Above: Ollie Clark in Melbourne Regiment Uniform complete with busby
Above: Ollie and Fred Clark, Joffa and Nooky Morrison during a trip to ale in 1957
Above: Extract from an article about Footscray Yarravilles tour of Canada.
Above: Ollie featured on the cover of GASCOR News, Victoria.
Above: The Clarks featuring in a Gas Victoria Newsletter.
Above: Box Hill City Band 1954
Above: Box Hill City Band 1955
Ollie Clark is as much at home in the boardroom as he is in the bass section, he’s a high flyer who takes care of the low notes in the band, and a hell of a nice bloke with it! He is living proof that brass bands are a very good way to bring people together from all walks of life and is clearly someone who has made the most of his life and opportunities. He is sociable, good-humoured, committed to his family and a great asset to banding.
Before taking on this project I didn’t really know Ollie all that well, mainly by reputation really. I had worked a little bit with his daughter Evonne and listened to stories about “Club Clark”, told to me my good mate John Price. Club Clark was the name given to Ollie’s hotel room on Kensington and Norwood Band’s Malaysian trip. Ollie’s room was the place where the happy hour drinks were dispensed and conversations flowed freely.
After getting to know Ollie a little better, I can understand why he is so universally admired. He remains humble and self-effacing, as well as projecting positivity and optimism to all.
Ollie has generously supported this project with a 3067 word summary of his musical life in the brass band setting. It is extremely well written, complete in itself and worthy of your attention.
I invite you to read and enjoy the story of a true gentleman of banding, Ollie Clark.
Geoff Meikle, 2020
Contribution to Meikle SA Brass Band Profiles from Oliver (Ollie) Clark March 2020
I owe so much more to the Brass Band world than it owes to me! When I look back over almost 70 years of membership of the Box Hill City Band (BHCB), the Preston Municipal Band (PMB) and the Kensington & Norwood City Band (K&N) the benefits from learning to play a brass instrument, gaining an appreciation of music from classical through to jazz, the many trips and performances, the friendships built up within the fraternity and much, much more, I remind myself of just how lucky I’ve been.
In what follows I endeavour to briefly summarise my journey through the three bands in which I’ve been privileged to serve and then to set out some of the many highlights and incidents that I’ve experienced.
Summary of Memberships:
I joined the BHCB, aged 9, along with my brother Fred, in 1949, immediately after it had been re-established post WW2. It was of course “D-Grade” and we stayed through until late 1968 by which time it had moved through “C-Grade” to “B-Grade” where it remained for quite a few years. As my brother put it, “towards the late 1960s it became obvious that the Band was treading water”.
We were invited to join the highly respected “A-Grade” PMB towards the end of 1968 which opened up a new world from our perspective. The primary focus was participation in the annual A-Grade Nationals, but also trips and concerts, including 10 monthly Sunday afternoon concerts for the Melbourne City Council, jointly with the Footscray-Yarraville, Hawthorn and Malvern bands, fierce rivals at the Nationals but good friends on concert days!
In August 1976 I moved to Adelaide to join SAGasCo after 20 years in the gas industry in Victoria. K&N had heard of my move and in my first week of living in Adelaide I attended my first rehearsal in a room beneath a grandstand at the Norwood Oval, the start of 40+ years of everything anyone in the brass band world could ever wish for. The celebration of the Band’s centenary and success at the National Competitions in 1992 in Sydney and 2002 in Geelong were just three of scores of achievements and lots of enjoyment.
Our parents came across an article in the local paper that the BHCB was being formed again under the baton of Tom Davison who was to introduce 1 hr beginner’s classes on Sunday mornings at 9:00 followed by 2 hour rehearsals from 10:00, and 8:00 PM on Wednesdays. There were two religions in our family…the Church and Music. We were given the choice and opted for the Band in preference to Sunday School even though we had to ride pushbikes from NE Box Hill to SW Box Hill, a return trip of 9 km with a eupho across the handlebars!
If you showed any aptitude and got to be the slightest bit proficient, you were inducted into the senior Band. Fred and I were inducted within a year of joining and we played in the BHCB for the next 18 years. They were great days……terrific people, participating in the annual South St. Ballarat contests on many occasions (fish & chips and a beer at the back of the bus on the way home), travels to country towns (Myrtleford , Alexandra and Mansfield spring to mind), taking part in Anzac Day and Moomba marches through Melbourne, concerts, assisting other bands, eg The Royal Melbourne Regiment, dressed like Grenadier Guards, and more.
We both started on euphonium but Fred quickly impressed with his ability to play high notes and moved quickly from 3rd cornet to soprano and held that position throughout our BHCB years. I served on eupho, cornet (very briefly!) tenor horn, trombone, baritone and BBb tuba,……wherever they wanted me. (even as Treasurer from my teens!)
As mentioned earlier, in the latter years we felt, after a succession of bandmasters, the band was “marking time” and unlikely to progress to A-Grade in the foreseeable future. We were both involved in a small dance band and jazz bands and wondered whether we should move on from the brass band scene; fortunately we didn’t! Late in 1968 we were invited to join the A-Grade Preston Municipal Band, Fred on soprano and me on eupho.
It was hard to walk away from close friends whose friendship in two cases in particular went back to our primary school days. Geoff (Joffa) and Ray (Nooky) Morrison were in our classes at Box Hill State School and were close friends for many years. Others were Brian Cockerel and would you believe, Glen Madden, who moved to Adelaide and was principal trumpet here with the ASO for many years.
What an experience moving up to A-Grade with PMB under MD Charles Smith. Charlie was not young and had come through the symphony orchestra ranks which was so evident whenever we got to play brass band arrangements of the better known “Classical Era” classics. As I recall he had brass band arrangements of nearly all Beethoven symphonies. I wonder where they are now!
As I mentioned earlier we had great relationships with Melbourne’s other 3 A-grade bands, (except on Contest days!). At a Sunday morning rehearsal in the Melbourne Town Hall a teenager carrying an EEb rocked up with the Malvern team. He was somewhat dishevelled and I took it upon myself to lecture him on the dress and appearance protocols when performing in public and kept an eye on him each month. It turned out that he had just arrived from Tasmania, was very talented and was named Peter Whish-Wilson, who, in 1978, after two years with the MSO, came to Adelaide as Principal Tuba with the ASO and still is. We became close friends and he has been very supportive of SA brass bands, often sitting in and mentoring.
I was one of 3 PMB members invited to travel to Canada and the USA with the Footscray-Yarraville band in 1975 to compete in the Canadian National Championships in Toronto. Another unforgettable experience, under the baton of long-time principal trumpet of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Merv Simpson, a perfectionist to put it mildly. Many happy memories, culminating in victory in Toronto and a concert in Buffalo, upstate NY.
We presented concerts in the brand new Sydney Opera House then in Los Angeles before flying to Seattle en-route to Canada….a most memorable flight. About halfway the Flight Attendant announced that for the first time ever the airline had run out of beer, quickly followed with an announcement that it was also the first time they’d ever had an Australian brass band on board! Our tour was along Canada’s side of the US border and we travelled mostly by train, presenting concerts daily at some lovely Canadian provincial cities.
Like BHCB, PMB travelled quite widely to participate in Contests interstate and to perform in regional Victoria. At that time Easter was not the regular time of the Nationals and for many years, PMB spent Easter visiting the NE town of Bright, becoming a drawcard for visitors and fitting in to the point that the Band played cricket against the “back-to-Porepunkah” regulars. I remember well being bowled out for a duck twice after insisting we were given a trial ball!
I was appointed Secretary of PMB after a couple of years and a project I became intimately involved with was travelling to Tanunda to participate in the SA competition on two occasions. This was my first connection with the SA brass band fraternity. We stayed at Angaston on one occasion and midway between Angaston and Nuriootpa on the other. I’m not sure how we fared contest-wise but I remember our street march up Murray St., in particular the step-off timing precision and Phil John setting off in his red Holden ahead of each band. The quickstep followed at the oval and the contest in the adjacent Show Hall. Little did I realise how much the town would mean to me in the years to come.
In 1976 I was offered a career opportunity in SA that I couldn’t refuse. It was a very big decision to make, leaving my family and particularly my brother Fred with whom I’d shared my life, in particular the musical side of it. It was made a bit easier for me in that although Joan and I had met in Melbourne and spent our first 15 years of marriage there, Joan was originally from Adelaide and had family and friends here. She wasn’t particularly keen about leaving Melbourne at the time.
On the bright side, it turned out to be great musically for Fred. After about 2 years with PMB we had an influx of talented eupho players, and I, as Secretary, did the right thing and moved onto BBb. Shortly after I moved to SA the other BBb player moved on also and as luck would have it, a talented young soprano cornet player joined PMB. Fred had “minded” the tuba I’d played and he elected to take it seriously, which was the beginning of a new chapter in his life. He became a legend in the Melbourne jazz world, and remained with PMB for a further 27 years, retiring in 2004 after 35 years, for 10 of which he was President. The PMB and the Darebin City Council honoured him with an award in recognition of his contribution.
I often wonder what symphony orchestra brass sections would do if the brass band supply chain wasn’t available. Not only do they provide the full-time professionals, they often supply “extras” when expanded brass sections are required. Quite a few of the Melbourne “A-Graders”, including Whish and myself, were recruited for a performance of “Belshazzar’s Feast” (Walton) playing in the small brass bands either side of the main MSO orchestra. Quite an experience!
A New Start:
I moved to Adelaide in August 1976 to join SAGasCo after 20 years in the gas industry in Victoria. K&N heard of my move as I mentioned earlier, and in my first week in Adelaide I attended my first rehearsal……the start of decades of pleasure and shared achievements. They found a BBb for me and sat me down next to an empty chair, explaining that I’d often be on my own because the regular BBb player, Brian Green, was active in the jazz world and missed practices fairly often.
I couldn’t believe my luck! My brother and I had been in jazz and small dance bands for many years. Then it happened; Greeny rocked up, asked me if I was interested in jazz and about a fortnight later, we shared a gig on a Saturday morning in Melbourne Street, North Adelaide. In the following months he took me around the jazz scene enabling me to meet many, maybe most, of the trad Jazz musicians around town.
The Musical Director was Paul Cerezo who ended his term at K&N about half way through 1977 and our regular eupho player, Phil Couchman stood in temporarily. We were fortunate in that Gal John took on the role, bringing with him years of experience as MD of the A-Grade Tanunda Town Band. Among Gal’s contributions was the start-up of our “Melody Night” at the Chrysler complex at Tonsley modelled on the famous TTB “Melody Nacht” in which he’d played a major role. Gal’s two sons (Philip and Stephen) and nephew Tim Gramp each joined us on moving to Adelaide.
A few months after my joining, the Band went to NSW to compete in a Contest. The start of the trip will be in my memory forever. We boarded the bus in Beulah Rd. about 7:30 AM and I was sitting next to Greeny. He leaned forward, I heard a “click” and he handed me a stubby, informing me that it was a K&N tradition that the cap came off the first bottle before the bus left. We were pretty bright by the time we got to Tooleybuc!
“Fitting-in” to Adelaide was remarkably easy. I was a charter member of the Doncaster Rotary Club in Melbourne and, since we were living in Malvern, I transferred to the RC of Unley and through K&N I met luminaries like Ron Greer, Peter Lillywhite, Alan Moore, Greeny, Phil Couchman, Ray Parsons and, on the administration side, President Brian Essery and the Mayor of the City of K&N, Jack Richards, who was dedicated to the welfare of the band. So having met hospitable Rotarians, K&N band members, the jazz fraternity, and of course my SAGasCo colleagues I felt like I’d lived here forever!
And surprise, surprise! About two months after joining, it was AGM time and who should join us but Premier Don Dunstan, the Member for Norwood and our Patron. Our current Patron is Premier Hon. Steven Marshall, following lengthy terms of strong support from Hon. Greg Crafter and Vini Cicorello. Steven is a dedicated brass band fan and somehow still finds time to attend K&N performances.
K&N had a few problems during my early years. It was fairly obvious our practice venue wasn’t ideal. We were fortunate in that Mayor Jack Richards was passionate about the Band and I can’t recall the details of how it happened, but we found ourselves practising on the 1st floor of the building on the SE corner of The Parade and George St., diagonally opposite the Town Hall. That, we were told, would be our home for years to come. Wrong! Within a year we were moved, temporarily, across to a section of the Town Hall, which was fairly run down at the time and in a word, unsatisfactory.
Three really positive events then took place. Gal had retired and Bruce (Dizzy) Raymond was appointed MD, Kevin Joughin, former solo cornet player of the famed Woolston Band from Christchurch, NZ, took up a senior position in Port Adelaide and joined us and Mayor Jack Richards spent the Christmas-New Year period in Melbourne, negotiating with the Salvation Army for the purchase of the small church at 31 Beulah Rd and was successful. It was rumoured that he spent 3 days sleeping in a Mt Gambier motel on the way home to wind down.
Bruce was a former long time member of the Unley Salvation Army Band and was head of the brass section of the Education Department’s music teachers’ team. He was (and remains!) passionate about the brass band world, locally, nationally and globally, and has close ties with prominent band leaders around the world. He is entrepreneurial and has brought together musicians, supporters, audiences……international brass band legends, leading to many unforgettable events, such as the expanded Tonsley “Music Night”, the Adelaide Rotary Club cabaret nights, “Carols by Candlelight” at several locations, a week in Melbourne with James and John Morrison, our Centenary trip to Malaysia in 1992 and attendances at State and National A-Grade contests, to name a few.
Unsurprisingly, Bruce is currently President of the SA Band Association and in that capacity, along with his role as MD of the Tanunda Town Band, he works tirelessly to promote our movement.
Returning to the subject of the Beulah Rd. Hall, at one time there was talk that the Council was considering the sale of the Hall and that the matter was to be discussed at a Council meeting on a particular evening. The entire Band attended without instruments and in plain clothes! The Hall was not sold and I think 30 or so glares from the “audience” had a bit to do with the decision! Bullying?
Some years later we were advised by Council that the Hall must be shared, for fiscal reasons as well as to support other community groups. It came about approximately 30 years ago. The C3 Church group and the SA Phonographic Society became regular users and a Committee was formed to manage the Hall on behalf of Council. The arrangement has worked very well and the Committee has worked closely with Council in financing and implementing some important improvements over the years.
With Kevin in the top chair, a practice venue of our own and the attraction of a number of talented youngsters came stability and improved musical performance, perhaps the greatest achievements being awarded first place in the 1992 (Sydney) and 2002 (Geelong) National A-Grade Championships.
I cannot close without acknowledging the strong support of the Webb family and their now famous company, “Spring Gully Foods”. What a pleasure it was to work with our young percussionist Russell, his father Kevin and the team, musically and promotionally.
I must also make mention of some others of those youngsters who joined us on the journey, people like Dan Gordon, Julie Dorey and Janet Carey (still youngsters!) Anthony Rogers, Ben Bolton, the Gaetjens family, our daughter Evonne, and Paul Beames, not to forget John and Lesley Price and Peter Doherty…….and more.
Evonne qualified with a BMus and joined the Education Department brass teachers section and went on to study conducting in Melbourne. This led to a term as Conductor of the Hahndorf Town Band where she met the members of the Francis family, most of whom played for the Band at some stage. Greg and Lester were members at the time. What wonderful opportunities brass band membership provides…..Evonne and Lester married in 2001 and are the parents of three of our musically talented teenage grandchildren. Thank you Hahndorf Town Band!
Evonne and I are both life Members of K&N but our partners have each done stints with the Band also…..Joan on percussion and Lester on cornet. It’s been a family affair. And our son James and a couple of our nephews are, or have been, with Preston.
A high quality brass band is a quintessential example of teamwork; it takes just one player to be a fraction out of tune, too loud or too soft or ahead or behind the beat and the performance suffers. Playing in a band teaches us to work as a team, which is so important in so many of the activities we undertake in life generally.
Hell! 6 pages; I’d better leave it here! As I noted at the beginning, I owe so much to the Brass Band world and I thank you Geoff for allowing me to recount some of my journey.
Ollie Clark AM