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The Invercargill rates alongside John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever", Kenneth Alford's "Colonel Bogey March", and Johann Strauss' "Radetsky March" as one of the most popular in the world. It is especially popular in the United States, being a top favourite of the US Marines. It was the Regimental March of the 56th Infantry Regiment of the New York Guard during World War II.
In his book Invercargill - 150 Years Lloyd Esler's opening sentence reads "Invercargill was done a fine favour by Alex Lithgow who named his famous march after his boyhood home. The Invercargill March is possibly the best advertisement the town has ever had as the work is a brass-band favourite and the word ‘Invercargill’ is whispered amongst audiences worldwide. There is only one Invercargill in the world - this one".
Origin of the tune
It was originally written in 1901 by Alex Lithgow as a jig type tune for Symphonic band. No research can find if that tune had a name but it was known to be rejected in that format by a publisher.
When Invercargill hosted the national brass band contest in 1909, Alex’s brother Tom asked for a test piece for the contest and Alex offered this piece (re arranged). On the music he wrote:
To Invercargill, the Southernmost City in New Zealand (End of the World), and its Citizens, I dedicate this March as a momento of the many pleasant years spent there in my boyhood.
That re arrangement commenced in 1908 and tested out at a rehearsal that year in Bathurst NSW. It was sent to his brother Tom in Invercargill for comment and changes were made before it was finally sent to Invercargill in 1909 and first played publicly at Rugby Park Invercargill on 3 November 1909 by the massed bands at the national New Zealand Brass Band contest.
How the tune became famous
After that contest the tune never got a mention or a rating. It was copied and played in the USA. It was 7 years later as a result of the Gallipoli war that the tune hit fame. At the first parade in London of the Gallipoli veterans in 1916, the UK bands leading the parade were looking for a tune to represent the ANZAC troops. Someone suggested The 'Invercargill March' as it was by a composer from both New Zealand and Australia. However people thought "Invercargill" was a place in Scotland! (There is only one Invercargill in the world and that's in New Zealand). The tune became known as "that Gallopoli tune" and instantly got onto the hit parade. Still today, despite being one of the 4 most popular military marches in the world and having been mistaken for New Zealand's national anthem, the people of New Zealand and Invercargill are mostly oblivious of its world fame. It is clearly the most played New Zealand tune overseas (as found in research by The International Military Music Society).
In the 1920s, lyrics were written to the tune by an Australian postmaster, Frank Baker Murn. Murn's wife Edith Murn was a recording artist for the Mastertouch piano roll company in Sydney, and since policy was to print words on the rolls for sing-a-longs wherever possible, Murn often obliged by writing lyrics when none were available. Invercargill radio announcer John O’Connor recorded these words but they were impossible to sing by others due to not fitting in with the Band music. There were also other known lyrics as well. International Military Music Society member and former Invercargill resident Gavin Marriott re wrote some of Frank Baker Murn's words to reflect Invercargill and Alex more and to make the song fit into the Band music. These lyrics have been approved by Alex's family and are now the official lyrics, handed over to the Invercargill City Council for the tune's centenary in 2009.
Though I've sailed overseas from Invercargill
Theres a yearning strong that calls me back to Southland
Where in childhood days, I used to play and be
part of a local music family.
Joyous hours playing with the Garrison Band
Concerts and contesting all around New Zealand
And marching down to Dee Street, in the southernmost town.
The memories, of childhood, and playing tunes, I loved to learn
Someday I will return, to mountains high and green leafed fern
Oreti Beach, Waihopai, an Oyster feed, from Foveaux Strait
I cannot wait to see, who greets me, at Bluff port gate.
Invercargill is, the only place that I adore
And my old band pals, I long to see them all once more
Soon my ship will be, returning from the deep blue sea
To my dear old home, the gem of all the Southern Seas (x2).
The centenary to The 'Invercargill March' was organised by The International Military Music Society and held at Alex Lithgow's old church in Invercargill - First Church - on the 80th anniversary of Alex's death 12 July 2009.
On 3 November 2009 the Invercargill Garrison Band marched through the streets of Invercargill playing "Invercargill" and then put on a Lithgow concert.
- International Military Music Society NZ Branch
- Gavin Marriott researcher who gave the tribute to Lithgow at the centenary to The 'Invercargill' March.
- Rodney Sutton current Patron of Invercargill Garrison Band & Lithgow historian