Arbroath Instrumental Band faces the biggest fight for survival in its near 130-year history.
Once among Scotland’s leading brass bands, it is one of the oldest musical organisations in Angus still playing.
But having survived world wars, the Great Depression and changing fortunes across the decades, a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstance now threatens its existence.
Band president Ann Ness has a 50-year association with the band.
She started playing at the age of just six.
Now principal coronet, Ann has followed in the footsteps of her father, Vic Lewis, as the band’s leading figure.
A decade ago she was honoured with a lifetime medal by the Scottish Brass Band Association.
So the thought of seeing the Arbroath band slip into the history books is a devastating prospect.
Combination of factors
Dwindling numbers, the loss of key figures and the pandemic have left the band staring into the abyss.
“In all my years with the band this is the worst it has been,” said 57-year-old Ann.
“The band lost a huge asset and excellent musical director when Mike Robertson retired in 2019.
“Mike had been with the band for over 20 years and during that time he took on a lot of the responsibility for recruitment, development and band management.
“His loss has been a bitter blow to all within the organisation.”
“We lost several senior band members and have had to cut back on rehearsals due to lack of numbers.
“And Covid didn’t help at all.”
She said: “We don’t have the (music) teaching in the schools like we used to, but we also don’t have any adults coming to the band.
“A lot of folk have just found other interests.”
She said there are engagements in the band’s diary for later in the year and money in the bank.
But after a 2020 season wiped out by Covid, the lack of numbers means Arbroath will be absent when competitive events resume in the spring.
“For the first time ever, we’ll be a non-competing band,” said Ann.
A beginners group is an option if enough interested players come forward.
In the meantime, the group simply hopes to see more players at weekly Monday night practice in Carnoustie’s Panbride Church hall.
Anyone interested in joining should contact the group through its Facebook page or phone Ann on 07903 682397.
The band remains one of the longest running musical organisations in Angus.
It emerged from Arbroath’s horticultural show of 1893 when a brass band contest was added to the Gayfield Park programme.
From that foundation the band went from strength to strength.
Within 15 years, Arbroath had forged a reputation as one of the foremost instrumental bands in Scotland.
Halcyon days of the early 1920s saw Arbroath regularly among the top performers in the Scottish championship.
It remained a leading contender for decades. In 1971, a band quartet won the Scottish Championship and travelled to Oxford to compete in the British finals.
The late 1990s brought another of the lean periods the band has encountered during its history.
But the appointment of Michael Robertson as musical director began an upturn in fortune.
It led to a rise through the competitive ranks and promotion to the top tier after being crowned Scottish second section champions in 2009.
Youth players have been to the fore in recent years as Arbroath returned to the National Championships to compete against the top outfits from across the UK.