Britannia helmsman bows out after 40 years

Last year, 2013, was a significant time in the history of the Britannia Concert Band as Ken Goodman decided to hang up the baton after 40 years in charge as Bandmaster.

Ken succeeded his father Alban who himself was Bandmaster for over 20 years and this must be somewhat of a record in the world of banding. The Goodman family has been associated with the Britannia since the early 1900’s with Ken’s great uncle Willie who played clarinet (pictured in the 1905 photo) and grandfather also called Alban who was one of the organisers. Ken’s Uncle Jim played saxophone in the 1920s and 1930s whilst his dad Alban played firstly cornet (winning a cup at the Londonderry Feis) and then for a longer period playing euphonium before becoming Bandmaster.

Ken joined the band around 1950 and the photo taken in 1951 shows the band on its first outing after the War with Ken on the right hand side of the band playing tenor-horn in his short trousers. By that time his brother Dessie was already a member playing clarinet and in subsequent years his two other brothers joined, Victor playing euphonium and then French horn and Jim playing cornet and now euphonium.

So it is clear that the Britannia Band means a lot to the Goodmans. The only sister Della must have felt cheated as at that time there were no female members. In addition to the four brothers the current membership has four sons, Robert, Michael, Martyn and Alan and four grandchildren, John, Olivia, James and Ellie. Another photograph shows some of the Goodman clan at a recent concert in Omagh.

Ken Goodman with a sousaphone.Ken Goodman with a sousaphone.
Ken Goodman with a sousaphone.

For a couple of years as the Troubles began in the early 1970’s the Band did not function. Our band hall was in Society Street and with streets unlit and general unrest in the city the attendance at practices understandably fell away. At that stage Alban Goodman was in his 70’s and had decided to retire. Soon, however, there was a desire to get underway again and Ken was appointed Bandmaster in 1973.

There was a great energy about the band and recruitment took off at a great rate. Full use was made of the WELB music service and in no time we had a full complement of instrumentalists including two bassoons, a real novelty. This opened up the repertoire to include a wider concert/ cabaret programme and the band ventured into the world of band competitions with great success. Both in Belfast and Dublin Ken led the band to win the most prestigious of contests. When required the band would meet up to three times a week to prepare for these battles. It was a major commitment for the 40+ members who eventually preferred to set aside competition to concentrate on more popular pieces which the band used in their busy round of engagements.

By 1979 the band needed new uniforms and these were dedicated at a service in All Saints Clooney conducted by Archdeacon Willoughby and where the preacher was Archdeacon Louis Crooks, a great friend of the band since it played at the first Gartan outdoor service in 1963 to mark the fourteenth hundred anniversary of the sailing of Columba to Iona. As a matter of interest the band still plays at this annual service.

The service of dedication included the voluntaries: “Great Gate of Kiev” by Moussorgsky, “Air from the New Baroque Suite” by Huggens and “Flocks in Pastures Green Abiding” by J S Bach and arranged by Ken Goodman. The band on that day consisted two Oboes, E Flat Clarinet, 9nine b Flat clarinets, tenor saxophone, two bassoons, three tubas, seven cornets, four horns, two euphoniums, four trombones and three percussion. The following year the band was pictured in their new uniforms in front of the new gates at St Columb’s Cathedral.

Ken's first outing with the Britannia Concert Band in 1951.Ken's first outing with the Britannia Concert Band in 1951.
Ken's first outing with the Britannia Concert Band in 1951.

Ken led the band through the next three decades with a growing reputation for high musicianship and the ability to deliver entertaining programmes. The collaboration of the Britannia and the Londonderry Musical Society gave rise to the popular Showstoppers concerts started in the late 80’s and this year celebrated their 25th series of charity shows.

Again this is rather unique with Ken conducting the Britannia Concert Band and his brother Jim directing the LMS. Throughout this period the band’s social life was hectic and touring became almost an annual event. Families arranged their holidays around the band tours to places such as Isle of Man, Bournemouth, Scarborough, Llandudno, Sligo, Dublin, York and to celebrate the Millennium the band visited the Rhineland. A lasting memory of this was the band playing on a cruiser on the Rhine heading towards Rudesheim and entertaining the holidaymakers.

The Britannia Concert Band owes Ken a tremendous debt by reviving the band after the start of the troubles and bringing the best out of the musicians Very many young players were introduced to ensemble playing and inspired by his enthusiasm and dedication. His patience was endless and he undertook many roles in the band far beyond conducting.

Supported by his wife May the Britannia became a way of life for Ken. His sons, Robert and Paul are professional musicians: Robert is a peripatetic teacher with the WELB and renowned for his work with school jazz bands and in all sorts of swing and rock bands. Paul is a professional horn player working and living in Leipzig, Germany. He attended Chethems School in Manchester and the Royal Northern College of Music before accepting Principal Horn positions in various orchestras in Germany. Michael is a talented percussionist, much in demand with local bands and orchestras. Ken can be truly proud of his family and the way in which he encouraged and inspired them with his enthusiasm and love for music in so many ways. He has been a life-long member of Christ Church choir and a former tutor with the WELB.

Today, however, the Britannia is honouring Ken’s devotion and dedication to the band. He leaves it with a legacy which shows that it is stronger than ever and is planning for the future with the formation of a large and vibrant Youth Section. For all the years of leadership, good music, fun and companionship we say to Ken, ‘A huge Thank You and enjoy your well earned retirement’.

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