Albertbridge Accordion – a band defined by one man, but certainly not a one-man band

Billy Cummings is a founder member of Albertbridge Accordion Band and still an active member after 60 years
Billy Cummings is a founder member of Albertbridge Accordion Band and still an active member after 60 years

Albertbridge Accordion Band was founded in 1957 by seven friends from the Boys’ Brigade who sought a new means to keep their camaraderie alive.

One of those founding members – Billy Cummings – remains an active member of the band that boasts a rich history including six LPs and a following in Toronto.

The colour party of Albertbridge Accordion Band, nicknamed the Flying Squad

The colour party of Albertbridge Accordion Band, nicknamed the Flying Squad

The 77-year-old spoke to the News Letter about the band he holds dear to his heart, in this its 60th anniversary year.

He recalled the date – Friday, August 9, 1957 – when the band was formed.

“Our BB company was ‘The 56th’ attached to Albertbridge Congregational Church,” said Billy, the band’s secretary.

“Others like myself were getting close to 18 when we would leave the BB. To keep that camaraderie we came up with the idea of forming an accordion band.

Albertbridge Accordion Band recorded six LPs over the years

Albertbridge Accordion Band recorded six LPs over the years

“None of us could play an accordion but we took an interest because of different accordion bands in the district in them days.”

After raising funds for second-hand instruments, the band held its first practice sessions in a hall owned by Wolff Star on the Newtownards Road.

The first uniform consisted of grey trousers, white shirts, red tie and a variety of peaked caps.

On Easter Tuesday the following year the band stepped out on its first official outing, alongside Christian Crusaders Junior LOL 27 in Bangor.

The assembly point for the band’s parades in their early days was Tilly Martin’s sweet shop – The Mayfair – which was practically on Billy’s doorstep and a stone’s throw from Templemore Avenue where most parades began in east Belfast.

The band continued to grow, thanks to Billy’s recruitment skills.

He said: “While the rest of the boys left the BB I stayed on as a warrant officer and over the years I was able to start up a band within the BB, a sort of junior band which fed through to our band.”

Ten years after its first parade, the band became one of the first accordion bands from the Province to march in the Twelfth parade in Toronto.

As numbers swelled it became the first band in Ulster to introduce a colour party to its ranks – nicknamed the Flying Squad. The band’s exploits gained them media attention both at home and in Canada.

“We paraded with three flags from Canada as well as the Union Jack and our Northern Ireland flag and our bannerette,” Billy recalled. “We’d have been in our peak just after the Canada trip.”

The band continued in a rich vein of form for many years – releasing six LPs demonstrating its wide repertoire of songs including complicated marches alongside traditional Orange tunes.

“I remember the LPs would have cost about 13 and 11 pence. Every record that was sold we got a half crown off it.

“We still have all the LPs framed in the band hall and all the books of how many we sold. However, when we brought out a CD in the past year I’d say we’ve made more from that than all the LPs.”

The band has a considerable group of members with over 30 years’ service, and many others who have over 50 years’ service. Billy, who has notched 60 not out, said: “I’ll stay to the death.”