Posted on behalf of Ray Hutchinson... Dear Sir, I would be grateful if you could print all or part of the tribute to Eric Cunningham . Ray Hutchinson A Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Eric Wilson Cunningham (1921-2004) was held in the The Parish Church of St John, Snods Edge , Shotley Bridge Consett, Co Durham on Friday 30th April 2004. The Ever Ready were in attendance and provided suitable music for the congregation prior to the service. A tribute was given to Eric by his close friend Ray Hutchinson. Tribute to Eric Cunningham Although Eric’s death has given all of those who new him a great deal of sadness it is at this difficult time that we extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family, in particular his daughter Pauline her husband Jeff there two sons Michael and Paul and Michaels partner Deborah and to let them know that our thoughts are with them all at this present time. It is also a time when we should celebrate Eric’s life and to reflect on his dedicated and exceptional contribution to promoting music throughout a full and distinguished life. There were however two very special organisations which were very dear to him during his life; namely the HEBBURN OPERATIC SOCIETY and the CRAGHEAD COLL BAND - which we all know became the famous EVER READY BAND which he played a most significant part in its many successes and achievements during his time as musical director - from 1950 –1988 Eric was of course a very talented musician, an excellent pianist as well as a top class cornet & trumpet player, playing principal cornet for a number of bands, although his playing career mainly evolved around the Crookhall and Craghead Colliery Bands. His first appointment as principal cornet was as a 15 year old with the Crookhall Band, he did however move on to Craghead two years later as principal cornet, a position he held for 18 months until joining the Royal Navy in 1940 After the war Eric initially set down his roots in Bradford where he met and married his late wife Marie and joined the Bradford City Band. However the pull of the North East was so strong that they as a family decided to travel back home where he joined the Crookhall Coll Band as solo cornet. After a period of two years he was beginning to get the urge to take up the baton as a conductor and his first appointment in 1950 was as bandmaster to the Craghead Coll Band when only 29 years old. It was of course thro Brass Bands that my relationship with Eric began, as a 12 year old in 1952, and a learner in the Band I used to visit Eric’s house in Consett every Sunday morning for lesson’s, little did I realise that at that time this was the beginning of what eventually proved to be for me a very long, successful and rewarding relationship with Eric and the Craghead Colliery Band. Eric’s first success as a conductor came in 1953 whilst a second section Band when they qualified for the Finals of the National Championships, the Band went on to qualify on four further occasions before being promoted in 1958 to the Championship Section. Although success in the Championship Section did not come immediately the band did eventually establish them selves and qualified for the Finals of the National Championships for the first time in 1963, failing only twice to qualify during Eric’s tenure as Musical Director. In total the Band made 25 appearances at the Royal Albert hall in 27 years Over a 21 year period (from 1968 – 1988) he guided the band to 17 first prizes; ………what a fantastic record……….. This golden period actually included 11 consecutive Championship wins (72 – 82) and five hatricks. Other highlights of his success; included, winning the BBC Band of the year in 1974, 5th Royal Albert Hall in 1966 and 4th at the British Open Championships in 1987. Eric was undoubtedly a major influence on the Ever Ready Band and the Bands successes were largely due to his hard work, dedication and enthusiasm. Eric’s musical experience did not just evolve around Brass Bands as he continued to play the trumpet with local Orchestra’s and Brass groups well into his late 60’s. He was also very interested in the theatre and was Musical Director for a while at the New Tyne Theatre in Newcastle and also held a similar position with his beloved Hebburn Operatic Society. In the weeks prior to his death I visited Eric many times in hospital and we spent hours talking about the great times we had, had together and the enjoyment we had shared with the Ever Ready Band, there were so many instances to mention but he remembered them all even going back to 50 years ago what a remarkable memory he still had. Eric was a quiet person by nature, never sought personal glory but he worked extremely hard to further the quality and standard of what ever musical group he was involved with - whether it was a small Brass group, local orchestra, operatic society or the Ever Ready Band. He was a man I admired greatly and always held him in the highest of esteem, to me he was a great friend and someone I will miss greatly. Ray Hutchinson, 21st May 2004.