Paying tribute to South Shields man of music

Jack Nightingale in the concert mess jacket uniform of Harton Colliery Band.
Jack Nightingale in the concert mess jacket uniform of Harton Colliery Band.

Today we pay tribute to “prominent and inspirational” brass band conductor and “skilled” instrumentalist Jack Nightingale, who has died at the age of 86.

The tribute is led by close friend Bob Wray who says Jack was “widely recognised as an outstanding euphonium player of technical excellence with a most expressive playing style and acknowledged as a conductor of merit, as well as a fine tutor”.

The Harton and Westoe Colliery Band at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 under the musical direction of Jack Nightingale.

The Harton and Westoe Colliery Band at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 under the musical direction of Jack Nightingale.

Born in South Shields on June 1, 1932, Jack was taught to play the cornet in 1946 by his uncle Billy Nightingale, a senior member of the South Shields Town Mission Band.

However, Jack later changed to the euphonium, and this became the instrument with which he made his reputation.

Tutored by the greatly respected Fred Unwin, Jack’s reputation as a player soon grew, and in the early 1950s he joined the Harton Colliery Band under bandmaster Norman Piper.

“One of his early contests,” explains Bob, “was the Royal Albert Hall National Brass Band championship finals in 1953 as solo euphonium on Frank Wright’s masterful arrangement of The King of Y’s.

“Jack was also an accomplished accordion player and his prize possession was a superb German Hohner which he played for local concerts and old folks homes.

“My musical career began in 1952 through the direct assistance of Jack, who served his time as an apprentice fitter at the Tyne Dock Engineering Co Ltd ship repair yard where he was well known to my father.

“I joined the South Shields Town Mission Band as a result and was taught the cornet by his uncle Billy. Jack changed his employment when he completed his apprenticeship and commenced work at Harton Colliery.

“I well recall his solo performances at the South Marine Park bandstand with the Harton Colliery Band, dressed in their brilliant Guards red, black and gold uniforms; he was indeed a consummate instrumentalist of outstanding ability.”

Jack’s fame spread and he was offered a position with Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band and later Manchester CWS, but after careful deliberation he decided against a move and remained at home.

“He later accepted a post at the NCB Seaham basic tool skills training centre, where his ability and enthusiastic teaching to apprentices was both successful and rewarding.

“Following his National Coal Board employment he then became a brass peripatetic teacher with the Sunderland Borough Council Education Department and worked for well known Salvation Army bandmaster Ernie Camsey.

“He left the Harton Colliery Band and joined the Jarrow-based Territorial Army Band of the Royal Artillery 102 Regiment where he was instrumental in recruiting numerous players to the band and became its deputy conductor.”

Jack was invited to return to the Harton Colliery Band in 1966 as conductor at a time when its membership was “depleted”. Through his influence and ability, the band quickly regrouped and qualified for the Royal Albert Hall 1967 championship section finals on the test piece Journey into Freedom, conducted by professional conductor William Scholes of Rushton Temperance Band.

A further appearance at London followed in 1969 when Jack conducted the band on Eric Ball’s High Peak which “enjoyed considerable success in both the contest and concert field”.

Thereafter he was appointed Musical Director of the Patchogue Plymouth AMOCO Band (ex Crookhall) in Consett and worked with its professional conductor Geoffrey Brand.

“Jack had three conducting appointments with Harton and Westoe Colliery Band until the late 1970s. He was thereafter conductor of the Boldon Colliery Band in the 1980s, and well known to the Every Ready Band and the South Shields People’s Mission Band and others in varying capacities, including Felling and Dunston Bands.

“He was a popular personality and respected as a conductor and tutor, and a good friend to the many who were pleased to know and value his friendship.

“Jack will be long remembered by many in the North East band movement and we salute his memory.”

Bob Wray is former secretary and assistant conductor of the Harton and Westoe Colliery Band.

He is also a former member of the South Shields Town Mission and People’s Mission Bands and an ex-member of the Royal Air Force Music Services.

Bob is also a retired local Education Department instrumental tutor and school bandmaster.