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.