History of the band
The band was formed in 1910 as the Craghead Colliery Band in the mining village of Craghead near Stanley in County Durham. The colliery formed a band to provide recreational activity and social outlet for the miners and to lead funeral processions following fatalities at the pit, and after reforming following World War I decided to enter the contest arena, becoming North of England Champions by 1924. The onset of World War II saw many band members leave County Durham to serve their country, many of whom did not return, however in 1950 a former principal cornet player with the band called Eric Cunningham did return to the North East and took up the baton. During an outstanding partnership lasting over 40 years Eric guided the band through great musical development, from 2nd section National Finals in the early 1950’s to Championship Section status in 1959, a position retained to this day. The band qualified to compete in the National Finals in the Royal Albert Hall for the first time in 1963 and have continued to qualify almost every year since, 36 times as Regional Champions.
The Ever Ready Days
Following closure of the colliery in 1968 the band gained sponsorship from the Ever Ready battery company, which saw the band change name to the Ever Ready Band and move its headquarters from a room above the Punch Bowl Inn at Craghead to the company’s offices in their new manufacturing plant at Tanfield Lea. In a partnership lasting for over 25 years negotiated by Ray Hutchinson, who was Band Secretary during that difficult time, the band was transformed from being a small colliery band into an internationally recognised works band, performing in concerts the length and breadth of the country and regularly appearing on national BBC radio and television. The band also went on to cement a formidable reputation in competitions, featuring in the prizes at the National and British Open Championships under the management of Ray and musical direction of Eric and Professional Musical Director Major Peter Parkes.
Following the closure of the Tanfield Lea factory in 1992 the band became self-supporting for some 12 years, retaining the Ever Ready name and continuing to maintain its reputation for first class concerts and prize winning status under the direction of Resident Conductor and ex player Stephen Malcolm and Professional Musical Director Nick Childs.
The Reg Vardy Days
In 2004 the North’s leading motor retailer, Reg Vardy plc agreed to sponsor the band. This coincided with the appointment of Ray Farr as Musical Director. Whilst continuing to maintain the bands competitive status the band became Durham University Brass Band in Residence, and Ray introduced the band to a range of innovative concerts, some of which saw a departure from conventional brass band programmes by featuring a mixture of brass band classics alongside big band and swing style music and appearing alongside concert pianists, violin players and singers.
Following Ray’s retirement from Durham University the band secured the services of Russell Gray as Professional Musical Director in 2013, which, along with renowned brass band conductor John Roberts as Resident Conductor saw a new consistency in the bands competitive status established, having finished in eighth place in the 2013, 2014 & 2015 National Finals. Following John Roberts’ departure to work with bands closer to his home the band recently entered into an exciting new era with the appointment of Australian euphonium star Brenden Wheeler as resident conductor, and look forward to continuing concert and contest success under the direction of Brenden and Russell.
The Reg Vardy Band has become one of the most successful brass bands in history having won the Northern Regional Championships more times than any other brass band in the country and are the only North East band to have competed in every major UK competition as well as the World Championships in Kerkrade, and they consistently feature in the World Brass Band Rankings top 20. The band’s reputation as the premier brass band in the North of England saw partnerships formed in 2014 with Geneva Instruments and more recently with Wallace Mutes and Hercules music stands. Band members assist Geneva in the development and trialling of new instruments and are privileged to play the very latest in the continuously developing range of Geneva instruments. Geneva also promote several high profile concerts for the band, including performing the prestigious Gala Concert following the 2017 French Open Brass Band Championships in Amboise, and engage some of their impressive list of instrument endorsees as guest soloists. The band look forward to continuing developments with this partnership. The band are also pleased have received a full set of the latest mutes from Wallace Mutes and recently took delivery of a set of new music stands from Hercules Stands, and are proud to continue promoting Geneva Instruments, Wallace Mutes and Hercules Stands at concerts and look forward to continuing partnership with all three companies.
In a new venture intended to open up and make available to others the huge wealth of knowledge and experience within the ranks of the Reg Vardy Band a series of masterclasses at North Durham Academy in Stanley and training sessions with several lower section bands have been instigated. As well as helping to develop brass players of the future and improve bands competition performances it is hoped that more bands and schools in the area will take advantage of the capability within the Reg Vardy Band to aid the development of brass bands in the North East of England. A considerable degree of success has already been achieved with the band being delighted to see one of the bands who received coaching sessions actually winning the 2016 Northern Regional 2nd Section title!
Away from competitions the Reg Vardy Band are renowned for giving high quality concerts which include innovative new original music alongside the more traditional brass band repertoire, and in 2015 entered into a partnership with Danish composer Jacob Vilhelm Larsen as Composer in Residence. Jacob has written several new pieces for the band including a completely new programme for the 2015 Brass in Concert Championships which saw the band achieve a highly creditable 5th place. As well as giving concerts in venues such as the Sage Gateshead, Durham and Newcastle Cathedrals and numerous town halls, churches and schools around the UK, the band have broadcast on national radio and television and recorded many commercial recordings, the most recent releases being two cd’s of music arranged by band member Alan Catherall who is renowned throughout the brass band movement for his outstanding arranging skills and whose arrangements are played by brass bands all over the world. Some of the bands higher profile engagements include joining the Durham Cathedral Choir in the Cathedral’s annual Christmas Concerts, performing alongside international operatic artistes and north east choirs in a special concert by InterOpera, and sharing the stage with the World number 1 & 2 ranked bands Cory and Tredegar in the 2015 Durham Brass Festival. The band has also recorded several programmes for BBC Songs of Praise, including a live recording for the BBC Songs of Praise Great North Passion which was voted “Best Event Tyneside” and “Best Event Overall” at the Newcastle Journal Culture Awards, and recently an ensemble from the band completed a marathon two day session recording material for use in 20 future Songs of Praise programmes.