55th Old Boys Silver Band
Years active: 1920 - 2003
HISTORY OF THE BAND (1920 - 1970)
(from the Jubilee programme celebrating the band's 50th year)
The Band was founded in 1920 by the Officers of 55th Belfast Company of the Boys’ Brigade. A number of old brass instruments were procured and practices Were commenced in the Nelson Memorial Church Lecture Hall, under the guidance of Mr. H. Galvagher.
The ﬁrst recorded meeting of the Band was in May 1921. At this meeting a motion was adopted to change the name of the Band from 55th Comany Boys’ Brigade Old Boys’ Brass Band to 55th Old Boys’ Brass Band. The present title was assumed in May 1923 when the Band obtained their ﬁrst set of silver plated instruments.
A few months after the formation a bandroom was obtained in Lawnbrooke Avenue. This bandroom. was a stable loft and it was the Band's home for some 10 years, despite an unpleasant aroma from the stables underneath. In 1930 the Band transferred its headquarters to North Belfast Working Men’s Club in Danube Street. In 1931 the premises of Lawnview Recreation Club in Ceylon Street were purchased for the pri-ncely sum of £115. At last the Band h-ad a home of its own. Unfortunately in 1964 this was destroyed by a tragic ﬁre. In the ﬁre most of the instruments, qui-te a number of uniforms, and the complete music library, were lost. Due to the kindness of John White Congregational Church, Tennent Street, rehearsals Were able to continue in their premises. Thanks to the co-operation of the trustees and management committee of North Belfast Working Men’s Club new headquarters were set up in their premises in Danube Street. This was the bandroom. from September 1964.
In August 1970 new premises were purchased in Brookvale Street, and the present membership look forward to many happy years there.
The ﬁrst uniform was purchased in 1922 and it is interesting to note that it was the same design as the uniform worn by the Young Citizen Volunteers, prior to 1914. A specimen of this uniform is exhibited in the Ulster Museum. The present day Band is fortunate to be equipped with a first class military style uniform. for parades, plus a modern concert uniform.
From its foundation successive officials have pursued a policy of replacing obsolete equipment with the latest available. After the tragic ﬁre in 1964 the committee decided to cut losses and immediately apply themselves to the task of rebuilding the Band. It was decided that the ﬁrst requirement was to replace the instruments.
It was decided to utilise any insurance settlement to do this, even at the expense of premises, uniforms,
library, etc. As a result the present set of low pitch instruments were purchased at a cost of £4,000. It is interesting to note that we were one of the ﬁrst bands in the British Isles to be equipped with instruments built in low pitch. Of course consequently most bands have now -made this change, either by buying new instruments or converting their existing ones.
During our history we have had the privilege of having some distinguished gentlemen conduct the band. Shortly after the formation, Mr. J. McBride was appointed conductor. This gentleman no doubt laid an excellent musical foundation. In 1923 Mr. James McFadden, who was well known in local band circles, was appointed and he was quick to build on the foundation already laid. His work was so successful that in the ﬁrst year of contesting the Band won the both contests entered. These were the 1924 Junior March Contest and the Junior Championship of Ireland in the same year. By 1925 Mr. McFadden had steered the Band to the Senior Section, where they have remained ever since. In that year after again winning the Junior Championship of Ireland immediate success was had by a second prize in the senior section of the now defunct Newry Contest. The ﬁrst Championship of Ireland title was gained in 1937.
After Mr. McFadden’s retirement in 1944, Mr. Neill Brown was appointed and he served in this capacity until 1949 when he transferred, for business reasons, his home to England. This period proved a particularly successful one. Out. of 26 contests in which Mr. Brown conducted the Band, a total of 12 ﬁrsts, 7 second and, 5 third prizes were gained. This ﬁgure does not include successes at solo and small ensemble contests. By any standards it was a tremendous achievement.
Mr. Brown was succeeded by Mr. Andrew Forbes, and he proved to be a worthy successor with two ﬁrst, two second, and two third prizes. Due to his professional musical commitments with the BBC he resigned in 1953. He was succeeded in September, 1953 by a Mr. Morley Trerise. It was during this time
that; Mr. Jack Atherton, the famous English conductor, was invited to act as professional coach. His ﬁrst championship contest was in 1954 with immediate success by winning the premier award. Out of eight championships under his direction we, had three-first and three second prizes.
Mr. Alfred Burch succeeded Mr. Trerise in April 1955, but due to pressure of business he resigned after only six months. In January 1956, Mr. Thomas Lavery became the conductor again due to business commitments this gentleman resigned in May 1959. The committee were fortunate in persuading Mr. Andrew Forbes to resume the position, but regretably he was forced to resign in June 1960 due to his BBC commitments. To fill the vacancy Mr. Edward Crozier was appointed in August 1960, he proved to be a diligent worker for all -aspects of the Band's, activities. In June 1965 the committee reluctantly accepted his re-signation.
Our present conductor, Mr. John W. Burch, was appointed in October 1965. Mr. Burch took over at a difficult time in the Band's history and under his direction we have seen steady progress. Under his baton we have had one ﬁrst, two second and one third prize. One result of particular note, although not
a prizewinner, was seventh place against 25 top English bands at Belle vue, Manchester in 1967. We look forward to continued progress with Mr. Burch at the helm.
The Band's ﬁrst President, elected in 1923, was Sir W. G. Turner, the then Lord Mayor of Belfast. During the period 1924/1934 several members of the Cunningham family of Glencairn held this office. Others followed, and in 1939 Mr. Joshua Hooks became President and he held this ofﬁce with distinction until his death in 1959. Following the death of Mr. Hooks, Mr. W. J. McCamley and Mr. Charles Armstrong held this office for short periods. Then, in 1965 our present President, Mr. William McArthur, was elected after his retirement as Secretary, a position he held for 35 years.