The Golden Oldies II:
Things are getting smaller and smaller. Policemen, mobile phones, brass band contest audiences – you name it and they seem to have shrunk in size. Some have been for the better (the odd hospital waiting list), some have made no difference (the mobile phone is still a pain the backside, even though it’s now the size of a credit card) and some have been a disaster (British Steel workforce and my bank balance etc). However the most sadly lamented piece of downsizing has been the introduction of the CD.
Not that it has been a life threatening disaster or that it has made things worse, but it has meant the end of one of life’s great collecting treats –the Long Playing Record. A man was measured by the length and scope of his LP collection, his vinyl 33’s, his shellac 78’s and specialised collection of his 10 and 7 inch special releases.
There was a profound joy in handling with care a black dinner plate of musical mystery, a frisson of orgasmic pleasure as you cleaned the surface with a special cloth and laid to rest your chosen LP on a turntable to await the first crackle, jump and bump as the needle sought it’s tempting groove. You cared and loved your collection and you made sure no one else borrowed them or placed them next to the radiator in your bedroom. This was the world of the LP.
Today however, things have changed and the CD has killed off the LP to such an extent that you can only get them in the type of specialised shops that require you to wear a dirty mac and exchange furtive glances at the shop assistant. “Got a 1982 Black Dyke with Phil McCann on top man?”. It’s all top shelf stuff.
Anyway – 4BR thought you may like a quick return to those great old days when records were the size of – well records come to think of it, and not the size of beer mats. When you could actually read something about the bands on the back cover without having to out on a special pair of reading glasses to find out who’s playing what in the small print of the CD cover. Here are the first three of our favourites – more to come in the next few weeks, and any suggestions are welcome.
There have been many fine players to move from the ranks of the amateur brass band to the professional orchestral world, but none has ever made the move so spectacularly or successfully as Maurice Murphy.
In 1982 he made this recording with the Yorkshire Imperial Band, and in his mid 40’s he was perhaps at the very zenith of his ability as a player - for these were the years when he could be heard in his glory not only in classical orchestral works with the London Symphony Orchestra but as the imperious trumpet lead in film music of “Star Wars”, “Superman” and the like.
Yorkshire Imps were also a top class outfit at the time and were coming to an end of a period that had seen them become National Champions in 1978, British Open Champions in 1980, BBC Band of the Year in 1981 and Yorkshire Area Champions in the same year. This was a band that featured players of the calibre of Nicholas Childs on euphonium, Ian Bousfield on trombone, David Carder on soprano, Sandy Blair on Eb bass and Philip Denton on top man. This was a seriously good band.
The recording took place at the Civic Hall, Castleford in January 1982 and featured the band playing the easy type of listening items that were really just fillers for the main meat of the record - however, this did include a young Ian Bousfield giving a cracker of a performance of “Autumn Leaves”. However, it was Murphy’s playing that was sensational.
In 1974 he had given the first performance at the Albert Hall of the seriously difficult Ernest Tomlinson “Cornet Concerto”, a piece of such technical difficulty that even today it’s performances are rarities. It’s a “Tour de Force” of such magnitude that you have to listen to it three or four times to try and understand how on earth Murphy makes it sound so easy. It is the playing of a man on a different planet to the rest of us.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better up he pops and gives an amazing display of artistry on the beautiful and sadly neglected “Mattheson’s Air” by Gilbert Vinter – a gem of a piece.
This was a man who made playing seem so easy that you felt that however hard you practised you would never in a million years get even close to his standard, but it didn’t stop you from admiring what you heard. Sheer genius.
Side Two: Barnard Castle (Richards) Mattheson’s Air (Vinter) Go For Gold (Barry) Autumn Leaves (Prevert)
Soloist: Ian Bousfield Swing Low (Nestico) Double Top (Newsome) Soloists : Maurice Murphy and Philip Denton
“Festival of Championship Brass”
Remember the good ol’ 1970’s? The three-day week, Edward Heath and the Unions, Welsh rugby and the infamous Watney “Party 7” (beer in an exploding keg! – oh! What fun they were).
Well, before the advent of being able to put 3 hours of music on two CD’s, record companies sold box sets of LP’s the size and weight of a Ford Transit van. On them were usually a motley selection of greatest hits, easy listening and tunes for the over 80’s and they were usually called “Spectacular Brass” or “Brass Bonanza” or something totally mindless. It was a cheap trick to buy the same stuff a second time and you found them in “Woolies” for £1.99 behind the Andy Williams Christmas Selection and they were all bloody rubbish. Except this one.
Decca had been producing brass LP’s for some time and had a series around about 1976 that included some of the best bands giving some damn good shows on their popular “Sounds of Brass” recordings. Dyke had done a couple, CWS Manchester and Brighouse had a few under their belt and each of the bands mentioned above had released at least one LP of note, and that usually included a release from that years National Champion Band.
Decca therefore put together the best 24 tracks from 23 of these LP’s and boxed them together under the natty headline “Festival of Championship Brass”. All for £3.99 you got 2 hours of some of the best bands playing some pretty good music, and if like 4BRs Iwan Fox and brother Hywel, (both played for Tredegar Junior Band on “Ceramic City Festival” – just before Jim Shepherd playing “Cleopatra”) you also got that extra frisson of knowing that you were deemed good enough to play on the same LP as the legend himself.
The 3 LP’s give some real treats along the way, what with CWS Manchester under Alex Mortimer playing “Night on the Bare Mountain”, Maurice Murphy playing the Denis Wright “Concerto for Cornet” and Fairey’s giving a great show of “A Moorside Suite”.
There’s also Stanshawe and the “Wee Professor” giving a stormer of the “Polka from the Bartered Bride”, Brighouse whipping through “The Corsair” and a massed band account of “Radetsky March” that’s so out of tune and togetherness that you feel the record has gone wonky.
The highlight however is perhaps one of the greatest “live” performances from the stage of the Albert Hall you are ever likely to hear in your life. Black Dyke circa 1972 and under Roy Newsome giving a blinder of a performance of “La Forza Del Destino” that has some truly unbelievable bass playing in the fast bits and Jim “The God” Shepherd doing the triplet bit as if he’s shelling peas.
They don’t make records like this anymore. Perhaps it was because you usually caused yourself a hernia trying to lug it home form the shops, but a box set of brass band music was perhaps seen as the musical highpoint of our movement in 1976. Nothing could improve on it – if only someone could have seen that the future was a world of everything getting smaller. CD’s, mobile phones and the replacement of the “Party 7” by a four pack of crap tasting Budweiser beer. These truly were great, great days.
Just when we’ve been telling you how good a bargain the Decca box set was, we came across this beauty at the very back of the attic, hidden like a well thumbed copy of Penthouse magazine.
For this is surely one of the worst examples of someone thinking they could make brass bands sound and look sexy in 1972 by fixing together, like John Noakes out of “Blue Peter” with sticky back plastic, glue and glitter, a record that you could give to your nice old grandad for Christmas for just a weeks pocket money.
Whoever at EMI thought that it made sense to cobble together the remnants of recordings from three bands in the vain hope of flogging it off as a new LP to the public, out to have been taken outside and publicly humiliated to such an extent, even their own children would have disowned them.
Side one of this 1972 record is made up of Fairey’s – recorded off and on it appears in the four years previous playing they type of stuff last heard on the seafront at Brighton in 1938. The saving grace is a young P. McCann showing off his stuff as the 1968 and 1969 British solo champion on “Jenny Wren”. Even giving latitude for the age of the recording, the band playing is not good even by the standards of the day.
Side Two however is worse. Fodens circa 1967/68 on this form under Rex Mortimer sound terrible – out of tune and untidy (and that’s taking into account the scratchy nature of the LP), whilst the BMC Concert Band, recorded in 1968 sound like a poor second section band by today’s levels. Three pieces from them are enough to wonder how on earth Harry Mortimer let this rubbish be recorded. It’s simply dreadful.
In the top right hand corner of the LP it says “File under Standard” – it should read “File under sub standard” for this is the type of record that set brass bands back twenty years – and not just for the content, which is awful enough (Parade of the Tin Soldiers – for heaven’s sake) but for the way in which it’s so obviously cheaply out together. Even Gerald Ratner would have had trouble flogging off this crap.
The reason why we think this record should be held in the Hall of Shame is the cover. Who on earth though it would be a good idea to flog a brass band record featuring the BMC Concert Band nonetheless, with a picture of bikini clad nymphet strolling along a Bahamas beach under a sexy golden sky? What’s that all about eh? Sun, sea, sand, sex and Harry Mortimer conducting “The Padstow Lifeboat”? It would have been more accurate with a picture of two old pensioners with a bag of fish and chips on a windswept Blackpool seafront. Truly and brilliantly bloody awful.
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