2004 Tour - Ireland

‘The Romans took one look at what they christened Hibernia (Winter Isle) and scurried off quickly leaving Ireland to the locals,’ remarked one erudite band member. ‘Doesn’t surprise me, Ireland is all rain, peat-bog and Guinness’ replied a somewhat pessimistic, wine-loving sun-worshipper.

True, this tour was something of an experiment in that we changed our destination and employed a tour company to make the arrangements, rather than use known contacts. The travel to Dublin literally went very smoothly as the notorious Irish Sea was flat calm. The sun shone all day and many of us had a lively taste of Dublin town on a Saturday night. Dublin has a population where 50% of the inhabitants are less than 25 years old. Couple this with a high influx of tourist groups made up of hen and stag parties and a warm evening and the resultant atmosphere rivalled Marple Bridge on a summer’s evening.

Our hotel, the Regency airport hotel, was comfortable but did subject us initially to the Irish Experience. It had muddled up rooms resulting in some mind-boggling partnerships, which we had to sort out ourselves. Otherwise the hotel provided good food and we had a communal evening meal there. Due to high prices of meals in hotels we usually split up and ate in small groups in local restaurants.

We had two concerts in Dublin, both on the Sunday. One was open-air, held on the bandstand in St. Stephen’s Green. Allan had democratically tried to dissuade us from playing as he feared rain and a poor turn-out. We voted to play and had rain and a poor turn-out! Allan is always right!! St. Stephen’s Green was the site for Public Executions and it is interesting to ponder what audiences were attracted on these occasions.

Our second concert was with St. Ann’s Church choir. There was a pleasantly mixed programme and the concert was well attended. Mazama was particularly well received as there were members of the audience who came from the region in the United States portrayed by the piece and who bought CDs. on the strength of it.

St. Ann’s Church has an interesting history of its own and is associated with many famous people such as Dr. Barnado and Oscar Wilde. Even to this day it supplies fresh loaves of bread to the needy, stored on the bread shelf visible near the altar.

We rounded off the evening at a Dublin hotel, normally the haunt of politicians and intellectuals, but on this occasion taken over by the musicians of the Werneth Concert Band so that Cecelia, the choir-mistress, could be given a formal presentation and the band could have well deserved refreshment.

After a free morning on the Monday we went to Bray. It started to rain heavily and we arrived in the church in a rather damp condition. The church was cold and the band was getting hungry. The acoustics were difficult and the rehearsal was rather dispiriting. We then had the ultimate heart-attack snack. Everything was deep fried, save the tomato ketchup. It warmed us up and put fresh life into us all. We returned to find we were facing a very small audience. Allan, with his usual flair for programming, quietly scrapped everything we had rehearsed earlier (perhaps he thought we wouldn’t notice!) and put together a snappy selection that elicited an enthusiastic response from our audience and the sale of some more CDs.

The next two days were free of concerts. We travelled across the very pastoral landscape to our next hotel, the greatest excitement on that journey being the Texaco garage forecourt! Our hotel was very comfortable and boasted a luxurious leisure centre. It was situated 5 miles outside Galway on an industrial estate near Oranmore and the views from the bedrooms were great if you like cranes and building sites!

Some of us took the Connemara tour option the following day and were treated to magnificent views, an interesting visit to Kylemore Abbey and a riveting commentary by the most Irish person we met the whole week. His name by some astonishing co-incidence was Alan Jones and he was born and bred in Somerset! Incidentally we were informed that ALAN means ‘cheerful harmony’ whereas ALLAN means ‘way out’. I cannot verify the truth of these assertions, so please draw your own conclusions!

Kylemore Abbey

We had two concerts on this side of the country. Both had very small audiences and had not been well publicised. Those who did attend were enthusiastic to the point of investing in more CDs, but we were very grateful to have our support team in the audience.

We played in the old Town Hall in Ballinasloe and with St. Patrick’s Brass Band in St. Patrick’s Church, Galway. We questioned why St. Patrick’s did not have their own support group but all became clear when we were told that there are only 4 families involved in the band. In fact 16 members were from the same family, which does not leave many spares to sit and listen!

Old Town Hall, Ballinasloe

St. Patrick’s Church, Galway

During our uneventful return trip we weighed up the pros and cons of this tour. Using the tour company (NST) cut down on the administrative work and enabled us to stay in very comfortable hotels at discounted rates in (allegedly) the most expensive country in Europe. Although it set up the venues for concerts, it did not generate big audiences and we felt that the publicity had been lax. We did learn just how important personal contacts are and it was felt that we will try to use our own contacts again another time.

The second hotel was not in an ideal location and the use one could make of free time was consequently limited. We all enjoyed the friendliness of the Irish people and visiting Galway and Dublin. Guinness was subjected to stringent quality control testing every day and passed with flying colours.

Special commendations for entrepreneurial techniques are due to Marjorie Bradley, Joyce Glynn and friends for their persuasive selling of CDs to an unsuspecting Irish public. Joint Firsts for the most original souvenir are awarded to the Parkers for their cut-down Guinness barrels (i.e. garden tubs) and the Seals for their acoustically designed wooden spoon set. We know how they like to stir things…………

The Magic Circle Prize is awarded to Alan Cotterill for his disappearing act in a Dublin taxi. The group exhibited unorthodox logic in choosing to try and hide the biggest individual when they had one passenger over the legal limit. The police actually failed to spot him even with the use of torches!!

Finally our thanks. Thanks to Allan for everything including instigating the band twenty-one years ago, for giving up so much of his time, visiting our venues before the trip and beating us into shape. Also to Pat for letting him! Thanks to our tour organiser, Richard, who took care of all the unrewarding donkey-work and saw to the day to day running of the trip with apparent grace and ease. Thanks to all the committee especially John Glynn and Nick Bradley. Thanks to the Davieses, Irene and David: Irene for her work as librarian and David as an unofficial jack of all trades back-stage.

Last, but not least, we would all like to thank our loyal supporters who turn out regularly and were particularly appreciated on this tour.

Christine Martin