Funding Feature – Ascot Park Hotel Brass Band

This is a story of longevity. Remarkable longevity.

Officially the Invercargill Garrison Band – now the Ascot Park Hotel Brass Band of Invercargill – dates back to 1867. However, there have since been mentions of the band found from as far back as 1863.

To put it all into perspective it’s the longest-running brass band in the southern hemisphere.

The Band’s base in Spey St – which it has occupied since 1956 – is now museum-like. There are many treasures for those who get a kick out of delving back into the past.

Included is Alex Lithgow’s cornet which he won first prize with at the New Zealand Brass Band Association event in 1893.

Lithgow is probably the Invercargill Garrison Band’s most notable personality.

He composed the Invercargill March in 1901 which became famous when it was played at the first parade in London of the Gallipoli veterans in 1916. It became popular in the United States as well.

The original piano roll of the Invercargill March remains on display in the Spey St band rooms.

The music that’s now stored in the organisation’s very own library dates back over 150 years.

Some of the music sheets have burns on them – a pointer to a time when the musicians put cigarettes down on their stands as the music was performed.

There are few societies with the sort of history attached in Invercargill than the Invercargill Garrison Band.

So how has it survived 157 years or so after its birth?

Ask those involved today and family connections and a sense of camaraderie are identified as key aspects.

Matthew Dick and Kerri Hellyer both attest to that.

“It is just one great big family,” Hellyer, who is part of the management committee, says.

“I think it’s how we look out for each other and to be honest, it gets in your blood and you can’t get it out.”

It’s an organisation for all ages. Currently, members range from about eight years old up to 91.

Hellyer doesn’t shy away from the fact its survival hasn’t been easy. They have been tested financially as costs over the years have increased on many different fronts.

From operating its band rooms, purchasing the required instruments and uniforms, to attending various events. It all adds up.

“The cost is phenomenal now,” Hellyer says.

“Without the ILT funding, we wouldn’t have survived. Without ILT we just couldn’t do it. We are very lucky.”

The Invercargill Garrison Band has been known as the Ascot Park Hotel Brass Band of Invercargill since 1998. Throughout that time ILT has proudly contributed $1.4m in support.

ILT president Paddy O’Brien is thrilled the ILT has been a longstanding supporter of the Invercargill brass band.

“It’s an organisation that shares our strong community connection. They have an incredibly rich history, and we’re pleased to play a small part in their remarkable journey,” O’Brien says.

There’s been a pretty good return on the community investment given the role the band has played in Invercargill for over 150 years now.

The Invercargill Garrison Band was there playing for those who departed and then returned from war.

They’ve been there playing at ANZAC Days, at Rugby Park during Ranfurly Shield tenures, at Santa Parades, Hospice fundraisers, and much more.

Just this week the band performed for those in attendance at the ILT’s Over 70s Christmas Dinner at the Ascot Park Hotel.

Over 700 guests across two nights on Monday and Tuesday have lapped up the ILT event.

On Sunday they will play at the annual Xmas in the Park event at Queens Park in Invercargill.

Given the incredible history attached to the Invercargill Garrison Band, you might think a book would be worthy. Well, it is coming.

A record of its history has been produced by life member Rodney Sutton after the death of historian Barry Bain.

Initially, the plan wasn’t for it to be published into a book. But that’s now changed.

“It’s just too good not to publish. We are working through the process of getting funding to get that done,” Hellyer says.

Here’s to plenty more chapters to be added in the future as well.