The last few decades has seen difficult times for the brass band world, with Council budget cuts and industrial sponsorship being squeezed, many brass bands have declined in stature, or folded altogether. City of Coventry Brass has had its fair share of lean years, losing the sponsorship of the City Council, surviving changes of M.D. and band personnel. To date the band has risen above its trials and tribulations, and continues to produce quality performances of a varied nature. What follows is a potted history of the band from its formation to the current day.
The Coventry School of Music Band was formed around 1965, by Len Pepper, who at the time was Principal Trumpet and Deputy Conductor of the Coventry Hippodrome Theatre. Len taught in Coventry Schools, and formed a Saturday morning band at Caludon Castle School from his pupils. Below is a photo of the band in 1968:
The first recorded contest success for the band was in 1969 when they won section D (4th section) at the Leamington Spa Annual Band Festival.
In 1970, the band toured Holland, won the 4th section at the Midlands area and the 4th section National Finals of the WD & HO Wills Championships. Later that year they qualified for the 3rd section Wills finals.
In 1971 the band came 4th in the third section and went on to compete at the National Finals, but were unplaced. They did however win the Senior Trophy at Belle Vue, Manchester.
1972 saw a performance before Princess Margaret at Coventry Cathedral and 3rd place in the Senior Cup at Belle Vue. To top this off, the band won the Third Section National Wills title.
In 1973 the band featured in the film ‘Take me High’, starring Cliff Richard. The photograph below appeared in the Coventry Evening Telegraph on 14th July, with the caption:
'The boys and girls in the band seen resting during rehearsals, swapped their smart uniforms for jeans and T shirts when they marched through Birmingham for filming with Cliff. And they took part at short notice. Their leader, Mr Len Pepper, was asked only the night before and he quickly got the band together to practice their piece, ‘Follow the Band.’ It was the first time the 36 boys and girls had been on film and they received compliments all round. ‘We had a special letter thanking us and saying we had done a good job.’ said Mr Pepper.'
Later that year, the band went on to gain fourth place in the Wills Second Section finals.
1974 was a fairly lean year and uneventful year although the band did win the Birmingham Brass competition.
In contrast in 1975 the band played for the Queen when she visited Stratford-upon-Avon, performed at the CBSO Birmingham Proms with Desford Colliery, came 2nd in the Second Section at the Areas, won the Grand Shield at Belle Vue, Manchester and played ‘Fireworks’ in the British Open at the Kings Hall, Belle Vue, Manchester. Below are extracts from The Grand Shield and British Open Programmes and a picture of the band at the time, with the haul of trophies from '75 and '76.
In 1976 the band was promoted to the Championship section (there was no First section in those days) and came 4th at the Area on Spectrum. They also performed with Don Lusher, released their first record and finished in the top half at the British Open.
In 1977 the band were runners up in Birmingham Brass.
In 1978 the band won the Open section of the Leamington Spa Annual Band Festival with a performance of The Corsair that George Thompson described as thrilling with atmosphere great super a fine reading and well played
1979 saw the band gain 6th place in the Championship section of the Pontins finals and tour Belgium.
In 1980 they came second in the Open section of the Leamington Spa Annual Band Festival.
1982 brought a second place at the Dudley Zoo Festival.
In 1984 the band gained a 7th place in the Championship section of the Pontins Finals, came 17th in the Grand Shield at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester and 2nd in the Open section of the Leamington Spa Band Festival.
In 1985 they came 14th in the Grand Shield at the Free Trades Hall Manchester.
In 1987 Coventry City Football club won the FA cup and the band played at the official celebrations and had their picture taken with the cup.
In 1988, Len Pepper, their founder and Musical Director decided to retire at the age of 87 and became life president of the band. Following auditions Stephen Cooper was appointed Musical Director in early 1989 and the band’s name was changed to the Coventry Centre for Performing Arts Band to reflect organisational changes at the city council.
1990 saw a third place in the Championship section of the Pontins Easter festival = the band were unplaced in the Finals.
In 1991 the band gained 3rd place at the Milton Keynes entertainment contest and 5th place at the Midlands Area.
1992 and 1993 saw top half finishes in the Championship Section. Towards the end of 1993 Stephen Cooper resigned and Bryan Allen was appointed M.D. and took the band to a 3rd place at Milton Keynes with Stephen Cooper helping out on euphonium.
Pictured below is the band at the Rhyl Entertainment contest in 1994.
In March 1995 the band was awarded a Lottery Grant that enabled the purchase of a new set of instruments.
In 1996 the City Council decided that it could no longer provide financial support to the Band and a number of other community based groups. The bands name was changed to the City of Coventry Brass .
Bryan Allen left the band to take up an appointment at the Scottish Academy and Phil Bailey who had recently returned from Greece took over as MD.
In 1997 the band eventually succumbed to relegation to the First section, after 21 years in the Championship section. However, in 2002 their perseverance was rewarded with a second place in the Area and subsequently a 6th place in the First Section finals in Torquay and promotion back to the Championship section.
In 2003 they were 16th in the Pontins finals and 7th in the Senior Trophy at Blackpool.
Phil Bailey left the band immediately after the area contest in 2004, where a last place resulted in relegation again. Stephen Cooper helped out as MD for the Grand Shield where the band came 16th and then the search for a new MD started, without much success, and a number of seats were vacated.
Stan Lippeat agreed to take the band to the Area in 2005 - they were placed last
In 2006 Stephen Cooper agreed to return as MD again and the rebuilding began. After a shaky start – last place at the Area and relegation to the Second Section a fourth place at the Areas in 2007 meant the band only just missed promotion back to the First section. Staying positive the band made a CD, undertook a tour to Portugal and came second at the Wychavon entertainment contest with Chris Moore the band’s principal trombone, pictured left, taking the soloist prize. Also pictured are the ladies in the band at the time.
In 2008 the band won the Second Section area by four clear points and secured promotion back to the First section. They went on to gain 6th place at the Second Section National Finals in Harrogate.
In 2009 the band achieved second place in the First Section at the Area and an invitation to the National Finals (pictured below)at Harrogate where they were unplaced.
At the 2011 Area the band was placed last . After a late invitation to the Senior Trophy and after only
three weeks rehearsal on Carnival Romain they came 17th.
In September they gained 6th place at the Wychavon Festival of Brass and James Randle took the soloist prize for his rendition of ‘Carnival Cocktail’ – despite the shenanigans (planned!) of the band during his performance. Following this, because of work commitments, Stephen Cooper resigned and Alwyn Green was appointed M.D. in November 2011.
Despite the best efforts of Alwyn and the band the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea proved a stern test and the band were relegated from the Championship section at the end of 2012. A busy season in the parks followed including playing for the Olympic Torch relay at Leamington.
At the end of 2012 Alwyn resigned and Stephen Cooper returned again as MD. Contest results were disappointing but in October they gave the world premiere of Cantus Infirmus for Brass band and Tape by Christopher Evans and in the following April of Doxology , a multi media composition with an electronic score ad images of the miners strike. A recording of the performance later received critical acclaim at the Klangland Sonic Arts Festival in Germany.
The 2014 contesting season started with a 6th place at Butlins in a very strong line up but at the Area the band were placed 11th. In July the band opened Birmingham’s biggest free international reggae festival, the Simmer Down festival, performing a specially commissioned piece by their then flugel player Clara Catt called Spice Roots.
2015 was a disappoining year with a last place at the area resulting in relegation back to the Second Section. However, the band took the opportunity to introduce some younger players and consolidate. At the Annual Christmas Extravaganza at Braunston Church, as well as Christmas favourites, the band premiered Philip Harper's 'In Gardens of Peace', featuring then Solo Euphonium player Micah Parsons who commisioned the work to honour his Great Grandfather, who died during the Battle of the Somme. In December 2015 the Band released its second CD 'Spice Roots'.
2016 started with a 16th place, out of 24 bands, at Butlins Mineworkers Contest and at the Area the band were placed 6th. After a busy parks season, they gained a 6th place at the Oxford and District BBA Entertainment Contest and Micah Parsons, Solo Euphonium, won the soloist prize. The band followed this with a second place at the Leicester Contest (Pictured below) before carrying out 13 engagements to boost funds on the run up to Christmas.
2017 started well with a 6th place at the Butlins Contest and as always the band had a great time. The band were joined on Percussion, by Franke Kalema, from Uganda (Brass for Africa). At the Area they were placed 5th. A busy summer season followed and even busier Christmas.
2018 again saw the band compete at Butlins and the Area but results were disappointing.
2019 started well with a 6 th place at Butlins and the band gained a 3rd place at the Oxford BBA contest and won the percussion prize. At the Area the band were placed 10th. In June Stephen Cooper was taken ill and resigned as MD to focus on his health and other work commitments. Alwyn Green helped out for the Pershore Festival and parks season. Following auditions, in October Jonathan Fearn was appointed as MD and in November 2019 the band took part in the Leicester contest
2020 started with the annual trip to Butlins - the band won
At the Area the band was placed third and added to the trophy cabinet
Then came COVID and the band was restricted to a band Quiz on Zoom on Thursday nights. We were shocked and saddened by the death of Maxine Dutton in August and a small group played outside at her service. Lockdown was lifted in October and we managed to find a room large enough to practice in but after only 3 rehearsals we were locked down again
The year ended with only 3 small group carolling sessions at Erdington High Street.
Coronavirus continued to disrupt and the band had to content themselves with a quiz on Thursday nights until we were eventually permitted to start rehearsing again in May 21. In June and September we performed at parks in Bromsgrove and Droitwich. As part of the City of Culture Programme throughout the summer Olga-Dermott Bond was poet in residence with the band learning about our history and discovering the fascinating stories behind the music and inspiring some amazing poems. This culminated in two performances as part of the BBC contains strong language festival of Spoken Word. Due to COVID the whole band were unable to take part in the Radio 3 VERB recording at the Belgrade theatre. However Principal Cornet, Stephen McDonald and Principal Trombone, Chris Moore were featured with poet Olga Dermott-Bond.
On the following day the full band appeared with Olga at Coombe Abbey
Jonathan Fearn resigned his position as MD at the end of September owing to work commitments. Following auditions David Nicholson was appointed as MD in November 21. In November we also made a recording as part of the Coventry and Warwickshire Brass network initiative to promote local bands