Where better to start than with the man who gave 38 years as Musical Director, a true legend, Eric Cunningham.
Musical Director 1950-1988
Having worked with him often, I have always found him a sincere and modest gentleman, and above all, a fine musician.
Harry Mortimer C.B.E
Eric’s musical education commenced at the age of seven years when he started to take piano lessons. After a while he showed an interest in local brass bands and at nine years of age joined the Leadgate Mission Band to learn the tenor horn. In two years he had changed to the cornet and joined the Crookhall Colliery Band and by the age of fifteen, was playing principal cornet. In 1939 he moved to Craghead Colliery as principal cornet, a position he held until joining the Royal Navy 18 months later.
After the war Eric set down his roots in Bradford where he played with the Bradford City Band; however, the pull of the North East was so strong that Eric decided to travel back home where he re-joined The Crookhall Band as Solo Cornet.
After a period of two years he was beginning to get the urge to take up the baton as a conductor and his first appointment in 1950 was as Bandmaster of the Craghead Colliery Band at the tender age of twenty nine. At this time, Craghead were experiencing many problems but in 1953, the band were beginning to climb and qualified for the Second Section National Finals in London for the first time in the band’s history. Progress continued, competing at London in five Second Section Finals in the next six years.
Due to the band’s success, they were promoted to the Championship Section in 1958, whereafter a settling in period, the band qualified for the Championship Section of the National Finals in 1963.
Eric had many contesting successes with the band including Regional Championship wins in 1968, 69 & 70 and also back to back wins from 1972 to 1977. He also won BBC Band of the Year in 1974, 4th Prize at the National Brass Band Championships in 1976, 5th at the British Open in 1982 and 4th at the same contest in 1987. Eric also worked along side some of the biggest names in banding including Alex Mortimer, Walter Hargreaves, Major Peter Parkes, George Thompson and had a ten year long association with the great Harry Mortimer C.B.E.
Eric’s musical experience not only encompassed Brass Bands as he continued to play trumpet with local orchestras and brass groups whilst conducting the band. Eric had a keen interest in the theatre and was musical director for the New Tyne Theatre and held a similar position with Hebburn Operatic Society for many years.
Eric’s involvement in music always proved succesful and the band’s succeses during his 38 years were largely contributable to his dedication, enthusiasm and ability. Saturday 20th May 1989 saw a presentation concert in Eric’s honour after the announcement of his retirement. Ever Ready performed with a full massed brass band of former players directed by Professional Musical Director Major Peter Parkes and Resident Musical Director Roger Payne. Eric of course took to the podium to conduct his signature piece, Eric Ball’s High Peak. This was a fitting tribute to a man who had given so much to ‘his’ band.
A quiet person by nature, Eric never sought personal glory but worked so hard to further the standards of whatever musical group he worked with. Eric sadly passed away in April 2004 and is greatly missed by all who new him.
Eric Cunningham 1922 -2004