7 May 2013

Post 68: DAVE 'SOUSAPHONE' PARKER

I have had the privilege of knowing Dave Parker for only nine years. He is one of the best and most versatile brass instrument players in England and I want to let you know about this remarkable gentleman’s life in music.
Dave comes from Sheffield in the North of England. Men from the North are noted for being hard-working, frank, good-humoured, generous and tough (they never feel the cold). Dave fits this stereotype perfectly.

Born on 2 May 1943, Dave started playing the cornet in the Sheffield Citadel Salvation Army Junior Band when he was six years old. He went on to specialise in Soprano Cornet (that instrument is pitched in Eb) and eventually he progressed into the Senior Band. At rehearsal one evening, he had a go on an Eb Bass and was immediately a hit with that.

He then joined the Rockingham Colliery Band as a brass bass player, and took part in many brass band contests. He remembers with pride the day they travelled to Blackpool and came second in the National Colliery Band Championships.

Dave also took lessons from a dance band trumpet-player: he wanted to learn the swing techniques for dance band playing.

At the age of 29, Dave emigrated to Australia, and he did so by playing trumpet in the ship’s dance band! While there, he played for two years in the Salvation Army band in Campbelltown, on the north-eastern outskirts of Adelaide. He remembers buying in Australia a good second-hand Conn trumpet for the equivalent of £120 sterling – quite a lot at the time.

In 1974, he returned to England, this time working his passage by playing the Conn trumpet in a Filipino Dance Band – an experience he often reminisces about with great pleasure.

Back in England, Dave re-joined the Sheffield Salvation Army Band, and he also began training youngsters to play brass instruments – a selfless task he has kept up for over a quarter of a century.

In 1984, Dave moved to Peterborough, in the East of England, and joined the Salvation Army Band there.

Dave is a superb tuba player - partly, I think, because of his trumpet-playing background. He does not accept that the tuba has any limitations: if something is playable on a trumpet, then it is playable on a tuba, in Dave’s view!

Dave also joined and still plays in the famous Peterborough Concert Band.

He also decided to take up the sousaphone (a useful variant of the tuba – it was developed for the United States marching bands), and in the months that followed Dave purchased two elderly American sousaphones – a 1929 Conn and a 1934 Buescher.

A very important development occurred with the formation of a local Morris Dancing group called Pig Dyke Molly. This is one of the most accomplished and extraordinary dance groups you could imagine. They have amazing costumes and accessories – everything in deep black and brightest white. The group recruited Dave to play in their Band and he has done so ever since. You can see him accompanying on several YouTube videos, such as this one:
This also led to Dave’s involvement in a Folk and Ceilidh Music Group called Ethel’s Cats. They too are famous in their own field. They often play at festivals, such as the one held in Sidmouth.

Being seen and heard so much, Dave was soon receiving requests to join still more music groups. So he accepted invitations from a number of traditional jazz bands and is still in constant demand with them.

This highlights another of his talents as a musician: not only can he play to top concert standard from printed music; he can also play amazingly well by ear and can immediately improvise a bass-line or solo for pretty well any tune that is requested.

I was among those local jazz musicians who were glad to get to know Dave and to have him strengthening our performances. At the time, he was still working at his day job – in the Accident and Emergency Department of Peterborough Hospital.

Since then Dave has retired and has been able to devote so much more time to his great hobby. He hardly passes a day without spending hours either practising or performing with one of his many groups.

Dave has been on a tour of Ireland and on a ten-day tour of Norway with Salvation Army bands; and he has performed in WashingtonNew YorkBoston and also in Greece with Pig Dyke Molly.

Playing alongside David Parker in our little group, I am constantly amazed by his energy, accuracy, invention and lovely tone. You can see and hear him play by clicking on:
THIS VIDEO.

And on top of all this, Dave even finds time for voluntary work at a centre for the homeless, for fishing and for cooking – three more of his passions. What a man!