Blowing her own Trumpet
Article by "COAL" 1953 - Photos by HAYWARD SMEAD

WHEN a Harworth colliery official took his wife out of an evening he left his twelve-year-old daughter at her piano practice. Soon after the front door of the mining-village house closed behind the parents, neighbours-fairly well inured to the tinkling scales and arpeggios of finger exercises-heard a new note, the wail of a flugel horn.


Gracie Cole

With determination, ambition, and great enjoyment young Gracie was trying to teach herself to play the nearest available instrument to the cornet. No one complained with any seriousness, for the child had a bright, natural charm which disarmed criticism.
Determination, ambition, and personal enjoyment in everything connected with bands and music, coupled with natural charm and modesty have been characteristic of Gracie Cole ever since.
The cornet became the instrument for her after she had been to a brass band festival at Leicester's de Montfort hall. She had gone there to hear her father with Harworth colliery band. One item in the festival was a cornet solo by a girl. To play the cornet solo at the festival became her aim. She was to achieve it. 'Dad finally gave in and bought me a cornet,' she recalls.
A year later she was playing cornet solos with Rossington Welfare band. Then she played with Harworth colliery band, learning from Harry Kennedy, its bandmaster. A later tutor was Alex Hilton, conductor for Firbeck.


Trumpeter Dorothy Burgess goes over an
arrangement with Greta Marshall, with LauraLyon and Mary Lou (right) relaxing
before the next engagement.

In 1938 she joined Firbeck colliery band (the only girl in it) and began competing in-and winning-cornet solo contests. She was first in the junior section of Dinnington Main colliery band's slow melody competition, in contests at Long Eaton and at Rawmarsh, at Hayland (Barnsley), at Marsden, at Rotherham and Golcar. At dinners and other local events she also played the piano and piano accordion, tap danced, swung clubs, and did acrobatic turns. But cornet playing won local fame for her. At Langold, Firbeck colliery village, Gracie Cole is remembered with affection. 'She was a grand kid-and still is. She has never been

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temperamental', declares Arthur Critchley, ripper at Firbeck. That is high praise from a fellow performer, for Arthur Critchley appeared as comedian in shows with young Gracie.

Another Firbeck-colliery and band-man Leslie Cavell, recalls that-'She would sit in with us and play like a veteran. We were the only first-class band featuring a girl player in those days'.
In those days she was really a child. 'When she started with us she was too small to see the music on its stand', reminisces Walter Gunter, now an overman at Firbeck, 'so we rigged up a barrel for her to stand on'.
By 1939 Grade, a round-faced smiling schoolgirl of 14, had had an audition for the B.B.C. children's hour, and won more cups and medals for cornet solos. 'The' was begin-ning to appear before 'cornettist' in concert programmes and in newspaper reports. On April 24 she did her first solo broadcast. Three days earlier she had broadcast from Leeds with Firbeck colliery band.
A month before her broadcast an early ambition was realised. Gracie Cole played the cornet solo at Leicester brass-band festival at the de Montfort hall.


There is also a strong mining strain in Gracies own all girl band. The singer and trumpet player,Scottish June Robinson, is the niece of a miner.

She remained unspoiled by a string of successes, and parental good sense saw that she stayed that way. 'She was always a bright youngster at school-and her first name truly becomes her' is the confirmatory comment of Mr. Randall, a teacher at Langold Primary School. She was to go on learning.
The war put an end to contests, so Gracie began to take cornet lessons from Harold Moss, then conductor of Creswell colliery band. She formed her first 'band '-the Firbeck brass trio-with her father (and his flugel) and George Thorpe (euphonium). 'Dad taught me a lot' she says. Her ability was quite an eye-opener to her father. She broadcast as soloist in Music Maker's Half-hour', again in a radio programme aptly called 'Blowing your own Trumpet', and joined as soloist Manvers Main colliery band-her father then working underground at that pit, while Gracie worked in the office.
On her 16th birthday she was engaged by the Besses o' th' Barn band as soloist in a Spitfire fund concert at Warrington. A month
later she became a member of that band-and produced, on the side, two non-stop variety shows in aid of war comforts funds at Wath-on-Dearne. Her own trio, re-named 'Manvers', made its first broadcast in 1941.
Gracie Cole continued steadily to establish herself. This meant playing the piano and singing three or four nights every week with a Ballroom band at Mexboro', cornet solos with the 'Besses' band at weekends, filling in the vacant dates with other performances.In 1942 the bigger breaks began. She played in a massed bands concert

at the Albert Hall. The B.B.C.'s Dr. Denis Wright-in whose programme she first broadcast three years earlier-composed a cornet solo 'La Mantilla' and dedicated it to her. Gracie played it for the first time on the air with Fairey Aviation octet.
Concert and broadcast solos followed stead-ily until, in July, 1942--to Firbeck's joy-she won first prize in the Alex Owen scholarship with 206 out of a possible 250 points. The first girl to compete in the contest, Gracie gained by it two years' first-class free


At 16 a double act-Al Cole (flugel horn) and his daughter Gracie (cornet)-was a happy part of the process of becoming a good trouper
 

tuition.War and Forces charity and competition concerts, and recordings for home and over-seas broadcasts with with Grimethorpe colliery band- and other Bands, were added to her music studies, evening piano-and-vocal per-formances with a dance band, week-end solos with the 'Besses' and appearances at massed band concerts during 1942-43.
Towards the end of the war, and after, Gracie joined in succession one all-girl's band, then another (already famous for broadcasts and Forces concerts) and finally the Squadronaires. She was the first and only girl player with the famous former R.A.F. dance-band. With it she toured in Britain and abroad, and was featured as a trumpet player-the instru
ment that had now replaced her cornet. With the Squadronaires she met, and later married, Bill Geldard, who comes from a mining district in Durham and began as a trombonist with Blackhall colliery band.
Six months ago Gracie Cole formed her own band, with ten of the best girl players in the country. Their combined enthusiasm for the band, and the organising skill she had, added to her musical ability,
quickly overcame the difficulties which are inseparable from launching a new band into success. Last month to the opening strains of 'Sophisticated Lady', their theme tune, Gracie led her band in a concert at Leicester's de Montfort hall. Soon she and her band will set off on an overseas tour, playing to British and U.S. forces.


Off duty Gracie attends to her correspondence with June Hunt, Maureen Mortimer and June Robinson relaxing.

At every performance Gracie Cole will play the trumpet. On or off the stage she never blows it. The one-time miner's daughter, now a band leader, meets continued success with the same grace and modesty that won for the child the liking, affection and respect of mining folk in her own village fifteen years ago.