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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.