THE president of one of the North-East’s best-known brass bands was given a rousing musical send-off today.

John Steel, a much-loved character around the Darlington area, was serenaded at his funeral by his beloved Cockerton Prize Silver Band.

Mr Steel, who was 66, had also been chairman of Darlington Show, a committee member at Mowden Rugby Club and Darlington Quoits Club, and a pioneering educationalist.

Well-wishers gathered on the village green and outside St Edwin’s Church, in High Coniscliffe, as the funeral procession arrived, with the band playing the miners’ hymn, ‘Gresford’, followed by ‘Share My Yoke’.

There was spontaneous applause when the coffin emerged from the church after the service, with the band performing an uplifting version of ‘Breezin’ Down Broadway’.

Brian Richardson, who took over as band chairman from Mr Steel four years ago, said: “The family wanted the band to play, and it is testament to the high-esteem in which John was held that so many members wanted to turn out. John loved the band, the band loved him, and it was an honour to perform for him.”

The service, which was led by the Reverend Colin Jay – a cornet player with the band – was broadcast to those gathered under social distancing regulations outside.

Rev. Jay described the service as “a celebration of the brightness and love John has brought to so many people”.

“His quick wit and observation of life, and his gift for entertaining, means we can only ever remember John with smiles,” said Rev. Jay.

He paid tribute to John’s talent as an after-dinner speaker and compere at band events, which often left members unable to play because they were laughing so much.

He said he had also made a “distinguished contribution” to education as head teacher at St John’s Church of England Primary School, as an IT adviser to schools, and as an Ofsted inspector.

“John was involved in so many different areas of life in Darlington. He was a huge personality, with a huge heart, and was simply unforgettable,” said Rev Jay, who included a number of Mr Steel’s favourite jokes in the service.

“I can’t help thinking that, from now on, there will be a lot more laughter in heaven – and probably the odd groan,” he added.

Mr Steel’s wife, Linda, is vice chairman of Cockerton Band, and their daughter, Beth, plays the drums.  He was also “Pops” to baby grandson, Ronnie.

The family has asked for donations in Mr Steel’s memory to be made to Cockerton Band, which has set up “The John Steel Fund”. Details can be found at