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Death of Francis Cowley

The death has been announced of the remarkable brass banding figure, Francis Cowley, aged 96.

Francis Cowley
  The death has been announced of Francis Cowley

The death has been announced of Francis Cowley who passed away on 18th November aged 96.

A truly remarkable figure in the banding movement, he began playing the cornet aged 9 with Wroughton Silver Band, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

He later moved to the then Great Western Railway Social, Education & Union Staff Association Band, whose name has changed over the years to eventually become Swindon Pegasus Brass, which has now sadly folded.

Founder

Following his Army service, where he was principal cornet of The Wiltshire Regiment Band and played in the Regimental Dance Band, he helped to found the Swindon Big Band for which he played lead trumpet until its demise in 2017.

A very fine cornet player, he came fourth in the Solo Championships of Great Britain and was the undefeated Wessex Cornet Champion. On his return to Wroughton he also became principal cornet and Bandmaster of the G.W.R.S.E. & U Band and began a long and rewarding career as a peripatetic music teacher in Swindon.

He helped to form a club for young musicians (Swindon Instrumental Music Club, known more recently as Swindon Young Musicians), helping to turn it into an organisation of over 800 members at the time of his retirement in 1994.

Player and conductor

In 1974 he founded a Youth Band within Swindon Young Musicians, remaining their Musical Director for twenty years whilst continuing his other playing commitments. In 1982 he extended its scope to become a successful contesting band.

After 33 years as principal cornet with Swindon Concert Brass, Fran took over as Musical Director in 1983, following the retirement of Courtney Bosanko MBE, and brought great success.

The Youth Band also won the West of England Youth title in 1977, 1984, 1985 and 1991, as well as the West of England Open Championship in 1993. He proudly led them to the Royal Albert Hall where he himself had performed as a player.

He closed his chapter of conducting Swindon Pegasus Brass in 1991, going on to form Swindon Brass — leading them through the sections. In 1994, aged 67 he retired from working as a peripatetic music teacher, relinquishing his role as MD of the Swindon Youth Band.

Teacher and inspiration

However, he continued to teach at Pinewood School near Shrivenham until his 86th birthday in 2013, inspiring countless children to enjoy playing brass instruments.

Fran also continued as Musical Director of Swindon Brass — notching up an incredible 71 years (to the Covid-19 lockdown) as a player and conductor.

71 years

His remarkable career spanned a first appearance at Alexandra Palace with Wroughton Band in 1938. In 2013 he led them at the National Finals for the second time in eight years. His final appearance on stage was in 2022, when the Area championships resumed, as principal cornet with Swindon Brass.

Such was the respect and affection in which he was held, that leading personalities and performers always made a beeline to greet him in person wherever he went.

Life shared

A calm and unassuming man with a fierce determination and passion for music and brass banding in particular, his influence, skill and friendship touched countless people over his long and rewarding life — one shared with his beloved wife Cheryl.

His service to the banding movement was such that he still performed the Last Post & Reveille on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday at Swindon Cenotaph for 58 years.

Even in his final year when ill health prevented him from playing, he laid a wreath to honour the colleagues of his former Regiment.

A truly remarkable man and musician will be greatly missed throughout the banding world.

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