January 25th marks the annual celebration of Scotland's national poet Robert Burns, so it therefore fitting to have the Band of the Scots Guards perform in the latest of a series of concerts in the spiritual home of the Household Division - the famous Guards’ Chapel at Wellington Barracks in central London.
The band presented a programme of interesting Scottish music interspersed with solos, selections and popular music under the baton of Director of Music, Major Lawrence Sale, ably assisted by the Bandmaster, WO1, Will Casson-Smith, who guided us expertly, not only as conductor, but also as compere.
The music of Alfred Reed is often regarded as some of the finest in wind band circles, and his ‘Celebration Fanfare’ got things off to a majestic start, swiftly followed by a cracking parade march ‘The Pentland Hills’ by ex-Scots Guards Director of Music, Major Jimmy Howe.
The formal opening completed, the audience was then treated to the best selection for concert band dedicated to the ‘Fab Four’ from Liverpool: David Cole’s spectacular arrangement, ‘Best of The Beatles’ contained hits such as ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Penny Lane’, ‘The Long and Winding Road’, ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘Hey Jude’.
Burns Night must
A must for any Burns Night is the recital of some of the Bard’s famed poems: Cue Donna Ann Manuel, who just happens to be the Senior Band Administrator for the Household Division bands to expertly guide the audience through ‘Epitaph to Holy Willie’ and ‘Last May A Handsome Wooer!’
The band then continued by showing off the first class musical talent within its ranks. First was Musician Stephen Shepherd on alto saxophone with some sensitive playing in Phil Collin’s hit ‘Against All Odds’, whilst Sergeant Neil Brocklehurst on drum kit then starred on Louis Prima’s classic ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’.
Neil is in his second spell with the Scots Guards Band, having originally joined in 1998 and serving until 2003 when he decided on a career change to the orchestra pits of the West End. After thoroughly enjoying himself, he decided that the Army could offer greater stability and security so he re-joined in 2008 and is now regarded as one of the finest musicians serving in the Guards.
The final soloist was Lance Sergeant Richard Pemberton, featured on flugel in Chuck Mangione’s ‘The Children of Sanchez’, who gave a high-class performance of this lively piece.
‘From The Highlands’, Robert Farnon’s tribute to the lands north of the border was a neat change in contrasts with its many Scottish folk tunes, before another refreshing change came with Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Wonderful Town’ arranged by Major Sale. Sadly, this has not received the same amount of popularity as the likes of ‘Candide’ and ‘West Side Story’ – a real pity.
For the last three items , the band returned to Scotland with a new composition by Rob Wiffin, ‘A Scottish Piece’, featuring Bandmaster Claire Lawrence on violin, swiftly followed by ‘The Lochnagar Suite’ by Nigel Hess based on the children’s book by HRH The Prince of Wales.
To end, we were taken back to the parade ground for another gem of a march by Jimmy Howe, aptly named ‘Burns On The March’ to conclude an extremely enjoyable evening from high quality musicians.
And if that wasn’t enough, the audience were invited to partake in a cup of Atholl Brose on their way out to send them merrily off home!