RETRO: 80 years of the Virtuosi GUS Band

Eight decades ago the Northamptonshire Telegraph carried a small story about a Kettering boot and shoe manufacturer’s decision to start up its own brass band.

The Munn and Felton band had 18 players and was partly inspired by, and set up to rival, the Yorkshire colliery brass bands of the day.

Fred Felton, one of the firm’s directors, phoned the Telegraph to tell a reporter that the band was going to “aim high”.

His comment, which could have been taken as boastful, was borne out however, as just two years after it was formed, the Munn and Felton Band were crowned British Champions.

They have since gone on to win six national titles, the British Open Championships and were proclaimed World Champions in 1971.

This month, the Virtuosi GUS Band celebrates its 80th birthday and although its name has changed a number of times in the intervening years – from Munn and Felton to GUS, to the Rigid Containers Band, The Travelsphere Band and finally its current name, the Virtuosi GUS Band – the band has maintained its position as one of the UK’s best brass bands, and it is now world-renowned.

To recognise the milestone, the band is playing a concert at the Castle Theatre in Wellingborough on Saturday, September 28.

The concert will also mark the retirement of conductor and musical director John Berryman, who has been associated with the band since moving from Cornwall to Northamptonshire 54 years ago as an 18-year-old.

Mr Berryman moved from Cornwall to join the band after he was given a job at Munn and Felton and his association with music led to a position with Northamptonshire County Council, visiting schools to inspire young musicians.

In 1987, John was awarded The Iles Medal of The Worshipful Company of Musicians of the City of London for his outstanding services to brass band music.

Band manager Mike Smith said: “John inspired hundreds of children, some of who have gone on to join other brass bands.”

He added that in the early days of the band’s formation, Munn and Felton were eager to attract talented musicians and would offer jobs at the factory based on their aptitude with a brass instrument rather than their experience in the shoe industry.

He added: “Despite the changes in the band’s history brought by time and economic circumstance, one thing that remains the same is the standards and ideals started by the Felton brothers in 1933 when they started their band and proclaimed: “We are going to aim high”.

The band’s fame and awards mean its members now travel from Surrey, Norfolk and Leicester for rehearsals, although Mr Smith said the core of the group is based in the county.

For more information about the anniversary concert, and to book tickets, visit www.thecastle.org.uk or phone 01933 270007.

To further celebrate the anniversary, the GUS Band has recorded a CD.

More information about the band can be found at www.thegusband.com.