It’s a busy day for members of the Caravan and Motorhome Club Concert Band. As we speak with them, they are rehearsing in a marquee at Exeter Racecourse, where the band is playing at the Club’s week-long summer rally event.
Busy they may be, but playing with the band is very much a labour of love and combines many of the elements that make touring such a pleasure – working together as part of a community and supporting friends.
Formed in 1993 by a group of caravanning musicians under the leadership of first conductor Major Brian Smith, CAMCCB has gone from strength to strength and has become something of a fixture at large Club gatherings and rallies.
Musicians come from across the UK, with members from Devon, London, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Cambridgeshire, Carmarthenshire in South Wales, and Scotland – including Bob Black, the ex-chairman of the Club.
The group rehearses about five or six times a year over a full weekend. At most rehearsals, they expect to see some 45 to 50 players, who between them bring 35 to 40 vehicles – which tend to be an even split between caravans and motorhomes.
“We support the Club at various events,” says CAMCCB chairman Ian Cowes. “We pay the rally fees when we rehearse at weekends, but the Club pays for rehearsal rooms, provides a trailer for storage, and buys the music for us.
“They fund the operation of the band and in return, we support Club events. For example, in August we went to Cumbria, where Cumbria Centre Caravan and Motorhome Club held its 60th anniversary rally – actually, it was a 60th anniversary plus one, because of Covid. We play at a lot of big regional events.”
“In a normal year we do the national rally, and every couple of years we also do a big Proms Night,” explains Ian, who plays percussion with the band.
“We end the night with ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and it goes down really well. We can get up to 2000 people attending on the Proms Night, so it’s a great event for the band as well as the audience.”
Covid, of course, has posed challenges – the key difficulty was finding venues that would take 35 caravans or motorhomes and had a room big enough for rehearsals.
Traditionally this has been at schools, but with many unable to host events because of the pandemic, the band has had to look elsewhere – hence the Exeter marquee.
The musicians are led by conductor Chris Cobon, head of music at South Bromsgrove High School. A keen caravanner, he used to play in the band and guides them through an easy listening programme that includes everything from the ‘Dambusters March’ to Abba, and Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’.
Ian says, “It’s music that people want to listen to. The audience always enjoys Prom Night – it’s the typical Last Night music.”
CAMCCB is something of an extended family, and many members become friends and tour together. One couple who met via the band is about to tie the knot – cornetist Crystal Hellend and bass player Stephen Carr, whose parents were also in the band.
If all this talk has whetted your musical appetite and you fancy joining yourself, the good news is, the band is recruiting, and everyone is welcome.
“You need access to a brass or woodwind instrument, or percussion,” says Ian, “but there are no auditions. If you play, that’s good, but we’ll take any level, including beginners. We’re keen to recruit young families. It’s great to get the kids playing alongside their parents, and with audiences of up to 2000, it’s an experience. The Prom concerts have a phenomenal atmosphere. You just need to be a member of the Club.”
New members have plenty to look forward to – the band has an illustrious history of international events, including concerts in Belgium, Italy and Ireland.
With the group’s 30th anniversary also coming up in 2023, they are planning an active programme of appearances, followed by attendance at the Waterford Spraoi Festival in Ireland in 2024. They are also looking to perform at Disneyland Paris and the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.
For more information about joining the C&MC Concert Band, email chairman Ian Clowes at [email protected] You can also see their Facebook page @CAMCBand and Youtube at tiny url.com/CAMCBand.
We can get up to 2000 people on the Proms Night, so it's a great event for the band as well as the audience