The Band Played On — short story by Gladys Hobson

The Band Played On

They danced to the band with the curious tone…

The Band Played On

Introduction

Ulverston, noted for its Thursday and Saturday market days, and various festivals throughout the year, is blessed with a number of musicians who willingly give of their time to entertain shoppers and visitors to the area. Throughout the summer, as weather permits, on Thursday mornings a band is playing in the cobbled market square. During festivals bands play also at weekends and are often joined by dancers. Sometimes the whole town is taken over by stalls, musicians, singers, entertainers, Morris men and clog dancers, and all the fun of the fair! There is even a Dickensian weekend when on top of all the above, many people are dressed in historical costume. Add to this carnival day, and Charter Fortnight with events and a lantern parade, and it is clear that the town is far from sleepy!
I love to hear the band play on Thursdays. This is usually a small band of mostly elderly gentlemen dedicated to sharing their gifts with all who wish to listen. They have been entertaining for years and clearly enjoy what they do.
Standing listening, I find my feet tapping to the music, and when the band plays tunes like the Flora Dance, oh how I wish we wrinklies had the freedom to dance like children!

The Band Played On.

In Ulverston’s sunny Market Square, the silver band of mainly red-faced elderly gentlemen gave a lively rendition of the Floral Dance, oblivious to the movement of shoppers at nearby stalls and tourists snapping photographs in front of them.
Children, bored with standing at stalls while their mothers looked for bargains, drew closer to the band intrigued by the hand movements that produced the jolly sound. One boy did a good impression of the trombonist, another lad puffed his cheeks and laboured at producing a sound from his invisible euphonium. Little girls laughed and tapped their feet. Before long, more children joined in, with watching adults smiling, tapping and clapping to the merry beat.
A weathered elderly gentleman, with long white beard wagging in tune with the music, began singing:
‘We danced to the band with the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone…’
The Floral Dance, now in full swing, more girls were dancing and swinging each other round and around while others jigged about doing their own thing.
The music came to an end, but the crowd hooped and yelled for more.
The conductor bowed, turned to the band and raised his baton.
The white-headed, bearded gent took off his coat, threw it over the nearest stall and started singing again, his elbows keeping time with the music.
Shoppers left the stalls and gathered round; smiling, laughing and clapping while their children merrily danced or imitated the musicians and singer:
‘Dancing here, prancing there,
Jigging, jogging ev’rywhere…’
Market smells of fruit and vegetables, the scent of flowers, young women’s perfume, old ladies’ talc’, sweat, soap and aftershave, mingling with fresh air breezes; rainbow colours of summer clothing, moving sights and sounds — all swelling up to entrance and befuddle minds and bodies. Not one person immune to the hypnotic beat:
‘Bassoon, flute and euphonium…’
Maggie pulled away from the hand holding hers, and ran forward to join the dancing children in the cobbled square. Round and round, arms waving in time with the beat, laughing and singing the words she could easily remember:
‘Dancing here, dancing there…’
The crowd clapped and sang with her. Maggie’s movements became more intricate while retaining the essential simplicity of country dancing. Girls began imitating her and before long the market place became a throbbing beat of music, clapping and dancing feet. Heated musicians played on, mesmerised by what they had created.
‘Each one making the most of his chance
Altogether in the Floral Dance.’
Round and round and roun…
The crowd hushed, the music petered out, children stopped dancing.
The bearded, elderly man ran forward and fell to his knees by the side of the fallen fragile lady. ‘Are you hurt, Maggie?’
She opened her eyes. ‘Lovely, wasn’t it, daddy?’
‘Yes, my darling, you danced beautifully.’
‘I want…’
Maggie’s eyes closed. The elderly man put an arm under her shoulders and held the old lady to his chest, wiping away long strands of grey hair from her wrinkled face. Tears ran down his cheeks.
A large muscular man from the vegetable stall came forward. ‘I’ll carry her into the chemist’s for you, Lambert, mate.’
The crowd, no longer hushed, parted and made way for the carried woman.
‘I’ve called an ambulance,’ someone told the old man as they entered the chemist’s shop.
The old man nodded his gratitude but his eyes told those present that nothing would bring his wife back to life again. Even through his tears, he smiled. ‘She loved to dance and sing, you know. The dementia didn’t rob her of everything.’
Outside the band began to play, We’ll Gather Lilacs.
‘That’s our tune. We sang it at our wedding reception.’ He drew in a deep breath and said in a determined manner, ‘Could I have a drink of water please?’
Lambert sat on the chair placed beside his wife, now stretched out on a couch at the back of the shop, and he hummed to the music of the band. He took the glass of water being passed to him, shook tablets from a small bottle he’d taken from his jacket pocket, and threw them into the back of his mouth, swallowing them down with the liquid. Then he took his wife’s hand and began to sing in a croaking voice:
‘We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again…’
His quivering voice petered out as his body slumped to the floor.

And the band played on…

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3 Responses to “The Band Played On — short story by Gladys Hobson”

  1. Payton L. Inkletter Says:

    What an effective short short story! Packing in as it did action, delight, joy, shock, sadness, and poignancy in its vivid sentences.

  2. Sheila Deeth Says:

    Oh wow. Beautiful story.

  3. Gladys Hobson Says:

    Thank you, Payton and Sheila.
    We have often stopped to listen to the band play in Ulverston’s Market Square. There I have tapped my feet and longed to dance. Never have, of course. Clog dancers and Morris Men are there on special Saturdays — that sets me off too! I also used this setting and emotions in my book Blazing Embers.
    It is a wonderful gift these musicians give to us.

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