Formed by miners from the nearby Lady Victoria Colliery in 1892, Newtongrange Silver Band has outlived the mining industry that created it and is still a huge part of life in the village 125 years on.
The band continues to play concerts and contests up and down the country, as well as regular events in the village including Newtongrange Gala day and the band’s New Year’s Day march around the village followed by a packed concert in the Dean Tavern pub.
Newtongrange Silver Band secretary Harold Wells is excited by what 2017 could bring for the band, with trophies and anniversary celebrations in his thoughts.
He said: “We are very much looking forward to this year. We have got a few events in the pipeline over and above our normal busy calendar.
“It’s going to be hard work, but fun I’m sure.
“We have our major contest of the year to concentrate on first, the Scottish Championships in March. We have intensive rehearsals for that. We hope to gain promotion back up to the championship. If we do that we qualify for the national finals in September.
“It’s going to be a big and exciting year for us and we just want to improve the band and make the community of Newtongrange proud.”
Harold explained more about the band’s proud history.
“The band was originally started by Lady Victoria Colliery, supported by the Coal Board. It comprised of many local miners,” he said. “But of course things moved on from there when it closed in 1981/82. Then Bilston Colliery supported us. But of course it wasn’t long after that it closed as well.
“Although we still have strong links with the mining heritage, it’s very much the village band, and we represent Newtongrange at many events.”
Like most voluntary groups, the band hasn’t been without its tough times.
Harold added: “There are lots of bands throughout the county who struggle and fold through lack of interest or lack of funding.
“To be honest Newtongrange has come close to that. In 2006 they didn’t have enough players in the band to take part in the Scottish Championships and were close to folding.
“It was through the hard work of Angus Edmond, the principal cornet player. He went out there talking to people and getting them interested in joining – that’s how I got involved.
“That was early March 2007 and by May there was a fully functional band to take part in the British Open in Blackpool. We came eighth out of 22 bands, which was some achievement on such short time practicing.
“We can never be completely comfortable, but we are optimistic about the future.”
One of the big challenges for the band is the operating costs. Harold explained: “You are talking roughly £100 a week for a good conductor. You have to have somebody of substantial calibre to improve the band. We could have someone wave a stick about and get nowhere. It’s like a football team – you need to get a good manager to run a team.
“Every time we go to contests we have to buy the music to play, which could be £80-1o0. And you have expenses to get there and back too.
“Then there is the upkeep of instruments – it’s £10,000 for a tuba – so it all adds up.
“We do what we can and rely heavily on grants. For example, we are supported by the Dean Tavern. We also have subscriptions from band members.
“There are several things we have put a bid in for so we are hopeful of more funds.”
The Silver band’s ageing home on Dalhousie Road, next to the entrance to Newtongrange Star’s football ground, was recently given a new lease of life .
Harold explained: “Another cost is the band hall, for which we pay a rent and insurance. Given that it is over 100 years old, it’s not easy to keep a place like that wind and water tight. We were fortunate last year that somebody came forward with a significant donation to improve the hall.
“We have modernised the kitchen and upgraded the main band room. We also got double glazing fitted, which has made a huge difference.
“I believe that the hall was originally built by the land owner for joint use by the masonic lodge and the Silver band. Then the masonic lodge built its own place and since then it has just been the Silver band.”
The main band currently has 30 members, with the junior Silver band made up of 20-25 youngsters. The ages of the senior band members ranges from 18 to 60.
Harold added: “The junior band is thriving. The hope is that the juniors progress to take part in the senior band. We are looking to start an intermediary band to help the move from juniors to seniors.”
To join the Newtongrange Silver Band or to find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Newtongrange Silver Band kicked off its 125th anniversary year with the annual march around the village on January 1, playing as they went, before arriving at a busy Dean Tavern pub for its much loved New Year’s Day concert.
The band’s secretary Harold Wells was delighted with the donations raised on the day. He added: “On New Year’s Day as we were going round the streets the people gave us more than £1000. That shows how well the band is thought of by locals.” Local councillor Bryan Pottinger (Lab) spoke of the annual tradition, he said: “They had a very successful day this year. “It’s a traditional part of Newtongrange life. It has gone on for years. It has been hard to do it some years what with weather but they still do it. “They march round to each of the committee members houses getting refreshments as they go.”