Pontins Champions 2001: The Cornish Cavaliers
- The JAG Mount Charles Band
Ever Readys soprano player Les Palmer casts a very personal
tribute to the lads and lasses of the newly crowned Pontins National
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 years 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
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
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. 6½ 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
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
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
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
Assistant Principal Cornet
With thanks to Les Palmer.