History of the band
History of The Tullis Russell Mills Band 1919 – 2009
by Steven Craig
The Founder of the band
The Tullis Russell Mills Band was formed in 1919 as a social outlet for the mill workers, which all seems fairly straight forward until you research a bit deeper and find that although the statement is true it was a social outlet for the band the ideas and thoughts behind the band were much more than a social outlet. The band was formed by the then Chairman of the company Sir David Russell (1872-1956) of Silverburn, Markinch, Fife. Born the third son of David Russell senior (1831-1906), a partner in Robert Tullis and Company Ltd, papermakers based in Markinch, Fife, Sir David Russell became the driving force behind the expansion and evolution of this company into the major business of Tullis Russell and Company Ltd by the mid-1920s.
He was educated at Clifton Bank School, St Andrews before entering the family paper business, working first at the company’s merchant house in Edinburgh. While in Edinburgh he attended evening classes at Heriot Watt College, studying Engineering, Botany and Geology. From the mid-1890s, he worked in partnership with his elder brother, Robert Russell (1871-1939), in modernising the mills, developing new product lines and expanding the company’s markets.
In 1899, Sir David Russell was made a partner in Robert Tullis and Company. In 1906, the business underwent some restructuring and was re-named Tullis Russell and Company. Also in this year, Sir David Russell became a director of this company upon the death of his father. From this time on, Sir David became more and more both head of the company and head of the family. His keen eye for business and for process innovation saw the company continue to grow in the good times, and ride out the bad times, in the decades which followed. In 1925, David Russell would organise a buy-out of the Tullis family interest in the company. This would see him becoming effective sole head of the company for the next 30 years. The focus which this afforded the company, together with Sir David Russell’s acute business acumen, saw Tullis Russell make further progress, even in the difficult period of the 1930s. Russell also gained the reputation as an enlightened employer throughout his career, fostering a “family” atmosphere contemporary with the Cadbury Bourneville experience in and around the mills. The Cadbury Bourneville concept was to have much more available to workers other than just a job, the work area was more like a village, and most villages in the early 1900’s had a band, hence the reason why many think the Tullis Russell Band came about when it did.
The first picture (see Fig 1) of the “Mill Band” was taken a round 1920 and although none of the bandsmen can be named Sir David Russell is pictured third from the right, seated on the front row, Sir David also has a small girl with him who is thought to be his daughter.
Tullis Russell Mills Band Cira 1920
Brass bands in 1920 had been around for some considerable time and you can see from the picture that the instrumentation is similar to today’s modern brass band. It is also interesting to note that the Bass Drum on the left of the picture is still used today.
The Early Years 1919 – 1946
We the band was first started the men who came forward (and it was all men with the first female member of the band not joining until around 1958) very few if any would have had any formal musical training or experience, it is also thought that many of the men at the time would not have been able to read or write let alone read music. But men like David Bogie (grandfather of David Lowrie who played with the band from the 70’s till 2008) and Bob Summers came forward, with an abundance of enthusiasm and under the professional direction of the widely respected brass band conductor of the day Mr John Haldane. David Bogie recounted the story to his grandson Davis about the day the first set of instruments arrived in a big wooden crate. A rail wagon came in on the branch line at Markinch from Besson Instruments and the men that had signed up to play in the band met the rail wagon in the mill. The men lined up as the crate was being unloaded and depending on any previous experience (as two or three of the men are thought to have played with other local town bands such as Leslie, Coaltown and Auchtermuchty) they received the instruments that they were used to playing the others, well it went on physical size. The largest boxes unloaded were given to the biggest men, they became Bass player, the smaller instruments – cornets – were given to the smaller men and they men in the middle became the horns, baritone, euphonium and trombone players and so the Tullis Russell Mills Band was formed and ready to entertain.
There is a wonderful story about the band for the mid 1920’s, at this time the local gentry in Fife would visit Kinghorn to walk the promenade and to take the sea air, the story goes that on one occasion a Mr & Mrs Russell were out walking and they heard a band playing, so they walked on to investigate and listen. When they got near to the band they realised that if was in fact the Tullis Russell band and as the band were playing members of the committee were shaking tin cans and collecting from the public. Mrs Russell it is said was appalled that “her band” was begging on the streets for money. The story goes on to say that after this time the band received a handsome financial package from the mill, this arrangement continues even today which the band are very grateful
It wouldn’t take the band long to establish itself in the brass band world and by 1925 the band was starting to win prizes at a national level. John Haldane (The former band hall of Cowdenbeath Public in the High Street in Cowdenbeath was named after John Haldane – The Haldane Hall.) would stay with the band for a further 27 years which in today’s brass band world would be unheard off. During his time with the band John Haldane would make the band a household name in brass band circles and lead then to many local and national contesting successes. Even in the early days the mill band were prepared to try new and exciting things and around 1936-37 the band travelled south of the border to compete in a contest at Tynemouth where it gained second place. The taste of success south of the border must have been good because the band just after this success competed at Alexandra Palace in the Grand Shield Class of the World Brass Band Championships. The contest was the fore runner to the event we now know as the British Open. The band was due to compete again at this contest when war broke out in 1939.
Like many bands during the war period it merely ticked over until the war finished. Many pre-war players moved on to settle in other parts of the UK but players such as Angus Sutherland (trombone), George Baxter (cornet) and Willie Mitchelson (bass) returned to take up their former positions within the mill band. Only one – William Whyte did not return. Around this time another bandsman would join the band who would serve as a players and officials for over 60 years. Kiff Wallace joined as a young man and would serve the mill band as a player a member of the committee, resident bandmaster and junior band conductor and was responsible for producing some fine players notably his own son John Wallace amongst others. John Haldane finally gave up his position of conductor with the mill band in 1945 but stayed on in supervisory role and was still involved with the young players within the band. Another famous and well respected conductor was appointed to take over the musical direction of the band and Mr George Hawkins began conducting the band. Although only with the band for two years Mr Hawkins did achieve a 3rd place at the Scottish Championships with the band in 1946.
During 1948 another very successful conductor was to be appointed, Drake Rimmer a young conductor from Kirkcaldy who had proved with other Fife bands (Bowhill Colliery & Cupar Town) his potential and the nephew of the world famous brass band composer William Rimmer. Drake in his first year would conduct the band at a local contest in his home town of Kirkcaldy and win the contest by a staggering 16 points, a win in a contest today by 3 points is seen as a massive achievement so it can be taken that the conductor and players of the mill band on that day were very happy indeed.
Drake tasted success at the Scottish Championships in 1951 with a 3rd prize playing Romeo & Juliet with Govan Burgh winning on the day and Clydebank Burgh conducted by George Hawkins who had just left the band gaining second place. But the band and Drake Rimmer did not need to wait long to taste first prize success at the championships as in 1952 playing Unfinished Symphony the band gained first prize. Being crowned Scottish Champions allowed Tullis Russell to compete at the National Championships which were held in the Empress Hall in London
Many players who played in the winning band would stay with the band right through till the late 70’s and early eighties these included, Kiff Wallace (front row third from right) Duncan Campbell (front row third from left) Joe Walsh (top row far left) and Angus Sutherland (middle row fourth from right). The band chairman at the time was Adam Law and Adam can be seen sitting to the left of Drake Rimmer with the band secretary J Murdoch to the right.
Under the direction of Drake Rimmer the band would go on to achieve many notable successes as well as give countless concerts and radio broadcasts, even playing live when the BBC radio program “workers playtime” was broadcast live from the mill canteen. Some other major concerts included joining forces with the French National Radio Orchestra to perform Berlioz’s “Grand Mass for the Dead” in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. Having qualified to play in the National Finals in the Royal Albert Hall the band were also asked to played in the massed band concert the same evening, and members of the band enjoyed playing at a fantastic concert conducted on that night by Sir Malcolm Sargent. The band would also appear in the Royal Albert Hall in 1968 due to gaining second prize at the Scottish Championships in Boness under the direction of George Thompson.
During the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s there have been some excellent players who have come through the ranks of the band such as Kiff Wallace a fantastic musician and tutor to the mill band, playing in many positions throughout the years, George (doddie) Gilmour trombone player, George Baxter who spend countless hours with the junior band and took the junior quartet on to win the British Championships, Joe Walsh a soprano player who would have matched even today’s great sop players. Duncan Campbell whose depth and quality of sound on a euphonium amazed all who heard him, the cornet team of Harry Campbell and John Tonner providing a mixture of quality, sound and technique what more could any conductor ask from his top two cornets. Willie Penman on the old G trombone (with the handle to enable the lower positions to be reached) another great servant to the mill band especially in his roll as junior band tutor. In the late 50’s players like Bob McKinnes who is still playing with the band today, Tommy Stewart, Ian Green who is also still playing in a band, Chick Balsillie Bob Adair, Arthur Brown, George Drybourgh and Dave Wallace to name but a few all joined the band and many would play into the 90’s with TR. Then the next generation of great Tullis players in John Wallace, Jack Millar, Bob Ross, James Millar, (who would go on to conduct the band and win the Scottish Championships in 1985 in the Third Section),Stuart Drummond and James Gourlay all who have made a real name for themselves in the musical world outside brass bands.
The First Female Member
The Tullis Russell Mills Band had been a male only band (which was not through choice or any management decision but purely because of a lack of quality female players at that time and it should be pointed out that females now make up over 40% of the current Tullis Russell Band) but that would change when a young Anne Green would join the senior band from the Tullis Russell Junior Band. Anne is seen on the right of the picture just before she became a full member of the senior band, the other female on the left of the picture is Rona Moyes, both girls played with TR junior band.
Anne was asked to play at certain engagements with the band when they were short of a second horn player, but it wasn’t until Drake Rimmer left and Duncan Campbell took over that Anne became a full member of the band. The TR attendance book shows Ann’s first officially recorded rehearsal with the band as 27th November 1965 although she had been at many rehearsals before that.
After Anne joined the senior band full time it wasn’t long before Rona Moyes joined and then a young Sheonaidh Millar joined on the 3rd Dec 1966, female players were now part of the mill band and have been ever since. Anne and Rona also had the distinction of being the only two female players on stage at the Gala Concert in the Royal Albert Hall in London as at this time the top English bands did not have female players, which is still the case for certain English bands today.
In 1966 the committee of the band decided to change the way in which conductors were working with the band and appointed a resident conductor. Duncan Campbell who joined the band in 1938 and had been principle Euphonium with the band was given the task of conducting the band at all engagements except broadcasts and contests, this moved allowed the band to bring in other professional conductors, especially ones from down south. George Thompson was the first of these and working closely with the conducting team at Tullis, George Thompson guided the mill band to two top two places at the Scottish Championships in 1968 and also at Arbroath in 1970. George Thompson was the professional and full time conductor of the world famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band at the time he was working with the mill band. The mid sixties saw many excellent players join the ranks of Tullis Russell, player like Kenny Foster, Malcolm McHale, David Spence,
The mill band set up a unique record at a local contest by winning the Hymn Tune contest for 13 years in succession, the organisers decided a change was needed so they decided to introduce a March Contest instead, TR went along and won that as well, playing the Cossack by William Rimmer, the hymn tune which the band had so much success with was “Wendouree”
The Junior Band
The Tullis Russell Junior Band over the years has been a fantastic training ground for brass musicians, and many of the bands senior players came through the ranks of the junior band. Men like Alex Cunningham, Willie Penman, Kiff Wallace, and George Baxter all gave up 1000’s of hours of their spare time to take young musicians and train them to become accomplished players. The author of this history remembers vividly being in the home of Willie Penman and Kiff Wallace and being taken through a solo piece prior to the local solo and quartet contest, the author also remembers being in Kiff’s house with a quartet rehearsing, no idea what his neighbours must have thought in Bighty Crescent. The junior band provided many players for the senior band and at a level good enough to play in the Championship section. The junior band also took part in engagements on there own and Falkland and Kettle were two places that hosted concerts for the junior band on a regular basis. The names of the players who came into brass bands via the Tullis Russell Mills Junior Band is endless and tonight on stage and in the hall there are many. Latterly Jimmy Bogie, Alan Morrison and Gavin Lindsay have all been involved with the junior band.
The junior band has also seen a huge decline since the 1970’s and 80’s but this year (2009) a new youth initiative is being set up with a goal of having a full youth band playing in public by 2011.
Tullis Russell Junior Band 1971 – Conductor Willie Penman
The picture of the junior band from 1971 shows just how much of an impact it had on the band as no fewer than 9 of the 18 junior members in the picture went onto play with the senior band they were, Donald Cameron, Richard Adams, David Lowrie, Steven Craig, Margaret Williamson, Christine Palmer, John Horne, Aileen Adamson and Linda Carnegie.
The junior band has also seen a huge decline since the 1970’s and 80’s but this year (2009) a new youth initiative is being set up with a goal of having a full youth band playing in public by 2011. Funding has been secured from Awards for All and from the Tullis Russell Group to enable new instruments music and uniforms to be bought so hopefully in the not to distant future a new youth band picture will appear in the bands history.
The years 1972 – 1990
After the highs of the 50’s and the 60’s the band went into a bit of a decline in the early 70’s. The decade had started well with Duncan Campbell leading the band to a very creditable third place in Falkirk 1972 at the Scottish Championships and just missing out by one point on another return trip to London’s Royal Albert Hall. But after this contest the band lost quite a few senior and very important players to other local bands as well as retirement for some of the players from the 50’s and 60’s era. The band management side suffered as well as some senior committee members who were also company employees retired from the mill as well as the band at this time.
The band brought in youngsters from the junior band around 1977 but could not stop the slide from the Championship section and in 1978 the band were relegated from the top section after 46 years. A further decline in players seen the band fall deeper down the sections until 1981 when the band was relegated to the third section. Around the early eighties the bands fortunes began to pick up again when some more experienced players returned, David Spence, Steven Adair and Sheonaidh Spence to name but a few and the appointment of a young band chairman Steven Craig who had also just returned to the band. James Millar a local music school teacher and a very experienced brass player being as well as a former playing member of the band was asked to conduct and after a year in the job James Millar directed the band to a Championship win by winning the third section in Motherwell.
1985 Scottish Championship winning band (third Section) Conductor James Millar
This also meant a return trip to the Albert Hall where the band would represent Scotland in the third section national finals, the band gave an excellent performance on the day and ended up with 5th place. An overseas trip was undertaken in 1985 when the band visited Boblingen the twin town of Glenrothes, and this trip resulted in many high profile concerts being given in and around the town of Boblingen. In 1988 the band was off on its travels again but this time to the Isle of Man to take part in a very prestigious entertainment contest. The band appointed the professional conductor from Grimethorpe Colliery Band to take them to this contest and a very polished and slick performance under the direction of Ray Farr saw the band take first place only to be demoted into second place for exceeding the time they were allowed to play for.
Every generation within the band has produced players and stalwarts of the highest quality and from the 1990’s onwards this has been no different
From the 1990’s onwards the band has found its level within Scottish banding and although no longer competing at the top level has had some major success in local and national contests the last being in the National Finals in Harrogate on 2006 where the band under the Direction of Allan Morrison where placed third, this being the band’s highest ever placing at national level. The current band is very settled now and although always looking for new players (or old ones to come back) the future is looking good and in good hands with a management team who are running the band in a very professional way. Brass bands tend to work in cycles and have good periods fall away for a little while and then come back again, the next glory period of the Tullis Russell Mills band is just around the corner and all that are involved with the running of the band today are doing everything in there power to ensure the next 90 years will be as successful and entertaining as the last and with a new Youth Initiative being launched in Sept/Oct 2009 the future looks bright for the Mill Band.
Very little has been said about the current management team, players and the people behind the scenes who work tirelessly giving up 100’s of hours of their free time each year to ensure the band is run correctly, that the band are playing at contests, gala days or giving concerts and that the band is on a sound footing. The next chapter of the bands history will be written by someone else and it will be up to them to decide who the stalwarts of the band were during the early part of the new millennium.