Mayor PJ tunes in to sound of the Young Conquerors

IF anyone wants hard evidence to demonstrate just how times have changed in Northern Ireland then they should look no further than an event which took place in the Mayor’s Parlour in Ballymena last week!

You know we’ve come a long way when a flute band with roots deep in the Orange tradition present a copy of their first recording to the town’s first SDLP mayor.

Ballymena’s longest surviving flute band, the Young Conquerors, who formed way back in 1886, were guests of Ald. P. J. McAvoy for a reception to mark the launch of their first ever CD. And P.J. delighted his guests when he announced: “I can’t wait to listen to it!”

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The hour long CD “Sheep may safely graze” is being sold for £10 and includes 13 tracks showcasing the superb musical talent within the band.

“We want to keep the traditional spirit of flute playing alive, at the same time representing our home town, musically and culturally,” said Derek Greer.

The Young Conquerors Flute band began 126 years ago with members playing on traditional keyless A flat flutes.

Over time, the band became more ambitious, and in subsequent years introduced five other flute types, including piccolo, g treble and concert bass.

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Derek explained that the band’s flutes were specially made in Holland. The band now has 35 members, with ages ranging between 15 and 70, incorporating 32 flautists and four percussionists.

“We started out from humble beginnings, over time we have progressed and developed and now we are at our peak,” said another ‘Conqueror’, Noel Crabbe.

The band is currently preparing to participate in this year’s North of Ireland Bands Association Senior Flute Championship contest in October, when it will compete against the best bands in the country. This year’s set piece for all competing bands is Philip Walton’s arrangement of the “Academic Festival Overture” by Brahms – a challenge even for professional ensembles !

Noel reflected on the history and devlopment of the band, saying: “We have evolved over time from the traditional marching band of days gone by to the present day where we focus more on indoor concerts. We wanted to concentrate more on an orchestral sound and that is exactly what we have achieved.”

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Conductor, Richard Douglas, requires a high level of commitment from the Young Conquerors in order to compete at the highest level.

“We recently competed in the Flute Band League in Troon in Scotland and we were very successful. There we won awards for four sections - marching, overall score, conductor’s score and the main event, which was very pleasing indeed,” said Noel. “But you only get the rewards by putting the practice in .. thankfully the band members work very hard to get things just right.”

The CD is currently available from all band members at a cost of £10, or can be obtained by contacting band chairman Noel Crabbe on 02825642585 or 07743018455.

Recruitment of flute and percussion players is always a major priority for the band , and anyone interested in joining the group, whether as a beginner or an experienced player, will be warmly welcomed at the band’s Thursday night rehearsals at Fountain Place , Ballymena (contact Noel for further details).