Sunday 29th June 1984 – like an old school disco two groups of kids stood opposite each other, equally nervous and suspicious, trying not to be overwhelmed by the smell of liquorice from the nearby Bassets factory, all of us waiting for someone to make the first move.
This date is very significant in the history of Concord as it marks the first joint rehearsal between the Vulcans and Shades of Blue.
We weren’t complete strangers, one or two of us had been part of both groups over time so there were a few nods of recognition and hesitant smiles, but all the same, neither group knew exactly how this was going to work. Fast forward a couple of hours later and 40 odd brass, 30 percussionists and 30+ guard members had combined to make a decent musical and visual impact that made us realise this was the start of something special…
This first instalment is going to try and recall how the first year or so of our history played out leading to the first of many National titles in September 1985. I apologise in advance for any errors or incorrect facts – time takes its toll on our memories, hopefully I get more right than wrong.
Let’s take a small step backwards to find out how we got to that warm June afternoon in the shadow of Hillsborough Stadium.
Year 1 – 14 months to glory.
The leadership teams of both the Vulcans and Shades of Blue were well known to each other (Sheffield really is just a huge village) and shared a great many values and ambitions. Shades of Blue were attached to the 367 Squadron, Air Training Corps and as they developed into the Drum Corps style had become more and more detached from the more traditional expectations of a military style band and it was clear that a change was coming. The Vulcans had experienced the same path a few years earlier having split from a couple of local Scout Troops for similar reasons, first becoming the Sheffield Corps of Drums and then renamed the Vulcan Corps in 1981(?).
At the beginning of 1984 Shades of Blue started the summer competition circuit in June with shows in Nottingham, Leicester (I have lost count of how many times we performed in that city), Huddersfield and Manchester – starting the season with a 24.4 and improving to 30.20 by the end of the month! Meanwhile across the city the Vulcans had a few issues which meant that they had yet to compete and it was looking like they may have to withdraw from the season. Discussions had already taken place between the staff of both groups over the Spring and it became clear that both groups had the same ambitions and very similar beliefs about how a successful youth organisation should be set up and run…. In short it was a marriage made in heaven !
So back to the summer and after the first joint rehearsal the decision to join forces for the remainder of the 84 DCUK season was made very quickly – now what!?
As previously mentioned the ATC side of the group had a lot of other things going on and early July saw the majority go off to their annual camp at RAF Stations for a couple of weeks, those staying in Sheffield started the process of putting together a musical and visual show. As Shades of Blue had already been performing it was decided to retain their name for the time being as well as most of the music – we did change the closer to add the classical piece “Russian Christmas Music” which everyone loved performing – the challenge however was how to adapt the marching show which was originally designed for around 40 members, to at least double that number.
If I’m honest I cannot recall much from July/August 1984 but we must’ve worked bloody hard because on the weekend of 1-2 September after just 7 weeks of rehearsing together, the much changed Shades of Blue made their appearance at the Sheffield Show, held in Hillsborough Park. The performances went well and we were ready for the September run-in to Finals.
It’s just as well as we were back on the road the following weekend making our competitive debut in Birmingham, scoring a respectable 41.6 a decent jump in score but more importantly we had done it – put together a show in record time.
Two weeks later we found ourselves at the Hawthorns, home to West Bromwich Albion and the 1984 DCUK Finals.
Now as most people who have been involved with Concord over the years will know, we are never too far away from controversy and even in the early days we had our fair share. On this particular day we had the unique position wherby one of our members had family heavily involved with our cross-city neighbours, The Jordanaires, one of this person’s family had made a serious threat to come onto the field and drag her off rather than see her perform with us. The end result was that during our performance in Prelims we had extra security around the edge of the pitch – thankfully nothing happened and we had an incident free Finals.
Our score was a decent 46.4 and we finished 23rd out of 30 corps – Job Done.
So what next?
Well the first thing we needed was a name – this was no easy decision, especially given the longevity of the organisation it had to have meaning. After many hours and meetings, we settled on the name Concord – the dictionary defines the word as meaning “agreement, harmony” and “having a common aim or interest” it pretty much summed up how we felt and it was succinct and unique.
The next thing we needed was a show. One thing the staff at the time didn’t have was the experience or knowledge required to produce a full brass and percussion book that matched our ambitions, so as was the norm in those days we turned to the USA where there was a wealth of experience and willing writers. We managed to secure the services of two extremely knowledgeable and experienced designers called Danny Lutz (brass) and Peter Funari (percussion) who wrote a challenging but very exciting production for us We will learn more about these guys in a future section but it’s safe to say these guys “got us” from the very early days and a very productive and friendly relationship was forged which stood us in good stead for years to come.
Now we had a name and an identity it was time to end any connection with the Air Cadets and go it alone, not all our Shades of Blue membership wanted to make that break and chose to stick with the ATC and not Concord, some of us managed to juggle the two for a few years and others thought that drum corps was more appealing. The end result was that our membership did reduce since the first joining of the two corps. Nonetheless we had a good group who were keen to get going . At the end of the 1984 season DCUK’s membership had grown which enabled them to split into two Classes – Open Class for the highest ranked corps and A Class for those who finished 23rd or lower, if you recall our finals position this meant we went into the 1985 season as the highest ranked corps in Class A.
Over the winter months we worked on our new musical programme, including spending a full week of rehearsals at the beginning of May, when our American friends came over in the Spring to solidify our music.
At the same time our colour guard were the first people to enter competition, in the Winterguard circuit, using the Concord name. Performing a routine based on the musical Cats they finished a very respectable 9th place, just missing out on Finals (again another future theme here). During those days the Individuals and Ensembles competition took place on the same day as WG Finals so we took a number of solo’s and ensembles down to Wembley Conference Centre to also debut the Concord name.
Our debut summer season began in June at the Leicester Velodrome (again) and we placed first in Class A with a score 46.1 and we were off on what was to prove to be an undefeated season. Over the summer we competed at shows in Nottingham, Warrington, Crawley, and Chesterfield.
The Crawley show especially, holds some very clear memories 1) we won the show by a massive 19.5 points ahead of the second placed corps – a fantastic end to the first half of the season and 2) our coach driver thought it would be a good idea to drive back via Central London and very close to Wembley Stadium around the same time that Live Aid was finishing and 90,000 fans were spilling out into North London – added an extra hour plus to our already long day!
The second half of the season was all about preparing for Finals, and before we knew it we were back at Leicester (yes again!) for the A Class Finals. Most of the day has blurred into the recesses of my memory but I do remember the morale boost we all received when we finally received delivery of the red plumes that completed our uniform just in time. Given the number of corps (14) there was a Prelims and Finals. As expected we finished the morning’s competition in the lead but it was close so no-one was taking anything for granted. One thing that we did which might have been seen as being cocky but was genuinely an attempt to calm the nerves was we took over the athletics field at the side of the stadium to hold a 25-a-side rounders’ match before warming up for the show – it certainly worked as we stormed our Finals show and finished with a clean sweep of all captions and a high score of 83.3 which remained a record for 23 years (Poynton Commodores 84.1 in 2008).
All the hard work by everyone involved had paid off and in just 14 months we had gone from two groups of strangers to producing one of the most accomplished A Class performances in the history of DCUK.
But the season wasn’t quite over yet, the top 6 corps from A Class were eligible to progress to DCUK Open Finals, which coincidentally were held at Bramall Lane in 85. It was a scorching hot day to say it was the end of September but that didn’t stop us all wearing our brand new shiny corps jackets which unfortunately hadn’t arrived I time for the A Class Finals. We went into the day with nothing to lose and therefore we were very relaxed and performed another great show finishing a remarkable 13th (out of 27) scoring 60.7 beating a good number of established Open Class corps and laying down a marker for the following year when were to join the big boys ‘n girls and make our mark on the circuit for years to come.