During the 125th Anniversary Celebrations of the Stockton to Darlington Railway, at a concert in Shildon, County Durham, York R I Band was approached by a railway enthusiast from Botrop, West Germany (as it was). Out of the initial meeting grew a friendship with the Voluntary Fire Service of Königstein-im-Taunus who invited the Band to play for them in 1976 (Feuerfest), 1978 (Burgfest) and 1980 (Stadfest). In the intervening years, and in 1981, parties from Königstein visited York. Those trips to Germany have been long-remembered for their exciting open-air concerts alongside German champion bands, marathon beer-tent concerts and long parades involving Teutonic splendour, interspersed with sight-seeing trips (memorably Frankfurt), much partying and much conviviality.
As the Band's fortunes rose and fell through the 80s and 90s, and as personnel, musical directors and aims and ambitions changed, Band tours disappeared from the agenda.
From 2000 the Band became more settled under Musical Director Derek Warley and, eventually, a trip to France was proposed and taken up eagerly. It was based on trips that Derek had undertaken as Director of the York Music Centre in previous years, so the preparation and organisation were tried and tested.
On the Saturday before Spring half-term holiday week 2006, the Band left York on a Classic Coach (plus trailer). The party comprised Band members, family, friends and guest players from other bands. The party journeyed via cross-channel ferry from Dover and almost the length of France to Châtel in the French Alps, south of Geneva.
Châtel was an attractive village gently recuperating from being a ski resort through the winter before becoming a walker's resort through the summer. The Hotel Rhododendrons where we stayed was comfortable and obliging, once the proprietors had come to terms with an English brass band and its requirements, and the village itself had several hotels and bars to cater for all ages and tastes (from disco-babes to wooden floor ale drinkers). For some the "Lion D'Or" soon became "The Golden Lion" and a regular haunt, culminating in a mini-band concert in the bar towards the end of the week.
Each morning, the Band woke to breathtaking scenes of snow-covered mountains - they said it had been the first time in over 50 years that they had experienced such falls in June. But none of it stayed beyond 10.00am, except on the higher reaches, so it was possible to enjoy long walks away from the village and, if heading east, to reach the Swiss border within a couple of hours.
The formal, performing, part of the tour took place predominantly on the southern shore of Lake Geneva and each day the coach would take us down the winding road away from the mountains.
Sandwiched in among all these were other experiences, not least was a visit to a hypermarket (the concept of sitting in a bar whilst the other half did the shopping was one that went down well with some members). The only downside of this visit was the refusal of the coach driver to allow a newly-purchased, half-grown olive tree on to his coach! The party left Châtel on the following Saturday and were home for tea on the Sunday. The tour was a huge success enjoyed by all, leaving happy memories for the Band and an ambition to undertake another European tour in the future.
Internal circumstances within the Band Section pushed what could have been a tour in 2008 on to the back burner. Then the credit crunch/squeeze started and the effects this might have on jobs, pay and financial commitments persuaded the Band to be more modest in its planning for 2009.
The 2009 Tour became a mini-tour to a destination within our shores and not too far away – to Allendale, Northumberland. One Band member was familiar with the area and its facilities and had contacts; he was also aware that Northumberland weather can be unpredictable, so a lot of praying for good weather was called for. Augmenting the Band's playing personnel were some old and new friends of York Railway Institute Band. Former player Liz Rochester, Tenor Horn from Harrogate Band, joined the party as did our occasional and highly valued part-time percussionist Laurie Gunson! Also joining the tour as playing members of the band were Peter and Tom Hoyle, the father and brother of Band member Matt Hoyle, who hail from Huddersfield and play for Hade Edge Band. Last but not least Karen Bulleyment, the fiancée of James Silk, joined us and her help in selling CDs was much appreciated.
The Band left York by Ingleby's coach on the Friday evening, were settled into Deneholme Conference and Training Centre/Country Hotel by 10.00pm after a splendid dinner and were in the square ("Kings Head" and another "Golden Lion" can you believe) soon after and well before last orders!
A Band practice was held on Saturday morning, then there was free time for walking or sitting in the afternoon and a concert in the village hall in the evening (for a small but appreciative and complimentary audience). There was time for more "bonding" later in the evening at the hotel, then Sunday morning for more walking, mooching or present-buying in Hexham close to the Abbey, prior to the bandstand concert in the afternoon, this time to a very large and appreciative audience.
Up to the point on the return journey when the bus was taking us along the A69 towards Gateshead, the weather had been gorgeous (shows what praying can do!), but then it rained so we weren't bothered. And so ended a remarkably enjoyable mini-tour enjoyed by all and hopefully the model for future mini-tours to other parts of the UK in the not too distant future.