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Niki Bland surveys highlights of the recent Black Dyke Festival, which brought the
past the present together in a showcase of professional-level performance in an academic context.
You have to admire Nicholas Childs and Black Dyke Band for their pioneering spirit and boldness in forging elite relationships.
Both qualities were thrown into sharp relief at the band’s second Festival, held last weekend in the imposing buildings of Leeds Metropolitan University, with which Black Dyke enjoys partnership status.
As temperatures seared outside, inside the prestigious Gandhi Hall and Leeds Town Hall, Black Dyke warmed up the atmosphere steadily as the weekend progressed.
Commencing on Friday night (29 May) with the Festival’s inaugural Heritage Lecture, History of Brass Bands – the Golden Period, presented by Nicholas Childs and introduced by the new Dean of Innovation North at the University, Barbara Colledge. As Ms. Colledge commenced her tribute to Nicholas Childs and Black Dyke, one immediately had a sense of just how significant this marriage of boffindom and band is in lending stature and credence to the brass band genre, which has for long languished in the lee of that which is generally accepted, in more rarefied music circles, as highbrow.
In an evening spanning some 56 minutes, at least seven of those were dedicated to Barbara Colledge’s impressive eulogy about Black Dyke and Nicholas Childs. Welcoming the “Champions of our brass band heritage, the world-famous, Black Dyke Band,” and referring to Nicholas Childs as “our new Visiting Professor Music, Sound and Performance", the University’s Dean of Innovation enthused: “Tonight’s Lecture is a celebration of our heritage and tradition, of a passion and commitment for music and performance, of innovation and inspiration for future generations.” Highbrow billing indeed!
Her tribute drew on the many threads of Nicholas Childs’ achievements, not only in brass banding, but also in education, as an international clinician, a supporter of compositional talent and in the wider classical music world with the BBC Philharmonic, the Halle Orchestra, the United States Marine Band and Canadian Brass. Her eulogy reminded us, lest we are in danger of forgetting due to our familiarity with the character, that Nicholas' career has not been limited to brass banding. She also highlighted that Leeds Metropolitan University regards his appointment as the new Visiting Professor Music, Sound and Performance as something of a major coup. Nicholas’ relationship with the University is already reaping rewards for its students. Said Barbara Colledge: “As some of music technology students said recently following a masterclass with a live recording by Nick and the band. ‘The conductor, Nick, and the producers were more than happy about showing us the ropes. It was an amazing insight into a specific style of recording...I had to leave my banding days back home, when I moved here for university, but being at their recording session has rekindled that buzz for me and I have found it quite inspirational.’
Continuing to list the benefits to Leeds University of the Nick Childs/Black Dyke partnership, the Dean continued: “We’re fortunate indeed that this inspiration, through Nick’s Visiting Professorship, will continue for our students, providing opportunities for them to learn from him, as a Master of Music Performance and, in turn, to enable our post-graduate research students, to develop their own music performance, through a new Masters Research Programme, which will be developing with Nick.” Heady stuff!
Internet educational resource
If all this was not sufficiently impressive in itself, the Festival heralded yet another ground-breaking moment for brass banding as the lecture was ‘broadcast’, as an on-line educational resource on YouTube (search Nicholas Childs), and Black Dyke’s own website. Having now watched the web cast, I can vouch for the crystal sharp visual and sound quality, albeit that they don’t always synchronize.
The subject of the Lecture formed an intrinsic part of the Festival’s theme for 2009 - Partnering the Past and Fostering the Future, formulated to pass on some of the band’s core values, to place new music alongside established repertoire and to juxtapose some stars of the future with legends from the past and present. The Festival also marked the start of the band’s new five-year commissioning policy, which culminates in 2014 with the premiere of a substantial new score by the leading international composer, James McMillan.
The illustrated on-line Lecture commenced with a presentation of rare music taken from John Foster’s 1855 octet books and also included examples of repertoire from the famous Golden Period, which occurred between between 1913 (when the first original composition for brass band, Percy Fletcher’s Labour and Love, was published) and 1936.
Prior to Fletcher’s score, ensembles performed popular marches, waltzes (the equivalent of today's popular music), polkas and operatic arias so, appropriately, Dr. Childs and the band elected to get the Lecture underway with some elegant Yorkshire Waltzes, taken from John Foster's books and performed by an octet incorporating one of the Eb clarinets and ophicleid that would have featured in brass and reed bands of the period. The gentle pace of this excerpt was enhanced by the perfect style and lilting quality of Richard Marshall's cornet.
Labour and Love, which followed, was notable for the hauntingly beautiful playing of David Thornton (Principal Euphonium) Sandy Smith (Principal Horn) and Brett Baker (Principal Trombone), as well as, again, the sweet and mellifluous 'voice' of Principal Cornet, Richard Marshall, whose playing was stunningly controlled the weekend long. There followed excerpts from Gustav Holst's A Moorside Suite, taken from a short clip of the 2005 television documentary, A Picture of Britain, in which Black Dyke was interviewed by David Dimbleby. Another film clip followed of the band's recording last year of Elgar’s Severn Suite (introduced by Nicholas as "the catch of the Century" for brass bands), under the baton of Sir Colin Davis before the band on stage launched into the chorale and reprise of John Ireland’s Comedy Overture. The Lecture, which rounded-off with Black Dyke’s signature March, Queensbury, was expertly presented by Nicholas Childs. Illustrated throughout on a multi-media screen, it achieved, as demanded by such an academic atmosphere, just the right blend of historically significant repertoire entertainment and all-important academic detail - the University must have been chuffed with the outcome of its support. Apparently the Lecture will form one of three DVDs, on which the history of brass band music will be placed in context.
Spotlight for Lower Brass
The main historic part of the three-day event over, it was time to move into 'the now' and the following day (Saturday) saw the Festival’s well-attended Spotlight for Lower Brass, led by Black Dyke’s David Thornton (euphonium) and Joseph Cook (tuba), assisted by John French, Phil Goodwin, Matthew Routley, Danny Sinclair and Gareth Daniel.
The aim of the day was to inspire players via practical classes on key skills used during concerts including playing in a section, how to cope with nerves, warming-up, chamber music sessions and celebrity recitals that included a performance of Peter Graham’s new euphonium concerto, In League with Extraordinary Gentlemen, given by David Thornton - his first hard blow of the day. A highly entertaining question and answer session, featuring two of Black Dyke’s euphonium legends and larger-than-life characters, Geoff Whitham and John Clough with the band’s current 2nd euphonium, John French, was the prelude to the final performance platform. Accompanied by Daniel Gordon, delegates acquitted themselves remarkably well, underpinning the value of the tuition that they had benefited from earlier in the day.
Saturday Gala Concert
A break in the sun followed by a lavish reception, during which pre-concert composer talks punctuated the convivial atmosphere, preceded Saturday evening’s Gala Concert. This opened with a tidy and robust performance of Peter Graham’s Academic Fanfare followed by a slightly less perfect but still enjoyable Harrison’s Dream, from the pen of the same composer.
The world premiere of Philip Wilby’s Willow Pattern, inspired by the legend behind the famous china pattern of the same name, concluded the first-half, bringing the sights and sounds of Asia to Gandhi Hall. Audience enjoyment of the piece, written specially for the Festival, was undoubtedly enhanced, as it was for all the pieces performed that night, by the pre-concert composer introductions. The piece weaves the story of a Mandarin (evoked by the Eb bass), his daughter (Knoon-se – flugel), her lover (Chang - euphonium) and the man her father intends her to marry (Duke Ta-jin - trombone).
The concert's second-half dished up music by two of Black Dyke’s serving writers, Philip Wilby and Paul Lovatt-Cooper (PLC). The latter’s Rubbing Shoulders with Champions, provided, as is characteristic of PLC’s work, the broad, melodic ‘opener’. Philip Wilby’s Euphonium Concerto – a blow-and-a-half for even the most gifted of players, was pulled off with apparent ease by David Thornton before PLC’s Immortal, set to film of the band recorded at concerts and contests, drew this professionally presented and enjoyable concert to a close.
Sunday’s Festival concert moved to Leeds Town Hall, where the day started with a British Trombone Society Workshop, punctuated with two massed blows at 11.00am and 1.45pm.
The most creative part of the daytime’s activities was a Composers’ Collective Workshop led by Brett Baker, as well as a recording with Philip Wilby and Emily Howard, involving members of Yorkshire Youth Brass Band, the Junior Royal Northern College of Music and those who had entered a BTS competition. Emily Howard coached the young composers – Phillip Bell, Sam Gardner, Rebecca Childs, Charlotte Sykes, Sarah Gait, Tony Bundman, Jill Groom and Robing Benton. Black Dyke Quartet did the performance honours, whilst John French and Matthew Whyte (euphoniums), plus 2009 BBC Radio 2 Young Brass Soloist, Stephen Sykes (trombone) provided the virtuosic talent.
Yorkshire Youth Brass Band, members of the British Trombone Society (BTS), Hebden Bridge and Newstead bands joined Black Dyke on stage for the afternoon concert, the programme for which opened with Breathless Alleluia from Black Dyke’s award-winning Naxos recording. This choice was particularly appropriate because the piece by Philip Wilby is an affectionate tribute to Nicholas Childs’ tireless energy. Montage was next up, followed by the trombone spotlight, On Parade, arranged by Dudley Bright. Mark Freeh’s Immanuel’s Tide and Philip Wilby’s arrangement of Saint Saens’ Organ Symphony ran the audience up to half-time. The Yorkshire Youth Brass Band joined proceedings in the second-half, which opened with two more Paul Lovatt-Cooper pieces, Horizons and Solar Eclipse, before Black Dyke, Yorkshire Youth Brass, Hebden Bridge and Newstead bands massed for the finale, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
At the beginning of Friday night’s Lecture, Nicholas Childs referred to the musicians of Black Dyke as "amateur in status, but Olympian, very much, in standard." If anything proved the veracity of that statement, it was last weekend’s Festival. One was apt to muse how the words of Gandhi, which loom large on both sides of the stage that takes his name, so accurately reflect the strivings of this particular band and conductor:
‘As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age - as in being able to remake ourselves.’
Or to summarise the efforts of Nicholas Childs and Black Dyke even more succinctly with the words of yet another famous Gandhi quotation:
‘An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.’ How true!
National Heritage Trail launched with scholarly article by Ray Farr
We are delighted and honoured that the first article in this most important National Heritage Trail has been submitted by conductor, academic and educationalist, Ray Farr, who is Head Conductor-in-Residence and Director of Brass Band Studies at one of the oldest universities in Britain – Durham.
In an academic article, Ray Farr (pictured below) leads us through some of the facts behind the third ‘National’ ever staged and his new edition of the test-piece for the event – Robert Le Diable by Meyerbeer.
Dr. Roy Newsome’s book, Brass Roots, expands further on these historically significant occasions and Ray Farr’s new scholarly edition of Robert le Diable aims to generate further interest in the brass band movement, as well as in this important era, in particular.
The work by Ray Farr and others in bringing the history of the brass band movement to life and documenting its importance to the development of the nation’s musical cultural heritage is incredibly important. We hope that you enjoy reading his article below just as much as we did, and that you turn up to support his important performances of this scholarly edition of Robert Le Diable, which take place in June and July in Durham and Edinburgh (more details of these can be found at the bottom of Ray’s article). We are extremely grateful to Ray for providing this historical information.
As part of our goal to chronicle the fine detail of the history of the ‘National’, we would be equally delighted to receive any and all scholarly information and photographs related to the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, in order to compile as comprehensive a National Heritage Trail as possible. These could even involve old programmes for the events, correspondence, information about recordings and so on. If you feel that you have anything to contribute, please either call or e-mail us at the contact details displayed on all the pages of this site.
NEW SCHOLARLY EDITION
By Ray Farr
My new scholarly edition is of a rare surviving brass band score from 1862, which was used as one of the first ever test-pieces for the National Brass Band Championships held at Crystal Palace.
The piece, Robert Le Diable (Meyerbeer), was formerly a part of the Ainscoe Collection, the arrangement is by James Smyth(e), Bandmaster of the Royal Artillery Band and is now housed in Edinburgh University (courtesy of Arnold Meyers).
THE EARLIEST VERSION OF THE ‘NATIONAL’
The Crystal Palace (pictured below) was originally built for the Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations of 1851 in Hyde Park, London and the earliest version of the National Brass Band Championships were held there, organised by the enterprising Enderby Jackson.
After the exhibition, the building was moved, at a cost of millions, from Hyde Park to Sydenham, in South London, where it stood from 1854 until 1936, when it was destroyed by fire. It attracted many thousands of visitors from all levels of society. Viewing the ruins, Winston Churchill was said to have remarked:” It is the end of an era."
In conjunction co-operation with the Crystal Palace Management, Enderby Jackson, the self-proclaimed ‘inventor’ of the brass band contest, organised an annual brass band contest from 1860 - 1863, which bands from all over Britain attended.
Jackson’s contests were also organised in collaboration with railway companies, which transported the bands (free-of-charge) and their supporters to London. If only the same were true today! This was the first time that amateur brass bands visited the London area.
The contests of 1860 and1861 were spread over two (working) days but, for the 1862 event, Jackson used just one day – 9th September and The Daily News of 1862 records fascinating detail, as follows:
‘Last year, a new feature was introduced into the round of national and recreative amusements provided for the public by the Crystal Palace directors, in the shape of a ’Brass Band Contest,’ in which bands from all parts of England entered into a spirited competition for a number of prizes. The success of this novel experiment was sufficiently decisive to warrant a repetition of it yesterday; and that the public was alive to the interest of the proceedings was evinced by the fact that, up to two o’clock, 14,000 visitors had arrived, that number being considerably augmented in the course of the afternoon. Nearly 50 bands had announced their intention of taking part in the contest but several of these subsequently withdrew their names and the number engaged did not exceed 30. They were as follows: Hall-green Band, Dodsworth’s of Bradford, Batley, Civil Service, Black Dyke, South Notts, Nottingham Saxe Tuba, Dewsbury (29th West York), Birmingham, Keighley (Mariners’), Brighton, Layburn, Todmorden, Ealing, Deighton, Southampton (2nd Hampshire), Meltham Mills, Bromley, Sutton in Ashfield, Peterborough, Chesterfield, Newark (Sherwood Rangers), Mexborough, Barnet, 26th Middlesex and Blandford. These were divided into four separate ‘platforms’, which were distributed over the different parts of the palace grounds. To each, also, three judges were appointed, and Mr. Enderby Jackson acted as final referee. In the preliminary competition by platforms, each band was required first to play a selection from Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, arranged expressly for the contest by Mr. Jas. Smythe, Bandmaster, Royal Artillery, as, this over, each played music of its own selection. Of course this trial could only be decisive with regard to the results of the bands as opposed to each other in sections, and it was reserved for the best of the respective platforms to compete for the prizes at a later period of the day within the palace, and with congregated thousands of visitors for an audience. In the preliminary trial, which filled up the time from 11 till 2, a considerable degree of skill was evinced by all the competitors, and the applause of the public was pretty generally, and certainly quite impartially, distributed.
’The termination of the platform playing was followed by a display of the smaller fountains, after which there was a general rush towards the centre transept and the great Handel orchestra, where at 3 was to commence a ‘grand united performance of all the bands, assisted by the buglers and drummers of her Majesty’s Foot Guards.’ The lower galleries and the transept itself were crowded, with the exception of the reserved seats (at half-a-crown), for which, probably owing to the absence of the fashionable world from London at this season of the year, there was no great demand. Something like 700 performers had been expected, but the number did not apparently exceed 350 or 400, and when they were first seated the monster orchestra were a somewhat solitary and desolate aspect, which was, however, a little relieved by the admission into the higher regions of a few hundred spectators. Mr. Enderby Jackson raised his baton, as director, about a quarter past 3, and the programme was led off by the ‘Coronation March’ from Le Prophéte, in a manner which at once proved the bands to be masters of their profession; not a note was out of place, and the time was perfect. It is hardly necessary to add that the audience applauded emphatically. The ‘General Jackson Schottische’ (Tidswell) followed, and, with its vocal refrain of‘Our Brave Old General Jackson,’ was so well executed and so well received that if any Americans were present they must have taken it as a great compliment to the hero of New Orleans in particular, and the American nation in general. Two cornet solos by Mr. Levy (Crystal Palace Orchestral Band) created a perfect enthusiasm among the audience, which was unreasonable enough to compel an encore from a wearied and self-sacrificing performer. In the ‘National Volunteer Artillery and Rifle Corps March,’ the bands, most of which belonged to the volunteer services, were quite at home; but they excelled themselves in the Rifle Galop which followed. To give due effect to this composition, a special corps of regimental buglers had been engaged to play the ‘calls’ and ‘solos’ under the direction of Mr. Henry Distin; and of all the performances of the united bands this was perhaps the most brilliant. But the great test of mastership was the ‘Hallelujah’ of Handel, which was the most mighty effort of a Handel Festival, when 700 instruments and 2,000 human voices blended their tones together. It was an imposing performance, when it is considered that the 30 bands were strangers to each other, and had only had the advantage of one solitary hour of joint rehearsal. ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘God Save the Queen’ brought the united performance to a close; and the audience began to drop off, although the prizes were still left to the final competition of the bands selected by the judges from the ‘platforms,’ and which were thus announced, viz.: Dodsworth’s of Bradford, Black Dyke, South Notts, Nottingham Saxe Tuba, Dewsbury, Keighley, Deighton, Southampton, Sutton in Ashfield, Chesterfield, Newark and Blandford. Each of these had now to play a piece of its own selection in the Handel orchestra, the destination of the prizes depending upon the success of the bands in this their final struggle for supremacy. The prizes were as follows, viz:
‘First Prize, £30, together with free gift of handsome silver cup, ornamented with appropriate devices, valued at £20, for bandmaster, also, a magnificent champion circular contre bass, in E flat, splendidly electro-plated, manufactured and presented by the celebrated firm of Henry Distin and Co., price 35 guineas, for the band.
‘Second Prize, £20, together with free gift of a set of Chappell’s ‘Brass Band Journal.’ by Winterbottom, handsomely bound, &c. Presented by the firm of S.A. Chappell, for the band.
‘Third Prize, £15.
The Keighley Band led the way in this contest, followed by the South Notts, &c, and ultimately the prizes were awarded as follows:
First Prize, Chesterfield.
Second, Black Dyke Mills.
Daily News, 10th September 186
As we see from the report, there was a preliminary round with seven or eight bands in four separate areas of the ‘Palace’ grounds, each with three judges. All the bands were required to play the test-piece, Robert le Diable.
At this time, brass bands had no standard instrumentation and, despite the fact that valves had been invented nearly 50 years previously, included natural horns and ophicleides. This hand-written score was probably delivered to each of the bands and the conductor would write out parts, and adapt the piece to the needs of his group. A bit different from today!
The rules of the competition stated that a maximum of 18 players were allowed so, with 13 written parts, there was scope for some doubling of parts. The competing bands of 1862 were made up of various combinations of instruments (no two bands used exactly the same instrumentation) and this arrangement would have gone a long way towards establishing the standardisation of brass band instrumentation. It is, therefore, a most valuable piece of musical history. However, the exact instrumentation required or intended by Smyth is not clear - perhaps deliberately unspecific knowing that each band would have a different combination of brass instruments. Smyth supplies a template from which each bandmaster is free to adapt to the needs of his own band.
Ø Eb soprano (Cornet) - considering the difficulty of the instrument, this was probably intended to be played by just one player.
Ø Bb Cornet –the technical demands in this part are considerable and, as the arranger was probably aware that the rules for competition allow, some doubling this Bb cornet part would probably have been played by more than one player. It is the lead voice most of the time and is written in a similar way to the 1st violins in an orchestra or the 1st clarinets in a wind band.
Ø Bb 2nd (probably cornet). There is no divisi in this part and so one player could reasonably cope with the demands but, as with the Bb cornet part, there is the possibility to double.
Ø Eb Solo. This was probably intended for one Eb saxhorn player. (An instrument similar to today’s tenor horn).
Ø Eb Alto. Because this part writing plays a supporting role to the Eb Solo, it could be presumed that the intended instrument was another Eb Saxhorn.
Ø The next stave in the score states – ‘Eb Corni’ and the part could have been played by two valveless horns.
Ø Bb Bary. This part is very soloistic and requires a considerable amount of skill and musicianship. The intended instrument was probably a Baryton Horn in Bb similar to a Bass Saxhorn in Bb or Euphonium.
Ø Alto (Trombone) in bass clef
Ø Tenor (Trombone) in bass clef
Ø Bass (Trombone) in bass clef. A section of three trombones is presumed here - the normal line-up at that time. Professor Trevor Herbert maintains that the instruments were probably ‘valved’ trombones and this is suggested by the tremolo effects, which are written in bar 26.
Ø Solo. This part is written in the bass clef, and mostly doubles the bass line and, as such, is something of a misnomer. Professor Arnold Myers maintains that the parts was intended for and mostly played on an ophicleide.
Ø Bassi. The plural gives us a clue that the required number is more than one but the exact instrument intended is not clear. Helicons (circular contre basses) or Sonorophones were around at that time (T. Herbert) and these were the most likely instruments required by the arranger.
The picture shows Henry Distin with his contre basses or
sonorophone, one of which he presented to the Black Dyke Band in 1860.
WHY MAKE THIS NEW EDITION?
In making this edition there are several considerations, most especially what are the aims?
James Smyth, arranger and orchestrator, may have been commissioned to write for this line-up of instruments by Enderby Jackson, the promoter of the contest, but each of the bands that were expected to take part would have varying combinations of instruments. Therefore, the arranger, being a little unspecific in his orchestration, would also have expected a variety of performing groups.
My aims are to make a scholarly performing edition, clearing ambiguities and errors, that can be enjoyed by performers and listeners, bearing in mind the original purpose, function and context.
THE NEW EDITION
There are antique instruments still around, which could be employed in a performance of this work but, for a modern performance using modern instruments, this edition recommends the following instrumentation:
One Soprano cornet in Eb
Three 1st cornets in Bb
Two 2nd cornets in Bb
One 1st tenor horn Eb
One 2nd tenor horn Eb
Two baritones Bb (playing the ‘corni’ parts)
One euphonium (playing the ‘bary’ part)
Two tenor trombones (treble clef 8ve)
One bass trombone
One euphonium (playing the solo part. Treble clef 8ve)
Two tubas Eb (playing the ‘bassi’ part. Treble clef 8ve)
One tuba Bb (Playing some tutti bass parts one octave lower when appropriate. Treble clef 8ve)
Total: 18 musicians (No percussion was allowed or written for).
The purpose of this edition, an extract of which appears below, is to enable modern bands an opportunity to perform a valuable work from band history and, at the same time, to take an analytical, musicological study into one of the rare treasures of the repertory.
Performances of this scholarly edition are planned to take place in The Sage Gateshead in June 2009 and at the Brass Conference in Edinburgh University, between 7th – 11th July 2009. The latter event will form part of the Conference on Instrumental Music and British Traditions entitled Making the British Sound, which is being organised jointly by The Galpin Society and The Historic Brass Society.
The joint Conference, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Reid Concert Hall Museum of Instruments, will include the presentation of the results of recent research, as well as feature opportunities to see important collections of musical instruments, concerts, and social events.
Conference delegates from all over the world will be present for this and I am quite sure that the profile brass band music and the National Brass Band Championships will be raised as a result of this initiative.
The performance of Robert le Diable at the Sage Gateshead in June will be a part of the Massed Band programme featuring the Fairey Band, at which I will try to include some of my antique instruments, although the players present may not be comfortable using them. The presentation of the piece, on this occasion, is simply to give the audience a different aspect of brass band music and to invite them to consider our wonderfully huge heritage.
The performance in Edinburgh, however, will take on a serious academic approach where the Newtongrange Band will be encouraged to perform on some antique instruments and play in a more correct, authentic fashion. But the huge issue of “historical performance practise” needs years of study.
The scholarly edition of Robert le Diable contains corrections and changes of small details throughout the piece. Some changes are the logical, common sense ones others are to do with ambiguities and as such will be a matter of opinion. I have had to use all of my experience and maturity in order to formulate these decisions.
In Edinburgh I will be giving a paper on my specialist subject ‘The Distins’ and their importance.
You’ve never heard of them? Watch this space!
Details of the provisional programme can be viewed at: www.galpinsociety.org/gxh <http://www.galpinsociety.org/gxh>
CD Review - 2007 National Championship FInals
One of the highlights of a young bandsman’s year, especially one who lived 400 miles away from London (which seemed a very long way at the time) and never had the opportunity to travel there, was the release of the recording of highlights from the National Brass Band Championships in the Royal Albert Hall. Every year, the eagerly-awaited recording would be snapped up at the first available opportunity, not least as it provided the chance to hear that year’s test-piece, often for the first time, as well as one of the great brass soloists of the day in the Gala Concert.
Over the years, the format of the recording has changed slightly from time to time, but one aspect that hasn’t is the inclusion of the winning perfomance from the Championship Section itself. In the pantheon of great contest-winning performances, Grimethorpe’s thrilling rendition of Philip Sparke’s Music for Battle Creek at the 2007 Final must be considered among the very best, and if any lover of brass band music needs a single reason to buy this recording, this is it. Faithfully recorded and capturing the electric atmosphere generated among the large audience, this is the closest thing to reality other than actually being there, and the type of thing that a young man in the 1970s would have happily parted with three weeks’ pocket money to get his hands on. Just like the BBC’s fantastic new iPlayer, it ‘makes the unmissable, unmissable’. There are four other winning performances on the collection, recorded at the Lower Section Finals at Harrogate in September and, although each has its own individual merits, comparison with the Grimethorpe performance would clearly be absurd. As a historical record of the event, however, their inclusion on the highlights recording is a welcome development of the past few years and the members and supporters of the winning bands will surely treasure the opportunity to look back at what must rank as one of the highlights of their own banding careers.
In addition, there are highlights from the Walking with Heroes concert, held prior to the announcement of results in the Royal Albert Hall. Terrific solo playing from Richard Marshall (Zelda), Brett Baker (DL Blues) and David Childs (Hot Canary), as well as Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s ‘title track’, Walking with Heroes, provide the substance, with each performed to the standard to which we have become accustomed from these stars of UK banding.
Overall, this is one of the better recordings of its type in recent years, and the Grimethorpe performance alone makes it worth adding to any collection.
British Bandsman, Saturday 14th June 2008
To order the CD securely from World of Brass, click here.
This CD is also available as a digital download from here