The Beating Heart of the Marching Band

West Wallsend's Dandy Drum

Geoff Sidebottom is a professional musician who knows a thing or two about keeping the beat.

‘As a lead drummer I’d play a four-bar sequence and then second drum would come in and fatten it. Then he’d stop while I played a different pattern perhaps. And if you got a bit sick of playing a four-four feel every now and then you’d change to a six-eight feel. And I always reckon that lifted the boys, made ’em march better.’

He started around age 12 as a drummer for the West Wallsend Junior Band where he practiced with a wooden drum before the bandmaster Jack (Harold) Cameron (1899-1969) took Geoff to Sutton’s Music in Newcastle to select the perfect snare drum. Their search ended with the ‘Dandy’ which was made in Australia by the well-respected Drouyn and Drouyn drum company.

A snare drum like this is designed to do more than simply keep the beat. As Geoff points out, people get bored with the ‘same old rat-a-tat-tat’ so the snare drummer plays varied sequences and patterns, adding flourishes and style.

Jeff Cameron played the cornet with the band and later inherited the bandmaster role when his grandfather Jack died. He recalls that it was 1960s and they could have been in their parents’ garages playing rock ‘n’ roll but they chose to join the marching band and were exposed to more classical music and hymns than say, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Even when the allure of ‘girls and cars’ ultimately won over for Geoff, playing drums with the marching band instilled a lifelong love of music.

When the band took its final march in 1970s, the Dandy drum was stored in a shed until 1985, when fellow drummer Alan Cameron (Jeff Cameron’s brother) located it and kindly passed it on to Geoff, who expertly restored it back to its original condition and donated it to the West Wallsend High School and Community Museum.