Band played on, Part 2
The Ottawa Tech band’s European tour in 1962 was extra special for some, such as Rick Nolan,
For most of the students in the 1962 Ottawa Technical High School band, the annual bus ride to the Toronto Music Festival was an exotic trip. A flight to Europe — unheard of.
The logistics were enormous, from arranging flights, itinerary and accommodation, to the mundane such as the kit each student was required to bring (blue flannel blazer: $27.50 at E.R. Fisher; two neckties at 60 cents apiece; two black bow ties, 70 cents each; pyjamas, $3.45 a pair). Record sales, concerts, donations and other fundraisers brought in just over $34,000, slightly more than was ultimately needed to cover the cost of the trip. Apart from the expenses involved with their kits, students were also each asked to contribute $150 for meals and spending money.
As well, since they were expected to parade in Europe, the band had to learn how to march while performing, and were trained by Governor General Foot Guard drum major Jim Milne. Band member Steve Fahie, whose bassoon “didn’t march well,” was chosen to be the drum major.
“We went across the street to the parking lot on Albert Street and practised,” he recalls. “Somebody finally lent us a proper mace, but we couldn’t use it while practising, so another person made one out of wood.”
To test its marching mettle, the band took part in a competition between marching bands, held in Cornwall. Although not officially entered, the band came in second.
Their itinerary in Europe was exhausting, and it was a rare day off they enjoyed between performances and sightseeing trips. In England they stayed at Grange Farm north of London, where the young men slept in bunks, 10 to a cabin. From there they would head out each day: four hours of concerts at the Birmingham Country Fayre on Saturday, June 22, their first full day in England; four more hours the next day in the Rose Garden in Southall. Monday and Tuesday off, then back at it: Playing with the Grenadier Guards band at the BBC studios on Wednesday; a two-hour concert at the Margate Carnival on Thursday; a police horse show at Imber Court Friday morning, and a visit to, and performance for, the Steadfast Sea Cadet Corps at Kingston-on-Thames in the afternoon. Another carnival procession performance Saturday. Tea at Walworth on Sunday, followed by a one-hour concert there.
“It was fun but a lot of work,” recalls clarinetist Rick Nolan. “You wouldn’t put a professional group through that itinerary.”
On Dominion Day, the band performed a noon-hour concert outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the day after toured the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London.
“Certainly it was an exciting time,” says Frank Morphy, who only last year retired as principal oboist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and who, while in England and Holland in the summer of ’63, picked up the trumpet whenever the band set out on a march.
“One of the things was the camaraderie among us all. There are guys we never hung out with at school, but once you got out on the tour, we were all together, no matter what.”
Well, maybe not no matter what. Nolan recalls the day fellow clarinetist Richard Moxley told him of meeting some girls at the pub who had invited him back the next night.
“I think it was the end of their school year,” says Nolan. “They were going camping somewhere on the coast, and we had a day or two off, so we took the train out to this place.”
Nolan took a liking to one girl in particular — Sandy. “We saw each other twice after that and corresponded maybe twice a year. Then in 1967 I made her my centennial project. She came for a couple of weeks and liked it so much she emigrated a year later.
“We got married the year after that, in 1969.”
Moxley also married one of the girls from the pub.
For the most part, the wonderful reception the band received in England continued in Holland, where memories of Canada’s liberation remained fresh. There, members of the group discovered entirely new experiences, trying, for example, buttermilk, yogurt and condoms for the first time.
A performance they gave in Hilversum was broadcast nationwide on state radio — a concert they later released in Canada as a followup album — while Dutch newspapers offered glowing accounts. “Indrukwekkend optreden van High School Band” read one headline: “Impressive performance from High School Band.”
Their travels were not without incident, however. After missing the 9 p.m. curfew at a youth hostel near Gorkum after a performance one night, the entire band was refused entry, allowed in only to retrieve their belongings. They eventually found shelter at an unfinished Hilton Hotel in Rotterdam, where they stayed two nights.
“Then we loaded up the bus and were 50 or 60 kilometres out of town when the cops pulled us over,” recalls Nolan. “‘OK,’ they said, ‘Give us back all the stuff.’ ”
It turned out that most of the boys had stolen some sort of souvenir from the hotel. After going through their luggage, the police sent them on their way.
“I’ve still got a hanger from the Rotterdam Hilton,” Nolan admits, while trombonist Gary Labelle jokes: “They supervised us a little closer in Amsterdam.”
The band returned to Canada on the night of Aug. 8, touching down in Montreal 49 days after leaving for Europe. They arrived in Ottawa by bus at about 8:30 p.m., to another heroes’ welcome.
“What I remember most about the trip was that you became a man, really,” says Labelle. “You grew up. You went from being a kid to being a man, because you had to take care of yourself for the most part.
“It didn’t just happen on the tour, but with the band in general. And the tour kind of exposed those of us who’d never travelled before to different cultures, and that wakes you up to what the world is all about.
“It’s not the same as going to war, but you do come home a different person.”
It was, he says, the music that set them apart, and the music that bound them together. And it didn’t matter whether, as with Frank Morphy, Rick Locatelli, Richard Ford and Phil Barrette, they continued to play their oboes, timpani and trombones, or if, like Albert Morgan, the music stopped with the screech of the DC-8’s tires on the Montreal airport runway; each played his part.
“When I play trombone and it comes to my part on, say, Dvorak’s Symphony, and you get to the bass parts, you get that tingling feeling,” says Labelle. “You play it and you get that satisfaction, and there might be 30, 40 or 50 other parts that all fit together.
“Not everybody can be a hockey star or a football star, but most people, if they put some effort into it, can be a musician. It doesn’t take a lot to learn to play those instruments. What takes a lot is the comradeship and being part of that group. A lot of these guys were not great players when it comes right down to it, but they learned to be responsible, and their little part of the group contributed to the overall quality of the music; their little part contributed to an overture.”