Gordon Laird’s Memories
The Legacy of the Kits Band
by Gordon Laird Friday, December 15, 2000
It is only recently that I have thought of the changes in my life which are owed to the Kitsilano Boys Band and Arthur Delamont (Mr. D.).
Love of Music:
This did not start for me in the Kits Band. It started by listening to Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman on the radio, following my sister Daphne’s example. I started by loving “swing”. Everything else has been derivative for me. In the Kits Band we learned a lot of other kinds of music. I was introduced to classical musical “from the inside”, that is, by playing it, rather than by listening to it. I still would rather play music than listen to it. But almost every time I hear a classical selection I remember playing it in the band, and sometimes where we played it.
There was something special about “Hymn Toons.” Mr. D. never put his religious ideas onto us. But they were there, and the closest I came to it was when we played “Abide with Me” “The Lost Chord” or “Denton Park”. The close harmony, the organ-like effect, particularly of the clarinets in the low register, was unforgettable.
Presentation and Showmanship:
All my education about how to present things came from Mr. D. and the Kits Band. Mostly it was unexplained. We watched, listened and learned. Every concert the chairs would have been set up before we arrived. Then Mr. D. arrived and proceeded to have us rearrange them into a pattern which suited his pleasure. This had to do with eye appeal and effect. In England, when the stage curtain opened onto the stage, there we were, resplendent in shocking white, electric red and black. We made a tremendous immediate effect. This was combined with a strong and effective opening number, such as the Washington Post march. There was immediate impact on the eyes and the ears. Verboten was: slouching, crossed legs, different colored stockings, instruments akimbo. Marilyn told me that when we witnessed the final practice in the Armories for our 1998 concert, that it looked like a bunch of sloppy old men. BUT when the PERFORMANCE happened, there were the white shirts, red ties, black stockings and shoes, and all the instruments on the knees in a row. Marilyn can guess, with great accuracy, which of my present band colleagues were once in the Kits Band.
Mr. D. almost never explained his philosophy. We had to watch and learn. In contests it was the aspect evaluated as “Deportment”.
40 years later I was shocked to sit beside a young student clarinet player who slouched in her chair, with one leg over the other. She was not bad on the clarinet, but at that moment that didn’t matter.
Mr. D. looked for opportunities to give bands the “stage experience”. He didn’t explain that either! In the West Point Grey Band, having played the clarinet for a few months, we were on the stage in the huge auditorium performing. I learned from that experience that it is necessary to take every opportunity to give the players the experience of performing.
It was a common experience for a young player to be given his first experience “on stage” only to have Mr. D. say to him, just before the concert began, “Don’t play a note!”, or “Fake it!”.
I don’t consider myself a very disciplined person in most aspects of my life. But at performances with any band I am totally uncompromising. I want my clarinet up on the knee at the correct time, and I want to see everyone else’s there as well. Mr. D. spoiled me for other conductors. If they don’t show enough strictness and strength I am disappointed. I don’t want a conductor who wants to be a “pal” with me!
An International Outlook:
In 1950 I was 19 years of age when I embarked with the band to Europe. I had traveled during summer holidays with my family, but the farthest would have been Washington State and Vancouver Island. When my brother, Doug, was working in Williams Lake I drove with my Father and Mother to see him, so we experienced the old, unpaved, Cariboo Highway.
That was the extent of my travel in the first 19 years of life with my family. My horizons of travel began to broaden for me with the Kits Band. We had a trip to the Calgary Stampede, one to Vancouver Island and the biggest of all, to Hollywood, California. But this was only a foretaste of the trip of all: the one to come.
We boarded the train at the C. P. R. Station in downtown Vancouver on Saturday, May 13, 1950, we played “a couple of marches and a hymn” (I am indebted to Norm Mullins and his daily diary entries for our trip for the accuracy of the historical notes) and we were off on the greatest adventure of our lives.
The band had commissioned a couple of train cars, and two mothers helped cook the food for us. We were exploring Canada and stopped at many towns to play our concerts. (Norm: Revelstoke, Calgary, Swift Current, Regina, Brandon [in place of Winnipeg which was suffering its worst ever flood], Port Arthur, Sudbury, and Toronto).
I dare say that none of the boys had been farther east than Calgary before this trip, except for any who were born in the east. We were discovering our own country!
Along the way I had the “ambassador” experience of having lunch with my Aunty Bess and Uncle Merv in Toronto, and my Uncle Douglas and Aunty Daisy in Montreal. By that I mean the unique experience of being a representative: representing your family, representing your City, and ultimately representing your Country. We were all to have many more “ambassador” experiences.
In Quebec City, Tuesday May 23rd we boarded the Cunard liner R.M.S. Samaria. This was my first ocean voyage longer than the ferry trip from Vancouver harbor to Victoria! And it was a ten-day trip! This was something very new for me and for my whole family. I was the first to take a trans-Atlantic voyage since my father immigrated to Canada from Ireland in 1913. When we arrived at the Tilbury Docks in the Thames Estuary outside London, I was the first of my family to set foot in England.
It is only now at a distance of 50 years, that I can assess the impact of my arriving in England.
The oldest monument I had ever seen in my life would have been the Legislative Buildings in Victoria. Now I was to see Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and Buckingham Palace. In a few weeks I would be in Holland (the first in my family to set foot in Europe) and then a few weeks later to be in Paris standing in front of the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
In the space of weeks I had been exposed to many different lives and customs. Everything we ate for each meal had its own national or local tradition. Coming from the unilingual west coast of Canada, I was hearing all kinds of accents and languages, even within England. I learned to love the Manchester accent, and to be able to compare it to Cockney, as well as “B.B.C. English”.
When I set foot in England I became international and never looked back. I was never good in languages in high school, I now embarked on a love of language which has involved me with a half-dozen modern and ancient languages. I knew that this trip would not be my last trip to Europe. It was 23 years later that I brought Marilyn and five children back to Europe, to live in Germany. We visited Holland and England, and remembered the places and relived the experiences from 1950. Many of my Kits colleagues have done the same.
Ambassadors for Canada:
We learned what it was to be Ambassadors for Canada. The most vivid memories of this was the one week in Holland. We were not prepared for the overwhelming appreciation and love shown us by the people in Holland. We, in Canada, had a relatively tame experience of the war. Unless we had a relative in the forces the experience was “way over there”. Yes, we were part of the “War Effort” but that had nothing to do with personal imprisonment or personal physical danger to ourselves, our families or our homes.
We were to learn very quickly that it had been an entirely different experience for the Dutch. Their country had been invaded and all their rights were denied. They had been starved of their daily food rations. This lasted four years under increasingly worsening conditions. All of this was very recent to them in memory.
They also remember that the first troops they saw at the liberation were the Canadian troops. They remembered vividly their first sight of the healthy, friendly, Canadian soldiers. One Dutch person commented on the fact that they were tanned and well-fed. Many of the Dutch people must have vowed to never forget a Canadian person in their lives and to treat all Canadians with great respect.
So we, who had no part in liberating them, inherited the respect which our Canadian soldiers had earned some 5 years before our trip. We were presented with flags which stated: “Holland Thanks Canada”.
None of us will ever forget this experience and many of us have returned to Holland since to share with our families our wonderful experience.
The Matador of the Musical World
by Gordon Laird
November 27, 2000
He stopped the band in its tracks with a yell. “Stop! Stop!” “You are not going to ruin my music that way!!”
He was a strikingly handsome man in his late sixties with a shock of white hair. Fashionably dressed, he pulled his red cashmere sweater over his head, threw it on the floor and did a little dance on his sweater. He glowered at the roomful of young boys and girls, each of them hanging on tight to their trumpets and clarinets and trying with all their might to avoid the terrible look in his blazing eyes.
“OK, take it from the top!”
You have now been introduced to Arthur W. Delamont, world-famous conductor of championship bands and most especially of the Vancouver Kitsilano Boys Band, which traveled to Europe many times under the title: Vancouver Boys Band.
Stories about Arthur Delamont abound among the “boys” who made up his bands from the early 1930’s until the 1970’s. The event I described took place in White Rock, B. C. and was acted out in front of members of the White Rock Band. But it could have been any band of any year. After our reunion concerts, the last of which took place in Vancouver in 1998, the “boys” repair to a hall to remember old times. Over beers or hard liquor, both habits learned in Europe on band trips, the stories flow and cascade over each other.
The time Mr. D. (behind his back we called Arthur Delamont “D”) bawled out the Dutch volunteers who had billeted the “boys” for the night and fed them breakfast. Mr. D. told them that buns and cheese was not a substantial enough breakfast for “his boys”.
The time, reported to me from a member of an earlier trip, when one of the “Boys” turned up late for the concert in Bath, England. Mr. D. threw down his baton and walked off the stand. When he did not return to conduct the concert one of the “Boys” had to step in and conduct.
I recall one night in Penticton when the “Boys” were bedded down in a school gymnasium, together with an opposing band. The night was filled with flying peas from pea- shooters: tens of pounds of peas. Only conscripted fathers attempted to keep control on the “boys” and to handle confrontations with the fathers of the other band. Mr. D. was nowhere to be seen.
In the morning Mr. D. arrived, looking as if he had stepped out of a bandbox, with white pants showing a razor-sharp crease, angrily bawled out boys and fathers, and marched the band through town, giving their best number at the reviewing stand. The White Rock Band won its first trophy, and everyone went home tired and happy, with great yarns to tell. Mr. D. had paced out the route of the parade the night before.
Arthur Delamont was born in Hereford, England, the son of Salvation Army parents. He learned to play the cornet in the Salvation Army band and entered upon a distinguished and prize-winning career as a solo cornetist. The Salvation Army background showed in the fact that he never drank, nor smoked, and he didn’t exactly swear, yet the words he would use when angry, which was most of the time, were as close to swear-words as anyone has heard.
In 1910 the Delamont family moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. A tragedy befell them on a trip back to England for a Salvation Army convention, in that they were survivors of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914 in the St. Lawrence River. Leonard Delamont, Arthur’s brother and conductor of the band, was lost in that tragedy.
Arthur’s musical interests and obvious talents were putting him at loggerheads with the rules of the Salvation Army. He found that he could get jobs in dance-halls and musicals, and this was against the strict ideals of the Army. Arthur parted company with them and moved to Vancouver in the 1920’s.
In 1928 he decided to form a Boy’s Band which was called “The General Gordon School Band. We “Boys” always remember the story in this phase: “I saw a couple of boys on the street and I thought to myself, ‘I could teach those boys to play…’”
We grew bored in hearing these old stories but there was more than a grain of truth in them. Out of those “couple of boys” Arthur created a band which won trophies against top English senior colliery bands. His did it through his own genius.
In this day in which tact and carefulness, especially with children, are the marks of “political correctness”, it reminds me that Arthur knew nothing about either tact or careful relationships with children. But we “Kits Boys” will never forget what we learned from Arthur Delamont. He changed every one of our lives, each in different ways. I think we are all better people for having known him.
We have something in common with other “Boys” from any of the bands. Because we shared something in common, we are already known to each other – we recognize each other. I have noticed that in later life meeting a member of “our trip”, with whom we did not have much in common at that time, we recognized the brotherhood of shared experience we have with each other. The bond is there: immediately and forever. This is a legacy from one man: Arthur Delamont.
How it all started for Gordon
Glen Buckley’s memory of buying the flute, and then the baritone has excited my memory about those early days. Mr. D. came into our home room class at Point Grey Junior High school and was introduced by our teacher. I remember that he was a very striking looking person, very handsome. I cannot be sure now if his hair was pure white in color nor am I exactly sure whether he carried his trumpet with him.
He asked who would like to join the Point Grey Junior High band. Only two of us put up our hands, Glenn Startup and me.
We were to meet with him after school in a basement room of the school. I am unclear what happened next, because I know I didn’t decide that I would play the clarinet, so I have to assume Mr. D. made that decision. Glenn decided on a trumpet (or Mr. D. decided for him!)
My next memory is my mother and I going to Vancouver Music on Seymour street. We choose a metal Albert B flat clarinet. Odd for two reasons: one, that it was metal, which looked more like a skeleton of a clarinet rather than a clarinet, and two, because the Albert system was an old-fashioned system, which required a more spread finger formation, and had fewer keys to help ease difficult passages.
In other words, this was the hardest way to start to play the clarinet. Imagine how I feel now when parents go out and rent or buy a Yamaha clarinet or sax for their fledgling musician! That is not anything like the problem I was faced with. And I didn’t know enough to know I had a problem!
I think the owner of Vancouver Music was a personal friend of Mr. D.’s.
ABOVE: 2000, Gordon seated with the ladies.