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Thursday 18 September 2014

Music plays a central role in Kevin's life

Published 30/08/2014 | 00:00

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Kevin Fitzgerald. Photo Joe Byrne

As the only original member of the Arklow Shipping Silver Band who still plays today, Kevin Fitzgerald is as passionate as ever about the band which is undoubtedly one of the most successful brass bands in the country.

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A native of St. Peter's Place, Kevin was first enticed into the world of music when he and his older brother Noel joined the Arklow Youth Choir, an extension of the old Youth Club which was a social hub for all youngsters in town in the '60s.

'I was eleven at the time and it was a great social thing to be involved in. When it was decided that a youth band would be set up, I was about 14 and we were all given instruments leftover from the old Arklow Band and told to give them a try.'

With that, Kevin and his fellow young musicians set about learning their new skills.

'Nobody had any experience of brass so we were all self taught. It was all trial and error and just a matter of practice and more practice to see if we could get a sound and then a scale out of an instrument. I started on tenor horn and have played it ever since. It was very difficult learning to read music but, after a while, we got there and began to perform at various public engagements and enter competitions,' Kevin explained.

In order to get the perfect sound from a good brass band, at least 26 members are required and there must be cornets, horns, trombones and basses.

'It is important to get the right balance and sound so the ideal number of musicians is 26. We had to have that many in 1973 when we started competing.'

Since those early days of competitions, Kevin is the only remaining player, although his band colleague John Bonner is also still involved as a conductor.

'We started off competing in the Irish Championships and have continued ever since. In 2006, we won the national title for the seventh time in a row. This was unprecedented and a record that we still hold today.'

It was when the band – which was sponsored by Armitage Shanks when it operated in Arklow and later in 2002 changed to the Arklow Shipping Silver Band when Arklow Shipping came on board – first started competing in the UK that the members learned they still had a long way to go.

'We thought we were brilliant when we went over there because we were doing so well at home but it was like in football terms, being in the fourth division. We kept at it though and moved up to the second divison eventually,' Kevin laughed.

Over the years, the band has achieved countless accolades and has enjoyed many highlights, including performances at the Rose of Tralee and on various television and radio shows as well as at áras an Uachtaráin for President Mary McAleese.

They have even performed on a backing track for U2's The Joshua Tree.

Arklow Shipping Silver Band has also been progressive in recording its own material and has recorded three vinyl albums and two CDs, including a successful 'Brass at Christmas' collection released in 2009.

Membership of the band has provided Kevin with many opportunities to see different parts of the world as he competed.

'We have competed in Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and the UK, among other locations. For me, it has always been an honour to represent my town and then Ireland at these competitions. It is lovely to meet other bands and be surrounded by them. The European Championships are like the Eurovision of Brass Bands so a lot of preparation and work goes into them.'

While in the early days the band leaned towards being a marching band, it is now more aptly described as a concert band and has given many a wonderful performances on the national stage, including at the National Concert Hall.

Most recently, they joined a host of talent from Arklow for the sell-out Forget Me Not concert organised by local performer Naoimh Penston in aid of The Alzheimer Society.

'It was a wonderful night and we were very happy with the performance. It was great to see such a good turnout as well.'

October will see another busy period for the band as they give another concert at the National Concert Hall and then at the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray on October 11.

'This will be a special evening as it will feature the first public performance of 'Arknell', a piece composed by renowned composer Ian Wilson especially for Arklow Shipping Silver Band.'

Anyone that would think that Kevin would have little time for anything outside band life would be very wrong, as he balances his musical commitments with a full-time job as General Manager at Automatic Plastics in Tinahely.

The plant, which employs close to 100 people in the community, produces plastic products including cooler boxes and car mirrors. Interestingly, it also produces in the region of 17,000,000 nappy cream containers every year which are shipped all over the world.

Outside of work, Kevin is married with a grown-up family, some of whom, he is proud to say, have taken after him in terms of music.

'My two sons Damien and Kevin are in the band and so are my daughter Kathleen and my granddaughter Jessica so it is nice to see them involved as well.'

For further information about Arklow Shipping Silver Band, visit www.arklowsilverband.com

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