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Pontins Champions 2001: The Cornish Cavaliers - The JAG Mount Charles Band

Ever Ready’s soprano player Les Palmer casts a very personal tribute to the lads and lasses of the newly crowned Pontins National Champions.

mount charles band

The JAG Mount Charles Band from Cornwall became Pontins Champions for the second time in three years last weekend with a stirring performance of Diadem of Gold conducted by Bryan Hurdley. The Bands soprano player Jon Small was also awarded the Arthur Bedwell Memorial Trophy for his superb playing of the notoriously difficult Soprano part in the piece.

But what of this emerging force from darkest Cornwall? Not perhaps the most familiar name in the banding world, they have now won the Pontins title twice as well as competing at this year’s All England Masters and the Grand Shield. Read on for a bit of an insight.

Back in 1779, the roots of the current Pontins champions were laid by the regiment of Cornish volunteers - several name changes and 166 years later, the band moved a short distance from the village of Charlestown to equally small Mount Charles and took on the name of the village where they still rehearse. In 1995 they moved into the old County Primary School, added an extension and transformed the place into the Mount Charles Band Club and Music Centre. Income from the club helps to swell the band funds and also provides the necessary post rehearsal sustenance.

After a few years in the lower sections, 1997 saw the Band regain their Championship Section status, and since then they have steadily improved with appearances at the Grand Shield and All England Masters contests, as well as becoming Pontins Champions in 1999 and again this year.

Bryan Hurdley has been involved with the Band for several years now, and whilst they have still to appear at the Royal Albert Hall, it can only be a matter of time before they achieve this distinction as well. However, they were also quick to praise the efforts of Resident Conductor David Loukes, who did a tremendous amount of work on the piece for Pontins, and also the 'Deps' that helped the Band to the title in Prestatyn

The band organisation also has a flourishing youth policy (indeed, most of the Senior Band players came through the Youth Band) and not to be outdone, the Youth Band has tasted their fair share of success. They recently won the overall title at the 2nd Exmouth Festival of Brass, against several senior Bands, and have been Southwest Youth Champions many times. Next year they will also be off to Italy, to attend the World Music Festival.

One of the most significant helping hands comes from their recently secured sponsorship deal from JAG, the South West's leading independent Mobile Telephone retailer, to help not only the Senior Band, but also the Junior Band as well to try and encourage more youngsters to learn to play brass instruments.

A very busy man is the Bands Soprano Cornet player, Jon Small. This year's winner of the best Soloist award at Pontins is also the conductor of the Mount Charles Youth Band. A Cornishman by birth, Jon started playing Cornet in that band when he was 10 years old. Three years later, after a tap on the head, he decided to try his hand at the Soprano Cornet and hasn't really looked back since.

After studying under Maurice Murphy, Denis Wick and Peter Gane at the Guildhall School of Music, Jon graduated and spent the next few years teaching and playing trumpet in various orchestras all over the Europe as well as the UK. In 1992 however, he returned to Cornwall, and was soon back in Mount Charles band on Soprano where his stylish playing has won many admirers and culminated in his success at the weekend.

The rest of the Band are equally committed and passionate about what they do, and I first came into contact with some of them via the Internet. With Cornish folk being of a very similar disposition to us Geordies, it was no great surprise that a bit of rapport was struck between us. In May at the Grand Shield and Masters contests, I finally got to meet some of the Band in person, and over 2 or 3 lagers I learned a little bit more about them, and their whole organisation.

The Band has a real family atmosphere about it, with 3 sets of brothers, a father and daughter, father and 2 sons, at least one courting couple and 3 husband and wife teams within it's ranks.

The latest couple to 'tie the knot' were Jon and Cretia Small, who were married in June of this year. Obviously the Band were booked to play at the wedding, but as Jon was otherwise engaged on the day, the Soprano players union swung into action, and I was delighted, and honoured, to be asked to play for the Band at the ceremony.

Arrangements were made, and one very warm June Friday, I set off to drive the 445 miles from Tyneside to Cornwall. 6 hours and several motorways later, I arrived at the palatial home of Band Chairman and percussionist, Derek Thomas and his charming wife Helen, the band's Solo Trombone player. After a quick drink, and an even quicker visit to my hotel to get changed, I arrived back at Derek & Helen's to find Brian Hurdley assisting (apparently) with the evening meal of steak and chips.

After tea, it was off to a rehearsal, and I got the chance to meet the full Band. I can honestly say that they are some of the friendliest people one could ever hope to meet, with a special thank you to the Band's Repiano Cornet player, Bianca Davies, for sorting my music out. After rehearsal, in the Band Club downstairs, I was liberally plied with more lager, and at closing time, much against my wishes, Ian Thomas insisted on dragging me into the local Kebab shop for some supper.

The wedding on Saturday was a super affair, with the Band in top form and the bride looking radiant. Back at the Band Club, after setting all the tables and blowing up what seemed like 2000 Balloons in preparation for the evening reception, there was just time for another quick change and a cup of tea at my hotel. This time Eb Bass player Jeremy Taylor picked me up and we proceeded to the reception via brother Simons home where there was just time for one or two more beers.

The Band has its fair share of characters, none more than Flugel Player, Peter Jackson. The guy obviously has exquisite taste (you only have to look at his better half Sarah, the Bands Solo Horn player to see that), but sadly this is where the good news ended.

For most of the weekend I was there, Peter tried to perfect a Geordie accent in a bid to imitate 'the voice of Big Brother'. 4 months down the line, at Pontins, it was still as bad as it was that night. I suspect he should have spent more time on instrument maintenance as just before the Band went on stage at Pontins, he managed to snap the tuning shank screw on his Flugel causing a little moment of panic. Happily for him and the Band, one of the instrument retailers came to their rescue with the loan of another shank screw.

Apologies to other members of the Band that haven't been named, but they all contributed to an excellent weekend, and made me feel most welcome.

So there you have it, Mount Charles Band in a nutshell. They certainly know how to party and have a good time, but also work very hard in the bandroom as well. They are a great bunch of people, and I'm proud to call them friends of mine. If you ever get the chance to meet them at a contest, or just happen to be in Cornwall on holiday, then go and say hello and find out for yourselves.

Jag Mount Charles Band

Professional Conductor
Bryan Hurdley

Resident Conductor
David Loukes

Soprano Cornet
Jon Small

Principal Cornet
Ian Thomas

Assistant Principal Cornet
Megan Alexander

Solo Cornets
Andrew Blewett
Lee Wylde

Repiano Cornet
Bianca Davies

2nd Cornets
Cretia Small
Adam Gore

3rd Cornets
Simon Taylor
Leanne Rowe

Peter Jackson

Solo Horn
Sarah Robins

1st Horn
Tracey Osborne

2nd Horn
Gavin Pedlar

1st Baritone
Terry Sleeman

2nd Baritone
Mervyn Westlake

Solo Euphonium
Shaun Thomas

2nd Euphonium
Neil Pascoe

Solo Trombone
Helen Thomas

2nd Trombone
Mike Davies

Bass Trombone
Paul Faraway

Eb Basses
Jeremy Taylor
Andrew Pascoe

BBb Basses
Keith Thomas

Derek Thomas
Duncan Alexander
Michael Smith

With thanks to Les Palmer.
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