Saturday, 5 June 2010

Happy Snaps

Apologies for the delay, but the photos from tour are now up on the band's website gallery here. There's about 120 photos in total from the 4 days - hope you like them!

Thanks to Cath, Cliff, Ellie, Graham, Gregor, Jon W, Louise, Martin, Sioban and Ursula for their pics.

I think that's about it for this blog for've had the diary, the poetry, the photos and even a mini-quiz from the Chairman, so I'll sign off and leave you with a picture of Phil, who discovered that the biggest gin bar in Ghent was run by none other than...himself!

Until the next time....

Monday, 24 May 2010

Prodigious Poetry

Whilst the members of WCB are well-known for their musical endeavours, it turns out that if you scratch the surface, you discover that their artistic abilities are practically limitless! We asked the tourers to submit their own limericks and received a massive 23 entries in 4 days including no less than 7 from Karen. Here's a selection of our favourites...

Last Monday we needed to get
the Band a new first clarinet.
It should have been Steve,
But he had to leave.
We were lucky to find Juliet!

We arrived and the bandstand was bare.
No chairs! But we didn't care.
We got changed on the bus,
Without any fuss,
And played Abba to fans in the square.

John Sayer is a jolly fellow,
Who is normally quite mellow,
But it all went to pot
When the clarinets got
It wrong with the submarine yellow.

Owen and the committee
Arranged a tour to the pretty
City of Ghent,
but wherever we went,
The weather was really not as good as it could have been.

...and Karen's complete oeuvre...!

Woodley Band (from Berkshire UK)
Sailed to Belgium one rainy May Day.
The ferry was late,
No, we're really not freight!
But we made it to sunny Calais

A trip on a Ghent canal
Our Andy found very banal.
He signed and he moaned,
He fidgeted and groaned.
So next time we'll leave him with you pal!

Woodley Band were bussed over to Ghent
Then to cold rainy Antwerp we went.
The plan was to play
And cheer a grey, wet, dull day,
So to this goal we were bent.

Yes to Antwerp we went in the rain,
Set to cheer with a musical refrain.
Abba was grand,
Though we all had to stand
Fancy-dressed teenagers we did entertain.

We dried out on Sunday night,
Gingham kitsch decor was a real fright.
As we tore into ribs,
We all needed bibs.
Paint-stripper wine furthered our plight.

We found jazz in Phil's dank smokey bar,
Where we were the oldest swingers by far.
Frizzy-haired guy on bass,
Spaced-out look on his face,
And the young guy could swing his guitar.

Next this intrepid band travelled east*
To Bruges, for a chocolate feast.
Down the rain poured,
and still the band toured,
But all hopes of a concert then ceased.
*[Technically it was north-west, but let's not let geography get in the way of a good limerick!]

Thanks to Cath, Dave, Ellie, Hilary, Ian, Jen Karen and Ursula for all their entries - we hope you like them!

Friday, 21 May 2010

WCB Tour Blog, Part 4

Day 4 – Tuesday 4th May
by Andy & Jon W

Today is divided between the early and the late risers. WCB’s dynamic duo, Sioban and Mike, have pre-arranged an early breakfast for 5.45am and are off to Ypres on the 7.00am train to visit the Menin Gate WW1 Memorial.  Jon W is also up early, awakened by the sun shining under the curtains – typical – the day we go home, the sun shines! At half past seven, the breakfast room is full of Germans, but different to yesterday’s – the red polo shirts must have scared them off. There is a long queue for food – these people are so slow! For heavens sake make your mind up. Yes the little containers with a cow on the front are butter! No wonder they get up three hours before their coach leaves. Those breakfasting later report fewer delays.

For those not booked on crack of dawn excursions, the morning is spent ‘at leisure’ in Ghent, shopping, taking photos, dozing or seeing the sights, including the rather formidable mediaeval Gravensteen fortress complete with slightly intriguing museum – the displays seem to pose more questions than they answer about the history of this imposing building. By 11:30, Sioban and Mike are back from their sightseeing and having coffee in Café Rigioletto and others are contemplating an early lunch before we commence the journey home.

We board the coach at 1.30pm, having loaded our suitcases and uniform. Robert the coach driver seems in a good mood as we head out of Ghent and through the fields of Flanders. Everyone is very quiet on the coach and we realise that Andy has not spoken for at least 45 minutes.  Resisting the temptation to rush over and check his pulse, we discover that most of the coach is in fact asleep and Andy is reading. We make a note to bring a book to rehearsals for him in future.

After an uneventful journey, we arrive in Calais early and are fortunately able to catch an earlier ferry than planned at 4:10. The crossing is a little rougher than the way out and there are reports of at least one person feeling a little nauseous, but that doesn’t prevent some of the party gathering in the bar to ensure they cram as much ‘socialising’ as possible into our brief trip!

Everyone seems in good spirits as we disembark at Dover and set off back to Woodley. Following a brief stop at Clacket Lane services, the gods of the M25 smile benignly on us and we encounter no problems at all, arriving back at the lockup at 7:30pm to greet our friends and family. Everyone is glad to be home in sunny Woodley and it seems that a good time has been had by all.

Woodley’s first international adventure has been a success – it’s been a good trip with a brilliant concert, nice food, excellent company, delicious chocolate and great beer…now…where shall we go next…?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

WCB Tour Blog, Part 3

Day 3 – Monday 3rd May
by Gregor & Ursula

It’s the morning after the night before and those band members that might have over-indulged last night are feeling a tad delicate.  Today has been designated WCB Polo Shirt day and at breakfast the décor of the restaurant and the sprawling mass of polo shirts matches Gregor's eyes (very red).  We all enjoy a hearty breakfast (except Gregor who claims that he ate something yesterday that didn’t agree with him).

Once again, the weather is refusing to play ball with rainy, overcast skies and now colder temperatures too. Today, however, we’re off to Bruges and we board the coach optimistically hoping that, just like yesterday, the weather will clear up and we’ll be able to perform.
We all look rather splendid (if a little bit cold and windswept) in our polo shirts  in the official tour photo, taken on the steps of the Provincial Court Building in the Markt.  The brightest colour of the day, however, must surely be yellow, thanks to Dave, Ian and Graham’s indecently bright yellow waterproofs.

Next up is the slightly mysterious-sounding chocolate walk. As Belgium is well known for its chocolate and because Bruges is such a beautiful city, someone came up with the brilliant idea of combining the two. We split into two groups and set off for our walk. The tour is excellent and,   hunching further into our coats as it gets colder, we learn a lot about the city and its history. Of course we also get to sample plenty of chocolate, including a chocolate alcoholic liqueur (which some of the more hungover members of the band have to pass on although others are keen to get in supplies for consumption back home).

The tour over, the band instantly disperse to various warm hostelries in search of warmth. Owen, Louise, Cath and Gregor enter a little tea room that advertises ‘The Best Hot Chocolate in the World’ which we feel compelled to put to the test.  Instead of serving up a pre-mixed hot chocolate they provide a large cup of hot milk, little bits of chocolate and a whisk so that you can make your own. Cath is fairly careful how much chocolate she puts in, testing the mixture as she goes along, just like a chemist would. Owen chucks about half the chocolate in, guessing that that will be about right.  Louise, meanwhile, hurls the whole lot in with abandon and then spends the rest of the day bouncing around on a massive sugar rush.

After a quick lunch, the weather is still appalling so we have no option but to cancel the gig.  Even without the rain, the wind and cold would be pretty unpleasant.  It’s unfortunate, but luckily yesterday’s concert went really well so we’re not too devastated!  It’s only when we get back to the UK that we check the band email and find one from someone who came to the Markt to hear us after seeing an advert and was disappointed to find that we weren’t there - so now we’ll have to go back!

The cancelled concert leaves us with an additional hour or so to spend doing cultured things such as exploring the city, visiting the chip museum (interesting...and very good chips), drinking hot cups of coffee or shopping for more chocolate. Before long, though, it is time to head back to Ghent and we walk (or get the bus) back to the coach with Graham narrowly avoiding falling victim to one of Bruges’ fraternity of lunatic cyclists. Surprisingly, all are tired on the journey back to the hotel and there is even no sound from Andy – peace at last.

This evening Owen has arranged a group meal for us. Taking the scenic route from the hotel in order to avoid the mud and wobbly bridges of the city centre (we’re sure that it will be lovely in a year or so!), we soon arrive at the restaurant for our three-course final feast.  After the excellent meal, Owen presents prizes to those clever bods that have won honours for the tour booklet wordsearch (Cath), Sudoku (Jen), logic puzzle (Alison) and  limerick competition (Jen…again), plus some additional prizes…

John - Most animated and impassioned conducting of Amarillo
Jon H – Most impressive lack of staying power (ok, so he had to get back to teach on Tuesday)
Martin – Highest volume of equipment per person in section (although he is the percussionist)
Juliet – For willingness to join the tour at the last minute
Andy – Quietest tourer most likely to keep their views to themselves
Karen – Highest volume of limericks (seven!)

The highlight of the evening, however, is surely when the Chairman makes a fantastic, witty, moving, noble, educational, sexy speech thanking Owen and Louise for the huge amount of work that they have put into the tour.  It’s a beautiful moment and all that are present realise that they are in the presence of genius. Through tears of gratitude, Owen and Louise thank the Chairman for making such an inspirational speech [Hmm…this isn’t quite the way I remember it. Ed.]. Owen and Louise are presented with several gifts and Owen is, for once, stumped for words (presumably overcome with emotion…or too tired) so we leave him with the bill.

The band split up.  Some pile into the local gin bar (which serves hundreds of countless different kinds of gin), not to re-appear until much later when they are, allegedly, well oiled (there are strong rumours of one flute player downing no less than seven gins).  Others frequent other establishments around Ghent, while others still return to our own hotel bar.  For some (especially those who had over-indulged the night before), it is an early night, whilst some linger until politely told that it’s bed-time by the barman who goes off duty at 1:00.

Friday, 14 May 2010

WCB Tour Blog, Part 2

Day 2 – Sunday 2nd May

by Hilary, Karen & Sioban

Rain during the night and the forecast is for thunderstorms - oh dear! It’s Sunday morning and the day gets off to a conventional start – breakfast. Stuffed full of croissants, cereals, baguettes and coffee, we embark for today’s excursion. The bus is loaded with sundry red jackets, uniforms and instruments, cagoules and umbrellas, and off we go to Antwerp after being counted in carefully by Owen. On the way out of Ghent we pass the Flower Market bandstand (missed a trick there Owen ...oh no...two tricks actually as we find a second further along).

Owen ensures we have maps – a grown up one and a student one which helpfully points out the best places to have chips and a hotel that offers aspirin with breakfast. Hold on to that...who knows when it could be useful. First stop: the diamond museum. As they haven’t warned us that we can’t turn right to reach them due to road works, we enter a narrow one-way system followed by a hairy spell on the cobbles before finally arriving at the Astridplein and the Museum. After pooling euros for the lockers we enter the Museum equipped with our audio guides. Some members only last five minutes before retreating for coffee and beer - but the rest find parts to interest them, especially as we go down the floors. The sparkling stones are a pre-cursor to what will no doubt be a glittering performance this afternoon!

Bling trip over, we head to the stunning train station and enjoy the awesome architecture before heading off to the bandstand in the Groeenplats. Outside it is still dull, gloomy and overcast but now, just to make life interesting, it is raining. We are wet. We lurk along the shop fronts trying to find some shelter from the increasingly torrential downpour. Sensible British people go on holiday with waterproof hooded coats or at least an umbrella or risk a soaking.

Rain-drenched but not disheartened, we arrive at the bandstand. "Will we still play?" "Of course we will" - but it does look a bit bleak. Martin is suffering from major anxiety at the thought of his drums getting wet, but not as bad as Karen who says that Bad Hair Day doesn’t even begin to describe it. Immy predicts good weather - and she’s right! The rain eases and instruments are carried out by the men while the ladies change into band uniforms huddled behind the drawn curtains of the coach. After the men’s turn in the coach, we set up and wait for the chairs. And wait...and wait...

Have they forgotten? Yes. Brandishing a letter from the council promising the aforementioned seats, Owen, Gregor and Mike set off to the Tourist Board for help. Sadly none is forthcoming. Gregor and Mike circle the square eyeing up restaurant chairs, eventually finding some suitable options at the Hilton. Lars the manager had to ring his manager but eventually permission is granted for us to have the use of two for an hour and a half (bureaucracy is obviously rife in Belgium as well as the UK!).

Meanwhile, bang on time, the performance is under way! Having to stand doesn’t deter the band and a superb performance is on the cards (plus one happy conductor), even if we do have to compete with the Cathedral bells every 7½ minutes. The music floats over the square and even filters into the side streets and down to the river Scheldt. An appreciative audience of tourists, locals and WAGs gathers, in particular the group of girls who loved Abba Gold – they clap, they whoop and they sing Mamma Mia - John doesn't often get a screaming response at the end of a piece!

With Malaguena we come to a conclusion. Instruments away and we find chips, coffee and ice-creams, then back to the coach and hey, Owen is counting us again.

Cleaned up back at the hotel and dinner is uppermost in our minds. So, a hungry group arrive at an inn and are ushered in, up crooked stairs to a long table which sports giant bottles of wine and battered empty tins. This is a big, fat clue.

Waiter: “ Are you ready to order?”

Ian: “We haven’t had the menu.”

Waiter (with incredulous look on his face): “There is no menu. We serve ribs!”

So the giant sticky ribs are served, washed down with dubious wine and the battered tins fill with bones. This is a red-ginghamed kitsch-fest. And it is great. Cath may never forget her battle to consume whole prawns with eyes, feelers and long leggy things - a battle she wins convincingly.

A jazz bar rounds off the whole evening in a smoky surreal room full of young music lovers who kindly ignored the oldest swingers in town who were entranced and deeply envious of the pure talent of the musicians. Round the corner, meanwhile, a number of the party are discovering the joys of Belgian beer and flavoured gins. Heads may be sore in the morning...

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

WCB Tour Blog, Part 1

Day 1 – Saturday 1st May

by Cath & Cathy

An early start. We can confirm that WCB Chairman Gregor is doing pirouettes and saying how excited he is at 6:15am.

‘Pick up at 7.30’ is the first thing on our instruction sheet from Owen. It is 7.20 and everyone is here which is amazing. The coach arrives courtesy of Thomas of Rhondda, repeat business from Owen apparently; but will this give us an identity crisis and confuse the Belgians?

Bags and instruments loaded. Players and supporters counted by Owen and passports checked by Gregor (a wise precaution). Robert (our driver) informs us that the coach toilet is for ‘number ones only’ and that we should let him know of any other ‘emergencies’ and he’ll stop as soon as is practical. Hmm. Owen gives out incredibly impressive tour packs – within what seems like 30 seconds, the first polo shirts are being worn and Jen has completed the devilish Sudoku. Then comes the slog down the motorway but the sun is shining (will it last?) and spirits are high. As we approach the M25, Graham sets up his mobile canteen and is offering tea and pains au chocolat to those at the front of the coach. A quick pit stop at the services for coffee. Back on the coach and another head count. Owen will be counting to 35 in his sleep soon.

And so to Dover, arriving at 10.37 for an 11.30 ferry. Perfect. Well, it would be except that the 11.30 ferry is freight only. A big Oops by Thomas of Rhondda who booked it. But the sun is still shining so hanging around for an hour more isn’t too bad. Band bonds over trashy magazines and coffee. Messes up Owen’s schedule though, as we have a boat trip booked later in Ghent. But he just gets on the phone and sorts it, while the rest of us remain oblivious.

Eventually we board for an uneventful, but pleasant, ferry crossing and an equally uneventful zip through France and into Belgium. On the ferry, the chairman pronounces that we are officially on French time at 13:18 (because his phone told him so). In France, Owen reveals a cunning plan to avoid taking any responsibility in an emergency – apparently his blackberry isn’t enabled for Belgium. This is dangerous ground as there’s a risk that people may have to rely on Gregor! And into Ghent – looks good – and has trams! Just time to drop the bags in the hotel and then Owen leads us on a quick route march through the town to the canal for our boat trip.

The boat trip….very entertaining but mostly for the wrong reasons! 35 of us squeeze into a cosy little boat with white umbrellas. Off we go for our 90 minute tour. Sitting at the back the speakers seem to have little impact and there is no chance of hearing the commentary but no matter, we can still see the sights and, well, make up our own. Apparently the boat company has suggested we played some music under a bridge, so Owen has organised a brass quintet from among the troops. The trip is enlivened by the contortions of the five attempting to get instruments out of cases and music attached, and how Phil finds space for the trombone slide between us sardines we can’t imagine. The acoustic under the bridge is fab, but sadly the bridge isn’t very big and the driver seems unable to keep us there so we end up driving round in circles under it, much to the amusement of the locals.

Then the real fun starts. Most of the bridges in Ghent are very low; we think the driver probably told us that the umbrellas will lower automatically, but of course we didn’t hear it at the back. So when they get lower and lower we all get the giggles. For the rest of the ride our view of Ghent is mostly what we can see by peering out. The umbrellas rise and lower almost continually depending on the height of the bridges. Add in the cynical commentary from back-seat commentator Andy and you can imagine that the whole experience takes on a rather farcical nature. Great fun!

Back on land, the band reveals its cultured side – first stop is the Irish Bar. Then it is time to search out dinner. This is not so easy in large groups on a Saturday night but eventually a group of us find a place with fairly reasonable food and a good selection of beers. Having Sioban’s husband Mike in the group is definitely an asset when it comes to choosing the right Belgian beer (and it’s also good because he is a nice bloke)! So eight of us pass a very pleasant evening together (even though some of us are sitting next to Andy again). Meanwhile, elsewhere, Dave indulges in the world’s largest pasta dish (a local speciality, apparently) and, separately, 12 of the group maintain standards by dining at Pizza Hut.

Back at base, the hotel bar is doing a roaring trade whilst the band swap stories on restaurants and sample more of the local brews. There’s a rumour that the vice-chair may have consumed slightly too much alcohol. Being in Belgium with the band seems pretty good so far!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

We're Back!

Four days, over 600 miles, one concert and more chocolate, chips and beer than is strictly wise later, we're back from our big adventure!

After a busy schedule which incorporated hydraulic parasols, chocolate-flavoured gin and a chairless bandstand, everyone has returned safe and sound and, as the saying goes, a good time was had by all. Look out both here and on the band's website over the next few weeks for reports, photos and even limericks from WCB's first ever international adventure...

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Whether the Weather... sunny or soggy is a tough question. With just a couple of days to go before we set off,the answer is really anything but clear. With hundreds of sites on the web offering their view on the weather in Belgium for the next few days, it's hard to know whether to think we're in for hardly any rain at all, as per this site, or some pretty serious soaking, like it says here.

Hopefully, whatever happens we'll all have a good time and I think we'd be pretty unlucky if it rained solidly for four days. Equally, you never know, so fingers crossed...! Now...where did I put my sunglasses...and that umbrella...?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Cutting it Fine

With not very long to go now, I was pleased today to receive an official permit from the fine city of Antwerp for our concert on Sunday (2:00 in the bandstand on the Groeenplats if you happen to be in the area!). I suspect that if I'd known we needed a permit before I received it, I'd have been quite worried by now, but these things have a way of resolving themselves, I guess. Sadly, it's not as good as the Bruges permit which was addressed to Sir Owen but I suppose you can't have everything! On the plus side, it does thank us "for your initiative that contributes to the positive image of our city" and wish us every success, plus is signed by the mayor!

PS...know any good clarinetists? We find ourselves slightly short at the last minute so if you are (or know) anyone, please let us know...!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

There's no such thing... the saying bad publicity. Here's hoping that that's true since although I'm usually quite at home designing posters, writing copy and generally publicising concerts, I have to admit that attempting all of the above in Dutch (and the Flemish version of Dutch at that) is something of a new experience for me! Bruges kindly offered to display some posters and leaflets for our concert, so assisted by the Dutch-speaking colleagues of clarinettist Jen, we've sent some of these off to Belgium, ahead of us:
Hopefully the inhabitants (and tourists) of Bruges will get the gist and arrive in their droves to admire our music-making! The culture department also sent me a link to their events website where you can upload the details of forthcoming events. Being fairly technology-minded, I thought that I'd give it a go and, a few hours later, including completing numerous forms in Dutch and registering for an account, success! Click here to see our concert, advertised in the Bruges events diary...I think that I even managed to get the date right!

So...hopefully we might get a bit of an audience for our least in Bruges!