Some time ago, I bumped into Col. Maurice Cooper on the top deck of a bus from Victoria station and he told be about a time in 1967 when he, Major George Whittingham, and 5 other members of the International Staff Band of the Salvation Army (ISB) had a surprising encounter with a rock band – a group who would go on to be one of the most iconic and one of the biggest rock bands of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Pink Floyd.
George picks up the story: “In the early sixties, to be appointed to The International Staff Band under the leadership of Senior Major Bernard Adams, was not so much a matter of autonomy, but rather autocracy. Membership was made up of senior Salvation Army Officers with a few lesser mortals holding the rank of captain; Ray Bowes, Maurice Cooper, Les Condon, George Whittingham, plus non-officers Terry Camsey, Mac Carter, and Ian Hankey.
In those days the band’s week-end visits to corps situated more than a hundred miles from London meant a steam train journey, travelling out on a Saturday morning and returning to I.H.Q. Monday morning and straight into work.
A whole carriage was booked with the instruments going in the guard’s van. The five compartments being occupied according to rank, i.e. first compartment reserved for the Leader, Bandmaster, Deputy Bandmaster, Cy Brisley, Alf Andrews and Harold Orton – the seven mentioned above clambering into the fifth compartment, creating clamour in so doing.”
Then, as now, the ISB rehearse on a Wednesday evening, only these days this happens at Territorial rather than International Headquarters. Evidently, the gentlemen concerned cause a bit of a racket when boarding the train.
George continues: “It was of no surprise to hear the Bandmaster, at the end of the following Wednesday evening rehearsal, announce that the following members (being the above named seven!) to please remain as he wanted to speak to them.”
To be honest, we expected the “riot act” to be read to us for our un-gentlemanly behaviour in many ways, which cannot be shared. Instead, the Bandmaster explained that he had received an un-official request for a group of Salvation Army musicians to visit a studio in Bond Street and provide music. We were to go in civvies and take our tunes books and a march book. We were not to discuss this with anyone.”
The studios were De Lane Lea studios (now relocated to Dean Street), an establishment which paid host to the likes of The Beatles, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Rolling Stones and Deep Purple over the years.
Syd Barrett, the songs writer, had wanted a Salvation Army band to play on the track. He told them he wanted them to simply “play whatever they want” regardless of the rest of the group. Pink Floyd’s manager Andrew King said that Barrett “wanted a massive Salvation Army freak-out”.
“We all arrived at the appointed time and walked into a relatively small studio, to be met by a gentleman who we later learned was the Manager. He then introduced us to four band members who, on first appearance looked as though they had just been thrown out of Great Peter Street Hostel. We then sat in a semi circle and asked to play something. We played a march. The four huddled together and then asked if we could play something else, so we played a hymn tune.
Again, the four had another group gathering with the manager who came and made an unusual request.”
Maurice takes up the story “They made the suggestion that we play for 3 minutes, in a similar way to how an orchestra tunes up before a concert. We played anything; high notes, low notes in any order and all in between! And we had to play it loud!”
As George concludes, “It sounded atrocious! And the faces of these four gentlemen broke into broad smiles. “That’s it”, they cried out, “That’s exactly what we want”.
We packed our instruments away, the manager approached us and expressed sincere thanks, handing each of us £2,
WE HAD BEEN WORKING WITH PINK FLOYD. I can’t remember any of us ever receiving any royalties!!!!!!!.”
The song they recorded was ‘Jugband Blues’, written by Syd Barrett for the album ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’, released in 1968 and his last before leaving Pink Floyd.
If you’d like to hear the track with George, Maurice and friends in action, you can do so here:
© Richard Debonnaire and Bromley Salvation Army
First published on Bromley Salvation Army’s web site