City's families have a long association with Britannia Band

The Chairman of the Britannia Band, Jim Goodman, says he hopes that facilitating music will form part of the cultural heritage that is incorporated into any future work at the former military base. His dream is to see a bandstand that can also perform the function of an outdoor, covered performance space at the Fort, and he is keen to share his vision with the Minister for Culture Arts and Leisure and other music/performance groups in the city.

THE Goodman family have a long and illustrious association with the Britannia Band which, like other band members', stretches back several generations.

The sepia-coloured photograph was taken in 1905, but the band was first recorded as operational in the Londonderry Guardian on December 20, 1866.

It was a uniformed band, and sported crimson banners that bore a blue centre and boasted the Derry Arms on the front.

Take a look at the black and white band photo that was taken in 1956 outside First Derry Presbyterian Church, and you'll see some familiar faces.

The late Tommy Finlay, who was 85, and who passed away just a few weeks ago is pictured on the right in the second row from the back. An amazing man, he was playing with the band the week before he passed, and four days before his death he attended a committee meeting to discuss band-related issues.

In the front of the photo are the band officers, with the then bandmaster Captain Cushing, seated third left. In the centre with arms folded is Sir Samuel Orr, the then Mayor of the city, and the Goodman brothers' father, Alban Goodman, was the bandmaster and is pictured second left on the second row. In the back row, third right is Ken Goodman, who is the current bandmaster, while Dessie is pictured second back, third left.

For the sake of completion, Sentinel historian and contributor, Trevor Temple also has family ties to the band. Take a look at the front row. Seated far left is his dad, William.

If anyone can pinpoint any family relatives in the photograph I'd love to hear about it, and, indeed, any stories about the band that have passed down through the generations.

The email to send information is olga.bradshaw@jpress.co.uk, or phone 028 7134 1175.

Jim Goodman, the chairman of the band as it is today, recalls joining the band in the 1950s, not long after the photo was taken. As a child he was musically gifted, much like his brothers, and his love of music and introduction to it began with the choir at Christ Church in the cityside, where he was a choirboy. Piano lessons led to his joining the band when he was 10 or 12.

"There is a long family association with the band. If you go right back to the beginning of the early 1900s my grandfather would dave been involved, and my father played the euphonium, and he later went on to become bandmaster. My other three brothers were in the band too.

Dessie, he was the eldest, and he played the clarinet and still does - all four brothers are still involved with the band - Ken is the bandmaster and used to play the French horn, and my other brother, Victor, plays French horn and I play the trumpet.

"I don't know what attracted me to the trumpet, but the cornet is the smaller brass band version of the trumpet and a lot of people start on that and some transfer to a more complex instrument," he says.

The history of the band holds deep fascination for Jim, who has done a lot of research - including scavenging through the cellar libraries at Magee where old newspapers like the Londonderry Guardian are stored.

After months of excavation, it has been established that the first reference to the band was in 1866.

"The band used to play at the Regatta and the band used to be on a barge and towed up the Foyle playing 'stirring airs'.

There is a lovely account in the papers; the language was great, that they were playing 'suitably stirring airs' as a canon went off to start the racing, and that went on for a long number of years."

The band members are not sure if the band was associated with the Royal or Loyal Institutions, and they are not even sure of the origin of the name or where it came from.

"There are a couple of theories about it. There is a Britannia Orange Lodge, and it could well be either the band emerged from members of the Lodge, but the other thing is the Britannia name is associated with the shipping industry and the naval connection.

"There was a big shipping works on the river, and my father was apprenticed down there, and it could well be that it might have emerged from ship workers, with workers carrying the banners depicting their trades," he said.

Campaign to build a bandstand for the City

MEETING the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure would be nothing sort of a golden opportunity for the Chairman of Britannia Band to state the case in favour of building a bandstand for the city.

In a frank discussion about the lack of cultural amenities in Londonderry, band chairman Jim Goodman said that the parks and open spaces of Belfast enjoyed a plethora of openair performance spaces, yet Londonderry, the second city, had none.

"This topic came up in band discussion during a committee meeting, and people were recalling how throughout the history of the band that we were able to give park and promenade concerts. Now there is no facility in the city for outside performance."

The Ebrington site and other similar developments are ideal possible locations for an bandstand, he believes.

"In actual fact, we made an approach to ILEX, and a group of band members went along to see the Ebrington site, and Mo Durkan gave us a tour. We put it to her that a bandstand is badly needed in the city. Plans are afoot for falling in with the new footbridge from the Guildhall over to the Ebrington site and we are trying our best to get them to build an outdoor performance area in that region. That would make it accessible to both sides of the river and it is an appropriate addition to the proposals for the site as I understand they want to develop the area as an area of cultural excellence," he said.

Mr Goodman believes a bandstand complete with performances would make an ideal addition to Sunday afternoon walks or taking visitors down to the riverside for a little sightseeing, but such a development would need to be covered to make sure the weather did not become an issue.

"It certainly needs to be covered. We were looking at a particular site that was quite sheltered, as quite a wind can blow up the Foyle. There was an area there that would do us quite well.

"We hope that other organisations could see the benefit of that and come in behind us or along with us to try to lobby the council, ILEX or whoever takes the final decisions.

"It wouldn't be just a bandstand, but an area that could be big enough to take an orchestra, or choirs and so on.

"I have written to the council and ILEX and have not taken it any further at the moment, but, given the Minister for Culture Arts and Tourism is Gregory Campbell, I would not mind having a discussion with him about getting some funding ringfenced specifically for a bandstand. I'm not sure if money has already been earmarked for the development of that site, I don't know the politics of it, but I would like the opportunity to discuss it with him.

"As I say, I don't know the politics of it, but I do know that if you are in Belfast you could go to a number of parks in summer nights and you will have people performing there but not in Londonderry. A city of our size needs something like that," he said.

The changing of the band

BRITANNIA Band was a flute band up until almost the turn of the Century and became a fully-fledged brass band after 1875, but in its time the band has played at some auspicious occasions.

In 1873 the band played at the laying of the foundation stone of the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall. It seems that the Britannia Band were 'the' band of the time.

"They probably were the only brass band of the time. There were a number of flute bands like the Hamilton Band, the Churchill Band. They were operating at that time, but the Britannia was probably the first of the brass bands," says Jim Goodman, the current chairman.

In addition to local 'gigs' that were prestigious enough, the band also travelled to auspicious occasions, like in 1876 when they travelled to Belfast to inaugurate the statue of Dr Cook which stands outside the RABI - better known as 'Academicals'.

"It was probably quite a journey for them you know, and it must have been a big affair if they were bringing a band up from Londonderry," notes Jim, adding: "It speaks of the calibre of the band that it was brought up to Belfast."

Winning a cup in the Londonderry Feis in 1905 was surpassed in 1912 when the band lead Sir Edward Carson across the bridge from the railway station to the Guildhall in 1912. A new hall in Society Street followed in 1935 - built by the members, and all during the war the band was in great demand for dances and to keep up spirits as rationing and the war effort took its toll on morale.

In the 1950s the band got new instruments and new uniforms, which cost the members 15 each, while in the 1960s the band remained active in events including the Portrush Fireworks displays, Christmas concerts, Battle of Britain parades, and they also bid farewell to Alban Goodman who retired as conductor.

It was in the 1970s that the baton passed to Ken Goodman, who is still the bandmaster today, and, again, new uniforms were bought. The 1970s proved a very active time for the band, and it was a case of all change again, as there was a move away from 'marching band' music to concert and cabaret style, and integral to that was the addition of a reed section to give more depth. Among the many competition triumphs of the time were the Ulster Hall-based NIBA championships as well as the Dublin International Music Festival.

One of the biggest highlights of the band's most recent history is the 2000 Millennium Tour to the Rhineland, while another is the CD 'Strike Up the Band', which has sold out.