The South Brisbane Federal Band is an A Grade standard brass band based in Brisbane, Australia fondly known as The Feds.
In 1908 at a meeting of the Ithaca Town Council it was motioned that a brass band be formed. The name at the time was Ithaca Municipal Band and the seventeen players and conductor originally used the church hall of the local Baptist church but later moved to Musgrave Road and Federal Street in Red Hill in the north of the city.
The band’s name was changed to Brisbane Federal Band and it moved to the city, before moving a few more times to South Brisbane Library, then the old South Brisbane Town Hall and eventually to the purpose built bandhall in Musgrave Park.
It is generally known that the band was properly established in 1912 and was led by Mr MacArthur Philips. It’s uncertain whether the name derived from having particularly patriotic members or whether it was named after its early base in Federal Street.
In 1917 Mr H (Stepper) Davis took up the baton and it was under his leadership that the band became well-known in the state, maintaining an A grade standard throughout the war years until Davis’s retirement in 1945 due to ill health.
In 1920 the band shifted to the south side of the river and became known as South Brisbane Federal Band.
In 1946 and under the baton of Mr Lou Gray the band competed in the first State Band Contest held after World War 2 and won the A Grade street march. In 1947, the band’s euphonium player Les Baxter took over as the band’s conductor.
By this time the band’s reputation was unparalleled, regularly winning competitions and boasting a stellar decade between 1949 and 1959 during which time it won the A Grade hymn 6 times, the number one test selection 6 times, the number two selection 4 times and the street march 3 times.
The year 1954 was particularly memorable when, after winning the Queensland State Band Championship, the band travelled to Victoria to compete in the Victorian State Championships. The band won that competition, beating 7 other southern A grade bands and remains the only Queensland band to have ever achieved this.
In 1953 the band moved to its current premises in Musgrave Park, South Brisbane. The move came after a huge fundraising drive in association with the nearby Mater Hospital to enable the band to have the first acoustic bandstand in Brisbane at the cost of $4,000. That same year the band played for Queen Elizabeth II at the Exhibition Grounds.
The band’s most renowned and longest-serving conductor was Les Baxter whose leadership spanned 28 years of the ensemble’s history. Les – the son of a Salvation Army officer – started his musical career in the Salvation Army before becoming a member of the band under W Davis.
Following Les’s retirement in 1976, Bill Holmes (previously a cornet player with the band) took up the baton. Bill held the position until 1982 and had the honour of taking the band overseas for the first time to compete in the New Zealand Championships in Wellington in 1981. The band also won the A Grade at the Queensland State Band Championships that year in Toowoomba.
In 1982, Les’s son Ken Baxter took up leadership of the band and continued until 1985. After his retirement as conductor, he stayed on with the band and played as a trombonist for many years.
The band was then taken over by cornet player John Kennedy, who led the band to success at the South East Regional contest in Southport in June 1985.
Since then, the band has maintained A grade status, performing locally and internationally from New Zealand to Hong Kong. In recent years, the band has won numerous awards and accolades for its performances, including the Australian National Band Championship in 2011 and the New Zealand National Band Championship in 2016. The band also won the A Grade section of the Queensland State Band Championships in 2018.
Today, the band continues to rehearse in Musgrave Park under Musical Director Rowan Yates and performs locally, nationally and internationally at community events, concerts and contests.