John & Olwen Brush (Courtesy of Kevin and Jacky Brush)
John Alfred Brush
By Tony Mansell
Born: 21st Jan 1934
Married: Grace Olwen in 1956
Died: 15 March 2016 in Cornwall
John and I first came across each other when we were working on our Cornish Brass Band history projects and for a short while we combined our efforts. However, it was curtailed due to his death.
John began piano lessons in 1939 and four years later he took up the cornet – in the Salvation Army. He left school aged 15 as it became necessary for him to contribute to the family income.
His early band career included playing with Moreton Salvation Army Band, Wallasey Village Band, Birkenhead Silver Band and with a local dance band but his involvement there resulted in his dismissal from the Salvation Army.
Whilst with the Birkenhead Band he attended his first contest, in Manchester, under the baton of John Greenwood. They played in the fourth section and were unplaced. In 1951 he joined the military and commented, “Rather than run around with a rifle on National Service, I joined the army as a regular”.
For the next seven years he played cornet in the band of the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment and saw service in Egypt and Cyprus. It was during this time that he undertook his first band arrangement – the tango “Jealousy”. John takes up the story. “I attended a general musicianship course at Kneller Hall during 1954 and 1955 under the tutelage of Jack Macintosh. Up until this point I was principal cornet of the whole of the Parachute Brigade (three bands) and thought myself the bees’ knees. Mr Macintosh proved that I was not but proceeded to help me produce a standard of playing which stood me in good stead throughout the remainder of my playing life. At the end of this course, I won the Instrumentation (arranging) prize. I returned to play in my home band (the Paras) until 1958 when I decided to give civilian life a chance.”
For six months John played 2nd trumpet in the pit orchestra of the Liverpool Empire theatre but working every evening and two shows on a Saturday, meant that he was not seeing enough of his family. He left and joined Cammell Laird Works Band where he was second solo cornet and bandmaster under Rex Mortimer, the director of music.
John said, “I then decided to rejoin the army but remained with Cammell Laird to work out my notice, during which time Mr Mortimer, who was conductor of Foden’s Motor Works Band, offered me the position of deputy bandmaster of that band. It was too late: I had already signed on. However, I soon realized that I had made the right decision.”
From 1959 to 1963 he was with the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Band Corps. He visited Portugal and took part in the Freedom of The City parade through Lisbon. On his return to the UK he was on normal duties at the Academy until 1963 when he decided to go to Kneller Hall again, this time on a three-year student bandmaster course. He became principal cornet in the Kneller Hall Band and lead trumpet in the Kneller Hall Fanfare Trumpets, with many visits to Westminster Abbey and Royal Festival Hall working with people like Sir Malcolm Sargent. At the end of the academic course he was awarded the highest marks, was the best student in the British Army, and received the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. For general arranging for concert band he achieved the highest marks in the history of Kneller Hall (198 out of 200). Later, on prize giving day, Sir Arthur Bliss (Master of the Queens Music) spent some time with John and Olwen. John added: “She thought him an absolute darling.” Shortly after, John was appointed bandmaster.
From 1966 to 1969 he was bandmaster with the York & Lancaster Regimental Band. He said, “I became a salesman, selling my band and the concert to the public: it was probably my happiest period in the army. Unfortunately, the unit was disbanded in the 1968 defence cuts and the final parade in Sheffield was a very emotional affair.”
So, in 1969, the army found him another position and it was off to Scotland as the new bandmaster of the Royal Highland Fusiliers at Fort George on the outskirts of Inverness. John recalled it as a memorable time, and it included taking the band to Argentina for a British Trade Fair. He later moved south to Bulford and then on to Singapore where he worked closely with the New Zealand Infantry Band.
Next came a posting to the Welsh Depot with the title Brigade Bandmaster, that was in 1972. John said. “The job was effectively a headmaster of the Junior Bandsman’s School and thankfully it only lasted about three years. I was then offered an on-loan appointment to the Brunei Army as Captain (Director of Music) to the Royal Brunei Malay Regiment. At last I could get away from those youngsters and deal with adults again. So, from 1975 to 1978, we lived in this beautiful place and took every opportunity to visit other countries including for an engagement at the Melbourne Tattoo.”
In Brunei as Director of Music (Courtesy of Kevin and Jacky Brush)
“When my time in Brunei came to an end, I had to serve the last six months of my army career in the UK and I was posted back to Kneller Hall as the Assistant Director of Music. However, whilst in Brunei, the Royal Brunei Police Band offered me a job with the rank of superintendent – so back to Brunei we went.”
In 1983, John and Olwen were back in the UK. He spotted an advertisement for a conductor for a band in Cornwall – the St Dennis Silver Band. He applied, came down for an audition and was accepted. They quickly sold their home in Cheshire and moved to Cornwall.
The morale at St Dennis was low. The memories of differences within the band were still painful and these were followed by the tragic death of Eddie Williams. As a result, the band had slid down the sections and it was clear that there was a huge task ahead. However, in the three or four years he was there, the band began the long climb back up the rankings. Needs must, however, and he found it necessary to leave to find gainful employment. “I continued with my music involvement, first with Oxford University Press, and then as a sort of assistant editor to Philip Sharpe at Studio Music. This brought me into working closely with Goff Richards, Gordon Langford, and a few others. I was working for Securicor but still maintaining my interest in the music world.”
In 1998 John was invited to return to St Dennis Band to conduct the various bands there. It was a heavy commitment and continued until 2001 by which time he had introduced each of the bands to the “dubious delights of contesting”. He said, “By then I was 67 and I felt that it was time to retire”.
Perhaps it was at this time that John’s interest in Cornish Brass Band history began but he certainly threw himself into it, contacting all Cornish Bands and amassing a huge amount of information and photographs. He was a prolific researcher.
John died in 2016. My regret is that our relationship was cut short as I am sure he would have been of tremendous help in undertaking the military and brass band aspect of the Cornish National Music Archive.
Most of the information included here was provided by the late John Brush.
Kevin and Jacky Brush, John’s son and daughter-in-law, for information and photographs.
All organisations and individuals, whether named or not, who have provided information and photographs for this brief biography. If you own the copyright to any of the photographs included, then please let us know and you will be credited, or the photographs removed.