Unfortunately all the early records of Drybrook Band have been lost but there is a lot of evidence that a Drum and Fife Band was in existence before 1870. Newspaper extracts prove that there was a brass band in 1881 and it seems that Mr F. Beechey conducted the band during these early years. In 1895, we find the first record of Drybrook Band winning prizes in a contest at Lydney.
During the war years (1914 - 1918) there was little mention of any bands in the Forest of Dean but we do know that one concert in January 1915 saw the band raise money for the war effort. There is evidence in 1918 that the band were beginning to attend church services, concerts and fetes once again.
During the early 1920's, depression and national strikes forced many members of the band to leave the Forest of Dean to seek work in Wales and the Midlands. However, in 1924 the band's fortunes seem to have been on the up as it was properly re-instated with a handful of old hands and new learners, who at first were loaned a set of second-hand instruments.
During the inter-war period, the band grew in status. They won several prizes, including the section First Prize at the 1938 Alexandra Palace contest in London (see photo below). The band was much depleted during the Second World War, as were many other bands, but nevertheless kept up their reputation. In 1940 it was decided to have a concert to give a lift to the folk of the parish.
It was in 1945 that the committee thought it was time that they had a professional Musical Director alongside their regular conductor, a situation that has continued intermittantly ever since. In 1950 they were invited to perform during a broadcast for BBC Bristol, the first of several radio performances over the coming decades.
The 60's saw the band contesting in the top section, in particular competing at the Daily Herald Top Section Finals at the Albert Hall in October 1963. In the 1970's calls for a permanent home were first made, culminating in the purchase of land and the building of our bandroom in the early 1980s. The Rt. Rev Robert Deakin formally opened the building on 29th September 1984.
A gradual decline, caused in part by the retirement of many players, left the band in the Fourth Section for several years around the turn of the century. However, from 2003 to 2006, a revitalised team and a new Musical Director, Kevin White, began to gain places in the Fourth Section and the band received a boost in the form of Sponsorship from the A. W. Parker Coal Merchants.
After a string of high finishes in the West of England Area Finals and two trips to the Nationals, the band was promoted to the Third Section in 2006. In the first year of Third Section competition, the band finished a respectable 8th. However, in 2008 the band came last in the section and 2009 saw but a small improvement with a 15 from 16 finish, ensuring relegation.
Away from the contest stage things were brighter. Throughout 2009 and into 2010, the band managed to raise enough funds to complete an extension of the bandroom, providing disabled access and toilet facilities and adding a new practise room. Thanks to David Bourne's tireless efforts, grants were also secured for a complete set of new windows and new (comfy!) chairs.
Determined to make an impact on their return to the Fourth Section, the band were only partially satisfied with a 4th place finish in 2010, causing them to miss out on a ticket to the Nationals by one place. The heartache was made even worse by the knowledge that the adjudicators initially disagreed over who should be placed 3rd and 4th. Despite this, victories in both the GBBA Entertainment and GBBA Own Choice contests, as well as wins at the Wychavon Festival of Brass and the SEWBBA Contest in Blaenavon made 2010 a successful year.
2011 started with a shock result, as the band defeated not only competition from the fourth section but also bands from the third and second sections in order to lift the Overall Winners trophy at the GBBA Entertainment Contest. Full of confidence, the band competed in the 2011 Regional Finals, coming fourth from 22 bands in the Fourth Section. Although they again narrowly missed out on a place at the National Finals (this year to be held agonisingly close in Cheltenham), their high position did secure promotion meaning that from January 2012, the band would once again be in the Third Section. During 2011, the band parted company with their Musical Director, Kevin White, and Steve Ruck was hired as the new MD. After good performances at the Wychavon and ODBBA Entertainment contests, the band returned to winning ways at the GBBA Own Choice contest, winning all five trophies on offer in Section C.
The band's first test in 2012 was the GBBA Entertainment Contest in February, held in Ross-on-Wye. After a strong performance, the band came away with Second Prize from a field of seven bands. The Regional Finals in Torquay followed and the return to the Third Section could not have gone much better, with a Second place finish providing the band with an invite to the National Finals in Cheltenham! The WEBBA Council also confirmed immediate promotion to the Second section for 2013. The band journeyed the short distance to Cheltenham for the National Finals and took sixth place from a field of 18 bands, an excellent result to mark the final performance with Steve Ruck at the helm. Josh Ruck led the band into the November contests, picking up where his father left off with Drybrook coming away with First Prize for their March performance of 'Army of the Nile'. They were beaten into second place in the Test Piece contest by City of Bristol. Drybrook's performance of 'Kingdom of Dragons' fell only one point short of their rivals and earned them the 'Highest Placed Third Section Band' prize. A week later saw the band travel to Blaenavon, where they reprised their performance of 'Kingdom of Dragons', soundly defeating their nine welsh opponents in the Third section.
The band opened the 2013 contesting year in fine style at Torquay, managing a sixth place finish with their rendition of 'The Plantagenets' in the Second Section. This result ensured their continued survival in the section and left them with an enviable position in the gradings going into 2014. Continuing their good form, the band attended the Weston-super-Mare contest in May and took 2nd place (from seven) with their performance of 'Oceans'. Following a good showing throughout the summer months in performances at Ross on Wye and Fownhope, disappointment was felt in Porthcawl where the band took fourth place at the Miners Entertainment Contest. Decent performances in November at the GBBA and Wessex Brass Band Association (WBBA) contests brought the contesting year to a pleasing close. It was also in 2013 that the band registered to become a Charity, providing the organisation with an improved legal position and a new line-up of trustees to ensure the continued future of the band.
2014 opened similarly to the previous, with another sixth place finish in the Second Section at Torquay, putting the band in a very strong position for promotion at the following year's Regionals. At Weston in May, the band undertook the task of performing Eric Ball's 'Resurgam' in the Own Choice contest. Despite the disappointing 6th place finish, the whole band were very pleased with their performance, which for many was felt to be one of the best of their career. Things only got better in the later half of the year, with a first place finish at the 2014 Miners Entertainment Contest in Porthcawl, an open format contest with 12 entrants from the fourth - second section. This victory gave the band an invitation to the Porthcawl Open in early 2015 where they would be able to perform against Championship and First section competition.
Seeking to improve the quality of rehearsals, the Trustees invested in new sound-deadening tiles for the Band Room ceiling during 2014, which made an immediate and noticeable impact to rehearsal difficulty - exactly what was required!
In November another two contest victories in two days allowed the band to close the year in style. They beat off rivals at the WBBA Own Choice contest in Bournemouth before returning home to defeat the competition at the GBBA Own Choice the following day.
2015 started with a performance at the Welsh Open in Porthcawl. Despite a result of joint 11th, the day, which saw the band compete against Championship and First section opposition, was an excellent learning experience and gave players stage time prior to the Regional Finals.
The band went on to win the Regional Finals (for the first time in 43 years), securing promotion to the First Section for the following year and continued in fine form, coming second at the Weston-super-Mare contest in May. In September, the band travelled to Cheltenham once more to compete at the National Finals, where they came a respectable 8th from 16. The final contest of the season was the WBBA Own Choice in Bournemouth, where the band came 13th from 18 with the very tricky 'Trittico'.
New heating for the Band Room ensured a warmer rehearsal environment leading into the winter period. A busy Christmas season followed with concerts in Fownhope and the Drybrook Memorial Hall, alongside many smaller carol events.
2016 started in the same vein as the previous year, with a trip to Porthcawl for the Welsh Open. Terrible weather and another disappointing result of 14th from 14 did not dampen the band's enjoyment of performing a piece especially commissioned for the ocassion and composed by our own percussionist, David Crowe. In Torquay, the band's first performance in the First Section of the Regional Finals for many decades resulted in a solid 11th place, leaving the band in a decent position on which to build.
With the Weston Concert not running in 2016, the band's focus then turned to the Welsh League contest in Merthyr in May followed by the expanded Bailey Lane Music Festival, which the band moved to Lakers School in order to increase available performance and rehearsal space.
The highlight of the summer programme was the band's performance at the Pershore Mid-Summer Festival of Brass, where they where honoured to be asked to perform in Pershore Abbey.
Autumn contesting took the band to the Wychavon Festival of Brass for the first time in several years, where they finished mid-table followed by a return to the GBBA Own Choice Contest in November, ending in a solid 2nd/3rd in the March/Test Piece results.
The run-in to Christmas saw the band hold their second "annual" concert at the Drybrook Memorial Hall, which brought in greater numbers and was another enjoyable success. Wishing to re-connect more with the local community, the band not only performed at the Mitcheldean Church Fayre and Drybrook Methodist Carol Service but players also went carolling around Drybrook and Mitcheldean. This tradition had lessened in previous years and was well received by locals.
Eager to improve on their regional result the previous year, the band started 2017 with a trip to the Oxford Own Choice Contest, where they performed the Regional Finals piece in front of adjudicator Paul Norley, who would also be adjudicator in Torquay. They were rewarded with a 3rd place finish from 5 and an excellent set of adjudication notes on which to build. Two weeks later the band took to the stage in Torquay for a second run of "Land of the Long White Cloud". Despite a nervy performance that did not meet the band's own standards, a result of 8th from 11 ensured survival in the First section for another year.
At the AGM in April, Mandy Hamer was awarded Life Membership of the Band for her 20 year service, joining a select group of current and former players. Early in the year, the Trustees also arranged for the Band Hall to be repainted, improving the feel of the venue.
The next contest appearance for the band, at Merthyr Tydfil in the May SEWBBA Own Choice, saw an excellent performance of "Kingdom of Dragons" sweep the band to first place, the first victory in the First Section since promotion.
In November, the band returned to Torquay for further experience of the Riviera Centre Stage, performing "Spectrum" and coming 11th from 12. Later in the month they reprised the piece at the SEWBBA Set Test Piece Contest in Merthyr where they claimed victory for the second time in 2017.
The Christmas period for the band was once again packed with carolling at local events in Drybrook, Mitcheldean, Ross on Wye and Monmouth and our third Christmas concert was held at the Memorial Hall with another record attendance, bringing the year to a close on a real high.
The focus for early 2018 was ensuring the band stayed in the First Section. With that in mind, the band returned to February's ODBBA contest for an early run out of the Regionals Piece, "Brass Metamorphosis". Following a good performance, the band achieved a 6 point winning margin over the remaining 7 Midlands and West of England bands, also taking home 'Best Cornet' and 'Best Horn' prizes. However, the recording showed up several areas of weakness that would need to be improved before the trip to Torquay in March.
Two weeks later, the band took to the stage at Torquay and after an energetic performance, came off pleased with their efforts. After a nerve-wracking afternoon of waiting, they were happy to receive a 7th place finish from sixteen bands, their best position since returning to the First Section and a placing which kept the band safe from relegation.
Early in the year, the Band Room was carpeted in order to deaden the sound further, which (along with the ceiling tiles replaced in 2014) further increased the difficulty of rehearsals. The 2018 AGM in April saw Life Membership bestowed on another three long-serving members, Lesley Harding (ex-player, trustee and current treasurer), Carol Kear (player & trustee) and Hugh James (player, trustee, Minutes Secretary and former Chairman).
The Band returned to Cardiff in April for the Welsh League contest and retained the First Section prizes with a rendition of "Connotations" by Edward Gregson.
Following another enjoyable summer of engagements in Fownhope, Ross on Wye, Pershore and a return to the Rising Sun in Moseley Green, in October the band were lucky enough to be invited to perform at the Pershore Midsummer Brass Fundraising concert in Pershore Abbey. Having played short sets in the Abbey for the previous three years during the Midsummer Brass festival itself, it was an excellent experience to contribute a full concert in such a great venue.
In November, the band returned to contesting, running out "Trittico" by James Curnow at the Leicestershire Brass Band Contest in Loughborough, where they came 3rd from a field of 10. They reprised the piece in Cardiff the following weekend, gaining a 4th Welsh victory in a row.
Following excellent results over the previous year, the band were delighted to enter 2019 with their highest ever World Ranking, placing 107th (in the 4barsrest Rankings). The band opened their contesting season with a trip to the Welsh Open in Porthcawl during February. The buildup and onstage performance was a very positive experience for the band, despite placing 12th from 14 on the day. Several weeks later the band were onstage at Torquay for the Regional Championships where their performance of "Symphony of Marches" resulting in an 11th place finish, securing First Section survival for another year.
The next contest experience was a new one for the band, with a trip down to Bugle for the 'West of England Bandsmen's Festival in June. In an amusing turn of events, our only competition in the First Section was fellow Gloucestershire band, Forest of Dean Brass, meaning that all trophies would return to the Forest regardless of the result! In the end, FODB took first place, but the trip and the excellent "Ad Undas" test piece was well worth the effort!
In June, the band also organised the 50th Bailey Lane End Music Festival, held once more at Five Acres High School. A large number of competitors took part across 9 classes, performing to an appreciative audience and our adjudicator, Chris Bond.
The band then enjoyed another successful summer concert season that saw seven varied and enjoyable events. The season kicked off with the annual visit to Fownhope to lead the march through the village and accompany the hymns at a church service. This was followed by concert appearances at Ross on Wye Bandstand, Pershore Midsummer Brass and The Rising Sun in Moseley Green. Before taking a short summer break, the band led the carnival procession once again in Ross on Wye. Following the break, the band presented a further concert at the restored Scarr Bandstand and concluded the season with the undoubted highlight, a "Last Night of the Proms" concert held at the Angel Inn, Pershore.
During October the band held a fundraising concert to raise funds for the band and the Cancer Research Relay for Life Charity. The event had a "Movies and Musicals" theme and the audience could enjoy popcorn and a quiz as they listened. The concert was well supported by our followers.
The November contest season was very successful with a 2nd place finish at the LBBA Contest in Loughborough followed by a First Section Win in Bournemouth at the Wessex Open, both with Philip Sparke's "Dances & Alleluias".
The year concluded with the band's 5th "annual" Christmas concert at Westbury Village Hall. The band retained their regular engagements at Mitcheldean Church Fayre, Drybrook Methodist Carol Service and at Ross Labels. Members were also able to perform carols live on BBC Gloucestershire!
2020 saw the band return to the Oxford Own Choice Contest in February to run out "Legacy" prior to the Torquay Regionals in March. Results of 6th from 7 and 12th from 18 respectively were disappointing for the band but nonetheless maintained our First Section status. The Torquay weekend remains an important social occasion within the banding year. The players were able to spend time together away from rehearsals with some enjoying the late night 80s disco at the hotel, the last social outing for many prior to the first COVID-19 lockdown! The pandemic resulted in the cancellation of all engagements in 2021, though limited COVID-secure rehearsals restarted in the Autumn through to December, until the introduction of Lockdown #3. While music-making was off, the band were able to continue improvements to the Band Room, finally completing a long-discussed refit of the kitchen and conversion of the old toilets to a second unisex toilet and additional storage room. LED lighting was also added to the Main Hall.
Banding at Drybrook turned digital in early 2021 but with the gradual relaxation of COVID restrictions, small group rehearsals restarted in May, followed by full rehearsals in June. Performances at the Rising Sun, Scarr Bandstand and Ross Bandstand followed through the summer, a very welcome return to normality for the band. Following several contest cancellations later in the year, the band finally took to the contesting stage in Poole at the Wessex BBA Own Choice Contest in November. A confident performance of 'A London Overture' saw the band awarded first prize in the first section. Furthermore, the band placed second overall across the entire field of 16 bands! Playing the own choice march ‘Army of the Nile’, the band also placed first overall in the open section march competition! A fantastic return to contesting to conclude the year.
Following a return to the Welsh Open in February, 2022 really got into gear with the return of the West of England Regionals, held in Cheltenham in April. The band were delighted with a 3rd place finish from 15 in the First Section, the highest Regional result in decades!
Information obtained from Maurice V. Bent's The Musical Tradition of Dean, Volume 1, from the writings of David Bourne and more recently from the recollections of Hugh James.