Aldbourne Heritage Centre



ALAN:           So my name is Alan Watson and I’m helping with the collection of memorabilia, recollections and any other information related to the history of Aldbourne Band during its 150 years existence. This has been made possible by a grant from the Lottery under All Our Histories project and this is a recording made of a discussion with the Reverend Geoff Gleed, and I think I’m right in saying you’re the Associate Minister, Organist and Choirmaster…

GEOFF:        Pretty much, yes.

ALAN:           …at Emmanuel Church, Upham Road, Swindon, on the 22nd October 2013, about Aldbourne Band’s long association with the church. It is almost exactly 50 years ago since the band first played a concert at Upham Road and I have with me a photocopy of the programme for the first concert played on the 26th October 1963. And there it is.

GEOFF:        Oh, well done.

ALAN:           It has a choir with it, but not yours.

GEOFF:        No.

ALAN:           I think it’s the Swindon Orpheus Choir, is it?

GEOFF:        Swindon Orpheus Choir, yes. Founded by Ewart Hill, who it says here is the conductor. And the accompanist, Cynthia Chan, still now sings in our choir here at Emmanuel.

ALAN:           Oh, that’s very interesting.

GEOFF:        And the Orpheus Choir, I think, disbanded something like seven or eight years ago. But they were certainly a choir to be reckoned with in their day. There won many choirs and Eisteddfods around the country and I guess that that was pretty much a good concert. I can’t remember whether I was at it or not, to be honest.

ALAN:           No.

GEOFF:        Yeah.

ALAN:           It’s described as a sacred concert and I suppose that was the thing that was needed at the time to come and play a band concert in the church, was it?

GEOFF:        Well it was indeed. I mean, when Jesse Jones asked the then Minister of Emmanuel, who was the Reverend Frank Ross Brown, if the band could come and give a concert, because as a building it’s quite good as a concert venue – it’s got no pillars so you can see from wherever you’re sat and it’s got a good acoustic…

ALAN:           Yes, they’ve always said that to me.

GEOFF:        And I always remember Frank Ross Brown had to tell Jesse, ‘You’re welcome to come but it’s in the church and therefore no applause is permitted.’

ALAN:           Right.

GEOFF:        And I think for two – it may even have been three – years, the band came, along with various supporting acts, and there was no applause from the beginning to the end of the concert. Not even a concluding applause.

ALAN:           Right.

GEOFF:        Because it was considered not…

ALAN:           Not appropriate.

GEOFF:        …not the done thing. Not appropriate.

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        But I think what happened then, Frank Ross Brown was quite a progressive minister really, although he was by then in his sixties, he said, ‘This is silly,’ and he went to the governing body of the church and said, ‘We must be able to allow applause, surely? You know, God wouldn’t mind,’ as he said!

ALAN:           [LAUGHING]

GEOFF:        And they relaxed the conditions. And subsequently any concerts held of any nature were always permitting applause and in fact, you even have applause in worship now…

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        …when somebody does a good job.

ALAN:           Yes, yes.

GEOFF:        But when we’d done the 40 years here with the band, Frank Ross Brown…I notified him. He was still alive. He actually died in 2008, one month exactly after being 100 years old, and he wrote a very nice letter, which I gave, I think, the copy to the Aldbourne Band, congratulating them on 40 years and saying, ‘I well remember having to tell you that you couldn’t applaud for the first two or three years.’

ALAN:           Well we’ll look that out. I mean, it may well be in Jesse’s records.

GEOFF:        Yes.

ALAN:           He is going to be interviewed fairly soon by one of the band members…

GEOFF:        Yes.

ALAN:           …so we’ve got quite a lot of information from him and his family.

GEOFF:        Yes. But I mean, as a band then, I suppose, they weren’t particularly well-known in the Swindon area…

ALAN:           Right.

GEOFF:        …as I recall. They were much more localised, i.e. in Aldbourne and surrounding area there.

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        And I think in those days – Jesse will tell you more than me – the majority of them, the bandspeople, were from the Aldbourne area, which is no longer the case.

ALAN:           Not quite, unfortunately.

GEOFF:        No.

ALAN:           There are still some of the old families, you know…

GEOFF:        Yes.

ALAN:           …represented in the band, but they come from a wide area now, which is, I think, almost inevitable.

GEOFF:        Yes. Yes. But obviously the ‘no applause’ didn’t deter them and after three years it was permitted, and they went on year-in and year-out, and as you’ve just said in the introduction, in fact this year, January of 2013, celebrated the 50th anniversary.

ALAN:           What’s interesting is that we’re only talking today only four days away from the actual anniversary.

GEOFF:        Yes. Yes. Yeah, it’s an October concert. Interesting.

ALAN:           Yes. But the audiences generally come from within the church and it’s grown through that, do you think?

GEOFF:        It’s always been well supported, as my memory serves. Obviously you’ve got the following of the band…

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        …the families and friends and folk.

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        Emmanuel certainly supports it well. We sit within the Swindon Old Town Partnership of Churches with Christchurch up on the hill and Bath Road Methodist and quite a lot of people come from there as well, as well as, I think, band enthusiasts.

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        Well, you’ve been to the concerts…

ALAN:           Well I know taking the money on the door, you know.

GEOFF:        …and they’re all pretty well supported and the church is usually full, isn’t it?

ALAN:           Yes it is, indeed.

GEOFF:        And it’s a very nice atmosphere too.

ALAN:           Yeah.

GEOFF:        I think.

ALAN:           It’s the acoustic that makes it. I don’t know why but the shape of the church is UNCLEAR [0:06:36.0].

GEOFF:        Yes.

ALAN:           That they sound good compared with other places.

GEOFF:        Yeah, yeah.

ALAN:           Yes. So the…how shall I put it?…the association with the church has also involved you and your choir every so often.

GEOFF:        Yes.

ALAN:           ‘Cause you said, they have had supporting acts, some of which we have produced as the band and some of which, I don’t know…

GEOFF:        Yes. Well, I mean you’ve got the Orpheus Choir there on the first concert, but I can well remember some years they had soloists. Jeanette Matthews, who was a very well-known singer of her time – she came along. Georgina Evenett, another good singer, came along on another occasion. And then we’ve had various choirs – Thamesdown Ladies’ Choir, Swindon Male Voice Choir, the Wessex Male Choir…

ALAN:           Yeah.

GEOFF:        Ten in a Bar.

ALAN:           I was going to say, Ten in a Bar has associations with your choir, I think, doesn’ it?

GEOFF:        Yes, yes it does. Well there’s some members of my choir that sing in Ten in a Bar. As do some sing in Swindon Male Voice and Wessex Male. And Kentwood have been along. And I had a small choir for some years called The Occasional Singers, so named because we only sing occasionally.

ALAN:           Of course.

GEOFF:        And that’s a group of only six voices. And we did a concert one year with the band and I don’t think the band has very often performed without a supporting act.

ALAN:           No.

GEOFF:        And I think that’s quite a good idea because I think people need a bit of a breather in the course of a two-hour-plus concert.

ALAN:           And the band need it too!

GEOFF:        And they need it, yes.

ALAN:           And also it helps the audience numbers.

GEOFF:        Yes, yes.

ALAN:           ‘Cause they bring their own supporters.

GEOFF:        That’s very true. Absolutely.

ALAN:           And so we…you know, when the band actually looks for a venue and to run a concert, it will always look for who can help them, you know, together produce a good audience.

GEOFF:        Absolutely. Yes. But the interesting thing is, it’s gone on every year. There was no gap in the 50 years. Which sometimes you do get. ‘We couldn’t do it one year because a lot of the bandspeople were ill,’ or, ‘There was a competition coming up.’

ALAN:           It’s written irrevocably in the band’s diary now! The end of January is Upham Road…

GEOFF:        Yes.

ALAN:           …and that’s the way it runs. And there are others like that, like the Pond Concerts, you know – they’re part of the constant calendar.

GEOFF:        And of course the band recorded one of their CDs here.

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        Some years ago.

ALAN:           Was that one of the…vinyls, I expect?

GEOFF:        No, it’s a CD. I’ve got it at home and I can’t remember the title of it.

ALAN:           Oh, right.

GEOFF:        But they actually recorded it here.

ALAN:           Oh, I must look that up.

GEOFF:        Yeah. I think another attraction here, I have to say, is a 70-space car park…

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        …which brings the audience along.

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        It’s been a Godsend to us over the years for many events.

ALAN:           I can imagine.

GEOFF:        Purely on the basis that if people have got somewhere to park, it’s so much easier.

ALAN:           And it’s very congested around the surrounding streets anyway, isn’t it?

GEOFF:        Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

ALAN:           Yeah.

GEOFF:        ‘Cause the one thing I’ve ended up doing for years and years and years, as you know, as the Vote of Thanks at the end, and I even end up thanking my own choir when they’ve performed.

ALAN:           Yeah.

GEOFF:        But it’s almost become written in stone, if you know what I mean: Geoff Gleed will do the Vote of Thanks. But I enjoy that and what I try and do in the Vote of Thanks at the end of the concert is pick up on…

ALAN:           Something that’s happened.

GEOFF:        …a few comments that have been made or something that’s happened.

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        And hopefully we have just a little bit of a laugh at the end of the service. And the great thing is, you know, this first programme that you’ve got here, a souvenir of a sacred concert in October 1963…

ALAN:           Yeah.

GEOFF:        …the one thing that has always been done is that we sing a hymn at the end of the service.

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        And the congregation receive a blessing. And many people say to me they love the hymn and the blessing at the end. Which is quite interesting…

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        …for lots of people who are perhaps not church people anyway.

ALAN:           I think that’s true. I thought this was interesting, that there was a Chairman of the evening on this one.

GEOFF:        Yes, yes. Councillor J.D. McKennedy. I don’t know that person at all.

ALAN:           No. He was a…it says ‘Councillor’, doesn’t it?

GEOFF:        Yes, Councillor, yes. And the programme was two shillings.

ALAN:           It says the money went to your organ fund and to help band instruments, it says on the back.

GEOFF:        Oh, did it? Oh, right. The renovation of the organ, yes. The organ was renovated. That’s right. It was renovated in about 1965. It’s since been renovated twice more! [LAUGHING]

ALAN:           It hasn’t gone electronic now?

GEOFF:        No, no.

ALAN:           The one in Aldbourne Church has.

GEOFF:        It’s still a pipe organ, still a pipe organ.

ALAN:           It’s a very good instrument, actually. If you didn’t know, you’d think…

GEOFF:        But I mean, Emmanuel is an exceptionally musical church. It’s always been very, very musical. All of the organists have been diploma holders…

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        …within piano and organ playing. The choir’s always maintained a very high standard, I would dare to say. And I’m saying that after just myself having done 40 years as organist and choirmaster. And when we came to rebuild the organ in 2003, I said to the congregation, ‘You can go electronic. There are some excellent instrument there on the market now.’ ‘Cause I’m no longer a purist. I’m not one of those people who insists it’s got to be a pipe organ.

ALAN:           A pipe organ.

GEOFF:        Some pipe organs would be better on the scrapheap, frankly, ‘cause they’re not worth renovating.

ALAN:           Yeah.

GEOFF:        But the congregation said, ‘Well no. Not only are you an organist – we’ve got three or four others that can play. We’d like to maintain the pipe organ.’ And we got a very, very good price actually from an organ builder to rebuild it, and it’s a superb instrument.

ALAN:           Okay, that’s good. Well, I don’t think there’s anything else we can say at the moment, is there?

GEOFF:        I’ll tell you one thing that was, I think, the highlight of the 50th concert. The choir – Emmanuel Choir – has sung with the band about eight or nine times over the years. We’ve had breaks in between.

ALAN:           Yes.

GEOFF:        But the highlight was that we’d never performed with the band in an item, a musical item.

ALAN:           Oh yes, yeah.

GEOFF:        And this last time, as if you were there you will remember…

ALAN:           I remember.

GEOFF:        …we did the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

ALAN:           Yeah.

GEOFF:        And that was virtually unrehearsed. And I think it went superbly well. And to me, that was one of the highlights of…certainly my time.

ALAN:           Well we must remember that and find some more pieces that…

GEOFF:        Yeah. I’m sure there are things.

ALAN:           …we can…I will pass that onto David, our conductor…

GEOFF:        Absolutely.

ALAN:           …musical director.

GEOFF:        Absolutely. But we do sincerely hope that, um, you know, the band will want to continue coming for another 50 years.

ALAN:           They will.

GEOFF:        Yeah.

ALAN:           As I say, it’s writ in stone in their agenda and programme.

GEOFF:        Brilliant.

ALAN:           Well Geoff, thank you very much. I much appreciate your time.

GEOFF:        Thank you. Thank you.