While most early and legendary stalwarts of the Salvation Army brass band world have long gone off to their reward, Tom Giles has recently resurfaced after nearly sixty years of obscurity apropos Army banding.
Two years after he was born in Farcet near Peterborough in 1911, Thomas' family moved to Rushden, Northamptonshire. He started playing at the age of five, taught by his father. Harry Giles had been bandmaster for 20 years at Farcet and the family arrived at their new Corps to find it in a very poor state. Nevertheless, supported by his wife, four boys and four girls, all of whom had musical talent, he revived the spirit of the Corps.
At 11 years of age Thomas successfully auditioned for the 2LO BBC radio station. Further radio broadcasts were forthcoming. He also often accompanied bandmaster George Marshall on weekend "specialing", which was a spirit-lifting experience for the young bandsman. Tom also remembers with great fondness special Councils with Staff Captain Wilfred Kitching and remembers being with him at the piano when the noted musician played for him the introduction of what was to become the General-to-be's prizewinning band selection, My Jesus.
At 17 Thomas became principal soloist of the International Staff Band under Lt. Col. George Fuller where, on his arrival at Army HQ, Thomas' most unforgettable memory is of General Edward Higgins placing his hands on the lad's head in a warm greeting. Almost immediately he was asked to play some new cornet solos awaiting approval by the International Music Board before publication, including Erik Liedzen's Tucker and A Happy Day. In the meantime Thomas was also welcomed as a soldier and as `top man' in the Upper Norwood Crystal Palace Band. Brindley Boon and others were effusive in their praise of Thomas who at 18, passed his LRAM.
Thomas Giles has always maintained that the 36 strong I.S.B. was then the finest band in the world, firstly for its dignified presentation of evangelism and secondly for its astute presentation of Army music. Thomas was one of only three non-officers and he worked for the Army's Reliance Bank.
The ISB was always present at Bandmasters' and other important Councils held at the Crystal Palace and the Albert Hall. Thomas' solos were always popular. Thomas also recalls accompanying such leaders as Commissioners Charles H. Jeffries and Charles T. Rich when they led Councils in various major cities.
One summer, Commissioner Joliffe requested that Thomas should make some recordings to advertise the `Bandmaster' cornet, the Army's own make. Much to the chagrin of the ISB, the SP&S Band accompanied him. Thus under the direction of Eric Ball was the first recording of Tucker made, eventually breaking all previous record sales. During the summer of 1933 Thomas found himself packed into a taxi with Commissioner Joliffe, Colonels Hawkes and Lewis, and Captain Eric Ball, all bound for the Columbia Studios in Maida Vale to record Happy Day and Strong to Deliver. Commissioner Joliffe and Colonel Hawkes persuaded Thomas (and Eric Ball) that the slow melody Consolation would sound good and so it later proved.
Interestingly, recording started at Maida Vale at 2 pm but nothing was produced that day. The fault apparently lay with the pianist at the point where the accompaniment towards the end of Happy Day has the right and left hands going in opposite directions. Next morning though the whole project was quickly completed with Phil. Catelinet at the piano.
Listeners to these recordings today need to allow for the style-cramping restrictions imposed upon yesterday's soloists and recording musicians generally. Richard Martin and the Enfield Band, for instance, took some nine minutes to play Tucker for a long-playing recording, whereas Thomas only had about six minutes. This meant that Eric Ball's SP&S Band had to speed up the introduction and bridge passages, etc., while Thomas had to cut down on his cadenzas.
The 1930s were a very happy time for Thomas. International Tours included time with the Elite British Territorial Band (Colonel Fuller conducting and Brigadier Sansom leading) and a twelve week tour of the U.S.A. and Canada. During these he was much appreciated by Major (General-to-be) Clarence Wiseman and by General Evangeline Booth - the latter insisting that Thomas be drenched in red spotlights as he rendered the 'Send the Fire' theme in Tucker. However, Thomas Giles claimed that the real highlight of the tour was not meeting the General or playing in the cavernous Carnegie Hall (with orchestral and electric organ accompaniment) but when Tucker composer Erik Leidzen turned up to hear him play. This event, claims Thomas, seemed to prove to be the balm that was needed for improving a hitherto strained relationship between the Army and Leidzen at that time. In 1936 Thomas married Margaret Haines, daughter of Commissioner and Mrs Haines, Commissioner Henry Mapp presided.
By the late 1930s Thomas was Bandmaster at Upper Norwood and ran his own 'college' for about 20 students. These included such renowned players as Harry Dilley and William Overton. Throughout this period Thomas had dozens of offers to play and become principal cornet of several contesting bands but lie always refused; However, there were clashes with the Army hierarchy. One memorable clash came after Thomas was threatened with dismissal from the Army for playing duets with the great man of brass, Henry Mortimer. Thomas sought an interview with General Evangeline Booth. The General agreed that as long as Mortimer came to the Army hall and played with an Army band, there was no problem. Interestingly Thomas notes that others present to see the General were Bandmaster Bill Major of Coventry I Band, who wanted to play his own unpublished composition (a march, Three Spires); Bandmaster Albert Munn of Kettering, in trouble over 'certain' regulations; and Bandmaster George Reid of Wood Green, in bother over bandsmen's uniforms.
Despite the excellent efforts of the Secretary of Bands, Major Charles Durman and the work of Adjutant (later Commissioner) Edgar Grinsted, the Commanding Officer of Regent Hall, in arranging many get-togethers for large and small bands, Thomas Giles said goodbye to Salvation Army banding and took up an appointment with Walton O'Donnell and the BBC Wireless Military Band at De La Warr Studios, Maida Vale.
During World War Two Thomas saw operational service in RAF Bomber Command and afterwards, concentrated on his own piano manufacturing business. He sold this in 1980 and took up an interest in opera. However his belief in the spiritual power of Army musicians has always remained with him, even after all direct contact with Army banding ceased.