After 80 years in Brass Banding, and 51 years in association with Aldbourne Band, as player, Band Sergeant, Secretary and President, Jesse Jones, now 85 years old, has decided to call it a day and retire from the band.
Jesse actually started playing as a lad, on the bass drum when he was 5 years old, and the side drum at the age of 7, with the junior band at the Swindon Citadel Salvation Army.
He also, unbeknown to many, played the Baritone, but reverted back to playing the side drum and bass drum when he reached his teens. He spent 3 years with the Great Western Railways Band as the band’s percussionist, but went back into the Salvation Army in 1942, until he left in 1957.
Jesse started his long career with the Aldbourne band way back in 1957 when he was initially asked to guest with the band at a concert in Gloucester’s main gardens, as part of a series of summer season concerts given by some of the country’s top bands.
He was again invited back over the next 18 months to help the band out, playing under 3 different conductors, Wilf Jerram, Joe Alder and Bob Barnes, names that will be known probably only by the older members of our banding community.
Jesse at this time worked in the British Railways Workshops in Swindon, as did a few other Aldbourne band members, and after much persuasion, especially from Jim Palmer, (1st Baritone), decided to join the band proper in December 1959, as the band’s percussionist, a post that hitherto had only been taken up by village lads for carnivals and other such like parades.
Talking to Jesse, he tells me that he can recall the moment quite vividly. "On turning up for my first band practice, I looked at the equipment and felt my heart sink, a marching bass drum that needed 3 men to lift, a side drum that should have gone to the knackers’ yard years earlier and a set of cymbals, well, I can’t describe what sound they produced!"
However, within a few months, it was decided that Jesse could look into purchasing some new equipment, and with the financial help of a local entrepreneur, Reuben Hunt, Jesse and the band’s deputy bandmaster, Don Keene, travelled over to Potters in Aldershot and spent £100, and bought a new side drum, bass drum, a pair of cymbals and drum sticks that would do the job properly.
Thank you so much Dave for your enthusiasm, commitment and hard work during your time with us, I can't tell you how much I appreciated what you did for Aldbourne BandDave Williams
Jesse was also well known for his organisational skills at work and his command of discipline as a football referee, so it wasn’t long before he was elected, (in 1960), as the bands first band sergeant.
"I can assure you," he told 4BR, "...this was the toughest job that I had encountered for many a long time. The band’s uniform, those that actually had one, was a bit makeshift to say the least, but my most vivid memory of that time, was that each bandsman seemed to wear any old socks, sometimes not even matching, which looked really awful on stage."
However Jesse soon sorted these problems out with due efficiency, and the band started to look the part and a new pride ensued within the ranks.
Jesse soon had other issues to resolve, not within the band, but within the banding movement per say. He could not understand why, at contests, percussion was only allowed to play in the March section and not the main contest selection, or that percussion was just not included at all.
Went to work
Jesse went to work on the bands closest contest venue, and contacted the Reading Guild, who he lobbied successfully, as in 1964 percussion was allowed to play for the very first time. This wasn’t the end for Jesse however, as his own band was still reluctant to use percussion right up until the last moment.
Jesse explained, "I was sat with my wife Ruth in the balcony at the old Reading Town Hall listening to the first 3 bands. We were drawn 7 out of 16 bands and it wasn’t until the end of the third band had played that Bob Barnes leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder and said that I could play."
Jesse added: "We went on to win the contest which I was obviously delighted about, not only the win, but it was the first contest to have percussion, and the first time that my son Ashley and I played in a contest together. At the bottom of the adjudicator’s remarks it read, “Good percussion”. What of course, we didn’t know at the time, was that Jesse had 2 great uncles that ran the Reading Guild, and no doubt he used them to great advantage!"
Jesse held the post of Band Sergeant from 1960 until 1972, when he was asked if he would take on the post of Band Secretary. Jesse agreed and was duly elected at the bands AGM that year, 1972.
Jesse had many proud and happy memories during his time as the band’s secretary, a position that was to last for 12 years, to look back on and a few regrets as well.
Jesse added: "The proudest year was back in 1981 when the band were crowned West of England Championship section champions, beating Sun Life and Camborne into 2nd and 3rd places respectively. What of course, was also extraordinary, was that we were drawn in between the pair of them."
As a consequence of that win, the band were invited not only to the National finals at The Royal Albert Hall, but also invited to take part in BBC 2’s television contest “Best of Brass”, held at the Assembly Rooms Derby, and a Radio 3 “Bandstand” broadcast, a situation a small village band like ours just didn’t expect to find ourselves in.
Drawn against Dyke and Grimey
"Probably the proudest moment of my banding career was making the draw in the dungeons of the Royal Albert Hall, stood there amongst the top bands in the country. Unfortunately I drew number 3, but we did have the consolation of playing alongside Dyke and Grimethorpe. Oh well, you can’t have everything you want in life. We had an excellent day playing to an almost packed house, well with Dyke and Grimmey either side you would expect to wouldn’t you?"
As much as probably being one of the bands most exciting years, 1981 also held a lot of unknowns as well.
Jesse explains, "When I went to Derby for the pre meeting of the BBC2 Best of Brass competition I had no idea what to expect. My son Ashley came with me, as he was the band’s Assistant Conductor at the time.
"We were ushered into a room along with all the other band representatives who, I seem to remember all knew each other, but they all made us very welcome and took time to explain to us the format and procedure of the contest. They all knew this was our first time there. I also noticed how each band was represented with a single representative, a Band Manager, a situation we should have adopted at Aldbourne."
Jesse continued: "The Radio broadcast didn’t hold too many problems for the band, as we had been broadcasting on national and local radio since the 1940’s, such as the Charlie Chester Show, Sam on Sunday on national radio and many broadcasts on local radios Oxford and Wiltshire.
"I suppose the highlight of the bands broadcasting days was when we played a live broadcast from the Royal Festival Hall, during the International Festival of Light Music, teaming up with Johnny Morris some 40 years after we had launched his career on one of our very first radio broadcasts back in the late 40’s."
During Jesse’s time as Secretary, he was very aware of his responsibilities for raising the much needed money that it takes to run a brass band. He set in motion 3 areas that he knew would achieve this.
Firstly, he set up an annual concert in the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, in aid of the St. John Ambulance Brigade, and his proud boast at the time, was to be the first band to sell out the Theatre, even something Black Dyke were unable to achieve.
Secondly, he put together a series of summer concerts by the pond in Aldbourne, which have been running for well over 40 years and still continue to this day.
Thirdly, he established a themed concert in the village church, which takes place in October each year. The much needed revenue from these events were the main source of income to run the band, enabling it to support the many other areas the band wanted to be involved with.
Long service award
It was during one of the many Wyvern Theatre concerts, that Jesse received his 50 years long service award from Trevor Austin of Rosehill Instruments, President of the Reading Guild and a lifelong friend of Jesse’s, although the award was some 6 or 7 years late!
Retired from playing
Jesse retired from playing in 1984, wanting to spend more time with his wife Ruth, who for many years had supported Jesse in his long and illustrious playing career. However, this was not the end for Jesse, as in 1990, the outgoing Band President had strongly recommended to the band that they should invite Jesse to take on the role as President of Aldbourne Band, an honour that he relished for 18 years.
Not just a figure head
Not just a figure head for Jesse, he worked tirelessly in promoting the band and raising unqualified amounts of money by collecting at concerts, Christmas carolling and badgering people to come out and listen to the band on cold rainy nights to help keep the band in financial comfort.
Jesse remembers too, the many professional conductors associated with the band, and a good many tales that he says will remain where they should, in the band room.
He did however have a great regard for some of them: "I have met many top rated conductors and band trainers in my many years at Aldbourne, but a few will stay in my memory for various reasons. Cliff Edmonds was a gentleman and came and took the band on in the early 70’s.Don Keene had just taken over at the helm, and due to certain frailties within the band, we decided to give Don all the support he required and Cliff fitted the bill perfectly."
Jesse added: "Frank Renton was one of Don’s friends back in the Royal Horse Guards, (Blues and Royals) during their national service days, and we had a long and mostly happy association. I had a bit of a soft spot for Frank as he was a bit like me, he told it as it was.
"Nigel Seaman did an unbelievable amount of good work with the band and I, like many others, are so pleased to see him fit and well again. Lastly, Steve Sykes, well what can I say about this giant in the banding world, what a pleasure to watch him at work with the band, if only those uninformed members who ...... well perhaps this isn’t the time or the place."
Melvin White has also for many years been associated with the band and I owe him a particular debt and great thanks for all his time and effort at Aldbourne.
Jesse would like to mention a couple of players that have been great servants to the band, not only as players, but excellent bandsmen.
"Don Keene, who took over as Resident Conductor in 1973, when the band were going through what I suppose many bands do, a bit of a rough time, but Don worked tirelessly with 3 groups of youngsters to ensure the survival of the band well into current times.
"Also John Harman, who for many years was the band’s treasurer. Although the band had a committee to run and administer its affairs, I will admit that it was the three of us that ran the band for many years from the engine test shed in the British Rail Workshops in Swindon."
Jesse has asked me to thank everyone that he has come into contact with over his many years in banding, especially Carl and Clare Smith, Dave and Janine Aston and Chris Lewis, who have all moved over to The Polysteel Band [now Flowers Band]in Gloucester. “Good luck to you all for the future," he said.
Thanks in return
Dave Williams, who completed a great run as Resident Conductor with the band in the 90’s when the band very nearly packed up. "Thank you so much Dave for your enthusiasm, commitment and hard work during your time with us, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated what you did for Aldbourne Band."
"Jesse’s dedication to Aldbourne Band could only be known and observed from very close quarters, as I have had the pleasure and honour to have done." Ashley Jones, Vice President – Aldbourne Band.