When Geoff spoke to me [Chris Brockhouse] about doing an intro for my dad’s ‘Bonded by Brass’ story, I thought, sure, that would be easy enough to do! Write a few quick quips, provide a good segue or two and it’ll be done!
Like a lot of things in life unfortunately, distractions arise, life moves on and suddenly, the world changes around us – all whilst I’m still wondering what to write! Thankfully there are two constants in my life – brass bands and family.
For as long as I can remember, my dad has been a stalwart member of the Campbelltown City Band. Now normally I struggle to remember what I had for breakfast, but in this instance the last 33 years have been a real treasure. Through thick and thin – circumstances, not waist lines – he’s been in the midst of the band, supporting, driving and steering it with a passion for community banding and music. I could go on about his dedication to research, archiving of – and the history of – brass bands (and band Rotundas!) but I think his story below does more justice to it than I could.
Community banding is a wonderful hobby and one that both he and I enjoy tremendously - you only need to look at the audience of a brass band concert and there’s a fair chance you’ll see my dad. He loves supporting community brass bands, whether it’s playing in Campbelltown City Band or listening to bands such as Salisbury, Mitcham, K&N, Tanunda and Hahndorf to name a few.
In these challenging times, with declining audience numbers and bands struggling for players, we all need to be supporting community banding. Hopefully, while reading the story below, you can get a sense of the enjoyment and dedication my dad has for banding - and for our band friends, and family.
Brenton F. Brockhouse
Born: 3 February 1945 to parents Albert E. Brockhouse and Gweneth C. Brockhouse (nee Shrowder).
I was born when I was very young. I can't remember much about it now but my mother told me that one day when I grew up, I would understand.
My birth certificate indicates that I was born on Saturday 3rd February 1945. This was very convenient for me because Saturday was my free day and I had nothing on that day.
The medical staff soon fixed that though and I began my life wrapped in a blanket and kept in the dark. Funny how things don't change much when you grow up.
I was the first child of my parents, Albert E. Brockhouse and Gweneth C. Brockhouse (nee Shrowder). By the time I was one year old I was considered quite smart and I persuaded my parents that I needed a brother to play with. They obliged and Grant was born sometime later.
We all lived happily ever after. Well, until Grant wanted my toys that is.
Our little family lived in a rented maisonette in Fullarton and my dad rode his pushbike into work in the city every day. He was a Fitter and Turner; we were not financially well off and couldn’t afford anything more than a push bike.
I was born into a musical family. My grandfather played the cello in a family string ensemble, but I never ever heard him practice. My father learnt the piano and eventually the pipe organ and I certainly heard him practice. My mother had been a prize-winning soprano in her day. Our church was the centre of musical activity and there seemed no other reason for music to have been invented.
Of course, I learnt the piano; didn’t everyone in the 1950s? By the time I was eleven I was Head Chorister in the church’s boys’ choir and won that years shield prize.
When searching our family photos, it seems I started out as a percussionist when aged 2 but I was destined for greater things. No drum for me but tuned percussion!
In the 1950s the Adelaide Drum and Fife Band recruited for players from the schools and my brother, and I joined up. Mother and Father must have sacrificed a lot to pay for the hire of the uniforms and purchase two fifes. I remember Mr Harry S Green was the bandmaster who would conduct rehearsals of over 100 children at a time. I got to dress up in a uniform too. How exciting! Red jacket and black trousers with red stripe and we marched in the Johnnies Christmas Pageant. Little did I know where this would take me some 40 years later to Campbelltown City Band with red jackets and black trousers with red stripe and marching in the Johnnies Christmas Pageant.
After outgrowing the Fife Band, I concentrated on learning the pipe organ and eventually became quite proficient, and in 1995 was appointed Director of Music at All Souls’ Anglican Church, St Peters, where I remain to this day. I succeeded in gaining a Certificate in Church Music from the Flinders Street School of Music in 1989 after more performance practice than I can ever remember since.
Brass bands? Never heard of them, although I did find a brass band record in my grandfather’s collection after he died. Playing this did not meet with family approval.
Strange then that in 1972 I married a lass from the Newcastle (NSW) Salvation Army and whose family was heavily involved in brass band music. (Brother-in-law, Ron Grice brought Waratah Brass from C-Grade up to State Champion A-Grade band). So, the topic of conversation when we visited on holidays? I learnt a lot but it had no practical application for me at that time.
I owe everything to the Education Department. They gave me an income and now a superannuation pension. They gave me the thrill of teaching and the mind-blowing uncertainties of helping young people develop. They gave me the opportunity to help build new schools and redevelop old facilities. They are even responsible for me joining the Campbelltown City Band.
When our oldest son Andrew entered secondary school, he was volunteered to learn a musical instrument. The Oboe was his choice; no oboes! Try Clarinet; teeth were no good for that. Oh well, try the French Horn; no mouthpieces! Oh well, here you are, try the Trombone. He was only a raw learner but he was grabbed to play with Campbelltown City Band under Des O’Neill around 1990. I just tagged along as the taxi driver. I remember thinking this playing in a brass band sounded like fun so asked Des if I was too old to learn something. Didn’t know what the instruments were called but something about 600mm long. No way! He wanted me to play BB flat Bass and that was that. (I now know what the BB stands for B*…y Big Bass.)
I was hooked. My mother and father could not understand my interest in music other than Anglican church music but they tolerated it. I’ve loved it. I love the BB instrument, I love the sound of brass played harmoniously together, and I love being part of a great bunch of people from such varied backgrounds and all striving to play together.
Now as I get older and older, I have tried to play a smaller instrument to ease my back but with no success. I’m a “Johnny-come-lately” in the brass band world and my embouchure is set in its ways, but I do love what I can do. I’ve been known to forego a pipe organ concert for a brass band one. (What would my parents say!) When I play the pipe organ, I am master of my own destiny; speed up, slow down, miss out notes, whatever, I have no-one else to answer to. (Except the examiners when I did that certificate course in organ).
Being one of 30 musicians all working to achieve the same ends is a completely different discipline.
I’ve played and stayed with Campbelltown City Band since 1990 and have seen the lows and the highs. I reckon we’re on high at the moment and that’s what drives me to continue to add my bit. I can’t play ppp and I can’t play semiquavers, so I don’t brood too much; I play what I can and add to the mfs to fffs. After nearly 40 years I’m starting to get the hang of not being behind the beat, but don’t ask Peter Smith (MD) to corroborate that!
I absolutely love the combination of pipe organ and brass instruments and give thanks that a group of like-minded friends get together once a month as the All Souls Brass Ensemble to provide music for our church service. This shows fantastic dedication and a love of music!
This brass band network extends to Salvation Army bands as well and I, a true-blue organ playing Anglican, was asked to join the Salvation Army Heritage Band some years ago. This was a great time playing music with much of it based on familiar hymn tunes. I met some great people in this band and it was sad when it had to fold, mainly because a lot of its members had folded too. But guess where I get most of the music for the All Souls Brass Ensemble; from Salvation Army sources of course. My Father-in-law and Brother-in-law would have been amazed and delighted.
What about marching? Marching with a BB Bass? Absolute madness! But Des pushed me into the second row within a few months of learning how to play a few notes. Christmas Pageant at Two Well in 1990 was my baptism of fire, closely followed by helping out Hahndorf in yet another street march. Marching became too difficult as I got older and I once marched with a baritone but couldn’t get a note. Of course, the plus side to this was there were no wrong notes. Not any more now under any circumstances – well apart from running backwards and forwards filming Tanunda marching in the UK.
Another huge high for me is the love of brass banding that I’ve somehow transferred to my youngest son Chris. To have Chris playing with me in Campbelltown and at church is just unbelievable. Chris started learning tenor horn the same year I started on tuba and we’ve both supported each other in our 30-year journey.
Another huge high point was accompanying Tanunda Town Band on their trip to the UK in 2017. Chris had been asked to play tenor horn with them and I volunteered to tag along and take photos. Bruce Raymond was having none of that and provided a chair, music and a tuba to play. What an experience playing 3rd BB bass (as best I could) with this top-grade band in concerts in Yorkshire. I even had to buy a bow tie! True to form I did run alongside and take photos of the many Whit-Friday marches and competitions the band played in but I was on stage in concerts and with 200 other musicians and the Black Dyke Band for the massed bands Festival of Brass in Leeds Town Hall. I believe I rose to the occasion – but of course have been slipping back ever since.
Geoff asked about contesting and is it worth it. I’m in two minds about this. The preparation for a contest is intense and the band benefits from this effort but personally I can’t cope with the stress. The euphoria surrounding success is amazing but this is quite rare compared with the disappointment of loss.
Who do I thank for my banding involvement? Well, Des O’Neill for starting me off, my son Chris for keeping me going, my brother-in-law Ron Grice in Newcastle for just exuding the excitement of brass music well played, and my wife Nola for loving brass band music and encouraging me to keep playing. Once a brass band family, always a brass band family however extended.
Another of my interests, particularly as I get older, is band history. I researched and compiled a history of Campbelltown City Band for their centenary in 2019 and, just for the fun of it, hunted out all the past and present band rotundas in South Australia. Challenge: find a rotunda in SA that you think I haven’t found. I’ve photographed a patch of yellowing grass where once a rotunda stood decaying but it’s hard taking a photo of a rotunda that has long since gone. There are bound to be many for which I have not found any record.
Talking about history, I’ve created a collection of videos and CDs of just about every concert given by Campbelltown City Band since 1991. I’m sure one day someone will find this collection of interest, if the media is still playable by then. I certainly did when I compiled a double CD of the highlights from 1991 to 2019. Proof beyond doubt that the band has had its ups and downs and yet more ups.
I’ve been on the committee of CCB for most of my time with some stints as President, Secretary, and now Property Officer, and many times as SABA Delegate.
When going through my vast photographic collection searching for appropriate photos it occurred to me that there were lots of me dressing up for all sorts of occasions. Not just in band uniforms either. Perhaps there’s a hidden comic in me just waiting to jump out.
You know, the best thing about brass bands throughout the world is not the huge events, the concerts, the contests, the difficult music mastered, but the people. It is the people who have made my banding experience one heck of a ride. It is an experience so different from that in which I was brought up but I could not survive as well without all the bandies and their commitment to brass band music. Thank you to all who have made my brass band life so interesting. See you at the next concert!
What of the future?
There’d better be a brass band play at my funeral because I’ve already prepared the music!