Memories of Glen Buckley
March 4 2000
I was sorry to hear that Bob Campbell had passed away. Bob, Dave and I were the baritone section in 1950. Bob and I were friends for many years as he and his father lived across the street from my home on 13th Ave. Many a night did we play ping pong, poker and imbibe in the pubs.
I was also interested in the comments made by Norm Godfrey. My recollection of the trip to L.A in 1947 or was it 1946 is as follows:
The 1947 Trip to Los Angeles
In 1947 the Kits band travelled south for a one week engagement in Los Angeles. Our last stop before reaching California was Klamath Falls, Oregon. It was over 100F when we arrived in the late afternoon for a concert that evening. The humidity was incredible and the hall in which we played had no air conditioning and the open windows caught no breeze. There was a constant flurry of handkerchiefs and fans as the uncomfortable crowd watched our performance. Our discomfort was much worse. Dressed in black pants and white shirts we wore a crimson/black cape around our shoulders and tightly clasped at the throat. The music stands flashed in the glaring light and seemed to intensify the heat on stage. Mr. “D” in his white suit was perspiring freely as he conducted us through the final opus. There was generous applause from the audience, quick praise from our host and then a mass exit to the cool darkness outside.
We returned to a school gym later in the evening to bed down on old army cots. It had been a long day and that combined with the humidity had sapped all of us. Normally on such a trip there would be some horsing around but fatigue ruled the night. Lights were extinguished and soon the labored sleep and snores of a tired band punctuated the night. It was perhaps 2am. When the first thump was heard followed by a quiet curse and then seconds later three more thumps jarred the blackness of the night. “What the hell is going on?” someone yelled. “Turn on the goddamn lights” shouted another. The gym lit up and we gazed upon the clutter of cots and the four guys that had fallen clear through to the hard floor. The room erupted in laughter and then more cots disintegrated followed by crashing bodies with legs sticking through the ripped material. Within minutes there was nary a one left. It was absolute bedlam. That morning as we dressed bleary eyed for the bus trip to L.A., it was learned that the cots had been made years before to help the Japanese who suffered many casualties in the 1923 earthquake. The cots never reached Japan but languished in storage until the Kits massacre.
We arrived at L.A. and billeted at the Y.M.C.A. Our stay was for one week with nightly concerts at a Pentecostal church. Mr.”D” knew the minister who, some years before, had a parish on the east side of Vancouver. Prior to our journey south, oblique comments had been made by Mr.”D” suggesting that our host had been forced to leave the east side because of his flamboyancy and misuse of collection funds. The good minister, aware that his exceptional talents would likely be appreciated by the State of California, drove south. He was not mistaken in his belief and his church flourished.
Each evening before the concert began he ceremoniously placed on the stage a large basket containing countless ampoules filled with water. The huge crowd was left to wonder as no explanation was given. The band played for precisely one hour and fifteen minutes followed by a thunderous ovation from the audience.
The lights dimmed and onto the stage swept the minister in a crimson flowing robe. He soon mesmerized his flock with his deep voice which crescendoed to the ultimate praise of God Almighty. And then he paused and said, “This band is also the voice of God. These young and talented musicians have come all the way from Canada to entertain you tonight.” He then proceeded to the overflowing basket and removed two ampoules which he raised above his head and said, “I bless one for the congregation and the other for this splendid band of young men. Before you depart my good friends take two capsules of this holy water and double your generous contributions.” And they did.
The Kits Band and the 1950 Trip
Glen Buckley’s Memories
We traveled across Canada occupying the last two passenger cars of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Practically every day our cars would be shunted off the main track onto a siding in a city or town for an evening concert. Then after midnight we would be picked up by another eastbound train for the next destination and finally we arrived at Toronto. Our cross country trek was uneventful save for Kenora, Ontario, where half the band was suddenly stricken by a flu bug. I recall that evening, in the midst of the 1812 overture, silently slinking off the stage and for the remainder of the show glued to the toilet seat in the nearby lavatory. We traveled from Toronto to Montreal and soon the band’s 39 young ambassadors boarded the Cunard Ship Line`s “Samaria” docked on the St. Lawrence river. We were assigned to four staterooms situated a few feet above the water line but this was of little concern to us. Ahead was the Atlantic Ocean,
England and Europe!
The voyage across the Atlantic Ocean was ten days. The “Samaria” bobbed and weaved its way through the stormy waters creating havoc for some of its passengers. One day out from the friendly shores of Canada the heaving waves began. Our first trumpet player, Cyril Battistoni, remained in his bunk for the entire crossing. He could not tolerate the slightest motion. There were ten of us to our stateroom. We were senior members who had bonded together and six of us were keen poker players. Drinks and cigarettes aboard ship were one shilling. Every evening, after performing a concert, would find us playing cards in the smoky confines of our cabin. At midnight we would call the porter and order a round of turkey sandwiches. In the meantime Cyril would lay in his bunk, moaning and groaning, as the sight and smell of food drove him to despair.
After breakfast we practiced in the theatre and then the rest of the day was at our disposal. We met some of the crew and one afternoon the quartette was invited to their quarters where songs were exchanged for pints of beer. They were a jolly lot and laughingly answered our enquires as to the whereabouts of the three young gals that boarded the ship and then seemed to disappear. They were prostitutes serving the crew as the Samaria made its way across the ocean. After a non working week holiday in London the girls would make the return trip much to the delight of the seamen.
One evening, at dusk, I stood at the prow of the ship and spotted the tip of an iceberg off to the port side. I immediately thought of the Titanic and the tragedy that befell her passengers. The huge swells of the Atlantic pressed upon the bow of the Samaria as she rose and fell upon the ocean with groans and shudders of protestations. Finally we arrived at the French port of Le Havre. It was in the afternoon as we all stood on deck happily gazing at the European continent and amazed to see the rocket ramps still standing from which the V2s were launched a few years before.
Even Cyril was upright and quickly regaining his smartass attitude. “Let me off here so I can mix with those French broads” he said, as he pointed to a bevy of young women standing on the wharf…………we arrived at the port of Tilbury, England, a short distance from London. We were met by Pathe News who interviewed Mr. D and took photos of the band. I noticed a short man, probably in his fifties, dressed to the nines and wearing a bowler hat. He was introduced to us as our agent who had booked the bands overseas tour……
We left the ship and boarded the chartered bus for the ride to London. Here we were, thirty nine guys ranting and raving as we traveled the wrong side of the road. And then there were the chimney pots. Hundreds of them!
I sat, momentarily spellbound, as Laurence Olivier`s Henry V swept into my ken. The Globe theatre and the Battle of Agincourt, the English longbows darkening the sky with cascading arrows that thudded into horses and riders of the charging and doomed French calvary, I was riding to the unknown.
Would my whistling sound different in the land of the Kings? Surely all things would not be the same. Even the foliage took on a deeper green. And the boxcars—how small and puny compared to those of the mighty Canadian Pacific Railway.
We soon arrived at a hotel in London and quickly took our assigned rooms. It was late afternoon and Mr. D cautioned us to behave ourselves and turn in early because of our BBC appearance next morning. However the temptation was too much and soon four of us were on the subway heading for Piccadilly Circus. We were impressed with the efficiency of the underground “tube” which rivaled the double decker buses for service. It was perhaps 7pm when our small raiding party descended upon Piccadilly. We were quickly conquered by the boisterous
and sensuous atmosphere that prevailed. We mingled with the crowd of bowler hats and umbrellas, the artists and entertainers and mostly we eyed the young and truly beautiful ladies of the evening. They were in their twenties and their smiles overwhelmed me. They seemed to possess all the sexual powers that a nineteen year old male dreamed of.
On June 2nd 1950 we railed into southern England for a three week tour of Weymouth, Bournemouth, Eastbourne and Torquay. After our engagement at Weymouth we moved on to Bournemouth for a three day performance at the Winter Gardens and ran smack into a ten day strike of the Municipal Orchestra. Although none of us were members of the Musicians` Union, Delamont was. The local press endeavored to assist us explaining “They are over here on an educational tour, as ambassadors of the outposts of the empire”. Mr. “D” knew the reality of the situation and responded “If we played at the Winter Gardens we might as well pack up and go home.” When questioned as to what the boys in the band would do his quick reply was “They think Bournemouth a grand place and they`ve gone off to have a swim.” Well he was partly correct. Swim we did as we took the lifts down the cliffs to the ocean. Much time was spent ogling the local girls, sampling the pubs and playing baseball which rather mystified the local spectators.
We continued on to Eastbourne and then to Torquay. It all started in Eastbourne and continued throughout the five months overseas. After every performance we were met by thirty to forty girls as we exited the stage doors. Shades of Sinatra. We were pleasantly surprised as this never happened in Vancouver where we played many a concert over the years. I suppose it’s true that fame is usually achieved in a foreign land.
On the 24th of June we began a one week blitz of Holland. Ten towns or cities fell before us: Hillegom, Scheveningen, Zandvoort, Eindhoven, Den Burg, Bergen(N.H.), Hilversum, Amersfoort, Middleburg and Oosterbeek. Upon each arrival we were greeted by large crowds who reacted with delirium. It was as if our small army of musicians had again liberated the Dutch people. On most occasions we visited the public square and when formalities ceased we were dually or singly billeted out to families who quickly claimed us. It was my preference to share accommodation with a buddy but this did not happen in Bergen. I sat, slightly forlorn, and waited to be plucked as a single. My name was called and suddenly there emerged from the smiling spectators a blue eyed blond teenaged beauty who ran to me, clutched my arm and in broken English commanded, “You are to come with me.” I was in paradise as I gazed at her smile and marveled at the whiteness of her perfectly formed teeth.
Coby Ton was her name and a real sweet sixteen she turned out to be. We plunged through the crowd and I can still hear the envious comments of my comrades as the two of us disappeared from the square. It was a short distance to her home where I met her parents, young brother and her equally stunning nineteen year old sister. That evening as we supped together I felt like an alien from a distant planet. My only connection to reality was Coby who struggled to assist me with her limited English………
The reception we received throughout Holland was to remain in my mind for years. It was in Den Burg(Isle of Texel) that I began to understand what the Dutch people experienced under the German occupation. Dave Armstrong and I were billeted with a family who spoke of the terror that reigned, particularly in early 1945 when there was a joint uprising by the Dutch resistance and Russian prisoners. Momentarily the allies had the upper hand but were soon vanquished by their heavily armed enemy. Reprisals were swift and deadly as mass executions followed. A short time later Dave and I stood on the shore looking at the battle marked German pill boxes that even then seemed ominous. Was it really 1950?
How it all started for Glen Buckley!
At eleven years of age, I decided to join the General Gordon School Band. It was the first fateful decision of my young life. Some months before I had fallen in love with the melodic sound of the flute in the Nut Cracker Suite. Weeks later Mr. Arthur Delamont was introduced to my grade six music class by Ms. Corbett. He was a handsome man, in his late forties or early fifties, dark complexion topped with snow white hair.
Ms. Corbett explained that our guest was the conductor of the famous Kitsilano Boys` Band and was looking for young lads who may be interested in playing an instrument in the General Gordon Band which was one of six junior bands throughout Vancouver and North Vancouver that fed talented musicians into the senior band. Mr. Delamont spoke briefly and then said he would pass up and down the aisles and pass out slips of paper to those who were interested who were to jot down name, phone number and their instrument of choice. I recall to this day my indecision as he moved ever closer to my desk. What would the guys on the soccer team think…that I was a sissy? Was I really prepared to devote hours of practice to the band? Was there any real chance of graduating to the famous Kits Band? And yet the sound of the flute prevailed. He was at my shoulder when impulsively my left hand shot upward.
It was a few days later that mother and I rode the No. 14 streetcar to downtown Vancouver and walked into the music store on Seymour Street. An older man greeted us and aware of our purpose from a prior phone call presented to me a two foot long black leather case. I nervously opened the well worn container and there lying on crimson satin was, in my eyes, the most beautiful ebony flute. My mother signed the rental agreement of ten dollars a month with all payments credited should we purchase the instrument outright. That night after supper I quietly slipped away to my bedroom to begin my career as the world`s greatest flautist. I was immediately disheartened when the best I could muster up was a pitiful weak raspy sound so unlike the pure inspiring sound of the flute in the Nutcracker Suite.
I struggled with the flute for about two months and then one day at band practice Mr. “D” took me aside and placed in my hands a brass Euphonium. “Blow into the mouthpiece” he commanded. Dutifuly I obliged but nothing happened. “Tighten your lips and try again” he said. This time a resounding blat came forth from the bell of the horn. It was Mr. “D`s” opinion that I was more likely to succeed as a baritone player than as a flautist. I could hardly argue with a man of such perception.
Glen’s reflection on Arthur Delamont
Looking back over the past 50 years I do not recall any of the 39 receiving bad press. I fondly remember the years between 1943 and 1950 as a member of the famous Kits band. Mr. “D” infected all of us with his personality. Loyalty, fortitude, honesty are some of the qualities that come to mind. Some years later, at my request, Mr. “D” and the band participated in our North Delta Family Days. This was an annual event that my wife and I and others co-founded in 1967. In fact the band appeared twice in the early seventies. I recall how proud I was seeing the band marching down the street and eventually perform a short concert at Annieville Park. When I enquired as to the cost Mr. “D” replied casually, “Oh seventy five dollars should be enough Glen.” Whether on stage or leading a parade I will always remember our irascible leader who accepted nothing but the best from his boys.
Glen Buckley, baritone player and bass singer of the famous “Four Notes” [1950