Above: Rick Errington was the bandmaster of the Salisbury and Elizabeth Band when I joined the band as a learner in 1966. This particular photo was taken in about the middle of 1969 by Pam Pickett in the McMahon family’s laundry. The products on the shelf behind us confirm the era, Fly Tox, Jasol and Duraglo etc! The young lad standing behind us is David Pickett, the youngest of the Pickett family, he played flugelhorn.
Rick gave me individual lessons and was a huge influence on me musically. I also became very attached to him on a personal level. Rick had genuine talent and intelligence and was a fundamentally good bloke at heart. I married his niece so apart from anything else we had family connections that kept us in contact.
His behaviour and demeanour at times were “interesting”, particularly during that period of his life when alcohol was an influential factor. I often think, even now, about what Rick might have become had he had the same educational opportunities as me. He had lost both parents by the age of 13 and was the youngest of a large family. He and his sister Bette were taken in by the McMahon family and eventually became in-laws to them after Ken McMahon married Bette.
Above: My first band job! “Keep one eye on the music and one eye on the neck of the bloke in front of you, if you get lost just play something from the arpeggio of the key you’re in”. This was the advice my dad gave me just before setting off on my first band marching job, the Elizabeth Birthday Celebrations in November 1966.
This photo taken with my sister Wendy, who was 4 at the time, has a fairly typical “Elizabeth in the 60s” look about it. It has in the background the Octagon Theatre, marching girls and a lad with upturned handlebars on his bike. It was a time when you could feel normal and unselfconscious about living in Elizabeth.
After the parade we went to the Rose and Crown Hotel on Phillip Hwy where the older blokes in the band bought me schooners of lemon squash whilst they stood around having a couple of beers after the band job.
I had made it, I was in the Big League!
Above: Winning my first solo contest - Messenger Newspaper 1968
Above: After Glenelg Christmas Pageant 1973. This shot was taken on the street in Glenelg. I was 18 and Adrienne 16. I was in my trombone phase at the time!
I really like this image, I’m standing with the person I was to spend the rest of my life with, doing what we loved. Actually wouldn’t mind going back there and doing it again ……..but better! I’m not one of those people who say “If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing”…..I would try to do everything better, musically, professionally and especially personally.
Above: The Elizabeth Years - “You can’t buy a premiership”
The origin of these words escape me but I seem to remember that they were associated with North Melbourne Football Club in the mid-seventies. After a barren five decades the club obtained the services of Ron Barassi. With the aid of an open chequebook Barassi bought what he needed, confounded the critics and delivered two premierships in ’75 and ’77.
The Elizabeth City Band, who sported the same snazzy colours as North Melbourne, did something akin to this during the period when I was involved. High quality musical leadership was made available to the solid core of community bandies who had been there since the band was born, the midwife was Bernard Bygrave. Coincidentally this was about the time when Barassi was screaming and shouting his way to the aforementioned premierships! Adelaide Symphony Orchestra colleagues Glenn Madden and Jim Dempsey provided the leadership and influence which saw the band from the northern suburbs burn brightly for a while. They used the already available talent augmented with a considerable number of imports eager to be associated with the top pros in Adelaide. When I joined Elizabeth in 1981 I was going to college and receiving trumpet lessons from Glenn Madden. He asked me to join the band, which I willingly did. When I look back on this time I can honestly say that it was probably the best brass band playing I ever churned out. I was on soprano cornet for most of the time I was there and didn’t exactly hold back! I was also the Drum Major for quite a while.
By the time North Melbourne won premierships again, this time under Denis Pagan in ’96 and ’99, the Elizabeth Band had just about fizzled out.
The reason(s) for its rise and demise is/are open to conjecture and would probably fill another book.
Like lots of other things in life……It was good while it lasted!!
Above: The Oak Beam Brass Quintet - I loved playing in this group. We blended well musically and socially. Left to right in the picture are Adrienne Meikle, Geoff Snelling, Pat Brady, David Barker and yours truly showing off my ability to hold a trumpet and smoke a cigarette at the same time!!
The name Oak Beam Brass Quintet was my idea. For a while in the Elizabeth Band there was a Yorkshireman whose place of comfort was “back ‘ome in the local pub suppin’ pint’s o’ bitter underneath oak beams”. This statement, over time, became the comedic reference point for a number of alcohol fuelled discussions, especially between David Barker and me!
And so the Oak Beam Brass Quintet it was. After all I figured if the rock guys can have names like “Exploding White Mice”, “The Young Homebuyers” and my favourite, the carefully spoonerised “Cunning Stunts” then we can be the Oak Beam Brass Quintet!
Above: Playing in the Bay Big Band at the ANZAC Day street party. “Sounds like someone set fire to a pet shop!”
This rather ungenerous description of jazz came from the solo horn player of the Pemberton Old Wigan Band in Northern England one night after a rehearsal that we attended in 1998. Jazz was playing on Sky TV in the bar after practice.
Jazz is my fave. I like lots of things, but jazz, specifically swing era standards played well, makes me extra happy. I spent a fair bit of my precious life energy from my early twenties on trying to play jazz. I probably left my run a bit late but had a lot of fun trying. Playing in the Bay Big Band with a bunch of older blokes was particularly enjoyable. On first trumpet alongside me in this pic is Ron Greer, also a brass bandy who played for many years in the Kensington and Norwood Band. Big Band and jazz playing didn’t do my brass band playing a lot of good in terms of sound and technique but helped me musically.
Hopefully no puppies, goldfish or budgies were scorched whilst I was ripping out a couple of hot choruses!!
Introduction (by Jim Dempsey)
Just north of where I was born (a small mining town called Kilsyth) there is an area called the MEIKLE BIN (literal translation – bloody great hill!).
In geographical terms it was described as a “prominent protrusion” in the landscape of Central Scotland.
I couldn’t help drawing the comparison of the MEIKLE BIN and our very own Geoffrey Meikle. A “prominent protrusion” describes Geoffrey’s contribution to the South Australian Band Movement rather aptly. Musician, mentor, conductor, drum major (Do it again!!) administrator – Geoffrey has excelled in all of these areas.
Truly a man for all seasons I have known Geoff the photographer, boat builder, cycling enthusiast and now of course “author”. Whatever he does is done with admirable amounts of commitment and passion.
Of the several epithets I can think of which describe Geoffrey, the most significant is simply “friend”.
One of the best I have ever had.
1) Name and place of birth.
Geoffrey Colin Meikle, born 8th January 1955, Cowley Hill Hospital, St Helens, Lancashire UK.
2) Parents names.
Colin and Barbara Meikle
Bb cornet, Eb soprano cornet and trombone for a year or so when I was about 18.
I started playing guitar when I was about 16 and still play to this day. I studied classic guitar seriously for a while but these days play rhythm. In the last few years especially, I have worked up an acoustic guitar/vocal busking set, which I am quietly happy with!
As part of my job as a music teacher I play basic piano and drums.
In 2004 I took up saxophone, flute and clarinet. I gave away the clarinet because it interfered with my trumpet embouchure and was too hard. I still play baritone sax and flute however to the point where they are now more or less genuine “second” instruments. Playing reeds has helped my teaching and arranging.
4) Who were your first influences and who gave you your first lessons
Somewhere in the middle of 1966 my Dad was persuaded by his friend Arthur Briers to pop along to the Salisbury and Elizabeth Band and have a toot on a BBb bass (I think?). I was impressed by this instrument, enough that I wanted to have a go at playing something myself. After a few weeks of nagging I was finally taken to the learners class on a Wednesday night. The bloke running the show at that time was Mr McMahon. He handed me a cornet and showed me how to make a sound………..and so commenced my journey, which continues to this day.
5) What band(s) have you played in?
- Salisbury City Band, 1966-1980.
- Elizabeth City Band 1981-1993
- Salisbury City Band, 1997-2012 as conductor, 2012-present day as a player.
- I also played on a regular basis as a casual with Enfield City and Tanunda Town between 1994-2006.
- Various Big Bands, Concert Bands, Jazz Bands and a short stint in the mid-eighties working in the State Opera Orchestra.
6) Has there been a particular time in your life that has been important in shaping you as a musician?
My first individual lessons in 1966 were with Rick Errington, a talented individual who inspired me to play well. At the time he was the conductor of the Salisbury and Elizabeth Band and had played in the Henley and Grange Band previously. He wasn’t particularly famous or well-known beyond that but I idolised him and copied his playing style. His way of approaching march playing is something that is still with me to this day.
The other period which really influenced me was when I went to College in 1980. I was 25 at the time and hadn’t had any lessons from professional players. To use contemporary vernacular, this was a terrific “learning curve” for me. My opinion of my playing and the opinion of the teachers I encountered at the time were poles apart. I was a fairly hard worker though and I managed to bring my standard up to a creditable level, not brilliant, but good enough to allow me to have a wee crack at some professional work here and there.
I was often left wondering about what I might have achieved had I been exposed to this type of environment at a younger age. It’s academic now I suppose. My Dad has a saying which has stuck with me over the years, “We all find our own level in this world”. I like to think that individuals also rise to the level of what is around them.
Food for thought!
7) Contesting…….. Is it worth the effort?
It definitely was when we were kids. Having a goal, working towards it under the direction of someone who cared about you, in my case it was Ken McMahon, learning to find your place in the overall scheme of things, teamwork, discipline and just having fun with your mates made band contesting very worthwhile.
As the years roll on I have become less and less interested in entering music contests of any description. In terms of raising the standard of the band contesting can perform a very useful function, but for me the usefulness is outweighed by the inconvenience. I have also seen band contests give rise to some very boorish behaviour over the journey.
Making any artform competitive has the potential to turn the artform into an ugly caricature of itself. Tempos become unnecessarily fast, volume, vibrato and stylistic excesses can spiral out of control. Winning is more important than playing. I reckon that Glenn Madden has the right idea, 1st, 2nd, 3rd prize, but no points given. There are aspects of contesting which make it antithetical to community music-making, eg. removing someone from their position and replacing them with a better player for the contest. I’ve seen people who have become physically ill because they have literally worried themselves sick over some poxy test piece….Rant Over!!
8) What awards, prizes and achievements have made you glad that you made the effort.
The first big win for me came along quite early. After a little over two years of playing in 1968, I won an Australian title “Under 14, any brass instrument” and then went on to come 3rd in the Champion of Champions behind Gordon Conaughty from Enfield and the winner Bruce Lamont who went on to have a long career with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.
Looking back I don’t know whether I was really aware of what a big deal this was. I was there by myself, mum had packed my lunch, which she always did, Dad dropped me off at OG Rd in the morning and said have fun and do your best. Next thing you know I was on stage alongside pianist Mrs Reece with my soprano cornet playing the Ash Grove!! After I received my trophy I got Dad to take me to Mr Mac’s place so I could tell him. He was on his way to footy. As you can imagine I was jumping out of my skin. Mr Mac was happy for me but not too pleased with the Bandmaster at the time who had not turned up to support me, like he was supposed to.
That was a seminal moment for me and the Salisbury Band. The lights had come on and there was optimism in the air. It probably gave Ken McMahon the impetus he needed to throw all of his heart and soul into building a Band.
I have competed in the usual solo and party events and band comps over the years and done okay, but 1968 was the year that changed me.
9) What are your preferred styles of music?
All the usual brass band stuff sits pretty well with me, Spectrum is definitely my favourite test piece, Ravenswood is my favourite march and Abide with me my favourite hymn because it reminds me of my mum.
Classical music and jazz in small group settings especially pleases my ears. Sixties/seventies is my pop/rock era.
My pet hate is singers who shout!!
10) Who are your favourite musicians, bands and musical associates?
I can’t think of anyone that I’ve played with over the journey who has rattled my cage enough to turn me off playing….a couple have come close!!
From the mid-eighties on we had a brass quintet going. I reckon that was the most satisfying thing musically and provided us with many, many enjoyable and memorable social moments.
11) What would you do differently? Any regrets?
It might actually be easier on anyone reading this if I just mention the things I wouldn’t change!!
I’ll keep it brief!
My musical pathway over time became more and more diverse, thus splitting my focus to the point where I had become a jack of all trades, master of none type. The fundamental principle of just doing a couple of things well is probably where I would make a major change.
The other area where I would probably make a change is practice techniques. I reckon I have wasted more time than the average muso, way more time in fact, practising inefficiently. Many of the other participants in “Bonded by Brass” have talked about how they should have spent more time playing from method books, Arban etc. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that it probably doesn’t matter what you practise, within reason, it’s the way that you go about it that is far more important.
12) What effect has banding had on your family life?
We don’t have kids so as far as immediate family goes. None.
I am the only one that plays on my side of the family, so none there also.
As far as Adrienne’s side of the family goes there has been a huge impact on the dynamic of their family life. For the 28 years that her Dad conducted the band their family home was a social hub and nerve centre for all things Salisbury City Band. I was part of that, so in that sense banding has had a huge impact on me.
13) Has banding influenced your social life?
Profoundly so. Our relationship came about through being in a brass band. Our close and long-term friends are, by and large, bandies.
14) What are your other interests?
Outdoor activities mainly, I’ve had a crack at a few different things- cycling, wooden boat building and especially in the last few years gardening.
15) What lies ahead for you?
Same as everyone else, an unknown future! I intend to keep on tooting until I run out of toot!
Since retiring from work, and with the added impact of Coronavirus restrictions, practising has taken on a new meaning. I think I may just be practising so I don’t get any worse! I’m on a Percy Code kick at the moment with the intention of playing Zanette at the next solo contest, and that has given me some additional focus.
16) Anything else?..................Thoughts and opinions?
I consider myself to be extremely lucky. I had the good fortune to have parents who were loving, conscientious, fundamentally decent and committed to giving their children the best grounding they could to survive in the big wide world.
My thing was music, which they supported and encouraged.
After being shown how to blow a cornet in the middle of 1966 by a bloke in his mid-thirties, who was taking time out from his own family to teach kids how to play for 50 cents a week. The 50 cents went to the band, not into his pocket. I have managed to build a very nice life around music, with his daughter being a major part of it.
Whatever direction banding as we know it now takes, and let’s hope we find that direction soon, at least we can say that we gave it an honest try and had a merry old time doing it.
Geoff Meikle, 2020
Above: Back to where I started! After I left the Salisbury Band in 1980 I hadn’t really intended to get involved in brass bands again. I was studying, establishing a career in music teaching and playing in whatever band I could find that needed a trumpet/cornet player. I did a dozen years with Elizabeth just for the hell of it, but kept doing all the other bits and bobs of jazz, big band and brass quintet playing.
I re-joined the ranks of the Salisbury Band “officially” in 1997, initially as a player, then from February 1998 as conductor, following in the footsteps of my father-in-law Ken McMahon, who had done 28 years of hard labour before me! I had never really lost contact with Salisbury. The family and friendship connections were always there.
The odd bit of conducting, playing and teaching maintained the lifeline to my brass band homeland.
Conducting a band is not like playing in a band, but I was up for it. My inner bull was tethered temporarily and tenuously in the metaphorical china shop. At 43 years of age I had racked up a few years of experience and was ready to unleash it all on the band. I managed to bring a lot of my students from Salisbury East High School, where Phil Larkin and I were running a juggernaut of a music program, to the band. We had bums on seats. All I had to do now was blind them with science and flog the guts out of them until we were the best band this side of the black stump!!
I lasted 14 years and we went ok. We produced good music on whatever stage we were on, whether it be contest or concert, but never really reached the heights that I had imagined that we would. There were a number of reality checks along the way, both big and small. My mum used to say that there is a place in this world for everyone in it. She never conducted a brass band though and consequently didn’t have to face the painful reality of dealing with the idiosyncrasies of some of the people who play in brass bands. People whose idea of their place in this world is at odds with your idea of where their place should be. When you think they should be at band practice, they think they should be at home watching TV. When you think that they should be helping you make your band into the best it can be they are heading up the road to whatever “A” grade band will take them!
At the end of the day and beyond sanity has prevailed, I calmed my farm and came to terms with the reality of community music and made the most of it. Making music with your friends, getting the most out of every person, being satisfied with your life and appreciating the life you have is what really counts. These days I toddle off to band practice and enjoy the most capable music direction of Adrienne Meikle, I do my bit with everyone else, have a laugh and thank my lucky stars for the life I have.
Geoff Meikle, 2020.