Tom Martin – From ska to Vaughan Williams

Tom Martin

What musical instrument was invented in 1835, means trumpet in Latin, soon replaced the Ophicleide in an orchestra, and has since had concertos written for it by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Eric Ewazen, James Barnes, James Woodward, and Victor Davies?

Not sure? More clues….

The jazz band used to have one. The brass band has four and it makes a comic gurgling sound.A tuba!

Here is my Eb tuba but they can come in various pitches such as F, CC or Bb.


The tuba was first patented by Prussian bandmaster Wilhelm Wieprecht and German instrument-builder Johann Gottfried Moritz in 1835. It must be true because Google told me so.

British military bands, Salvation Army bands, wind bands and brass bands have enormous tubas tuned in Bb and slightly smaller tubas in Eb. Don’t try this at home, but if you uncoiled an Eb tuba it would be 13 feet long. Its big brother would be 18 feet long. Here I am with a large Bb tuba and my daughter, who at the time was shorter than a tuba.

tuba and daughter

Tubist. Tubaist. Bass player. Tuba player. These terms all refer to the optimist who blows the thing.

Before I became a bass player in a brass band I was a different kind of bass player – the bass guitar player in a ska band. That was a lot of fun – we played with Bad Manners and Pauline Black from The Selecter.

bass guitar

Who in their right mind would want to take up the tuba? Two aspects of tuba drew me in. First of all, I have always enjoyed playing bass instruments because of their importance in establishing rhythm and harmony. Secondly, the tuba looks the business. The only other brass instrument that looks the business is the trombone. If the tuba could sing, it would sing “I’m too sexy for my shirt”.


My objective in LMB is to play as many gigs as possible, for the Community and Beginners Bands. And the more often I play, the better my technique and music reading – I still have so much to learn.

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