THE Band is now assembled into ranks of four abreast the road, just in front of Craigmaillen Church on Braehead.

The Procession has already started making its way down Church Wynd and we can hear the other bands playing. ” Feeling fit? you won’t be by the time you reach Dean Road “, a happy onlooker shouts to me.

No problem, this is Bo’ness Fair procession and the massive crowds that line the route lift you with their cheering and clapping, one just wants to get on with it.

Ah! Here we go. ” Band by the right! Quick March!” shouts band sergeant Tom Simpson. A seven pace roll on the drums and forward we go, everyone in step.

A nice easy march to start with, “The Highlander”, negotiate the corner onto the Wynd, Jings! wish we had been in front of the horse drawn carriages.

We finish playing the first march at Viewforth Hotel gate. ” Old Comrades for the Wynd”, Tom Simpson says. He really does not need to tell us since we always play Old Comrades down past the Cenotaph. It’s a tradition Bo’ness and Carriden Band on the Fair Day going back long before my time in the band.

I remember my first Fair playing with the band. June Grant ( Kinneil School ) was the chosen Queen that year. Come to think of it, I remember every year since and the excitement and fun is as fresh now as it has always been. Yes, even seasoned bandsmen become children again for this wonderful day of days.

Past the Station Hotel into North Street and round ” Forrest’s Corner “, my goodness all these people can’t possibly live in Bo’ness. A brief halt, wonder whats causing the hold-up? – lets get the crowd going. ” Our Festal Day”, jings, I cannae hear the band!, the punters are singing and dancing.

” Come away the Grangers, the best band in the world”, a local worthy shouts.

Don’t get carried away, he probably said the same thing to Kinneil Band five minutes ago.

Into Grangepans, now the crowds are thinning a wee bit but still just as enthusiastic as they were in the town. ” Here’s the Grange School coming now”, ” Where’s the Banner?” ” In front of the band of course”. ” It should be in front of the Bairns!”

Why should it be that the band belongs to the school on the Fair Day? Certainly that is true, at least until the end of the procession. Just watch how proud former Grange School pupils Much Grant and Eric Richardson are, marching at the back of the school banner.

Now the hard part, up Harbour Road. Made it, but how about that wonderful reception as we passed Bridgeness Welfare!

No time for a breather – strike up the band – “Colonel Bogey “, ” Morag’s Faery Glen”, ” Our Festal day” ( again ). Wait a minute, they folk on the pavement were all in the town a wee while ago, and they are still singing along with the band.

‘ Ah well’, that’s another Fair Procession over and it’s time for lunch at the Academy.

Now, at lunch we band folk can get a breather and reflect on our busy morning. Last year however, was the exception as jackets and shirts were hanging to dry unsuccessfully making Bo’ness Academy dining hall take on the look of a ‘Chinese Laundry’.

I suppose the law of averages meant it had to happen one year, so surely we have had our turn.

A very rain soaked band played back to the Band Hall as we do every year and one felt very humble but proud, as doors in Grangepans were thrown wide and whole families, young and old applaud and cheered the band back home.

Okay, it rained quite heavily last year but what about all those other years. The memories come back so easily. Was it really over 20 years ago Marjory McLean was Queen?

That was the Tercentenary Year and Grange School’s fabulous presentees were Ken Dodd and the Diddymen. What fun we had leading the school round the town playing the theme music, tickling sticks and all.

As I write I can feel the excitement of marching towards a Queen’s Arch in the early morning, such as Jennifer Snedden’s huge crown in 1971. Remember yon fabulous creation?

The band plays under the Arch and this is when neighbours and friends usually catch their first sight of that years Queen as she comes out to meet the band.

The proud father provides the customary dram and a tearful mother has the task of choosing the band’s next march.

I remember Nan Kennedy’s choice when Margo was the 1976 Queen, ‘The Great Little Army’, and Nan wept quite unshamedly as the band started playing. Were we really that bad!

So much of our Fair is all about tradition and long may this be. Long may the bands play Franz Lehar’s Gold and Silver Waltz as the Queen’s Court take up their places for the Crowning. It would not be Bo’ness Fair without it.

Long may the crowds sing to Morag’s Faery Glen, The March of the Cameron Men and Stirling Brig. Whilst we play these Scottish marches at Gala days such as Grangemouth, Airth, Fauldhouse, etc., only in Bo’ness do you get such a knowledgeable audience. Let’s face it, the bands must have played these favourites a thousand times over the years, the players may tire slightly, yet the audience never tire slightly, yet the audience never tire of them.

In the world of bands Bo’ness Fair is famous as being a bit of an endurance test, but if a player from another band is asked to guest with one of the Bo’ness Bands for the day, he becomes immediately hooked and at the end of the day offers his services for the following year.

The day provides many amusing moments especially when the band arrives at Grange School in the morning and Primary One pupils are desperate to have a shot at banging the ‘ Big Drum ‘.

According to the crowds we should never stop playing as we march since when we do we are immediately told ” C’mon that’s no’ fair, they always stop when they come to where we are standing”. Believe me, we don’t try it.

On alternative years, Bo’ness and Carriden Band provides the music at Glebe Park for the Crowning Ceremony, but music is not the only service we provide. Glasses of water have usually to be passed to Fairies from the Town Hall kitchen.

Nowadays, most of the music for the Presentees is on tape and the band can have a great view of the children performing, but it was so different when all the themes were live with the band. That was really hard work and some of the arrangements were quite tricky requiring a great deal of rehearsal in the weeks preceding the big day.

The late Joe Hempstead used to burn the midnight old transforming all types of music for a brass band to perform. Music from shows like Rose-Marie, King and I, etc., were east enough, Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock and Michael Jackson’s Rockin’ Robin were not too bad either, but I am afraid we gave up on the weird sounds of the ‘Magic Roundabout’.

Tape music therefore came to be used and since then the producers for the Schools themes have become more adventurous Today, Frank Sinatra ( New York, New York ) and Elvis Presley can perform in Bo’ness, albeit on tape.

I suppose a certain amount of rivalry exists between the schools in their respective presentations as there is between the arch builders around the town. So to a certain extent with the bands especially as they lead their respective schools into the Glebe Park. Having played at the National Brass Band Championships at London’s Royal Albert Hall, numerous Scottish Championships and recorded for television and radio, believe me, entering the Glebe Park on Fair Day can be quite nerve wracking.

Still, to be a member of a Bo’ness Band, this is our day of the year when we can show our ain folk what we are made of. Instruments have been polished to gleam in the sun that, hopefully, will shine from morning till night. Good playing and smartness are the order of the day. Time is of an essence so an early start on Fair morning is of utmost importance.

Inevitably, Band Secretary Eric Richardson’s last words to the players on Fair E’en are ” 7.00a.m. at the Band Hall, anyone who sleeps in will have to catch up”. ” Please remember to wear black socks”.

I hope, dear reader, I have given you a short insight to being a bandsman ( or woman ) at the Fair. I know you will give us all, whether we are brass or pipes, local or visiting, your usual applause and vocal support.

On behalf of us all, thank you for the honour of being part of Britain’s foremost Children’s Day. If you have a young son or daughter who comes home from the Fair thinking they would like to play in a band, encourage them to go along. Bands are a great tradition in Bo’ness, the same as the Fair Day. Let’s keep our traduitions.

Heck, I must go now, the Band’s at Linlithgow Gala Day as well tomorrow. Give us a wave during the Procession.

ROBERT BURNS, Bo’ness and Carriden Band


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