This is the text of the final report submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Aldbourne Band Heritage Project 2013-2014
Heritage Lottery Fund All Our Stories Project AS-12-04168 The History of Aldbourne Brass Band
Dave Aston is a Banding oldtimer. Coming from the heart of the Brass Band Movement in Lancashire, he has been playing all his life and is deeply committed to its great traditions. For years he played for one of the most celebrated and anciently established bands: the curiously named “Bessies o’ the Barn” and had researched its long history especially its heyday in the late 19C. When his wife’s work brought her south, he retired from the Police and came with her and soon took up with another ancient band with roots far back into the Victorian Age: Aldbourne – the big Band from the tiny village, deep in the Wiltshire Downs.
Dave immediately became fascinated with Aldbourne’s history and loved to hear tales from the longer serving members some of whom can trace five generations of players in their families. When, in August 2012, he saw the publicity from the Heritage Lottery Fund about the “All Our Stories” programme, from which grants could be made to help groups capture in digital form particular aspects of their community’s history, he could not resist. Here was a great opportunity to follow his enthusiasm and do a great service to his new Band. He knew that a number of individuals had collections of memorabilia of the Band going back many years, but no one had managed to bring it altogether to make a single story and preserve it for posterity. The fact that he had only a short time to construct the proposal before the deadline and his holiday was in the middle of it, did slow him for a minute.
He quickly contacted Gavin Dixon, who was the secretary of the Friends of Aldbourne Band, which is a separate organisation of supporters and is a registered charity, to check whether the Friends would be prepared to make the application in their name. Gavin checked with the other committee members who all readily agreed. Much midnight oil later Dave emailed the application in and the die was cast.
It was a nailbiting wait while the wheels of the Lottery ground away, but then in early November we heard that we had been successful and we had £7,700 to spend to capture 151 years of banding history.
The Friends of Aldbourne Band committee had made it plain that they could not undertake the Project directly, but would support it by providing the mechanism though which expenditures could be made and financial control exercised. Dave and Gavin put their heads together and decided to get a Project Committee together to plan and carry out the work. At this point Gavin had a bright idea, which turned out to be a masterstroke. Jo Hutchings was the village archivist. She ran a digital collection of village documents photos and images of objects, was a volunteer at the Wiltshire History Centre and Devizes Museum, was knowledgeable, skilled and enthusiastic about anything to do with local history. A gem! Gavin approached her to see if she would get involved and with plenty of reservations about how much time she would have, she readily agreed. This was to prove vital to the future of the Project.
It took until 30 January 2013 to get everyone together for a formal meeting. Bandsmen are difficult to prise away from playing, especially when a concert or a contest is in view. This meeting really got the impetus going.
Gavin was appointed Project Manager and a procedure to control expenditure through him was agreed. Immediately it was decided to purchase a Project Laptop with an external backup device. We also decided to buy a camcorder and a hand recorder for the Oral History and Jo would set up the forms covering participants’ permissions. We would ask a Bandsman, Simon Ridge, to look into the models we might choose. Involving Simon also came to be important to the Project.
The most important decision was to arrange an “Open Day” in the village and invite anyone to bring in their memorabilia and tell us their stories. This would kick off the Project and we hoped, identify lots of material that we could incorporate into our digital record. We set the date and booked the village Memorial Hall and planned the publicity.
Jo attended the meeting and advised how to organise the copyright issues associated with copying people’s material and found herself appointed Chief Archivist. As time went on this was to mean a lot of work for her as her enthusiasm grew and a vast saving for the Project. We had originally expected to pay someone to do the digitising of documents and photos. As it happened Jo ended up doing it and, as a volunteer, did not charge for her time. With the mass of material we were soon to encounter, it would have been difficult to stretch the Project Budget to cover it otherwise.
We asked the Band Secretary Rachel Barnes to run organisation of the Open Day, which she soon set about with her usual efficiency and good humour.
The Official Announcement
The Band wanted to make a public announcement to mark the beginning of the Project and decided that their Annual Concert at Upham Road Church in Swindon, (the 51st,) would be a good place. We had a stand up banner publicising the Project rushed into completion ( it was intended for the Open Day,) and James Sheppard the Band Chairman made a little speech about what we intended. Incidentally, Dave Aston at that point our Project leader, was awarded “Bandsman of the Year”.
The Open Day
We finally pinned down the date as April 27 and got the Hall booked. We persuaded Simon Ridge, who among other things is a graphic designer, to design and get printed a professional leaflet for the Day. His design, which featured a dramatic close up of a bandsman’s uniform, was eye catching and Alan Watson, another key player in the long term, organised distribution around the village and to other possible interested parties.
The Memorial Hall saw a constant flow of attendees, many of whom brought dusty old boxes of old concert programmes, posters, contest programmes, Committee Minutes, newspaper articles and clippings and hordes of photos. The favourite game of the day was to peer at fading and torn images trying to spot who was depicted and when it might be. A big surprise was the number of recordings that came to light with just about every kind of media represented; starting with 78rpm vinyl, LP’s, tapes and CD’s. In some instances we were given multiple copies of the same recording.
There were people who had made the journey from outside the village, mostly from Swindon, but some for further away and we learned of the value this work could have for interests beyond just banding. One attendee gave us a mass of material he had come across when researching his family history and coincidently had found connections to the Band. In future the reverse might prove valuable to others.
We had one VIP visit: Clare Perry, our MP paid a fleeting visit and posed dutifully in front of Display. James Sheppard is not only the Band Chairman, but is also the local Wiltshire Councillor might have had something to do with this.
A number of people came forward to agree to do Oral History recordings and we had to explain that we couldn’t do it then and there in the noisy conditions and would it be a good idea to save going over the stories until we could put a microphone in front of you.
We just got everybody out by the end of the booking time and we looked blankly at the mass of work that we had identified.
The Oral History Recordings
The Open Meeting had identified some very willing participants in the Oral History Programme. It turned out that the copyright aspects needed careful attention and with Jo’s help we printed some disclaimers for the responders to sign which got us into a safe position to use the material in anyway that we might invent later.
We mastered the new recorders and allocated time on them to the volunteer interviewers. . They made appointments with the willing responders and some fascinating stuff came back.
It wasn’t until some time later that it really dawned on us that in order to do a proper job the recordings needed to be transcribed. At first we hoped this might be done by volunteers and we looked back into the other great “Oral History Project” that had been carried out by the village around the Millennium. That had all been on tape and there had been a number of fast typing secretaries around who had been willing to undertake the work. We enquired who they might have been, but when we dug into it we discovered that one way and another they were no longer available. We decided that we would have to pay to have this done professionally. Fortunately one of the Bandsmen had a partner whose firm could do this kind of thing and we were able to commission it at what seemed a very reasonable price.
The Education Pack
One of the original objectives of the Project was to involve local schools by offering an “Education Pack” which the schools could use as a curriculum resource. Enter Janet Roe. Janet was the tutor and conductor of the Band’s Training Band. She has a background in music education and had a good idea of the kind of thing schools might make use of. She set to designing it and when we saw the result we were all surprised at how imaginative and appealing to children she had managed to be. It was quite unlike what we had visualised, which was probably based on memories of our own school days and the kind of thing we would have encountered then.
We printed just ten packs as examples, because we came to understand that teachers prefer to have this kind of material on line or in digital media fo some kind.
Janet became a member of the team and proved very valuable as time went on, generating good advice and ideas.
The Open Day had brought us some recordings made by the Band in the past. We knew about two LP’s that had been made in the 1980’s with some outstanding cover artwork by a village artist. However, no one associated with the Project knew about 78 rpm records made perhaps in the 50’s or a load of tapes made at concerts and contests, mostly by amateur recording equipment. People were kind enough to commit many of these to our care and, in line with the objects of the Project we went looking for a means of converting these analogue recordings to digital form.
Dave Aston found a firm in Swindon that could do the work for an unexpectedly low cost and commissioned them to go ahead.
The First extension
Everybody connected with the Project was also involved in other activities. This meant that we did Project work in fits and starts. As the year wound on, it became clear that we would be nowhere near the end of the work that we had already identified, by the end of the “official” Project” period of one year. We certainly were going to have trouble spending the bulk of the Project grant in that time frame.
Some of the headings in the grant application turned out not to be needed. For instance, we expected originally to have to pay either a commercial source or the Wiltshire History Centre for carrying out the digitalising of documents. Jo Hutchings was willing, in fact keen, to undertake this and would do so as a volunteer. This was a wonderful stroke of luck as we probably didn’t have anything like enough in the budget to to get this done commercially.
So we explained all this to the HLF and they very reasonably gave us an extension for an additional six months.
We then put off buying the major capital items like the presentation stand until later, so that we could do more of the digitising work and see if this influenced our choices.
It was during this first extension period that the Project got a serious blow. For reasons of his own which are not relevant here, Dave Aston decided to leave the Band. Since he was joining a close rival, he thought it would be inappropriate to continue working on the Project in any way and so he handed over the material and equipment he had and departed.
David had been the initiator of the Project and the person who constructed the grant application. Subsequently he had done much of the work, especially in the oral history and had been a valuable source of ideas. He was also someone who had good contacts among the contributors to the oral history. So, at this point much of the impetus in the Project was lost and there was a hiatus until the someone else could pick up the baton. As the project manager Gavin Dixon felt this should be him and turned his attention to it.
The Non Event Concert
There was always a plan to have a celebratory concert towards the end of the Project and fairly early on we asked the Band to programme a such a concert. They chose a concert they had arranged in the church of the nearby village of Ramsbury . This took place in the early part of the first extension, but was rather poorly promoted and the audience was disappointing. Even more disappointing was the programme chosen by the Band’s then musical director. He had picked music which he said was significant to the brass band movement in general rather than Aldbourne Band especially and it was largely unfamiliar to the audience and the heritage connection was, frankly, in many cases hard to spot. So all in all it was very unsatisfactory. We decided to forget this and come back to this part of the plan and have another go at a later point.
The Second Extension
By half way through the first extension it was obvious that we would be struggling to complete all the parts of the Project still in the plan. We were still working through the pile of material needing digitisation and most of the money was still unspent. This was because we had decided to wait until we had collected and processed most of the story we wanted to tell before we turned our attention to things like the final presentation and the village booklet.
So we had no choice but to ask the HLF for another extension of six months so we could make a decent job of the outstanding items and it was able to grant that, however, making it quite clear that that would be the last.
This focussed our minds and we realised that we would have to draw a line across what we had collected and turn to the finishing touches.
The rush to complete
The Village Brochure
As originally conceived by Dave Aston, it was intended to give a “pack” to every house in the village in order to spread the results of the project as widely in the community as possible. There was no very clear idea of what would be in this pack. We consulted among ourselves and came to the conclusion that a printed brochure would be the best format.
Gavin Dixon started to draft this, but it was felt that something that would be popular and eye catching would fit the bill better than a mere text based potted history. Janet Roe observed that it should be punchy with lots of illustrations and brightly designed or it may be discarded before it was read in many households. We decided to look for professional help.
As it happened Simon Ridge, who until very recently had been principal trombonist with the Band and who had stepped down only because practice nights had become awkward for him domestically, was a graphic designer. He had already given the Project some useful advise and he was still very well disposed towards the Band and its activities. We approached him and found that not only was he very willing to help, but he had a business associate who had all the other skills we needed. So he introduced us to Vicki Watson.
Janet Roe and Gavin Dixon arranged to meet Vicki, who trades under the name Callisto Green, in a hotel in Swindon. Vicki, who is musical herself and can write articles and books, research subjects and layout pictorial designs, was immediately taken with the idea and undertook to produce a quote and a suggested approach.
The quote was very reasonable and everybody liked her ideas, so we commissioned her to produce the booklet with Simon’s help on the final design. We were going to have two thousand five hundred copies and all we had to so was arrange distribution around the village. In practice that was going to be a big job and more than the Project team would be able to handle.
Vicki produced a draft which was almost usable straight away. Only a few little corrections and a bit of rewriting here and there were necessary and off it went to the printers. We might have used it at some of the Christmas concerts in 2014, but it wasn’t quite ready in time, so it made its début at the second celebration concert, of which more later. The great heavy boxes that were eventually delivered were piled up in the Band President’s spare bedroom. Harry Sheppard is a former bandsman Chairman of the Friends as well as President. Delivery around the village would have to wait until everybody’s busy Christmas was out of the way, but a major item was ticked off the list.
The Final Presentation
Also in the plan was a presentation on the Band’s heritage which could be used on public occasions. The idea was to have a transportable stand with a screen, which would could be put up in halls and foyers and a video presentation , which could be projected on the screen showing a summary of the history of the Band with a commentary. We could use this at concerts and village events indefinitely.
Exactly how this was to be done was a puzzle and we turned to professional advice once again. Graham Edmonson, was a member of the Friends and a parent of one of the training band players. He ran a business installing home cinemas and so seemed like a good port of call.
He was very happy to help and his advice stopped us going down some complicated routes we had imagined. He said that the best place to buy the TV was probably one of the regular retailers. The “Trade” would be able to get it any cheaper. TV”s had advanced to the point where most would include software that could run a video straight out of a memory stick so there was no need to use a PC or a projector. This would keep it simple.
Dave Aston had already done a lot of research on presentation stands before leaving so Gavin Dixon picked up on this and got an updated quote from a supplier. They needed a design for a graphical layout for the stand for them to print. Back to Simon. He produced a design based on a blow up of a detail of the Bandsmen’s uniform showing the insignia and a magnetic attachable panel with the notice of the Heritage Project details. This meant that the stand could be used for other things in the future should that arise and would be an ongoing resource.
We ordered the stand with a carrying case for the TV, but the TV itself we got from the local John Lewis shop. Persuading them to take a cheque from the Friends took some arranging. They wanted a card, but we found a way in the end.
It came exactly as ordered in two large plastic bins on wheels. Where we were going to store it long term was something we decided to think about later. Alan Watson and Gavin Dixon had a go at putting it up in the Memorial Hall on Band Practice night. It was a good job they didn’t wait until it was to be used in anger. Even with the excellent instructions it was a bit of a nightmare to assemble. We convinced ourselves it would be easier the second time. The bandsmen were a bit taken aback with it’s size.
The hardware was fairly straight forward, but the important component was the presentation itself. Again we turned to Simon. This was right up his street. He went to work with a will. First he produced a story board, which we all pored over, adding a few bits here and there and correcting some names. He then dived into producing the video. He spliced together pictures and videos, documents and music to weave 150 years of Band history and present into twenty minutes of fascinating movie.
We had the first cut available in time for the second Heritage Concert and it was very well received. Simon, the perfectionist, wanted to search for necessary corrections and redo the voice over with a proper “Wiltshire” voice. There was much debate about who could do this.
The Big Event Concert
Since the first attempt at a celebratory concert was so unsatisfactory, we decided to make a bigger effort this time rather than just leave it to the Band. The budget allowed a sponsorship of the Band, which was reasonable from their point of view because of the costs of paying the conductor for the rehearsals and it would give us an influence over the concert’s content.
The Band again suggested that their 50 year association with the Upham Road Church in Swindon and the annual concert in January would be a suitable occasion. The Project said it would sponsor this event to the tune of £600 and we clearly said that we wanted to have final approval on the programme. The Band had just appointed a new MD and he had not had time to acquire any opinions of his own on this subject so no great difficulty would be anticipated.
We decided to do this properly, so we booked a substantial amount of local advertising and commissioned Simon to do a quality printed souvenir programme. He came ujp trumps again. We wrapped the programme around the village booklet and gave it out to everyone in the audience, who were most appreciative on the night.
Simon got a first cut of the video presentation ready and Alan and Gavin planned to get to the venue early to ensure that they could get the stand put up. When checking this was OK with the Church, it was discovered that the hall where we were going to serve interval refreshments and have the stand was booked out to a private party and wouldn’t be available until 6 o’clock. This was a complication. We checked with the person whose party it was and they didn’t mind us going round the back of the stage and fiddling with our stand and we could rush it out at the last moment. That was the plan.
Gavin had invited the Heritage Lottery Fund to send a representative to the concert and, as it happened, one of the committee members lived not too far away and had a connection to the village and had expressed an interest. We were happy to receive her and it was nice to have a visiting VIP. It did stretch our hosting resources a little as everyone was committed to some part of the organisation. We designated harry Sheppard to do the honours as he was our VIP (President of the Band and Chairman of the Friends,) although it was hard to get him to see it that way.
The new MD may not have strong opinions of his own on the music, but he was asked to make a final selection from the suggestions and, for reasons still unexplained, he would not communicate these so the printed programme could be done. Eventually Alan Watson stood over him at Band practice and made him write it out, but it made for an almighty scramble in the last few days.
In the end the music was very well received. It included pieces known to have been played at significant moments in the Band’s past stretching back to 1911 and included the Band’s own march, “Aldbourne” which had not been run out for some time.
Gavin introduced the audience to the theme of the evening and the Heritage representative, Dr Cherry-Ann Knott said some nice things about the event and even urged us to apply again in the future. General opinion was that the Project had received an excellent celebratory send off.
The Project Goes On
The Project is now being wound up and finalised as this is being written. Indeed, this is part of that process. However, the activities set up by the Project will go on.
The digital material we have gathered together and created will be put into the public domain by storing them on appropriate public archive sites: Flickr for photos and documents, Vimeo for video material, Soundcloud for audio. These would all be tied together with links and a digital report is being put on the HLF Historypin pages. Links will also be put on the Aldbourne Band website and Aldbourne Archive and Wiltshire History Centre catalogue. However anyone will be likely to want to approach this material, they will find a link that will take them forward. The magnificent Jo Hutchings is putting all this in place.
Jo’s inextinguishable enthusiasm for matters of local history will ensure that she will continue to add to the material as she comes across it and organise what she has in ever better ways.
One thing we are keeping an eye on is the development of the Aldbourne Community Heritage Centre, (an event entirely unconnected to our Project.) This is still in its infancy as this is written, but in due course, will be a local museum able to take deposits of physical and digital objects and will be another obvious point of entry for anyone wanting to research our material.
The Friends of Aldbourne Band would like to record is grateful thanks to everyone who has contributed to the Project in whatever capacity over its two year course and especially to the Heritage Lottery Fund for its original grant and its continuing support. This particular Story of all our stories is now firmly secured and, perhaps, will be keenly surveyed by those of our successors, who, in maybe another 150 years will want to repeat the exercise.