Cowley returns to back benches
94 year old Francis Cowley has decided to hang up his baton and return to the cornet playing back benches
One of the great figures of the West of England banding movement has announced his retirement as a conductor after 48 years with the baton in hand.
94 year old Francis Cowley took the decision this week to take a step back from the rostrum and return to the back row cornet section to carry on his commitment to playing with Swindon Brass for as long as he can.
Way of life
A report in the local Swindon Advertiser newspaper said that Francis, whose grandfather was a founding member of Wroughton Band said that to him, brass banding "was a way of life".
Looking back on his remarkable connection to the banding movement he told reporter Daniel Angelini: "It started by chance. When I was nine, I picked up an instrument while no one was around and got on OK with it — 85 years later I'm still playing.
Brass banding is a way of life and it's something I can' t do without. It's been a long journey with plenty of ups and downs."
Francis revealed that as principal cornet he "ended up"taking on the band as conductor, although he admitted that he was "always a bit nervous before a contest or concert but as soon as I started playing or conducting, the nerves went away and I was on top of what I was doing.
He also added: "I could have played for a bigger band but I always wanted to stay here."
Francis spent time in the Army during the Second World War and worked on a building site before turning to teaching at schools. He also set up a pioneering youth, with many former players still in contact with him well over 40 years later.
The band surprised him with a special presentation at the end of his last socially distanced rehearsal as conductor on Monday, with Band Chairman Bruce Hulatt telling 4BR: "It is an end of an era — but not completely as he will now be taking a seat with his cornet on the back row.
His has been a remarkable career and one we hope will continue for many more years to come and with a return to the Area Championships in 2022 after his last contest performance there in 2020."
Under his baton Swindon Brass and Swindon Youth Bands enjoyed considerable success.
The Youth Band won the West of England Area title in 1977, 1985, 1990 and 1991, whilst Swindon Brass also qualified for the National Finals in 2005 and again in 2013.
Swindon Brass Band conductor, 94, retires after 48 years
A CONDUCTOR with a lifelong love of music has hung up his baton after 48 years.
Fran Cowley has stopped conducting the Swindon Brass Band but intends to continue playing the cornet for as long as he can.
The 94-year-old from Wroughton comes from a family of musicians - his grandfather was a founding member of the village's band and his dad played in it, then Fran followed.
He said: "It started by chance. When I was nine, I picked up an instrument while noone was around and got on OK with it - 85 years later I'm still playing.
"Brass band is a way of life and it's something I can' t do without. It's been a long journey with plenty of ups and downs. I was principal cornet then somehow ended up taking on the band as conductor.
"I was always a bit nervous before a contest or concert but as soon as I started playing or conducting, the nerves went away and I was on top of what I was doing.
"I could have played for a bigger band but I always wanted to stay here."
Fran spent some time in the army during the Second World War and worked on a building site before turning to teaching at schools including Pinewood School in Shrivenham, which proved to be a life-changing decision.
He fondly recalled setting up a youth brass band which went on to become west of England champions and represent the region in the London final of a national competition.
Fran added: "I've had a pretty active life, met some exceedingly good people and taught some great young players who could hold their own with the best around the country.
"I had quite a good go at it, it was a lot of work but I enjoyed every minute. Some pupils drop in to say Hi to me 40 years later and they're still playing.
He proudly recalls playing at the Royal Albert Hall and taking his young students on tours around Europe.
His Swindon brass bandmates surprised him with a special presentation at the end of his last rehearsal as conductor on Monday with some of his old students returning and a small get-together afterwards.
Fran added: "It was a really nice evening, they said so many nice things about me - a bit embarrassing! - and I was sad to have to give it up but it's something we all have to do at some point."
Fran has been in the Wroughton Band, the Swindon Brass Band and the British Railway Band (formerly known as the GWR Band). He claims he was once rated the fourth-best cornet player in Britain and has performed the Last Post at the Swindon Cenotaph during Remembrance events for decades.
A nice surprise was in store for Fran with extra guests coming along and a trophy presented by our Chairman Bruce Hulatt.
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