The history of banding in Honiton stretches back through the years, with a variety of incarnations and names, from the ‘Honiton Volunteers’ and ‘Honiton Brass Band’, to the ‘Honiton Prize Silver Band’. Much of what we do know, is thanks to the efforts of Jim Kendall, who was the current band’s founder member and percussionist, until he retired in 2007 at the age of 85. Sadly, Jim passed away in January 2010 and is greatly missed.
During the 1800’s, there was a military style band in Honiton, which included the use of woodwind instruments and was known as the ‘Honiton Volunteers’. However, in 1904, the use of wind instruments ceased and the band was renamed the ‘Honiton Brass Band’. Unfortunately, this band was dissolved with the advent of war in 1914, when its members joined the war effort. Afterwards, the band managed to reform as the ‘Honiton Town Brass Band’. After entering contests and eventually winning a prize at Barnstaple, the band re-badged itself as the ‘Honiton Prize Silver Band’ and continued to flourish during the inter-war years. However, by 1939, the advent of war yet again impacted on the band, when it joined the Territorials as part ot the Devonshire Regiment. Its members were called up for war service and once again, banding in Honiton ceased.
After the war, there were several unsuccessful attempts made at re-forming the band. Eventually, in 1956, having discovered unused instruments in their offices, the then Honiton Borough Council asked their housing officer Jim Kendall to look into reviving the band. Although Jim was involved in dance bands, he had little knowledge of brass bands, but after much hard work and with the invaluable help of some pre-war members such as Don Connett, the band was reborn as the ‘Honiton Borough Band’’. It staged its first public concert in Christmas 1957, ably led by its first conductor, the late Arthur White, of Sidmouth. The band enjoyed the support of the town and had an enthusiastic first President, in well known Honitonian Arthur Dimond.
As with most bands in the area, the ‘Honiton Borough Band’ experienced fluctuating fortunes through the ensuing decades, at times flourishing and at other times, languishing ‘in the doldrums’. During the 1960s and early 1970s it worked very closely with Ottery St Mary Silver Band and also joined the County Council evening class scheme, which meant the band had use of the local school hall. However, by the mid 1970’s, with the demise of the borough councils, increasing fees and rehearsal space only being available during the school term, life became increasingly difficult for the band.
Fortunately, it had found a home during school holidays with the local Royal British Legion and in 1976, after negotiations with the then band secretary Geoff Dibsdall (Principal Euphonium) and the band committee, the band was offered affiliation with the local branch of the Royal British Legion. Once again the band re-badged itself and became known as the ‘Honiton (RBL) Band’ and after many years of impermanence, benefited from having a permanent ‘home’ at the RBL Club and Branch HQ in Dowell Street. This arrangement continued until 2004, when Charity Commission guidlelines meant the band could no longer use RBL in its name. Official affiliation had to cease, but the band, which re-styled itself simply as Honiton Band, continued to work closely with the local Branch. Due to these name changes, we are now often referred to by a variety of titles! If you see any variation on Honiton Band - ie Honiton Town Band, Honiton RBL Band, Honiton Silver Band, Honiton Brass Band, Honiton Town RBL Silver Brass Band .............. - that's us folks! When the RBL practice venue ceased to be available in 2011, the band moved to the Senior Citizens Centre and more recently it has found a home in Honiton's new community complex, The Beehive .
Throughout the years the band has seen a steady flow of youngsters through its ranks, thanks to the efforts of its tutors. Our previous tutor, Geoff Dibsdall, estimates that he has taught well in excess of 50 youngsters and other tutors - from John Woodland, who has since retired, to the late Cyril Emm - have brought on many learners. There has also been a strong tradition of families playing together, from parents and children, to husbands and wives. Admittedly, when it was first muted in the early years that women should be allowed to join the band, there was almost a walk out by a few ‘dyed in the wool’ chauvinists - what would they make of a female MD! In 2006 the band celebrated its 50th Anniversary and it was a pleasure to see so many former members renewing old acquaintances and friendships.
Throughout its years, Honiton Band has been fortunate in being led by a succession of talented conductors and musical directors, beginning with Arthur White. In particular, long periods of service were given by John Tiller, who retired in the early 1980’s after more than a decade of conducting and Arthur White’s son Graham, who followed in his father’s footsteps from 1984 to 1998. Shorter periods of service were also given by other conductors, including Steve Harze, Andrew Harris and Malcolm Avery. More recently the band was very grateful for the leadership of Arthur Williams, who sadly passed away in November 2013, after 9 years of service. This was a tragic loss for the band, as Arthur was an extremely popular and very talented MD - however the band were pleased to appoint Elizabeth A Carter as Musical Director in December 2013.
The band hopes that it will be able to ensure that banding in Honiton continues well into the future.