Long Melford Silver Band’s come a long way in the last 125 years

The first known picture of Long Melford Silver Band taken in 1893. ANL-150624-110238001
The first known picture of Long Melford Silver Band taken in 1893. ANL-150624-110238001

The search is on for former members of a silver band celebrating its 125th anniversary - including a knight of the realm.

Long Melford Silver Band this year celebrates its 125th year and it is putting on a special show to mark the milestone.

As part of the event it is hoping to invite former members to come along and either listen, or better still, play.

One former member who was part of the band during his school days and has gone on to have considerable success is Joe French, now Sir Joe French, having been knighted in 2003.

Having retired from the RAF in 2007 he reached the rank of Air Chief Marshal, one of the top-ranking officials.

Originating from Sudbury, his career is even more remarkable considering his less than fortunate start.

A child of the post-war baby-boom era, there was a desperate shortage of school places in the 1960s, seeing many children forced out of grammar schools even with the appropriate 11+ scores.

The retired commanding officer and then best friend Graham Monk were two of those to miss out, going to the secondary school in Sudbury.

Mr Monk, 66, who had to retire from the band because of ill health, said it would be great to see Mr French again and for him to be recognised for his achievements.

“Once you went to secondary school rather than a grammar, your life was second-rate, there’s no questions about it. That’s how it was.

“So many doors were opened for grammar school boys, it is like having a degree now.

“For a boy like him what he’s done is absolutely remarkable. There is no way that was possible.”

Mr Monk said his friend had always had a fascination with the RAF, something he is sure drove his passion and his progress up the career ladder, having joined after completing his A-Levels.

Band member Felicity Gore, who is helping to organise the special concert, said she would be delighted to see Air Marshall Sir Joseph French at the concert.

Her husband Martin Gore has been a member for more than 50 years and remembers playing with the pair.

In the 1960s in particular the band was very successful, winning the Suffolk championship in 1952, 1953, 1954, 1965, 1966 and 1967.

The band no longer competes, instead focusing on fetes and local concerts.

Of course there have also been lows, namely struggles for members.

“Every band has a low where you are struggling to have players,” said Mrs Gore.

“ We are all volunteers and some travel quite a long way.

“You tend to go through times when one section seems to be doing better than another and then you have an influx of players.”

The band hopes a new aim of targeting younger members will ensure that this is not a problem in the future.

It now has a junior section with six youngsters all aged under 11 currently involved, receiving free tuition, working towards becoming full-time members.

The children are taught from scratch by conductor Tony Martin and different band members and lent instruments for free, with one youth player nearly ready to make the step up into the senior band.

“Let’s hope we can keep them interested,” said Mrs Gore.

Although audiences may not always be massive at the concerts, the band still attracts a popular following, especially at local fetes including the Long Melford Street Fair.

“In this day in age it’s more difficult to get people to come to concerts as there’s so much to do,” said Mrs Gore.

“Generally when we go out and play we are well supported. People enjoy listening to band music.”

She added the concert was aimed at “getting the band’s name out there.”

“We really want people to come to the concert, it will be nice for people to come along and listen. We want an audience.”

Although many ex-members and friends of the band have already been invited, Mrs Gore said she would like to see anyone who had been a member come along.

The concert takes place on Saturday, July 18, at Long Melford Village Hall, starting at 7pm.

Entrance is free, for more information call Martin Gore on 01787 372439 or email martingore52@gmail.com.