The first Band was formed in the 1850′s at the Pontamman Chemical Works as a Drum and Fife Band, developing later in 1881 to the Betws Brass Band, becoming Ammanford Urban District Silver Band on the grant of urban status in 1903. In the 1920′s its title was again changed to Ammanford Silver Band. The Band in its early days took an active part in temperance campaigns.
Its first Bandmaster was James Jones and during a visit of the Prime Minister, Mr. W.E. Gladstone, to Swansea in 1887, the Band was invited to play at the saluting base. The cornet soloist at that event was Rhys Thomas, a young lad later to become the headmaster of Betws School and Bandmaster for a number of years.
David H. Thomas became the Bandmaster during the First World War and over a lengthy period his contribution to teaching and conducting was outstanding. Numerous successes followed. During the 1921 strike, he, a carpenter by trade, along with the players and supporters, voluntarily built the Band Room. Further contest success followed at Cwmtwrch, Seven Sisters, Brynamman and Swansea respectively. In 1937 the famous band conductor Mr. Harry Mortimer, acting as guest conductor, tutored the band to win Class A at the Machynlleth Welsh National Eisteddfod. The Cornet soloist was the Bandmaster’s son, Desmond Thomas, who, on Mortimer’s recommendation, joined the famous Fodens Band in Cheshire.
In 1942 a Junior Section was formed under the leadership of Hywel G. Evans. It gave a BBC broadcast in 1943 and in 1945 represented Wales at Belle Vue, Manchester, coming second by a mere one point to Besses o’ the Barn, the winners of the Junior Championship of Great Britain. In 1946 Hywel Evans became Bandmaster of the Senior Band then in Class C and in 1947 raised its grade to Class B after winning Third Section contests from 1945 to 1946.
Captain D. Liddel from the Rhondda Valley took the band to a First Prize win in Class B at the Area Championships in 1948, and fourth prize in Britain. Succeeding this were bandmasters Vyrnwy Jones and George Betton. Emrys Henry then conducted the Band to win the Area Championship in 1963 in three competitions. The Band’s status was once again raised.
The Band was making rapid progress to reach high levels of musical achievement, this time under the baton of Haydn Morris, himself a brilliant cornet player in his day with the Gwaun Cae Gurwen band.
The Band was nominated a “Champion Band of Wales” at the Municipal Hall, Pontypridd, on Saturday 22nd November 1969 and also won the T.J. Powell Memorial Trophy and T.W.W. Cup. The Band repeated its success again winning the Area, playing the Test Piece “Choral and Variations” by Leighton Lucas, adjudicated by William Relton.
In August 1970, Ammanford Band won the class B title at the National Eisteddfod, Ammanford, playing “Rhapsody on Negro Spirituals” by Eric Ball.
The "Gerald Roberts years"
A proud achievement was in the Welsh Area Contest at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea on 31st March 2001. The Band came second after seeing off competition from many bands in the section. They were only beaten by the efforts of Royal Oakley Band, Ammanford Silver Band scoring 185 points, which meant that they qualified for the finals at Preston on September 2001.
Then, at the British National finals in Preston later that year, they went one better and became holders of the 2nd Section National Brass Band of Great Britain Trophy after winning by two clear points at the championships. This was a particularly proud achievement in, that they were the only winning Welsh Band that weekend. This victory won them promotion to the 1st Section, and in 2002 Ammanford Silver Band duly won the 1st Section Champion Band of Wales title.
The Band today
The band continued competing at the highest level for a few years after its notable achievements; however a declining membership in the mid 2000’s saw the band struggle to compete. In 2012, efforts were made by past and present players to resurrect the competing band and attract a new membership. This resurgence saw an injection of young players into the fold coupled with long serving stalwarts and instantly the band re-emerged under the musical directorship of Glyn Rhys Davies, a former Ammanford player himself.
Success was quickly realised and saw the band reach the UK National finals in consecutive years for 2013 and 2014 at Cheltenham racecourse and on both occasions attaining high positions and representing the band and the town proudly across the border! Notable performances at the National Eisteddfodau and regional contests have also seen the band soar back up the global rankings and break back into the top 200 bands in the world for the first time in over 10 years.
The band goes from strength to strength with many new members being promoted from within the flourishing Junior band, and with recent investment made by the band and with grateful assistance from the Mynydd Y Betws wind farm, the band are well placed to maintain their success and always look forward to both competing at contests and performing at concerts throughout the region.
Ammanford Silver Band about 1958. Photo supplied by former bandsman Des Thomas (second row, second from the left), who comments “Ammanford Silver Band, as it was then known, playing I believe in Stradey before a Llanelli match. George Betton was the Bandmaster and he used to come to our house in Betws if we were mitching on practice night. Jeff and I were often dragged from playing on the patch to do our scales in the band room in Foundry Lane. We’re seated second row from bottom left side. We had to share a cornet to start with!” George Betton, the bandmaster at the time, is standing at the right of the photo.