Comber Brass
Comber Brass

Late members of Comber Silver Band whose tributes are below:

Bart Walker. George Clegg. Sam Burgess. Hammy Mills. Robin Black. Ronnie O'Prey.

Bart Walker

Members and former members of Comber Silver Band, and of several other bands and orchestras, were shocked and much saddened at the sudden passing, at home, of Bart Walker on 30th September 2019, at the age of 89.

Bart was truly one of the characters of the music world both as a professional, and after his retirement, as an amateur.  

During his time in Comber he was a much-valued trombone section colleague.  The same was true in many other local ensembles: The Studio Symphony Orchestra, The Big Band (based in the BBC), The Band of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, The Belfast Jazz Orchestra, CWA Band and Laganvale Band, to name but a few.  Previously, as a professional bass trombonist, he had played in the City of Belfast Orchestra and later the Ulster Orchestra. He also played in the RTE Light Orchestra in Dublin, and in several dance bands on the Mecca circuit around these islands.  Bart always liked to cultivate what he called a “symphonic” sound: many who heard him admired his sound. In addition he had a natural and infectious sense of swing rhythm that gave a stylish lead to the trombone sections he played in.  This idiom was, I think, home territory for him, perhaps more so than the world of contesting brass bands.

Those of us who had the pleasure and privilege of his friendship and company will have personal stories to tell of his hugely varied experiences as a musician.  I am sure there are many stories still to be told, but running through them there will be the thread of his readiness to see the funny or absurd side of situations. Who knew about his brief career in a circus band, cut short when he was injured falling off the bandstand onto (or was it into) the lion enclosure below?  Or of his claim to have been a professional dancer (on only one occasion, I believe)? Or even of his brief career as a poultry farmer?  These and many other anecdotes about his varied life often enlivened the small monthly lunch-time meetings that he continued to convene.  In keeping with this theme was the playing of “76 Trombones” at his funeral which was attended by a large number of his friends from many bands and orchestras.

He had a kindly willingness to encourage and guide other players.  Ewan Easton recounts how, on arriving in Belfast as the new young tuba player in the Ulster Orchestra, he found in Bart a helpful guide and mentor.  Ewan, following his successful time as Comber’s conductor, himself progressed to fulfil that same pastoral role for amateur and professional musicians here and in Manchester.

Most of all Bart was a good friend and a generous and most congenial companion.  The world of the trombone, richer for his presence for so many years, is poorer for his passing. 

Our sympathies go to his wife Doreen, his sons Barry and David, and to their families.


Robert Frost

George Clegg

It was with great sadness that the members of Comber Silver Band learned of the passing of their former member, Mr George Clegg, on 2nd June 2018. Born on 7th January 1935, George was 83 when he passed away.


When he was old enough George joined the 1st Belfast Boys’ Brigade attached to the Mary Magdalene Church in Donegall Pass, Belfast. A short time later he joined the 1st Old Boys Silver Band which then took its membership mostly from the Boys Brigade Company.


In the early days George played a few instruments but settled on the Flugel Horn and on this instrument became very proficient and was arguably one of the best in Northern Ireland.


In his working life George was an Animal Auctioneer selling farm animals all over Northern Ireland and beyond. Was this the reason for George’s husky voice?


George had a Sabbatical from playing for a few years but returned to play with Comber Silver Band. He was very willing to play wherever in the band he was required.  3rd Cornet, then Flugel Horn, Tenor Horn and then Baritone. He showed his proficiency on all of these instruments.


Always willing to help the younger members of the band he became affectionately known as “Da” Clegg.


As a loyal and dedicated member of the band he served on the Committee. His reasoned thinking and his ability to see both side of an argument were greatly appreciated at meetings.


In his private life George married June (Nee Mills) and they had three children, now all grown up of course. About 13 years ago George and June made the courageous decision to sell up here and move to their beloved Spain.  Their new home was just outside Murcia.


Whilst there George had a few age related health issues, mainly hips and knees. Despite the pain and hospital stays he never complained and was more concerned with the welfare of his family & friends and of course continued to ask about “His” bands.


Around August/September 2017 George and June decided to return home and it was obvious that George had become quite frail and was only able to walk with the aid of crutches. Sadly this deterioration continued and after a spell in a nursing home he was admitted to the Ulster Hospital Dundonald. He passed away peacefully on 2nd June surrounded by June and his friends.


His funeral took place from St Mark’s Dundela, Belfast on Thursday 7th June 2018 and a small band made up from Comber Silver Band and 1st Old Boys Band gave him the send off he so richly deserved.


Our sympathy to June and the entire family circle.


                                                                                                                                                                Alan Curry (Friend)

Sam Burgess

The members were deeply shocked and saddened by the death of their esteemed President, Mr Sam Burgess, who passed away on the 6th. May 2018.


Sam joined the Band as a schoolboy around 1940 at a time when the Band was still a Flute Band. He recalled the changeover to Brass in 1949 and remembers unloading the new instruments at that time. He laughingly mentioned that the crates contained a few rats as well as the brass instruments.

He also told me how one twelfth he was parading with a flute and the following year he marched playing a cornet which he had taught himself to play in quite a short time. Many other Bandsmen had done likewise.


Over the years Sam became very proficient on the cornet and for a long time he, and the late Ronnie O’Prey, formed the backbone of the top section. Both of these gentlemen helped out Newtownards Band frequently in both the 60’s and 70’s and it was there that I first came in contact with Sam. I can vouch for the fact that not only was he a player to be respected, but if it had not been for him and indeed Ronnie the Comber Silver Band may have folded in these times.


However it was not only as a player that Sam gave his many talents to the Band. He experienced all committee posts at various times and played a big part in organising the building of their own band hall. In later years when large capital was needed for new instruments, he was involved in negotiating the sale of this hall and setting up a contract with the purchasers for free use of the hall one night of the week plus a small room for storing band equipment - an arrangement which existed till very recently when the hall was resold.


When I joined the band in 1990 Sam was still a leading front row cornet. Shortly after he moved to the back row to help out the second cornets. Later still he transferred to the  tenor horn and sat beside me in my Section. I was impressed not only by his musicianship but his commitment and dedication. He seldom missed a rehearsal or band engagement and would always put band interest above personal needs. I noticed too he always made a point of getting to know a new recruit and putting them immediately at ease.


About 6 or 7 years ago, Sam retired as a playing member. The reason was not that his health prevented this, but it was simply to enable him to devote all his time to his beloved Agnes who needed a lot of help and care at this time. This action, in itself, is so typical of a man for whom I have the utmost respect.


Several years ago, the Band honoured this life-time dedication by electing him as their President, making a presentation at a special Dinner to mark the occasion. Since then, Sam has never failed to pop in at a final rehearsal before a major contest - not only to show his continued interest but to give the few words of encouragement, which he did so often during his playing years.

It is impossible to quantify the contribution Sam has made to the well-being of Comber Silver and the only way we can show our gratitude is to ensure that the Band flourishes in the years ahead as a tribute to our dear friend.


Ken Browne

Hammy Mills

The Band members were shocked and saddened by the recent death of the long serving member Hamilton Mills (February 2018).


Hammy, as he was affectionately known joined the Band as a young man and played regularly for many years until ill-health brought his playing career to an end.


He was a very accomplished bass player, and after he stopped playing still had a great interest in all the Band affairs


The members send their sympathy to his wife and family on their sad loss.


Sam Burgess (Band President)

Robin Black

It was with great sadness that Comber Silver Band learnt of the death on Sunday 12th May 2013 of their chairman Robin Black, who was on holiday in Spain.


Robin was a loyal and dedicated member of the band, a member of the trombone section that had recently won two trophies for the band in 2013. He was recently appointed by his band colleagues as their chairman and previously had been an excellent registration secretary. He will be sorely missed from these roles as well as for his typical down to earth attitude and sense of humour.


Robin was well known in band circles having played previously with Reed Memorial, Old Park Silver,  Bloomfield Silver and Templemore Silver bands.


The band was honoured that Robin's familiy asked for their participation in his funeral service which took place at 1.30pm on Wednesday 22nd May 2013 in Donaghadee 1st Presbyterian church. The band was joined by colleagues from other bands who came to help give Robin a good brass band send off.

Ronnie O'Prey

The members of the Comber Silver band were shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Ronnie O'Prey on the 2nd August 2016.


Ronnie had been a longtime member of the band, having joined the flute band as a teenager, becoming an accomplished side-drummer.When the band converted to brass instruments in 1949 Ronnie decided to learn to play the cornet. In this he was very successful and in a short time he became the band's principal solo cornet - a position he held for many years.


Ronnie was very keen on teaching young players and brought a number into the band over the years. For a number of years Ronnnie was the Band secretary, a position he filled with distinction.


In truth Ronnie was a leading member of the Comber Silver Band, and was a true gentleman.


Sam Burgess (Band President)

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