About Us - Phoenix History
Vic Yates, from the wartime Squadranaires band, was a Careers adviser in the
West Sussex Education Authority, but with a difference. His first question was
not the usual one about “what would you like to do when you leave school?”, Vic
would ask “do you play a musical instrument?” and the student was invariably
recruited into his band.
Tony Skinner was the head of Adult Education and the Youth Wing of the
Littlehampton School in the early 1970’s.
Tony overflowed with enthusiasm and ambition to set up a school swing band to
recreate the swing era in the dance and concert halls of southern England.
Working alongside a musician with the pedigree of Vic, Tony saw his opportunity,
The Vic Yates Band came to the Littlehampton School and grew and became The
Littlehampton School Swing Band.
The band rehearsed on
Thursday and at first played for school dances. As people outside the school
heard the band, bookings were taken for various clubs and organisations. By the
end of the 1970’s the musicians were leaving school. The band was transferred to
Adult Education and renamed The LCS Big Band (LCS = Littlehampton Community
When Vic retired a young versatile musician, Alastair Hume a teacher at
Slindon College took over the baton, raised the band to a very high standard.
Tony’s enthusiasm went into overdrive and in 1985 we did 102 gigs in a year. How
did we manage this? It seems impossible now to do so many gigs while holding
down day jobs. It was a wonderful experience.
Alastair had developed the LCS into one of the most sought after bands on the
South Coast before he moved on to the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, but we are
delighted that Alastair still occasionally comes and plays Piano, Saxophone or
takes the baton with his unique and infectious way of delighting audiences.
Duncan Mackrill became Musical Director and led the band to new heights
including many concerts and dances and coming third in the final of the Boosey &
Hawks TV Times Big Band contest having won the South of England heat.
We also sadly lost Tony Skinner who collapsed and died shortly before a
rehearsal, his enthusiasm and devotion had inspired so many musicians to
entertain and bring immense pleasure both within the band and our audiences.
Amongst our adventures was returning from a gig in Germany. Our coach having been
turned away from two ports, we found a ferry that would take us home from Calais -
a 1 hour crossing. However, mid channel an almighty storm blew up with waves
taller than the ship. We were hit broadside, toppling the ferry but fortunately
it righted itself and the Captain announced that we would have to heave to and
ride the storm out. 8 Hours after leaving Calais we arrived in Dover, battered
but not as battered as our coach, with the top sheared to a pulp, leaving us
stranded in Dover for a few more hours whilst another coach was found to get us
home. Miraculously we only lost one instrument.
Another gig where we were to play as the Citropolis Big Band to celebrate the
75th anniversary of Citroen cars, we were expecting a luxury coach and hotel. A
maxi taxi collected us with one seat each, which were small as if it were used
as a school bus. A trailer was towed for our instruments and equipment. A more
uncomfortable ride could not be imagined for such a long journey, there was so
little power that going up hill we could count the grass blades. Worse, we had a
driver with attitude. Going down hill he would over take cutting up other
vehicles only to slow them down to a crawl on the hills when they couldn’t get
past. He would compound his dreadful driving with rude gestures to other
motorists and on arrival at Dover he was arrogant and rude to the other coach
drivers, what an embarrassment.
Having got safely to Belgium we found our “Hotel”, the rooms certainly had
en-suite, balcony and television, but it was only two rooms for the whole band
and our roadies with bunk beds so low that it was impossible to sit up in the
The gig was in a Marquee, but the heavens opened, rain collected and dripped
through onto our equipment, However, it was a great success the audience loved
the music and the dancing was a delight.
At the end of 1999, it very sadly came obvious that we were no longer welcome
at the Littlehampton School and had to find a new home. Duncan also decided he
would prefer to play trumpet.
New millennium, new start
We were very fortunate to find a warm welcome at the Victoria Institute in
Arundel. A friendly club where we not only play music but those of us who are
local enjoy socialising with a game of snooker, pool or darts, or listening to
the other bands or watching plays, or just a quiet drink and chat.
Nick Trish became our Musical Director whose relaxed style is brilliant at
encouraging and getting the best out of us.
We had to change our name and this was a very difficult process. Everyone was
invited to make suggestions and these were then put to the vote of the 16
members we had at the time. 4 choices each had 4 votes. We tried changing the
voting system so that all 4 names had to be listed 1 to 4 in order of
preference. All 4 names still had a dead heat. In the end the only way we
could separate the choices was by asking everyone to give each name a mark out
of 10 and that is how The Phoenix Big Band scraped through to become our name
For the future the Phoenix Big Band will continue to entertain as we always
have, our members come from all over Sussex and surrounding counties. Some have
been in the band since the early 1970’s other joined very recently. All come to
Arundel alternate Thursdays for the love and enjoyment of making music and
entertaining people, but also for the love of each other. The Phoenix Big Band
is like family, we care and look out for each other, share in our joys and are
there for one another when in trouble or need help. It is a real privilege to
share so much with the wonderful people who make up the Phoenix Big Band
Nigel Searle : May 2005, (Chairman)
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