Ballymena Young Conquerors Flute Band

Ballymena’s oldest surviving band was formed sometime in 1886, the year of the ‘Home Rule’ crisis. It began as a marching band, with members playing on traditional keyless A flat fifes. Around the turn of the century the band became more ambitious and began making the change towards performing part music, a process which involved the acquisition of flutes down to A flat bass. The band’s willingness to progress was shown by the appointment of W.B. Blythe (late of Ulster Amateurs) as conductor in 1920.

In 1932 the band entered its first competition, taking part in the Junior Section of the Windsor Park March Contest. It gained second place under conductor Harry Gillespie.

It was not until 1946 (60 years after the band’s formation) that the Ulster Hall beckoned. The band entered the Junior Second Grand Section, finishing in third place. Much better was to come, however, when the band achieved Junior First Grade wins in 1948, 1950 and 1952.

The following year the Conquerors bought a set of Boehm system flutes belonging to the Belfast Apprentice Boys’ Flute Band. This unique set of instruments was the only one ever manufactured in ebonite by Boosey and Hawkes in 1932.

The change brought dividends with a hat-trick of wins in the Intermediate Flute Grade in 1955, 1956 and 1957. There was only one challenge left, and that was to move to Senior competition.

For the Conquerors, the sixties remain as the band’s golden age. Under conductor Artie Fleming, the band improved rapidly, finishing as runners-up in the Senior Section three times (1965, 1966 and 1968). Most important of all was the elusive Senior Flute Championship titles, which was achieved in 1967. During this successful period the band made over twenty BBC ‘Ulster Band’ recordings.

The decaded since then have seen the band’s fortunes waver, and currently it competes at N.I.B.A. Second Grade level. The band last won this section in 1996 with a performance of ‘Classical Memories’. However, under hard-working conductors such a John Hinchey the band develop and progressed.

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