TIVERTON TOWN BAND
MAN AT THE HELM
ITEM TAKEN FROM PRESS INTERVIEW 2012
If someone had asked a very young Graham Pillivant if he'd still be in Tiverton Town Band after 46 years, joining in 1966 ,and having served as bandmaster for 29 of those years, the chances are he'd have said...well, yes, actually.
Even at the age of six, Graham seemed to know exactly what he wanted, and he persistently pestered his head-teacher to let him have a 'parp' on one of the largest instruments in the brass family.
Graham, from Cullompton, actually started playing the trombone at six and joined the band the same year. He became the band's Solo Trombone at just 11 and was first elected bandmaster in 1984, a position he has held ever since.
Graham said he chose the trombone rather than it choosing him. He said: "My form teacher played the trombone in a jazz band and I remember pestering my head teacher to let me have a go on one. She's in the band now, so now I'm her boss!"
"I started playing in the school band at Elmore Primary — now Two Moors Primary — but all the way through my playing career I have played with Tiverton Town Band".
I come from a big brass band family. My dad , Edgar, was a drummer in a dance band and later learnt to play the tuba. My older brother, Stephen, learnt to play the euphonium with the Salvation Army, and plays for Tiverton band, and my two younger brothers Barrie, who plays for Okehampton , and Adrian play the cornet. My wife, Tina, is principal cornet My 19-year-old son , Martyn has played percussion for the band for five years and one of my step-daughters, Katrina, plays the flugelhorn for the band. My other step-daughter Tasha is helping out for contests on percussion but previously played Tenor Horn before travelling abroad with her husband Sean ,who was our Bass drummer . My father-in-law, Brian played the baritone up until last year. One of my fathers last wishes was that I should never let the band fold. And I have no intention of letting it."
Graham's talents are not confined to the trombone — he can also coax a tune out of the tuba, the euphonium and the baritone, he is also a bass drummer when the need arises .
Graham was born in Hatherleigh, near Okehampton, and moved to the Tiverton area aged five, where he has remained ever since. He tried his hand at a succession of jobs after leaving school, including a spell as a butcher, before becoming an HGV driver .
Graham was originally appointed to lead the band in a more contemporary direction and broaden its repertoire.
He said: "There were lots of alternatives to the more traditional style, including renditions of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and various film soundtracks! The band were keen to see if we could go in a different direction and they elected me to make this happen.
"A band is only as strong as its least experienced player, so as bandmaster it's important I work within the capabilities of all the players in the band, moving them forward as a group. Keeping everyone happy and maintaining a pace everyone can keep up with is, is the biggest challenge.
"I spend a lot of time making make sure everyone is happy and motivated — consequently other bands are often surprised at how many members we have."
The 1990s saw the band hit the road and regularly travel to play in Dawlish and Teignmouth. Minehead and Ilfracombe have since been added to the regular programmes and recentley Chard, Bovey Tracey and Ashburton are also on the list.
Graham said: "In 2001 we entered our first competition, the Exmouth Brass Band Festival. Because we'd never entered a competition before we are in the ungraded category. We won our section that first year and we've won it every year since. So, having won the trophy for nine years, we'll definitely be going in September to see if we can get it again!"
But the band haven't just stayed within the confines of the South West or even within the UK
Graham recalled: "In 2006, 52 of us flew over to Marshall in Texas and played seven concerts in 10 days, including one in Louisiana. We hired a fleet of people carriers and a van for our instruments. It was definitely the highlight of my time with the band
"In 2008, we decided as a band to take part in the Truro Brass Band Competition, where we won our section. We entered the category above as well, which we also won. And we also entered an entertainment section — which consisted of six different, mini-concert pieces — and finished third
"Last year, in the Cornwall Championships, we won our section and came fourth in the entertainment section. Two of our members also won best player awards, which was a great achievement
. 2009 was my 25th anniversary as band master and I wanted to do something really different with the band. There are certain contests bands can enter in order to move up the grades. One of these is the South West Brass Band Association Championships in Torquay — out of eight bands we came fourth in our first attempt. It was a really good day out.
We also went to Saddleworth, near Manchester, in May for the Whit Friday Marches. Bands from all over the UK and abroad attended and we came 37th out of 150, which was a great accolade."
The year also came with an unexpected twist in the tale — thanks to a throat infection suffered by pop princess Lily Allen. Her late withdrawal from a homecoming concert in Exeter by megastars Coldplay left a gaping hole in the evening's entertainment — that is, until the Tiverton Town Band rose to the rescue
Never mind rubbing shoulders with global rock icons, Graham's favourite events take place far closer to his home and heart.
He said: "The Children in Need concerts in Tiverton are the highlight of the year. In 17 years we've performed 25 concerts and raised over £20,000 for the charity.
"I've had so much fun and got so many hours of pleasure from my music, I wouldn't change anything."