Manchester and Pemberton

After returning to Manchester on an absolute high after the Whit Friday Contest yesterday, many of our entourage stayed up until the wee hours celebrating our successes in the foyer liquids lounge. Of course no-one was still in bed at lunchtime and no-one had a headache this afternoon.

Many spent the morning and early afternoon enjoying Manchester’s sights: wandering around, enjoying lunch in nice places, and visiting the Museum of Science and Industry and the Roman Ruins from AD 79 in Castlefield. Others visited the nearby Cathedral or the Picadilly Gardens Marketplace where there was a great variety of food. Some enjoyed ostrich burgers (which apparently tasted like emu) and the many street performers provided great entertainment, in particular the ‘Mad Drummer’ who was observed by many.

Nelson and Kim went to ‘Wilsons Peveril of the Peak Hotel’ and another group spent the afternoon at the ‘Grey Horse Inn’ sampling the ales and bitters (they were obviously the lot who didn’t stay up until breakfast time!) Many enjoyed walking along the tow paths beside the canals and watching the long boats. Prior to engines, these paths were used by horses that pulled the boats along the canals.

Today we had two wonderful washerwomen, Elsie and Barb, who took some big bags of washing to a nearby laundromat (yes, all the takers were the young blokes). Thank you to you both, and also to Silver who chaperoned the ladies in the cab.

Phil apparently lost his wife while out shopping, or maybe she lost him, and then he almost got himself run over on the Manchester tram lines. Phil had only just commented to Hilly that he didn’t think the trams were running today, when a shrill whistle from behind promptly declared him incorrect. I shall not print the ensuing conversation. In coincidental timing, John O’Connor (one of our tour sponsors) had just sent a text to Alan to check on DD (Daryl Disaster), commenting that he hoped Daryl hadn’t been lost, nor caused fire, flood or any other mayhem. So far, DD has only been involved in a pink t-shirt disaster and a near-death experience on a Manchester tram line.

We all met in the foyer in the afternoon; our first chance for Phil (who by this stage had calmed his nerves with a beverage) to congratulate the band on yesterday’s incredible results. Phil also reflected on the indescribable atmosphere that we had enjoyed in the small villages throughout Saddleworth. The crowd had certainly loved the Aussies. We felt like we had won The Ashes. George Fairhurst, our Contest guide from Pemberton Band, described our involvement in the Contest just beautifully in a post on our blog:

‘Having attended Whit Friday marches as a player (since my Bass was a Cornet) I have experienced Whit Friday on many, many occasions and have never seen a reaction from the onlookers as they did when they saw the Traralgon Band march and play at the various venues. Many comments were made in good old Yorkshire accents… ‘E’up, its thoauzeezz, best give these eer lads un lassie a good lis’nin to’, roughly translated as: ‘Now then, it is the Australian band. I think we should listen to the ladies and gentlemen of this band play’, and ‘Th’inn geet a reet good sound’, translated as, ‘I say old boy. This band really does have a well-balanced and tuneful sound.’   The band received rapturous applause and cheering after each rendition and at every venue. It was a privilege to be there and with the band during the day.  Always remember that when and if other bands attend from Australia, Traralgon was the first, and no other bands will be able to beat that and all the members and players will be able to say, ‘I WAS THERE’, and so was I.  Once again, thank you for the invite, you did your band and country proud.’                     Thank you again George.

We also presented Steve and Heidi Mayze with a certificate of appreciation for their contribution towards our tour and thanked them for joining us on the Manchester/Whit Friday section of our tour.

At 6.30pm we departed the hotel to meet with the Pemberton Band whom we have been corresponding with for many months. Due to their small bandroom size, they had organized a function room in a sporting stadium for us to meet. We formed a massed bands arrangement and enjoyed over an hour of combined music-making, playing music from the folders of both bands, including: Sparkling Diamonds, Windows of the World, The Man from Snowy River, Proud Mary and The Seal Lullaby. We were all in awe of the rich sound of the Pemberton players. Young Lewis was only 9 years old and played the kit like a pro, and the other members of the band were just beautiful to listen to. We then enjoyed a lovely supper that had been provided by the Pemberton Band, and later shared our stories of banding and the Whit Friday Contest. Alan presented George with various tokens of our appreciation: an engraved glass plaque, a tie, Gippsland calendars, a tour jacket and shirt, and a beautiful certificate, while each player was given a golden kangaroo brooch pin. Robbie lived up to his ‘Angel Boy’ status and was a hit with the ladies, with a group of them offering him accommodation for this forthcoming 7-month stay in England. We all thoroughly enjoyed our night with Pemberton and thank them immensely for their hospitality and friendship.

Back at home we have many incredible supporters, such as Lulani Humphries and Walter Pope (Wally and Sandra’s son) who have been leaving some lovely messages on our blog. We also send a big thank you to Kerrie Demosthenous from Totally Workwear in Traralgon – our tour jackets are warm, cosy and look great. There has also been a fantastic crew running the Gippsland Coffee Cab whilst we are away – a big shout goes out to Susan, Grace, Michelle and Sam. Thank you team.

Young Lachlan has been counting Mini Coopers and saw 69 of them in London and Manchester!   Leon had everyone looking for kookaburras in the courtyard area, but fooled them with his realistic impersonations. And Jeff, well he finally washed after 5 days away ;0)

Thank you to all who have left encouraging messages on our social media sites, and to those who are eagerly checking our results from the contest events.

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Whit Friday

Well it is no wonder that Whit Friday is referred to as the ‘Greatest free show on Earth!’  For most of us, I am sure this day will go down as the most memorable in our banding history.

The Whit Friday Contest in Stalybridge dates back to at least 1870, with Uppermill and Mossley starting their own contests in 1884.  Inadvertently, this launched the current-day contest across 11 towns and villages. To qualify for the Area Prize in either Tameside or Saddleworth, bands need to compete in at least six contests in their specific area. Whit Friday has become an international event, with the largest amount of prize money that can be won at any brass banding contest throughout the world.  It is claimed that hundreds of thousands of people attend the contest each year, and we can proudly say that we were the first Australian band to ever compete.

We started the day slowly before meeting at 1.30pm for marching practise. Finding a place to practise was Obstacle #1. A small carpark a couple of blocks away was recommended – smack in the middle of Manchester’s China Town precinct.  We marched back and forth between the narrow rows of vehicles to the applause of an intoxicated bunch sitting in the Chinese gazebo, before being abruptly asked to leave the carpark by a cranky parking inspector. We then gathered to the side of the carpark to rehearse our static march, with many onlookers taking photographs and cheering us on.  With all the roadworks presently going on around our hotel, Obstacle #2 was then finding a place for us to load our bus coach.  Once loaded, we headed off excitedly, with no idea of the thrills and adventures that lie ahead.  Our corch drarver (coach driver), Phil Lynch, had been involved in Whit Friday numerous times over the years and was skilled at manouvering the coach through the narrow roads and villages that were filled with 100+ other coaches. We were also lucky to have George Fairhurst from Pemberton Band traveling with us as a guide for the day.

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Our first stop was a beautiful, lush little village called Greenfield. With no time to be wasted, we clambered off the coach excitedly and were greeted on the street by huge welcomes as we moved into marching formation and were ‘dressed’ by Drum Major Phil Medhurt. We were the third band to visit Greenfield for the day, thus we didn’t have to wait long before stepping off. The sound of Waltzing Matilda echoing through the tall stone buildings on either side of the street was simply amazing; a very proud moment.  We were then ushered around the corner to the village green, where hundreds of people were gathered to listen to each band’s static march (we were allowed 25 players without percussion, and had to play in band formation to an adjudicator who was sitting in a little motorhome vehicle on the green, unable to see each band’s identity).  We had a large, enthusiastic crowd in this beautiful village, which also offered a carnival-like atmosphere for families in the park.  People seemed incredulous that we had traveled from Australia to take part in the Whit Friday comps.

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Our next stop was Uppermill.  The people here had been hoping we would visit their village after hearing of us in a recent newspaper article in the Oldham Times titled, ‘Oz band to join the brass fest?’, which speculated about our attendance at the Contest.  ‘A brass band from Down Under may waltz into view at tomorrow’s Saddleworth Whit Friday brass band contest…… In a note to Phil Beckwith, a brass band tour organiser from Delph, the band stated: “We believe we will be the first Australian band to play at the contest, which will be very exciting.” Mr Beckwith said: “I believe 50 bandsmen and followers may be attending but we are still waiting for final confirmation.”….. Robert Rodgers, chairman of the Delph contest and coordinator of the central group of contestants, said up to 130 bands are expected to compete in the marathon event. He said: “It will be another coup in the fact that we are reliably informed the Australian band would be complete with Kangaroo mascots.”‘  

It was at this point that we realised that instead of our lovely tour jackets, we should have dressed our supporters in Kangaroo Onesies. Young Lachlan Wilson was an absolute hit in this village and we had press photographers milling around the whole time. On lady realised that we were from Australia and said, ‘Aw, they’re all so cute.’  #gotthatright.  We met people from Swansea and Bondi, and a young man from Sydney who is currently playing Euphonium with the Wandle Academy Band in the UK.  Others wanted to hang our flag and shake our hands. The cheering was incredible.

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Third stop was a beautiful township called Dobcross, with steep hills, narrow winding roads, and houses right on the roadsides.  Here Alan Wilson was interviewed by a team from the Manchester News, who have offered to send their footage and news story to our local WIN TV station in Traralgon.  In this town, the crowd was huge and we certainly felt famous. Wally and others reported being in ‘Brass Band Heaven!’  Our supporters again marched ahead of us and behind, carrying our banner, Aussie flags, boppers and massive grins. Phil Medhurst was also interviewed for the local newspaper and other photographers followed us around. The march was steep, down a little road flanked by tall, old buildings, and the sound of Waltzing Matilda echoed loud and strong through the streets.  Our static performance was on a hilly clearing underneath a beautiful old tree filled with fairy lights.  People in the crowd reported that we had received the biggest welcome and applause for the day. Some even gave us a standing ovation.  The weather, which had been forecast as 11 degrees with rain and possible snow, was better than we could have hoped for, with the morning rain ceasing and the sun now shining across the hills.

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Our fourth, and most thrilling village for the day was Delph.  In the famous movie, ‘Brassed Off’, the march through the street was filmed in Delph.  As Brad quoted, the contest in Delph ‘was 100 times bigger and better than we could have ever imagined. You Tube and Google don’t do this event justice. Loved every second.‘ Delph is one of the most famous and popular villages in the Contest due to its massive, cheering crowds and party atmosphere. After arriving in Delph, our swift ‘Runner’, Kim Woods, exited the bus to ‘Go Kimmy’ and ‘Run, Kim, Run’ chants and ran to register us at the registration tent. We had 10 bands ahead of us, which meant a long line of coaches and a 45-minute wait until it was our turn. This gave us a chance to walk in to the village to enjoy the atmosphere, take photographs and check the air pressure in the left rear bus tyre (code name for ‘Find a pint’, lol!)  I have never seen the members of our band looking so happy; this place was totally indescribable and overwhelming.  Phil put on a hilarious show whilst dressing the band (i.e.: almost lost his voice), to the cheers of the crowd, who engaged in constant banter, Aussie jokes and Aussie songs.   Just as Phil yelled, “Band, by the centre, quick…” a spectator started singing ‘Tie me kangaroo down, sport’, which of course led to an outbreak of laughter from band members as we stepped off and attempted to start playing.  We had a crowd separator ahead of us to part the crowd as we marched downhill through the thousands of people lining the streets.  Spectators were singing along to Waltzing Matilda, screaming out words of encouragement, cheering and clapping.  As the band came to a halt at the bottom of the hill and the cheering slowed, we heard one man say, ‘Well, that were great, that were’.

It became apparent to us in Delph that English bands do not wear marching caps, thus there was much attention towards our smart uniforms and marching caps.  This is apparently how many of the locals identified us upon arrival.  We were asked numerous times, ‘Where’s my bloody brudda?’ (from Crocodile Dundee), and even met the lovely man who was the adjudicator in the movie, ‘Brassed Off’.  Deb asked him for a kiss and he replied, ‘Aye, you can kiss me.’  In Delph, there was also much laughter about the pronunciation of Traralgon; our favourites being ‘Tarragon’ and ‘Tarra-larra-gon’ – add strong northern accent and then ROFL!!  One of our supporters reflected on a man almost in tears after hearing about the French leg of our tour; there has certainly been a lot of interest about our itinerary.  Another local was chatting to a band member and said, ‘We come from about five miles away, and it’s quite a way. Where do you come from?’, and another dear lady asked Vic if we were at least staying overnight after our long trip. Haha!  Probably a good idea! We were again told that we had received the biggest cheer of the day, which was an absolute compliment given how many bands pass through Delph, and we even made the Twitter feed at 4BarsRest.

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In Denshaw, our fifth village, there was no queue and we were off and back on the bus within 15 minutes. This was a quaint village; the home of Professor Nicholas Childs from the Black Dyke Mills Band.  A group of little girls were following us to get some selfies, and couldn’t believe it when we put caps on them and took photos of them in front of the whole band. Their smiles were priceless.

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Scouthead was our sixth stop.  Our goal had been to visit six competitions, but by Scouthead we were still going strong.  This place was cold.  We played after the Pemberton B band to a friendly crowd, who were also probably semi-frozen like us.  After the short uphill march, we were then ushered around the corner, up the hill, along the public footpath (there was a sign!!) which was actually a muddy path through a muddy paddock to a muddy playing area, right in front of the lone little motorhome that probably contained a warm, cosy adjudicator drinking stout. The wind whistled through the paddock, and by this stage we had all honed our northern accent to make comments such as, ‘Are you sure it’s summer next week?’, ‘I think I’ll snap in two and be stuck in a paddock in Scouthead forever’ and ‘Where’s the nearest pub?’  It was at Scouthead that Debbie and I decided on four new names for the seasons here; Winter, Just-after-winter, Coming-into-winter, and Nearly-winter.

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By the time we got to Mossley, we apologised to Scouthead for calling it the coldest place on earth. Here, we waited for a long time to play, chatting to the locals in the warm pizza shop as an excuse to stay warm.  Although we didn’t go inside, most were impressed to hear that the local band club has beer on tap!  We used clip-on lights on our music lyres to see in the dark during the Mossley march, and then Lachie had the chance to conduct the band as we played the last part of The Viking to a cheery crowd on a semi-deserted basketball court under bright lights.  It was in Mossley that we realised we were competing in the Championship Grade for these events, thus our hopes for a placement seemed just a little further away.

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As we reached our final destination, Broadoak, at around 11pm, we were informed that the final band for the evening had just marched off. However, given that we were the Aussies, they decided to let us march.  Somehow, the weather seemed milder by this time of the evening and we were excited to have made it to 8 competitions throughout the afternoon. Nicholas Childs had told us that making it to 6 events would keep us busy, so 8 was just awesome. Following the march down a dark residential street and across a bumpy, damaged road, we played our static march on a lovely little well-lit stage to an enthusiastic audience, outside the local pub.  A highlight in Broadoak was Robbie (the Angel Boy) being asked to play ‘God Save the Queen’ with a small mixed band at the end of the evening to conclude the contest.  This was followed by cheering, hugging, reflections and a nice cold celebratory drink in the pub before the bus departed and returned us to our hotel around 12.40am.  None of us could have EVER imagined how exciting and amazing this contest would be.  As a band, we felt incredibly proud of our achievements, our reception within local villages and towns, and the fact that we were not only representing Tarra-larra-gon, but also Gippsland, Victoria and Australia.  Aussie, Aussie, Aussie……

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Today would not have been possible without the following contributors:

  • We send a huge thanks to George from Pemberton Band for his guidance and leadership today.
  • To Kim Woods, you were the best (and only) Band Runner we have ever had. Your speed in getting off that bus and registering our band at each location was incredible!
  • To our banner carriers, Jen and Brenda, thank you for marching in front of the band at every event.
  • To the Blue Wig Brigade – we love you and thank you for your cheering, escapades and support. As one spectator commented, ‘Gee it must be cold up here; that lady’s hair has turned blue.’
  • To our ‘corch drarver’ Phil – you are are very good at driving a big coach around tiny little streets.
  • To Kerrie and Jeremy, the band babysitters who looked after Heath and Angus all day – you were so patient and helpful.
  • To all who photographed the band today, in particular Kim Woods, Steve Mayze and Neil Fitzclarence, the memories you have captured will last forever.
  • To our Drum Major, President Phil Medhurst – hilarious! I hope you can still speak tomorrow.
  • To our Musical Director, Wally Pope, we thank you for your musical leadership and professionalism throughout the day.
  • And to our UK/France Committee Chairperson, Alan Wilson, without you, today would not have been possible. ‘Thank you’ does not properly express the gratitude we have for all that you have worked towards and achieved.

In other news, we welcomed past Traralgon Band player, Steve Mayze, and his wife Heidi along for our Manchester journey.  Steve is an old friend of the band and Steve and Heidi have supported our tour financially. It has been lovely catching up with them and having their support for the Whit Friday Contest. Steve has also been incredibly helpful in assisting me with iPhoto and my new Mac computer.

We also put some champagne in the Heskey today to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of the lovely Barb and Terry Heskey.  Congratulations to you both on this wonderful milestone. We are so glad that we could share this special day with you.

And…the silver-haired fox has been at it again!  I didn’t write about Harry’s first misdemeanour for fear of embarrassing him, but  now that he has backed it up and there has been so much laughter, he is happy for me to share.  As we were departing Black Dyke Bandroom on Thursday, let’s just say that Harry (aka Silver) was impolitely touched by a very drunk female wanderer, leading to great embarrassment and incredulation. Then today, his popularity with the women continued when he was asked very provocatively by another intoxicated local (the one in the Chinese gazebo) if she could: Bang…..His…..Drum! OMG. Silver was speechless. Again. Luckily a smile speaks a thousand words, and we know that he was secretly feeling like a stud. A Manchester Stud.

Earlier today, 10 lucky people picked up their pre-ordered pocket troom-pets. A big thanks to Jeff Steele who played the Swannies song on my purchase (a very happy daughter back home!), and to Lachlan Wilson, who paraded his trumpet throughout the foyer.  Alan and Tracy met with Graham and Jen Butcher and their young children to thank them for their percussion hire throughout the UK and France and to give some lovely Aussie gifts to their children, Roxie and Rudy.  It is also wonderful to note that our Sale Band contingent (Leon & Riawena, Monique & Tom, Phil & Lee, Ray & Bev and Shirley H) met with players from the English Sale Band to present a plaque to their ‘sister’ band whom they have been corresponding with for a number of years.  In sad news, Tom’s parents didn’t Skype him today as planned. Luckily Tom had the Whit Friday Contest to distract him from this rejection.

Well it has been a massive 24 hours and we really can’t believe what we have just experienced. News has just come in that we were awarded:

  • Best non-UK Band in the Denshaw Contest
  • Best Deportment (not deportation, Phil) in Uppermill and Broadoak, and possibly second in the Greenfield Contest for deportment also (depends if ‘City of Trenyager’ really means ‘City of Traralgon’ – yes, this has just been confirmed!)
  • Second place in Third Section at Scouthead & Austerlands. It seems that freezing our bits off was worth it at Scouthead as we have won 75 quid for our efforts.
  • At Delph, the busiest of the 11 contest sites, we achieved a very proud 26th place out of 77 bands overall.

As Jimmy Baldwin would have said, ‘Bloody marvellous!’

Please see many more photos in our blog gallery. Thank you to all who have sent us messages personally, on Facebook and through our blog. Please make sure you ‘Like’ our Facebook page to read these wonderful messages.

Black Dyke Magic

We were up bright and early today and on the road to Manchester by 9am. Our ‘corch’ driver packed the ‘troom-pets’ on the ‘boos’ and we were off. What an entertaining driver. The trip was very scenic, with lush, green meadows, and dense, tree-lined ‘mor-aways’. There was a lot of laughter along the way, with people sharing their stories and observations. We phoned our sound and lighting technician, Chris Stammers, along the journey and everyone was thrilled to hear Chris’ voice. Special thanks goes to our strong, muscular, buff, talented, organized, capable bus packers – Leon, Brad and Jeremy (did I get that right, fellas?), and also our group luggage handlers. The transit groups are operating well and luckily we haven’t lost anyone or anything so far. It is a credit to all that we have been ahead of schedule at all group transit times.

We continued our four-hour journey with a music trivia quiz (thanks Bec!), a mathematical quiz (thanks to Craig and the grey elephants in Denmark), some amazing animal and didgeridoo impersonations (excelling yourself again Craig, ROFL!!) and more incredible didgeridoo imitations thanks to Leon – amazing! Such a talented bunch. Today’s ‘Quotes Quiz’ included famous quotes from our band room, including:

  • ‘I’ve got a big input’ (said by Wally and followed by hysterical laughter for the remainder of rehearsal).
  • ‘We need to plan our route around the town’ (not what we expected from you, Dave).
  • ‘When you raise your eyebrows, you’re in tune’ (Wally).
  • ‘Just there at bar 4, I’m a bit shag-on-a-rockish’ (Sue was playing alone, probably because the horns were still laughing at Wally’s big input).
  • ‘You’ve gotta get it in and out quickly’ (Alex, referring to his trombone slide of course).
  • ‘Have we got the sponsor’s logo on that?’ (Hilly), always followed by, ‘About the banners…..’
  • ‘We don’t play ‘Simon Says’, we play, ‘Wally Says’. We don’t play, ‘Where’s Wally?’, we play, ‘Where’s Dave?’ And sometimes we play ‘Wally says, ‘Where’s Dave?’’ (haha, Bec!!)
  • ‘That was like a slap with a wet fish. C’mon! Hit me with it.’ (Wally to Robbie).
  • ‘That’s not a bell tree. We’ll plant one for ya!’ (Brad).
  • ‘Put the cold beers in the Heskey!’ (Terry Heskey).
  • ‘I’m all froth and bubbles’ (Bev Jago).
  • ‘I’ve got a really big one!’ (Deb, again followed by much laughter).

After checking in to our hotel rooms in Manchester it was lovely to hear various players rehearsing in their rooms, with the sound echoing out through the courtyard area.  At 4.30pm we met our bus to head to the Black Dyke Mills Band rehearsal in Queensbury. This was an absolute highlight for all brass musicians; something most brass players around the world only ever dream of doing. We were met by Professor Nicholas Childs, the Musical Director of the band for the past 14 years, who made us feel very welcome by inviting us to sit in the musicians’ chairs in the old rehearsal room; a room steeped in tradition, with photographs and competition memorabilia around the walls, and 160-year-old music stands etched with the names of previous players who were successful in winning National Championships with the band.

Professor Childs spoke about the history of the band, in particular the history of women joining the band, and invited us to the players’ lounge area (again filled with memorabilia) and then the larger rehearsal room to hear Black Dyke play Deep Harmony and some individual solos. Our band members and supporters just managed to squeeze in around the edges of the room, standing within centimetres of the players. The sound was rich and incredible. We then exited the building to hear a Swedish band practise their march for the Whit Friday Contest, to watch Black Dyke doing their marching practise for tomorrow, and to have photographs with the band’s impressive trophies from the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, the British Open Championships and the European Championships.  We left Queensbury feeling incredibly privileged to have visited this amazing band and band room.

As we traveled back to Manchester, we passed through some of the beautiful villages of the Saddleworth area and saw many of the roads being closed off in readiness for tomorrow’s famous Whit Friday Contest.  Despite it being almost summer here, it is expected to be icy and possibly snowing tomorrow afternoon. Brrr! Did anyone bring a flask?

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Royal Escapades

London turned on another amazing day for us – 21 degrees, sunny and a beautiful gentle breeze. We are loving our hotel’s comfortable beds, amazing breakfasts in a sun-lit room, helpful concierge staff and central location. Today was our London Experience Day; an opportunity for us to make our own plans and enjoy this amazing city. Most people were up and about early, with great excitement and discussion at breakfast about the day’s opportunities.

In what turned out to be an incredible stroke of luck, we were in London for today’s Opening of Parliament; an annual event whereby Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall and their entourage depart Buckingham Palace in their incredibly ornate golden carriages to visit the State Parliament. What an amazing parade, with thousands and thousands of people lining the streets to cheer and observe this special occasion. With so many of us attending, we have many wonderful photos of the procession from different vantage points.

We all insist that the Queen was waving at us individually, whilst Jeff was winked at by Her Majesty (yes, really), Kathy insists she received a text message, Elsie received a wink from Prince Phillip, Daryl and Sue were invited for a cup of tea afterwards, and Robbie almost ran up the back of one of the 132-horse processions on his bicycle. We were all incredibly impressed by the manure vacuum truck and we are considering a proposal to our local council that we have one of these trucks ahead of us at our annual ANZAC Day Parade. We witnessed the 41 Gun Salute in Green Park (a 21-gun salute for the Queen and a 20-gun salute for the Parliament) and were fascinated by snipers on the roof of Buckingham Palace, who seemed to be keeping a close eye on Brad and Kathy through their binoculars as they were taking photographs. Many of us were in close proximity to the Guards’ Bands who sounded amazing with their drums ringing through the crowd.

Many people also caught the hop-on hop-off bus to visit London’s main attractions , but unfortunately many of the streets were closed due to the Queen’s Procession, thus making it difficult and time-consuming to get around. Other events from the day included:

  • Sunburn! Can you believe that we have many people with sunburnt faces, necks and feet? In London. I know! Riawena attempted the local pastime of sunbaking in the summer chairs in Green Park (along with the locals who like to strip off at the sight of sunshine) and is now quite burnt for her efforts.
  • Many people visited the Royal Albert Hall – an absolute highlight! They even saw Rodriguez doing his sound-check on stage and many took a Hall tour. Sue and Craig even danced together in the Hall. Jeff, Nicole, Sandra and Wally, well they are excluded from this post due to Royal Protocol which prohibits me from mentioning whose box they saw at the Hall ;0)
  • We mastered the Underground train system. I don’t think we’ve laughed so much in a long time. Our highlight was catching the Cockfosters Train to Green Park, with Elsie, Shirley and Riawena doing some pole dancing as they attempted to stay upright on the train.
  • Nelson was overheard practising his tooba like a boss in his hotel room. Seriously though, a 17-octave range of chromatic demi-semi-gazemilly quavers is not enough Nelson. Please practise more.
  • Many visited the Victorian Albert Museum, the National History Museum and the Sherlock Holmes Museum, whilst others visited Harrods, the London Eye, Westminster Abby and the Tower of London again. Some enjoyed a beautiful cruise along the Thames, witnessing the opening of Tower Bridge.
  • Poor Grannymum (Shirley H), she unfortunately received an eye-full at some naked-man-statue in town, commenting that he should ‘Leave his hat on’ as Ali had suggested in her song earlier.
  • In the evening, many caught the Tube to the West End Theatre precinct to see a show, with people attending Wicked, The Lion King and the Book of Mormon (very politically-incorrect, but OMG, funny!!!)
  • The Steins packed a picnic and rode bikes through Hyde Park, and the Dawsons also enjoyed the hire bikes around town.
  • Ian ‘Barney’ Vergini caught up with a second cousin in London.
  • Roger and Shirley traveled to Dover to meet a dear friend for the day.
  • Jennie and Neil met with Jennie’s niece, Yasmin, in London. Yasmin is a journalism student in London.
  • Jacqui Ingram travelled to Cambridge for the day to meet with her brother-in-law who works as a Doctor /Professor in hand mechanics.
  • Debbie, Alan, Brad and Kathy visited the famous Harrods teddybears, following which they were found enjoying venison, duck breast, cheese and champagne from Harrods in their room. #poshmuch!
  • The Hills and Medhursts enjoyed vodka and oysters for lunch at Harrods. Phil also commented on how many older men enjoy shopping with their daughters at Harrods.
  • Alan has been enjoying some Rolls Royce spotting around London!
  • A special thank you goes to Karen the Peg Ponton for holding (and pegging) Robbie’s music during his international debut at the Tower of London yesterday.
  • I should also mention the selfless act of Alex Wilson, who nominated himself as the Band’s Bodyguard and Protector and scored himself a night out on the town last night.

We were thrilled to see that the Black Dyke Mills Band mentioned our band on their FB page today. Please follow the Black Dyke page – we will be visiting them at their rehearsal tomorrow night.

Special thanks goes to all the people who have been following, reading and commenting on our posts. We love reading your comments and knowing that we have wonderful community support back at home.   See you tomorrow in Manchester.

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Tower of London & Hyde Park

London welcomed us with an amazing sunny day today. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast at our hotel and were joined by ‘The Dubai Four’, before being picked up by coach and taken from the west side of London to the east side to play at the Tower of London. What an amazing backdrop for our playout in the small orchard alongside the Thames and the Tower. One of the Tower’s 37 Beefeaters conducted the band in full uniform and gave a history of the Queen’s Bodyguards. A large, meandering crowd enjoyed our first international performance, with the majority using their selfie-sticks to join us in a photo.  The band members and our supporters were certainly in disbelief about our beautiful surroundings. We then enjoyed time looking through the Tower of London, learning about the history, watching the changing of the guards and visiting the Crown Jewels.

After re-grouping, we traveled to London’s famous Hyde Park, where the squirrels provided much entertainment as we tried to unpack the coach and set-up for our performance in the grand bandstand. The evening was perfect; beautiful weather, an engaging audience and hundreds of people playing and lounging in the park with their friends and family.  Many people were intrigued by the details of our tour, and we have been informed that we will star in the ‘Tales of the Park’ Facebook page which provides weekly updates about happenings in the park.

After returning to our hotel, many people enjoyed a traditional meal of fish and chips in the local pubs. Others visited the London Eye, Harrods, the National History Museum, Royal Albert Hall and other attractions.  Highlights from the day included:

  • Alan and Karen met with their Mad Aunties from Melbourne and Shepparton – yes, we have new groupies overseas!
  • Kerrie was caught asking Beefeater Ken if she could touch him, to which he replied, ‘Oooh yes!’
  • We were advised that Russell Northe, our local MP, had mentioned us in Parliament to a great response, and that our tour is noted in the Hansard.
  • After arriving into the hotel bar carrying his tuba and being offered a drink, Ian announced (whilst looking at his tuba) that he always like to bring his own glass.
  • Chloe met with family members in London.
  • Tom and Monique met with Tom’s Great Uncle and Aunty at the Tower of London.
  • Victoria and Alex and family met with family in London.
  • Robbie recruited a French Horn player at the pub!
  • Hilly and Barney were caught posing as Tower of London officials whilst wearing their band uniforms, and they charged some lovely asian tourists for photographs, raising an impressive 14 pounds for the band’s coffers.

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Hello London!

What a long day it has been!  After departing Melbourne at approximately 12.30am (scheduled time 10.55pm) we travelled almost 13 hours to Dubai, arriving to 31 degree heat just after 8am. We managed to refrain from some quick laps of the airport on camels as we had to freshen up and re-board by 9am. After commencing our taxi away from the departure gate in Dubai, two of our ladies were sadly struck down with very sudden and unexpected sickness, causing them to be removed from the aircraft in wheelchairs to seek medical assistance. Both women stayed in Dubai with their partners, while the rest of our entourage continued on with heavy hearts, sans 4!!

We arrived in London at 3.45pm local time to the greeting of Jacqui Ingram – our amazing travel agent extraordinaire who had travelled a day ahead of us so that she could have everything prepared for our arrival. We also received the wonderful news that our troops in Dubai had been given IV drips and medication and were on the improve. They are hoping to transit to London throughout the night, arriving just before 7am tomorrow. Our thoughts are with you all!!

Given that we were two hours late arriving in London, Jacqui moved us quickly on to our coaches and we began our trip to the Radison Vanderbilt Hotel in Kensington, where we were greeted by Nelson Woods, our Toongabbie local bloke who is now semi-famous due to his starring role in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Luckily Nels had warmed up a seat at the bar, and the beer quickly flowed as old and new friends shared their stories of the journey.

It was also a very special day for our littlest traveller, with Master Angus Wilson turning five today!  Angus’ birthday has so far been going for 32 and a half hours, with half an hour still to go.  The little man travelled well on approximately 5 hours’ sleep throughout the journey, and understandably preferred sleep tonight rather than birthday revelry. Happy Birthday Superman.

Other highlights and lowlights from the day included:

  • Both Susans broke a nail each. Susan Marinus ALMOST had to stay back in Dubai to get hers fixed. Drama, I know!
  • Roger the Dodger was caught at Dubai Airport cross-dressing in Shirley’s tour uniform jacket (see photo)
  • Both Roger the Dodger and Harry (King Henry) were frisked!!!
  • We are currently Pope-less due to said sickness in Dubai. We are thinking that little Lachlan might conduct the band tomorrow morning at the Tower of London.
  • Alison saw a Trafalgar bloke walking along the street where we had dinner.
  • The Hempergers saw some Maffra/Sale people.
  • Bonnie caught up with a dear friend from school.
  • We are all feeling famous due to the interest that our tour jackets have caused.
  • And finally, those who aren’t still celebrating with arrival drinks have crashed into bed, exhausted, before our big day tomorrow at the Tower of London and Hyde Park.

Today we have shared many laughs, jokes and stories, and we can’t wait to add to the memories tomorrow. Please register to leave us a comment on our blog – everyone values your support and it is great to hear from our groupies back home :0)

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And we’re off…..

Two years in the planning and we are finally at the Melbourne International Airport awaiting our flight.  We all made it to the airport safely; some on the ‘Party Bus’, some with family members and all with gigantic smiles on our faces. We are about to embark on the most amazing journey in the band’s 134 year history, and how lucky we are to be part of this historic tour. Our flight has been delayed until 12.10am, but alas, there are plenty of cold beverages to be had. We have been sorted into five transit groups for travel and there is already a strong competition to see which group can organise itself and transit most efficiently through the airport (go pink team!)  So far, Harry has been frisked, Jacqueline smashed her drink, Brad and Kathy were checked for bombs, and Dave…. where’s Dave?

We would like to sincerely thank all our sponsors, supporters, family members and committee for the outstanding work to turn this dream into reality, and also to you, our readers, for following our blog and supporting us on our UK/France ‘Tour of Remembrance’ 2015.  See you in London!

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Follow the City of Traralgon Band's 'Tour of Remembrance' through the UK and France in May/June 2015