Chapter 7

 The Band Ghost

 Sometimes things happen for which there is no apparent explanation. Circumstances come together in the most unusual and worrying way making you wish you had never become involved in the first place....

 

It all began when, out of the blue, the band were asked to play at a pie and pea supper at a hotel well out into the countryside. At first the band had been reluctant to accept the engagement as it would be difficult to arrange transport for some of the older members and some of the younger ones were in the middle of school exams. However, the fee offered was much higher than usual and as the band were desperately fund raising for uniforms for three new members it was decided to make the effort.

It was late autumn and the sun was already disappearing below the horizon as the players began to arrive. Rain had been falling in a drizzle all afternoon and the road's covering of damp leaves deadened the sound of the cars' wheels as they coasted down the hill and into the car park. Behind the hotel, sheep grazed silently in the field as the low clouds blew gently across, periodically hiding them from view. An air of quiet stillness covered everything eerily. Inside the hotel the band were directed to a cleared area at one end of a long panelled dining room. At one side a small bar spread a shaft of light across the room revealing an assortment of old wooden dining tables and chairs arranged haphazardly around the room. A pile of plastic chairs provided seating for the players and, as these were being set out in the usual double horseshoe with the drum kit behind to the right and the timpani to the rear left, the conductor went in search of a light switch which might give enough light to see the music.

The guests hadn't yet arrived and, whilst waiters in crumpled grey suits finished setting the tables, the band sorted their music and played a couple of pieces to warm up.

The booking had been made for 7:30 p.m. but at 7:45 no one had yet arrived. This was leading to some consternation and the conductor was just setting off on a search for the hotel manager when a trickle of guests began to arrive.

Once started, the concert seemed to go well and, even though only half the tables were occupied, a selection of wartime songs brought a rousing chorus from the older members which seemed to bring them to life. During the interval, whilst the main course was being served, the band resorted to the downstairs bar where a snack had been laid on and drinks began to flow freely amidst lively conversation. There were already several people in the bar, a family group in earnest discussion about their children's exams, a courting couple trying to merge into one of the darker corners and several older people sitting at the bar. One of these stood out from the rest. He was obviously very old with pure white hair and a full white beard devoid of even the slightest darker fleck to give away his original hair colour. His suit was clean and neat, a rough russet farmer's tweed which covered an ironed, off white, linen shirt with thin blue vertical stripes and a separate collar. His blue tie was held in place by a small gold pin. Overall he was just too smart and of too straight a bearing to be associated with the rest of the men at the bar.

As the band seated themselves at a group of tables reserved for their use, the man in the tweed suit moved from the bar and sat on a side seat close to the centre of the group. It wasn't long before he had engaged some of the younger members in conversation. As the older members joined in also it transpired that he, John, had been a member of the band in the 1930's and had, for many years played trombone until a change of job after the war had forced him to move away. Now he had returned to, as he put it, "while away his final years in the place he loved best". He had booked a meal in the hotel on the spur of the moment to ease a bout of depression and had not known about the band's performance, but now this had brought memories flooding back and he was anxious to share them with the present members. The fact that he was now missing the main course of the meal seemed irrelevant to him as he recounted anecdote after anecdote about the past glories of the band. Most of the band found this fascinating - yes there had originally been a 'silver prize' which had been won in competition by the band on three consecutive occasions so giving them the right to add the wording to their name - and it was with some regret that they returned to the dining room for the second half of the concert. However, they couldn't let John go without inviting him to a rehearsal and promising that a spare trombone would be there for him to play.

Many of the older and more sceptical members thought that this was the last they would see of old John but, sure enough, John was waiting at the door as they arrived for rehearsal on Sunday evening. Despite the fact that he was now well into his eighties, John was full of energy and enthusiasm and, seated amongst the trombone section, he took a pair of gold rimmed half glasses from his inside pocket and scanned the music intently. The first couple of pieces were a struggle for him, he had apparently not played for a number of years, and the music was quite modern and new to him, however, when the next piece was announced as 'Colonel Bogey' his eyes sparkled and, instrument held high, he played most of his part from memory as though he had never been away from a band.

For the next two years he never missed a rehearsal and became a kind of second grandfather to the younger players, encouraging and helping them in their music making and listening patiently to all their little stories and problems. Obviously, age slowed John's movements down a little and he preferred to play the slower music and sometimes sat out the faster and more complicated pieces. His favourite tune was 'Amazing Grace' and he would often ask if this could be played to finish the practice. However, for some reason, John would always play one note wrong, playing a B natural instead of a B flat in the nineteenth bar. Normally the error was ignored but occasionally someone would point it out to him afterwards and he would just shrug his shoulders and say, "Yes, I know, but I was sure I'd blown the right one that time."

Then John was taken ill and died. The band insisted on marching in front of the hearse and played 'Amazing Grace' at the graveside while most of the village stood around singing the words in a murmur as if to themselves. John had certainly made himself popular during the short time he had been back in the village.

For many months rehearsals were not the same joyful affairs as usual and the music for 'Amazing Grace' was returned to the filing cabinet as no one could bring themselves to play it. However, early the following year, a letter arrived from the local Member of Parliament asking the band to play at a society wedding and to be sure to include 'Amazing Grace' as part of the programme as it was the particular favourite of the bride's mother. After a great deal of soul searching and spirited discussion in the band it was decided that the piece would have to return to the repertoire at some time and this might as well be the time. After all, John had been buried for almost a year and they had decided at the outset that they would play it on the anniversary of his death which would be in the week preceding the wedding and so, at the next rehearsal, the music was again on the stands.

As they played the first bars, a wave of emotions passed over almost every member and the sound wavered a little over the quiet opening section. The tone steadied as the tune built in volume but, as they reached the twentieth bar playing suddenly ceased and players looked round at each other questioningly. The section was repeated but each time the band broke off at the twentieth bar. The first time may have been imagination but not now, there was definitely a B natural being played by someone in the nineteenth bar! Thinking it a practical joke in poor taste, each player was quizzed and made to play the section individually but to no avail. Then the band was made to play the section over and over without different players, each time the B natural appeared. After the same situation occurring at each practice for three weeks the band began to joke about John's ghost still playing with them but it was really all quite disconcerting and the piece was approached with some trepidation for the remaining four weeks leading up to the remembrance service which was to be held for John in the local Methodist church. During the service the B natural made its appearance again and a brief announcement was made to try to explain its presence although this was hardly necessary as the story had circulated around the village and surrounding area weeks before and many of the locals would have been disappointed had it not been there.

Strangely, at the wedding the following week, the tune came over perfectly and this caused as much surprise amongst the players as had the wrong note before. To this day the band still plays 'Amazing Grace', always note perfect but never without a memory of old John and his ghost's assistance!

  This work is Copyright to Ian W. Wright 1994. You may use it for your own private purposes but reproduction by any means or its use for commercial gain is strictly forbidden without the written permission of the author.

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