The seaside suburb of New Brighton has enjoyed a long and close association with the Brass Band movement in Christchurch for many years. The opening of the tramway from Cathedral Square through to the isolated community in Feb 1887 paved the way for the development of New Brighton as a seaside destination. The added attraction of horse racing on the beach, the baths and the new pier built progressively through the early 1890s guaranteed a steady flow of sightseers and picnickers to the area.
In the Carnival type environment the presence of a Brass Band was assured and these duties were largely shared by three established Christchurch bands; Stanmore, Christchurch Garrison and Derry’s. The Christchurch Elite Band also became a familiar entity on the foreshore. There was no resident New Brighton Band however and in September 1889 serious consideration was given to forming such a group.
The Beach Racing Committee had wound up its community involvement with a healthy cash surplus and the suggestion was made that the money could best be used to purchase instruments to help get a band started. The added incentive was that the band could then play at race meetings at the new race track, greatly adding to the atmosphere there. A sum of money was vested in three trustees; J Kerr, E Corser and J Patterson and this was later used to purchase instruments previously owned by the Hibernian Band.
In June 1890 a group of interested musicians met at Mr Free’s Hotel, similarly a meeting was held in the local schoolroom to inform the public of the bands formation. Within a month practices had begun. The New Brighton community looked forward to having their own musical representation at local events and not having to rely on the availability of the City bands.
At the end of the first year the New Brighton Band had grown to 14 members and included players of reed instruments as well as brass. The interim Bandmaster, Mr Pannell was replaced by Mr A. Free. Mr Free of the Bower Hotel opened a substantial new Hall (60ftx25ft) and this then became the band’s new headquarters. Fundraising concerts to raise the vital funds to purchase music and a uniform were well supported by the public and within a very short space of time the new band was smartly attired in a new, heavy, blue woollen tunic and trousers with olive green cord and silver piping.
In June 1893 Sergeant Alex Gordon from the Christchurch Garrison Band was duly elected the new Bandmaster from seven prospective applicants. With Mr Free’s departure also went the New Brighton Band’s practice room and this void was temporarily filled when the lessee of the New Brighton Hotel, Mr Coker offered the use of one of his rooms. Alex Gordon was more than adequately qualified to lead the band. He was a competent musician and a well respected brass tutor.
Unfortunately though for Mr Gordon, the band was already suffering from a general malaise. Poor organisation, sporadic attendance at rehearsals and general apathy had already led to several senior players walking out on the band and adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach. There were also several destructive personality clashes and the band’s concert performances suffered as a result.
The very community that had enthusiastically supported the fledgling organisation felt badly let down and the printed media quickly turned on them. Repeated efforts over the next few years by the Bandmaster to resurrect some semblance of order and a degree of professionalism failed and the band finally folded. As the Christchurch ‘Star’ reported in July 1897 –
‘The New Brighton Band is dead as a millstone.’
Nearly twelve months after the New Brighton Band’s demise the uniforms and instruments were called in by public advertisement and were later sold. In effect they now belonged to the Council after New Brighton’s incorporation as a Borough and the election of R.C Bishop as its first Mayor in 1897. The Stanmore, Garrison, Derry’s and Elite Bands again returned to the esplanade at New Brighton to entertain the summer crowds. Many local residents still regarded that this annual sum of about 50 pounds paid to visiting brass bands should be going to a local group of musicians.
From the ashes of the first New Brighton Band another did rise but it took eleven years to come to fruition. Several key people from the original 1890 band were again well involved, particularly J. Haig, C. Israelson and others. The point of difference this time was good strong leadership which came from a small determined group led by Captain A.W Owles. Capt. Owles was one of the first elected members of the new Municipal Council and from the outset he was determined that this new band was to be for the Borough.
Enough time had elapsed for the unpleasant memories of the past to be extinguished and the local community again got right in behind this new venture. Captain Owles presided over the first public meeting to discuss the band’s formation and started the new fundraising efforts with his own generous donation. A Committee was formed and within a month public subscription and personal donations had accumulated enough funds to purchase instruments for those that did not already have their own.
Consequently the New Brighton Municipal Band came into being. A set of 14 instruments and music stands no longer required by the Elite Band now became the property of the Borough, in trust, for the band and its successors. Fundraising concerts in aid of the new Municipal Band were organised by several city bands, including the Elite. It is perhaps not surprising that the Christchurch Elite Band had answered the call. Several of its players were common to both bands and from early photographs it appears that the Elite organisation purchased the near new blue uniforms of the 1890 New Brighton Band in the earlier fire sale.
The New Brighton Municipal Band was duly formed on 11 May, 1908 with Mr Goodchild enlisted as the first Bandmaster. Rehearsals began the following month, twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays in a temporary practice room offered free of charge by the Chairman. A Council car shed (tram?) and a local Scout Hall also became temporary housing for the band until more permanent quarters were found. Fundraising continued within the New Brighton community with concerts, card evenings and the like, all under the keen and watchful eye of Captain Owles.
Such was the success of local fundraising efforts, within a year a complete set of brand new ‘Hawke & Sons’ instruments were able to be purchased for the band at a cost of 128 pounds. A new set of uniforms in a marine style were also able to be made, supplied by the local Draper in Sea View Road, Mr Bargrove. Within a remarkably short space of time the New Brighton Municipal Band had purchased everything it required and all without any funding from its parent, the Borough Council.
In its first full year of operation band members attended 109 practices and put on 36 public performances. A brass quintet was also formed in 1909 and it performed at local functions. Many had a deep interest in the Band and Capt. Owles, A.P Hopkins and J.R Skinner were all duly elected life members for their considerable efforts.
Perhaps synonymous with Brass Bands is the Band Rotunda and not surprisingly a Rotunda Fundraising Committee was quickly formed. The requirement of a sheltered Band Rotunda along the foreshore and esplanade at New Brighton was perhaps even more important than elsewhere in the city because of the biting easterly winds experienced there.
A debate between the Rotunda Committee, other interested parties and the Council over the preferred location of the structure went on for many months. In the short term temporary structures were built near the pier entrance for Gala Days and were then removed again afterwards. It was some considerable time after 1910 before the picture was complete and the New Brighton band had somewhere to play.