthday mission, he started to play that joyful tune when the local undertaker, in the house next to the phone box, carried the poor deceased from the house, just as grandfather reached the zenith of his performance.
It was said in the village, that never had anyone seen a one-legged man run so fast in embarrassment!
There were also those ancient banders who would hold court at the bar. Recalling the marvellous Open and National performances when Harry Mortimer and Jack Mackintosh ruled the cornet. They would have you believe that they were far better in the good old days even though the recordings, as scratchy as they were, belied the fact. (I take that back after listening to Jack on this recording!!!)
Back to Trevor Mumford…he had a unique brand of holding court, making you laugh till your ribs ached, putting a smile on peoples face like no other. I would walk happily away after a Trevor encounter, still laughing, trying to work out what on earth he had been talking about!