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Book review: A Band for All Seasons by Merv Collins

The Preston Citadel Band will hold its Centenary Celebrations this weekend (26-27 August), and to mark the occasion, a book will be launched to honour the band’s 100 years of active service in the Melbourne community


The story of the Preston Citadel Band over 100 years mirrors life in its local community as well as some significant international events that dramatically impacted all Australians.

The glossy, 124-page book is packed with interesting information, anecdotes and photos from 1925 to 2023. But it also reflects the evolution and challenges of Salvation Army banding over the years.

The nine chapters are each cleverly named after Salvation Army brass band pieces, and I think this list will whet your appetite:

Chapter 1: Army Warriors (Gilbert) – The birth of the band

Chapter 2: Under Two Flags (Coles) – Service in dark days

Chapter 3: Good Old Army (Coles) – The band has been very active

Chapter 4: British Melodies (Gullidge) – Migrants with a mission

Chapter 5: On Parade (Herikstad) – The challenges of change

Chapter 6: Days of Rejoicing (Key) – An international era

Chapter 7: The World for God (Silfverberg) – A legacy in Japan

Chapter 8: Battle Ready (Trigg) – Baton changes

Chapter 9: A Century of Service (D. Jones) – The past and the future.

As well as detailing the band’s history, its leaders and ministry, there are lots of quirky, interesting anecdotes. For example:

• In 1923, after a couple of months’ practice, a group of seven youths made their debut, and Preston Band was up and running.

• In the early years, Preston bandsmen loved the band’s own march, The Prestonian, so much that when travelling home by train from the city, they would often whistle a few bars to let other bandsmen know they were on the platform!

• On one trip to Ararat and Horsham, the band attracted a crowd of 500 to their concert in the Botanical Gardens and 600 to the after-church program in the town theatre. “In all, the band fulfilled 13 engagements and played 245 tunes.”

• From the 1930s to the 1980s, the Preston Citadel Band was ahead of its time in relation to its hospital ministry. It made regular visits to the Royal Women’s Hospital and Bethesda Maternity Hospital, as well as to Pentridge Prison and the Kew Psychiatric Hospital. There were also regular Sunday afternoon visits to the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital until the late 1980s when the corps officer indicated to the bandmaster that “in an age of air conditioning and double-glazed windows, the music could barely be heard in the wards”.

• In the late 1940s, the corps Sunday morning holiness meeting was regularly broadcast on 3DB, and the band also played on 3AR. “The band continued to make radio programs into the 1970s, by which time brass bands had been overwhelmed by rock ‘n’ roll, long-playing records and the advent of television, and were faded out of radio schedules.”

• The 1955 weekend tour of Goulburn and Canberra was memorable for the ‘luxury’ bus that broke down on 12 occasions on the way, resulting in the Canberra segment of the weekend being abandoned. The trip home was more of the same and took 21 hours! I smiled when I read the report by Brigadier Harry Goffin (guest leader for the weekend), “Between those two momentous journeys, great meetings were held on Good Friday, and despite the band not having eaten for many hours, it played Man of Sorrows impressively.”

And there are lots more gems like those!

Merv Collins has done a great job in carefully documenting the history of the band in such an interesting way. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I’m confident you will too.

Perhaps you have close links with the Preston Corps or the band and know some of the players mentioned or photographed.

Perhaps you’re interested in a fascinating read about a well-known Salvation Army corps band.

Perhaps you wonder how a brass band can evolve and adapt to not only survive but flourish for 100 years.

If so, this is a book for you!


The book will be available at Preston Corps over the Centenary Celebrations weekend for $30 or by emailing for a copy to be posted anywhere in Australia for $40.


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