T.J.Powell was known as the “Welsh Sousa” and one of the few composers in the world to write exclusively for the brass band medium.
Tom “T.J.” Powell was born in Tredegar, Monmouthshire on the 12th of October 1897. At the age of seven, he was playing side-drum in the Salvation Army youth band and was the youngest band member at the funeral of General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. He transferred to the Senior Band, playing the cornet, and studied music theory with the Bandmaster, Mr. Hurley. Just prior to the first World War, he joined the Tredegar Town Band but then left South Wales to serve in the Band of H. M. Royal Marines, furthering his studies in the Marines School of Music.
In 1920, he was appointed Musical Director of the Melingriffith Volunteer and Cadet Corps Band and lived at 81 Velindre Road, Whitchurch. This was the beginning of an association which lasted the rest of his life. He conducted with Mr. Tom Moore, principal cornet with Besses o’ the Barn, and within three years the band progressed very rapidly from Class “C” to Class “A”. With Tom Powell conducting, the Melingriffith Band grew in reputation, and T.J. was in great demand throughout the country as both a conductor and adjudicator, despite the fact that he never advertised.
He loved composing, and Harry Mortimer referred to him as the Welsh Sousa. He composed and arranged many pieces for brass band, including waltzes, studies and solos, and a complete book of Welsh hymns. He was an exceedingly quick writer of manuscripts; often he would try out an idea on the piano and have full band parts and a score ready by the next rehearsal.
Early in his career with Melingriffith he wrote a march called Appreciation, dedicated to the band Secretary, Mr. David Millward. He excelled at writing marches and “Appreciation” was the first of many. Some have never been published, but are on manuscript in the band’s library. Many of the marches were named after Welsh Castles- Castell Coch (visible from his home), Castell Caerdydd, Castell Caerphilli, and Caernarfon Castle- written in 1958 when the Queen announced that Prince Charles was to be made Prince of Wales. His march The Contestor has been recorded by many bands.
Snowdon Fantasy was written after Powell visited Snowdonia with Mr. Hughes, a North Wales Bandmaster who lived at the foot of the mountain.Forest Bells was inspired by the pealing of church bells in the Forest of Dean when T.J. was walking through the Forest to rehearse with Pillowell Band. Some works were composed specifically for particular Melingriffith bandsmen, and often in lieu of titles he reversed their surnames- thus SNIKTA, an Eb Bass theme and variations, and ELYOD, a euphonium solo and variations.
He was president of the South Wales and Monmouthshire Brass Band Association and one of the few holders of the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians of London, presented to him at Belle Vue in 1958. He was also presented with the Diploma of Honour of the NBCCC of Great Britain.
On Friday 29th January 1965, tragedy struck. T.J. was guest conductor for Cory Band, and they assembled in the Cardiff Orchestral Studio, a converted church in Charles Street, for the BBC Radio series ‘Challenging Brass’ with opponents Luton Band who were in a London Studio. As he rose to conduct, he collapsed with what transpired to be a fatal heart attack in front of the band. True to tradition, and just as he would have wanted, a solo cornet player left the bench, took up the baton and conducted the band’s performance. T.J. never heard the result that Luton had won- he died in the studio as the band was playing.
Tom Powell inspired all who were around him, commanding great respect as a conductor and composer and also in his qualities as both a gentleman and a friend. A glorious passage in the history of the band, which had spanned 45 years and had given the band its richly deserved reputation, had come to an end.