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.. 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 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 third section Wills finals.
In 1971 the band came fourth 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. Pictured below is Jim Davis Snr, Bob Baggott, John Schofield and Stuart Morrison holding the Trophy.
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 following photograph 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 but the band still won the Birmingham Brass competition.
In contrast in 1975 the band 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. Pictured below is 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), performed with Don Lusher, released its first record and finished in the top half at the British Open.
In 1977, the band was runner up in ‘Birmingham Brass’.
In 1978 the band won the Open section of the Leamington Spa Annual Band Festival.
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 they played at the official celebrations when the team returned with the cup.
In 1988 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.
1990 saw a third place in the Championship section of the Pontins Easter festival but 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, but towards the end of 1993 Stephen Cooper resigned. 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.
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 placing 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 but a last place ensued.
In 2006 Stephen Cooper agreed to return as MD again and the rebuilding began. After a shaky start – last place at the Area and resulting relegation to the second section - a fourth placing 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, pictured below.
In 2009 the band achieved second place at the Midlands Regional Championship (pictured below) and an invitation to the National Finals at Harrogate.
In 2010 they finished a disappointing 7th at the Area but this was sufficient to see them promoted back to the Championship section.
In 2011, the band were placed 12th at the Areas. A late invitation to compete in the Senior Trophy in Blackpool was accepted, and after 3 weeks of rehearsals on ‘Benvenuto Cellini’ they finished 19th. 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. A busy season in the parks included playing for the Olympic Torch relay at Leamington. We were also all saddened and shocked by the death of Debbie Borthwick who had played with the band for many years.
At the end of 2012 Alwyn decided to resign and Stephen Cooper returned again as MD. Contest results were disappointing but in October we 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 contest 2014 the band placed 11th. In July 2014 the band opened Birmingham’s biggest free international reggae festival, the Simmer Down festival, performing a specially commissioned piece by our then flugel player Clara Catt called Spice Roots.
2015 was a disappoining year with a last place at the area meaning the band move into the Second Section as of January 2016. 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, we premiered Philip Harper's 'In Gardens of Peace', featuring Solo Euphonium player Micah Parsons. Micah commisioned the work to honour his Great Grandfather, who died during the Battle of the Somme. Also in December 2015 the Band released our second CD 'Spice Roots'.
2016 started with a 16th place, out of 24 bands, at Butlins Mineworkers Contest and at the Midlands Regional Area Contest, the band 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 Butlins Contest and as always we had a great time. The band were joined on Percussion, by Franke Kalema, from Uganda (Brass for Africa). At the Area we were 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. In October Jonathan Fearn was appointed as his successor.
In November 2019 the band took part in the Leicester contest (Pictured Below) .