In the year 1896, a flute band was destined to play a leading part in raising the standard of flute bands in Ireland was formed by ex-members of the 26th Company, Boys’ Brigade (St. Michael’s Church, Belfast). This was the Ulster Amateur Flute Band.
The late Mr Alex Cooke was entrusted with the task of training the band in the initial stages and succeeded in laying a sound foundation for the building of a strong combination. Afterwards, the position of conductor was held by Mr Savage and Mr J. Dummond (St. Mary’s Flute Band).
About 1901, the late Mr Alfred Perrin, an outstanding personality in Ulster Band circles, took over the baton and in the same year the band were placed fifth in the contest for the Championship of Ulster. In the following year they were placed second and were awarded the prize for the best soloist in their section.
The first outstanding achievement was gained in 1906, when the band succeeded in annexing the Championship of Ulster. Other successes followed, and in 1911, they crossed the Channel to compete against the premier bands of England, Ireland and Wales in an International contest at Bellevue, Manchester. Undaunted by the opposition, the ‘Amateurs’ under Mr John Murdie, gave a performance which gained for them the judge’s verdict, and the International Championship. Needless to say, they were accorded a great reception on returning to Belfast with the trophy. The winning of the Irish Championship and 1st Place in the march contest completed a great year for the ‘Amateurs’.
It is interesting to note that in the two latter contests the band played under different conductors, Sergeant B. Hallmark, Cheshire Regiment, conducting in the Championship and Mr William Gracey in the march contest.
In 1912, the Belfast Corporation’s yearly contest for the allocation of engagements in the Public Parks were inaugurated. In this the ‘Amateurs’ were successful. In addition, the Championship of Ireland was won for the second year in succession, Sergt Hallmark, conducting.
During the period of the First World War the conductorship of the band was shared by Messrs. William Gracey and George Whitely. Another well-known figure in the band movement that of Mr George Dean, ex-bandmaster of the Norfolk Regiment, conducted the ‘Amateurs’ for a period before and after the war. The band won several prizes under his leadership.
It was not until 1919, a permanent conductor was appointed. The choice for the position was Mr W. B. Blythe – thirty years of continued success has proved the wisdom of that choice. In 49 contests, 24 First prizes, 10 Second prizes and 10 Third prizes had been won.
To be award 100% marks is surely a rare occurrence in contesting? This was achieved by the ‘Amateurs’ in 1925, in the march contest at Windsor Park. The adjudicator said, that the test piece “Wolfe’s Own” was played perfectly.
In 1932, the band journeyed to London to make recordings for the Decca Co. They also fulfilled an engagement at the London Palladium Sunday Concert.
Conductors of the band included:
Alex Cooke, John Dummond, Alfred H. Perrin, Frank Haughey, George Whitley, William Gracey, John Murdie, Sgt B. Hallmark, George Dean, Mr Millet, William B. Blythe, Ardwell Donning, Harry Gillespie, William Flavelle, W. Blythe Jnr, Ronnie Bothwell, Samuel Stewart, Samuel Barclay and Desmond McCormack.
Compiled by W.A. Mullan