FESTIVE NOTES Westport Town Band members entertaining crowds gathered for Oktoberfest West in Gracy’s Bar at Westport House.
Few things are more symbolic of community than a town band. Made up of people of all ages and all backgrounds, they supply pomp, splendour and a sense of occasion to all sorts of events, all year round. There’s nothing like a cymbal clash, bass-drum boom and tuba toot to make the heart swell and spirit soar. It’s a feel-good thing. And when the faces responsible for the clashing, booming and tooting are familiar, well it just makes you feel part of it all, and part of a family of people. And it makes you feel proud of your town.
Formed around 130 years ago, the Westport Town Band is a perfect example of all of these things. Westport’s St Patrick’s Day parades and Corpus Christi processions have always been led by the band, while at Christmas time, their festive street recitals would melt the heart of the staunchest Scrooge.
More recently, their dashing blue-and-black uniforms, shining brasses and fresh repertoire brought a wonderful blend of tradition, excitement and ceremony to new additions to the town calendar, such as the Westport Flower Festival and the Oktoberfest West festival at Westport House.
But the Westport Town Band cannot survive on fresh airs alone. In the past, the members have relied on flag days and church-gate collections to keep going, while their new uniforms were sponsored by Portwest CEO Harry Hughes. Now, the 40-strong band needs new instruments – and your help.
These instruments don’t come cheap. A new tuba can cost several thousands of euros. (Cue a good tuba toot to cover the expletive you just uttered, reader!). To raise €10,000 to cover not only a new tuba, but also new trumpets and a new bass drum, as well as instrument repairs and general expenses, the band is holding a monster raffle, the draw for which will take place during a free concert this Saturday evening in Matt Molloy’s.
Speaking to The Mayo News, band member Roger Harley – the celebrated potter and proprietor of Absolutely Pottery on Quay Hill – explained that the band has been overwhelmed by the support that they’ve been shown by the town, with several businesses donating valuable prizes.
“At the moment we have tickets for sale – €2 a line, and €5 for a book of three. We have around 30 prizes, including a tablet computer, an Advance Pitstop Service worth €200, one of my own pottery lamps worth €150, a Jack Dylan hamper worth €100 and a voucher for Cian’s restaurant for €100. A lot of other restaurants, cafés, shops and other businesses around the town have given us vouchers and prizes.”
That’s a lot of tickets to pull out of the raffle drum in Matt Molloy’s, so to break it up, the band will do what they do best, and treat everyone to a few tunes between 6pm and 7pm.
“We’ll play in between each of the raffle draws. We want to give people a taste of the lively sort of tunes were playing at the moment. We also want to show people what we do, and maybe encourage people to join us.”
To cater for every occasion, the band is gradually expanding its repertoire of marches and pop, classical, religious and celebratory pieces.
“Recently we’ve been trying out theme music from films and old classics, songs like ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’, that sort of thing,” Roger reveals, adding that they’ve been working on a few Scottish tunes in the run-up to a town band festival in Castlebar, which takes place the weekend after the Matt Molloy’s fundraiser.
The band members – who range in age from 13 to almost 90 – meet up every Tuesday evening in McConville Park Community Centre, between 8pm and 9pm. They would be delighted to meet anyone interested in joining up and helping to keep this integral part of the town alive and vibrant.
If it sounds like something you would like to be part of, simply turn up to the centre a little early on a Tuesday evening, say at 7.45pm, and have a chat with musical director Barbara Rabbett, or any band member. Or give Barbara a ring on 098 25347. Before you know it, you could be marching proud in the blue and black, and part of the Westport’s most musical fabric.
Tickets for the upcoming raffle draw, which takes place in Matt Molloy’s this Saturday, can be purchased from Roger Harley in Absolutely Pottery, Matt Molloy’s, or any band member ahead of the event. Please note that the hour-long concert and draw starts at 6pm.