Mike Sumner (Ox & Bucks) Percussionist


    Arthur was probably the finest conductor I ever played under. Percussionists spend most of their career fooling conductors. If they are conducting from a short score or even better, a solo-clarinet part, they have very little idea of what the percussionist should play.

    I, like most percussionists make it up, fill in the bars rest, (it saves counting), and generally improve the written part. Most of the written part is rubbish anyway. Composers have not much idea when it comes to drum parts.

    Arthur was the only conductor I could not fool. He always knew whether or not I was making it up, or playing the written part. He was the only conductor I ever saw conducting with his right hand and giving the bass player (who was lost) the fingering with his left hand.


     Bob was without doubt a cornet player extraordinaire, and it was a privilege to play with him. I have seen the idle sod play Carnival of Venice with all the variations laid flat on his back.


     A wonderful tenor sax player, even if his ad lib solos were somewhat long. After twenty minutes or so I would upset him by playing 1920's rhythms on woodblock and cowbell.


     A Euphonium player of extraordinary ability. I well remember him and Bob West practising the "black bits" from the Arban tutor.


    One Saturday night we were playing our regular weekly gig at the Officers Club in Berengaria. - Me, Doug Frith, Stan Wheatley (Trumpet), Bob Bransby (piano), Chic Webber (bass).

    It was fairly late when this Squadron Leader came up to the band and asked if he could have a blow. Normally he would have been politely told to piss off, but for some unknown reason Doug said "Yeah! Why not”.

    He said “I play sax but I have not got one with me, could I borrow yours?” There was a deathly hush, because no one was allowed to touch Doug's beloved sax, but he said OK, much to our amazement. He played with us for about half an hour with or without dots, and he was a very talented musician.

    The next week he turned up with his own sax, and we had another great session. I think Doug had his nose put out of joint somewhat, so on Monday morning he said "We'll fix that clever sod on Saturday". For the rest of the week the four of them practised I’m Beginning To See The Light in E major. Which for the ignorant ones among you, puts the Alto Sax in C sharp (seven sharps).

    Saturday arrives, and after this Squadron Leader had been playing for a while, he says "What’s next"?           "Beginning to See the Light" says Doug.

    'What key" he asks, "E major" says Doug, with a wink at the rest of us. "That’s a bit unusual" says the Squadron Leader, and off he goes, ad lib solos and all, without turning a hair. Afterwards, we had to confess what we had done. He took it all in good part and bought us all a drink, and also confessed that only a few weeks before he had been playing on BBC Jazz Club.

 He also told us the following unusual story.

    In 1945 at the end of the war, he was stationed near Paris, not far from the Selmer factory. One day he hopped into his Jeep, and went to Selmer’s, and asked them if they could make him an Alto Sax. "We would be happy to" they said, "but we have no brass". (They had been making other things during the war). "If you can supply us with the brass, there is no problem".

    The Squadron Leader then went around in his Jeep and collected a load of old shell cases, took them to Selmer’s, and eventually they produced the Sax he was still using.


    Denis was a bit of a character, and a wonderful percussionist. Apart from his daughter Pat, who played Timpani, he played all the rest of the percussion on his own, which was of course unusual for a professional orchestra.

    We first met when he was professor of percussion at Kneller Hall. We became good friends, but there were just two occasions when I had difficulty forgiving him.

    The first time was when the "BBC Band" were due to play on "Friday Night is Music Night" at the old Camden Theatre.

    I called in to see Denis the day before, where he was teaching in the old cinema at KH. "See you tomorrow" he said, "Have you got to bring much kit?"

    "Everything but the kitchen sink" I replied. "Oh don't bother" says Denis, "just bring your box of sticks, and I'll make sure everything else is there, just give me a list of what you need". which I did.

    We arrived for the broadcast, me thinking how great it was, only having to carry a box of sticks. "Evening Denis" I said "every thing OK?".

    Denis slapped his forehead "Oh bugger" he said "I knew I had forgotten something" All there was on the stage was a set of Timpani.

    I went into a panic, Jean Francois Pierre, my fellow percussionist, went into a French Canadian panic. There was a lot of "Sacre Bleau Merde" and all that stuff. I was wondering what time the number 73, or was it 23, bus left in the morning..!! Jean Francois was wondering how cold it was in northern Canada with the Eskimos in winter.

    "Don't worry" says Denis, "I've plenty of kit, we will share it". And that’s what we did. "What do you need first" asks Denis. "Snare drum ,Bass drum and cymbals, for the March of the Week" I reply. "Well" says Denis,"you can have the Bass and cymbals now, but you will have to wait for the snare drum, as I need it for the signature tune"

    I stood there quaking, Lt/Col David McBain glaring at me, as he always did. The announcer said "Now for the march of the week", and as the D.O.M. dropped his baton, Denis slid a snare drum under my sticks. And that sort of thing went on for the whole broadcast, and David McBain never found out. Denis thought it was hilarious, but never again! .

    The second time Denis dropped me in it, was when he brought to KH a new arrangement of "Flight of the Bumble Bee" for Xylophone.

    The first time I knew about it was when Lt/Col Basil Brown sent for me on the Monday morning, and said "Mr Brady has just brought this in, we will run through it with the BBC Band on Friday".

    For the next four days I burned the midnight oil, until I could just about manage to play it. We ran through it on Friday, and the D.O.M. said "Well played Sumner, but I'm not too keen on it" It was put into the library, and has probably not seen the light of day since. Thanks Denis!


    Another fine musician. Equally at home on piano, French Horn, Violin, and Organ, whether it was the one in the school chapel or the cinema organ in the Whitton Odeon. He could sing limericks all night, accompanied by himself on the piano, and he was the only person I knew who could recite "Eskimo Nell" in its entirety. He was also a great teller of jokes and there was an endless stream of Irish stories at his concerts. A devout Christian, he was reputed to know every hymn and tune in the Ancient and Modern Hymnal. He was appointed senior director of music, the Household Division in 1987 and promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel.

 NB: Mick sadly passed away 7th November 1989.


    I wish I could remember his name. He was the CO's bugler, and he played like no other bugler I have ever heard. His rendering of The Last Post on a summers evening was sheer magic. He was once slapped in the nick for jazzing up the"Fall In” on an Adjutants guard mounting.


Eb Clarinets.

Tenor Horns.

Soprano Cornets

Soprano Saxophones

Cuckoo Whistles (I always got it the wrong way round)

Elizabethan Serenade

The Valetta

St Bernard’s Waltz

Triangle (one feels such a pratt playing it)

Moon River


Conducting Post Horn Gallop on the bandstand at KH

Bass Guitars

Hand tuned timpani

Xylophones that collapse in the middle


String players with no sense of humour



Handel's Messiah

Sandpaper blocks

Counting bars rest

Playing three hours in the freezing rain

Playing three hours in a temperature of over 100 degrees

Playing three hours anywhere (unless the pay was good)

Having to learn all the brass and woodwind instruments at KH

The Beatles

Cliff Richards

Sopranos (singers)

Cavalry Trumpets

Conductors who have no idea what they are doing

The Barn Dance

Wagner operas

American Military Bands

Female Music Teachers, (except one, Oh God! what was her name?)

Smart arses with perfect pitch

Large Bass drums

Female musicians (except one, Oh God! what was her name?)

Officers Mess dinner nights

Musical Commanding Officers

Non musical RSM's

Female golfers (except one, Oh God! what was her name?)


Pianists who can only busk in A major

Keys of C sharp and C flat majors


Slow waltzes (except the last waltz)

Bird warblers (the water goes up ones nose)

Seven hour gigs.

 ".... but life goes on…"                    Mike Sumner


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