Band History

A History of the West Bergholt Concert Band
by Jane Sweeting

The band was started one cold winters night in the late 1970's by Sid Cooper, a local peripatetic teacher. The band quickly grew from the original eight members into the size it is now, and has seen changes of members and conductors, and changes in its format, but remains a very strong and much-loved band.

Over the years the West Bergholt Concert Band has performed concerts in schools, in theatres - the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, the Quay Theatre in Sudbury and the Westcliff Theatre in Clacton - and in churches across Essex and Suffolk. Members have come and gone, many staying with us from primary school age until they leave for university. At the time of writing, we have at least 6 very new members, and in the last year or so we have been pleased to recruit newcomers to almost every instrument. It's always brilliant to see a new face, and we aim to welcome everyone and help them find their feet. We have at least three members from the very early days (including Graham and me!), and over the years the band has encouraged many friendships and even a couple of marriages!

To listen to the band
Historic photos of the band
To find out where ex-band members are now

Very early on, the band split into what was then called Junior Band and Senior Band, but in recent years, the names have changed to Training Band and Concert Band - it is one of our aims that after a few years/ months members will have gained the skills and confidence in the Training Band to progress into Concert Band, where they can play more challenging music.

One of the main changes in the Band came after the sad event of the passing away of the founder, Sid Cooper. To fill his shoes was a daunting prospect, but after much discussion Jeff Wilson, who in his time has played clarinet, flute and sax in the band, rose to the challenge. During the next few years, Jeff shared the podium with his brother Graham, who has played clarinet, sax and drums. Both quickly adapted to the role, and were soon proficient in leading the band. After work commitments restricted Jeff's free time, Graham took the baton full-time, and remains in this role. Those who were in the band back in the early 90's, through this time of change, will always be grateful to the Wilson brothers for allowing the band to continue and indeed go from strength to strength.

To list all the achievements, the changes and the strengths of the band would make lengthy reading so instead we hope that when people join the band or come to see a concert they can see for themselves the talent of players, and the determination that the band has always had to encourage each other, to enjoy themselves, and to put on a good performance.

My late grandfather, Bob Raymond was one of the original eight members, playing drums in the band until 1994. The extract below is from his memoirs and I hope will give a lively impression the early days of the band. I know I speak for members, parents and friends of the band, both past and present, when I say that we hope that the band will continue, always adapting to the changing needs of members, but retaining the spirit which Sid inspired all those years ago, that cold winters night…

"A year or two after we came to West Bergholt, Sid Cooper came to live next door having finished his time in the Army where I think he served in the Band all the time…He was certainly very knowledgeable about music and could play all the band instruments, some very well, but his main instrument was the flute…He got a job as peripatetic teacher for the County Council and taught and conducted at several schools in the district. One day he came to me and said that he was on the point of starting a band in the village "and what was I going to play?" I thought for a bit and then volunteered to have a go at the drums and so I went back to my first ever band instrument… It seems that the band was formed about 1977, but the "inaugural concert" was in 1979. We started off with fairly simple pieces and there were only about eight of us but I got on as well as the rest of them. Later on as we played more ambitious pieces I found some of the parts quite tricky to read but I got used to it in time with practice…I remember on one occasion we opened the second half with an "Easter Parade" selection with school girls dressed up in fancy hats and things and in the interval when they were sorting things out I noticed a man's straw hat with a coloured band and some decoration on it which fitted me and I 'borrowed' it. When we were ready to start Sid looked up at me and said "Okay Bob?" I put the hat on and got a terrific burst of applause before I even played a note!

Sid died at the age of 59 in 1990…Sid had a lot to do with music in various schools in the neighbourhood and various people came from them to play in the band. We played at the West Cliff Theatre at Clacton once (probably the last concert with him) and I counted over 70 players on the platform, including the junior band. Of course as a conductor Sid was virtually irreplaceable but Jeff Wilson took over and kept the band going, but my spell also came to an end soon after when I retired from the band in 1992 … Of course, not only was I the oldest member of the band, but I was also the longest playing member, being the only one of the originals left."

Time Line
1977 The band is formed in November '77 (not '78) with 6 players after Sid Cooper finds some old instruments under the stage in the village hall.
1978 Band history officially starts with its first concert. The band also plays at Clacton's Alton Park School...resulting in Jeff joining.
1979 Our longest serving member Jane joins.
1982 Graham joins.
1986 Concert at The Mercury Theatre.
1990 Sid passes away at the West Cliff Theatre. At the next rehearsal the band considers stopping, but decides to carry on. Jeff takes over the baton...and resists pressure to change how band is run. Jeff conducts the Sid Cooper Memorial Concert at the West Cliff theatre. Graham (nervously) conducts 1 piece.
1991 Graham returns from Uni and starts helping out with conducting duties.

Graham takes over the baton full time.

1996 Concerts move from the school to West Bergholt Church...and other venues.
1998 20th anniversary - which we miss as we’re not quite sure when the band started !
1999 21st birthday concert at the Quay Theatre.
2000 Band returns to the Westcliff after 10 years. Format change to Concert Band, Symphonic Band, Big Band.
2001 Return to the original format, but Junior Band becomes Training Band, & Senior Band becomes Concert Band.
2004 “last night of the proms” concert initially outside (and then inside a barn) in West Bergholt. We start a spreadsheet to track charity monies raised .
2008 30th anniversary concert & party at Stoke by Nayland.
2012 Band plays for the village Beacon lighting ceremony for the Queen’s diamond jubilee. First Christmas concert outside the village.
2013 35th anniversary. Christmas concert at the West Cliff.
2014 First concert on the Band Stand.
2016 First concert at Flatford.
2017 Band plays at West Bergholt Fete for the first time since the early 1990s
2018 Charity monies raised since records began passes £40,000. A massed band finale of 75 musicians for our July 40th Anniversary Concert. Official 40th celebrated in November.
2019 Graham completes 25 years as conductor
2020-21 – Band continues through all the Covid Lockdowns with weekly Zoom rehearsals
2022 Band performs at Colchester’s first Musicircus event
First joint Christmas Concert with Heathlands School Choir
2023 45th anniversary, with Charity monies raised since records began passing £45,000
2024 Graham completes 30 years as conductor