Harry Armitage



Seeing the history page of the WYO web site for the first time was quite nostalgic for me. My first piano teacher, from 1959 to 1968, was the Margaret Hine who conducted the forerunner Junior Orchestra. In addition, I remember both Barry Sharkey and Michael Sutcliffe from the times I spent playing with the Westmorland Orchestra whilst still at school and (occasionally) whilst at university.


I must have joined the WYO with my trombone in 1968, aged 13, shortly before the retirement of Louise Brothers, as I have only vague memories of attending a small number of rehearsals conducted by her in Ghyllside Primary School. My recollection is of an orchestra at that time of predominantly string players, with a small number of woodwind players, virtually no other brass, and one percussionist. At that time I had probably only been learning to play the trombone for two years and felt very lost, feeling I had joined an ensemble where everyone else seemed to know what they were doing. There was no recognised teacher of trombone in the area during the time I attended secondary school and I remained an entirely self-taught player until I went to university.


I joined the Westmorland Orchestra perhaps a year or two later, and kept playing with the WYO until 1972, when I went to Manchester University to read Physics. I look back on my five years with the WYO with fondness, remembering it developing significantly under Barry Sharkey. By the time I was due to move on, I can recall sitting alongside a couple of budding trumpeters and one French horn player, but I was still the only trombone player at rehearsals!


Once at university, I seemed to play in anything and everything I could. I joined the University Orchestra on bass trombone (Wednesday evening rehearsals), the Music Societyís own Chamber Orchestra (Wednesday afternoons), a student big band (Tuesday night), and my hall of residence even had its own chamber orchestra that rehearsed on Monday evenings. With friends we formed a brass ensemble which rehearsed every Thursday evening and often gave lunchtime concerts. Trying to fit in some physics around all the rehearsals was difficult.


After graduating in 1975 I remained in Manchester and trained as a chartered accountant with KPMG. I qualified in 1978 and remained with KPMG, latterly as a senior manager, until 1988, when I joined GUS Group to set up an internal audit function for its Finance Division, and I have remained with GUS and its successor businesses since in various finance, accounting, and company secretarial capacities.


I met Cath, my wife in 1984. We married in 1986, moving in 1988 to our present house in Whitefield, on the South side of Bury, North Manchester. We have two children, Katie-Louise, born in 1989 and Susan, born in 1993: both play the piano, and Susan also plays clarinet, with the Bury Music Service Senior Concert Band.


After I graduated from university, I thought Iíd better concentrate on my accountancy studies, and so I practically gave up playing the trombone. I started playing again in 1984 by joining a local brass band (I thought it was the only way to get stamina back without lots of solitary practice at home), and from there I moved through another four brass bands of increasing standards in the next 13 years.


High points of my brass band career were playing in the finals of the National championships in London three times (once in the Royal Albert Hall), contributing to a couple of Radio 2 broadcast performances, and playing at the French National championships.


Unfortunately with brass bands, it seems that the better the standard of band, the higher the level of commitment that is required. A minimum of two rehearsals every week and around 30 playing engagements (concerts and contests) per year eventually proved family unfriendly and I stopped playing with brass bands.


Now I restrict myself to playing bass trombone with a 16-piece big band that only rehearses once a fortnight at most, and maybe only gives half a dozen performances a year. Unfortunately for me the Duncan MacFarlane Big Band rehearses in Kendal, but itís not really that far to travel from Manchester in the evening. My links with Duncan and that band, however, go back over 30 years to when I was student and the Brewery Arts Centre had just opened. Someone probably has one or two photographs kicking around somewhere of a scruffy long-haired student with a trombone playing with a big band in the Brewery in 1973 or 1974. If you have, it could be me.