2006 All England Masters International - Dedicated Service Award: Robert Howard


Philip Biggs pays respect to the late Robert Howard who is the posthumous recipient of the Dedicated Service Award this year.

Robert Howard can best be summed up as a principled and wise man of the utmost integrity.   A great friend, a very human person who cared about others and who was totally devoted to Margaret and his family - and a man who loved brass bands and knew the brass band scene inside out at every level.

We remember seeing Bob conduct Rushden Temperance Band back in the early 1970s.   Bob had succeeded Denzil Stephens at Rushden and it was obvious by the way he directed the Band that Rushden had secured the services of a highly talented conductor. 

I remember the concert and the band well.   Ron Benning on trombone, Dave Twitchings on horn, Maggie Robinson on cornet and a brilliant young starlet of a cornet player on principal - Bob and Margaret's son Stephen, who I remember bringing the house down that night playing Arban's Carnival of Venice.   I had known of Bob and the Howard family before that as a family who were totally committed to their banding.  

Bob had played Euphonium in RAF bands during National Service and then in civilian bands after leaving the services.   Bob then turned to the baton and conducted Hitchin Band with considerable success.

From Rushden, Bob had a spell with Luton when they were still a real force in the South of England and then in the mid-seventies he was appointed Musical Director of Clacton-on-Sea Band.   Bob transformed what was a good band into an exceptional one - success followed success.   The band won the title of 2nd section National Champions in 1976 and followed this by winning the London & Southern Counties Championship in 1982, thereby qualifying for the National Championship Finals at the Royal Albert Hall, where a most respectable and creditable 12th position was gained.  

Much success was also enjoyed in the South of  England between and following these oustanding National successes.   TV and BBC Radio broadcasts were the order of the day and Clacton on Sea Band were really on the map.   Having had some experience of a similar standard of banding in the South of England myself, I know that a band cannot hope to achieve this type of success without an exceptionally gifted conductor and leader - and that exceptional man was Robert Howard.

During this time, Bob was a very busy conductor, conducting Hitchin, Connells Band of Ipswich and Colchester Band amongst others, as well as Clacton.   All  were progessing and achieving great results and in most cases Bob's bands were performing to standards never reached before - such was the expert  musical leadership that he provided.   Bob actually conducted five different bands in the National Championship section, a fantastic achievement.

When in 1988, Richard Franklin and myself had the idea of staging a top band contest in Cambridge and wanted to attract the very best bands, we had to identify and appoint a person who knew bands inside out, would be able to run the contest efficiently and would have the total respect of the top bands.   Right at the beginning we had no hesitation in inviting Bob, who we thought was the perfect person to be the Contest Controller.   Bob was the only person we ever considered; we invited him and we were delighted when he accepted.   We and the event will always owe a huge debt to Bob for the most professional way in which he ran and controlled the contest from 1989 - the first year -  until 2004. 

Bob ran it with style and total fairness.   In those 16 years there was never a problem - it ran like a dream.   Bob would always listen to a band's request and grant if it was within the rules and would be fair to all bands, but those who tried to pull a fast one got nowhere - Bob would see through such a thing so quickly. 

Bob would make sure he had all the facts at his disposal well in advance of every Championship and would apply the rules firmly but fairly and always in a sympathetic and understanding way. 

We came to rely on Bob's  wisdom. He was totally committed to the ‘Masters' and the commitment and expertise Bob brought to it without any shadow of a doubt enhanced its reputation and his input helped establish the event faster than anyone could have ever imagined.   Richard and myself learned so much from Bob - he had such a logical mind, he was such a pragmatist and man who knew his bands.   I have never met a Contest Controller anywhere of the pedigree of Robert Howard.   He was the finest.

In 2005, Bob had to sit the contest out owing to health reasons, but such was his commitment to the event that he and Margaret were present all day.   Just before Christmas, Bob and I spoke on the telephone and he was confident that all would be well for him for to resume his work as Contest Controller following hospital treatment.  We even discussed the 2006 event and how it would all run.   Tragically this was not to be.

Brass Bands will carry on, as will the ‘Masters' contest - we all know Bob would have been passionate in his wish for that to happen.   But without Bob it will not be same - it will be lesser, but both brass bands and the ‘Masters' are far richer and greater for all that Bob did for them.  His input and achievements in brass bands are massive - Robert leaves this world and brass bands a great legacy.

Robert Howard - a truly great man and truly great friend.


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