The name of Bramwell Williams has been synonymous with the Birmingham Citadel Band for well over 70 years. Bram was an inspirational leader, a fine musician and a fantastic encourager who took a real interest in the lives of his bandsmen.
Bram came to the Citadel from Oldbury at the age of 8 and worked his way through the junior corps, learning to play an instrument and eventually joining the senior band. There began a love with BCB which was to last all his life.
He became Bandmaster in 1955 taking over from B.T. Langworthy who Bram readily recognised as a legend. For lesser men this would have been too big a task, but Bram more than rose to the challenge and took the band to higher levels of achievement in performing in the nation’s most high profile concert halls, recordings on radio, television and LP’s as well as leading the band on three overseas tours. But he never forgot that the band’s real purpose was in its service in the city of Birmingham, at the Citadel and that the same standards of playing and deportment were expected in the open air meeting and Sunday morning meeting as were to be given in the Royal Albert Hall! Bram led the band to their second appearance at the RAH in 1964 and chose to play Erik Leidzen’s ‘None other Name’.
BM Williams & Birmingham Citadel Band in 1964 before the Royal Albert Hall festival.
The start of the piece on this occasion has gone down in the folklore of BCB but Bram kept control and conducted the band to a first class rendition of this Army classic. Bram was keen to take the band on their first overseas tour and together with then Band Secretary Vincent Hayward they organised a highly successful trip to Holland in 1967.
BM Williams & Birmingham Citadel Band touring Holland in 1967.
In those days Birmingham was an industrial city with a highly transient workforce which of course affected the band with some members only being in it for a relatively short time before moving on to pastures new. For many leaders this would be too much of a test to get an effective consistent musical ensemble together, but Bram relished the challenge, making new people welcome and straight away fully involved in the band. One of his sayings was, ‘We welcome you the first Sunday, after that you are in the band as much as anybody else and your contribution is valued and needed.’ This was particularly true of the many students who came into BCB during the 28 years of his leadership and many of them bear testimony to the interest and encouragement that Bram gave them in those early highly influential years of a young Salvationist.
The band was invited to numerous national events during his tenure as Bandmaster and of course there were countless weekend campaigns, Saturday night festivals as well as visits to local Churches to present musical programmes. Bram’s charisma was always at fullest level on these occasions, charming the audiences as he ‘chaired’ the band’s programmes and of course there was always the call to the ladies of the home corps near the end of the festival ‘to get the kettle on’! BCB was continually proud of Bram’s long associations with the UK’s National and Divisional Music Schools and here his influence and encouragement was shared by many outside of Birmingham Citadel. It is perhaps not so widely known that Bram was leader of one of the first Salvation Army Youth employment training schemes – ‘Salvo’ which he led on his retirement from full time work and assisted so many youngsters to learn new skills to help them find effective employment.
A further overseas tour was arranged to Norway in 1977 and then to Sweden in 1983 and Bram was excellent in making sure that the band was thoroughly prepared for the musical demands of such momentous occasions. Shortly following the Sweden tour Bram announced that he was to retire and bring to an end years of quality leadership and example.
Bram was always supported by Mary his wife. They had been sweethearts from the age of 14 and Mary as well had a special place in her heart and always a warm meal for the many young bandsmen who came to the Citadel and needed looking after. Bram’s daughters, Pat, Marilyn, Ruth and Pam had their part to play as well and you didn’t have to be in Bram’s company long to know how very proud he was of them.
It is impossible in a short piece of narrative to really do justice to the life and work of Bram Williams. Those who served under him in the band owe him a great deal for the interest, the strong leadership and continual encouragement, and indeed that encouragement has been mentioned by many following the sad news of his promotion to Glory in January 2010. But it should be noted that all members who have come into the band in recent years have a great indebtedness to him for the standards he set and the reputation that BCB enjoys to this day because of Bandmaster Bramwell Williams. We salute his life, give thanks to God for the man and pray that those of us that follow will be constantly challenged to uphold the level of Christian witness and principles that Bram was so insistent upon.
1st Baritone, Birmingham Citadel Band
Bandmaster Bramwell Williams