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Nicholas Childs Interview - ref art003

On a balmy summer evening in 1968, Manchester United won the European Cup, and with it ended a ten year quest to be crowned the finest football team in Europe. It was the culmination of a career in the game for their manager, the legendary Matt Busby and signalled the end of his tenure as manager of the biggest football club in the world. Nothing could ever be as good again for him and his players – and nothing ever was.

Within months Busby retired, and within years his once great team had been relegated to the Second Division. Great players such as Law and Charlton had grown old, whilst his jewel, George Best, had tarnished his image too many times and was on a downward slope that he would never recover from. United hired manager after manager – McGuiness, O’Farrell, Doherty, Sexton and Atkinson all came and went. The club was still the biggest in the world, but they no longer were the best.

Before he was sacked Ron Atkinson summed it all up. “This is the greatest job in the world, but also the bloody hardest. If you don’t emulate the past then you don’t have a future. Everyone thinks they can manage United, but only Sir Matt has ever succeeded.” It took over 30 years before the past was put to rest, when United won the European Cup for the second time. The new manager, Alex Feurguson had finally put the ghosts of a glorious past behind and was now the most successful manager in their history.

Nicholas Childs has the hardest job in brass banding. Black Dyke Mills Band is the biggest and most famous band in the world. For some time however, they have not been the best. When he took over the reigns in 2000, he was taking over an institution that even accounting for all its successes over the past 130 years or more, was a band that many saw in crisis. 1995 was Black Dyke’s last great year – a year in which they won an unprecedented treble of European, National and Open Championships, and since that time only a Yorkshire Area title in 1998 had come their way. For the banding world’s equivalent of Manchester United, this was a veritable drought, and so changes in an atmosphere of acrimony were made.

James Watson left and the banding world was alive with rumours of the successor to be. Nicholas Childs wanted and believed he could do the job. “Leaving Fodens was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. They were a great band before I came to them and I believe we worked together to make Fodens an even better band when I left. It was a great relationship and one I am proud to have been a part of. Winning the Nationals has been my greatest achievement to date and it couldn’t have been done without having such a brilliant band of players to conduct.”

Once he made the decision however, there was no turning back. “I spoke at length with James Watson to ensure that both of us knew what was in store, and so that I could approach the job as a development of his work rather than ending of it. He has done so much for the band, both at contests and in raising the profile of the band worldwide, that I felt that would be silly to not develop this further. His advice has been invaluable.”

Advice has been something that Nicholas Childs has sought throughout his career. His father, John was the driving force behind both Nicholas and his brother becoming the finest exponents of euphonium playing in the world, but he ensured that whatever success came their way they never became big headed. “The greatest advice he gave us was – never forget the people you meet on the way up, because you will certainly meet them again on the way back down – it is something I have tried to stick to.” This is an aspect of Nicholas Childs that people who meet and work with him agree upon. He has a huge extended family back in Wales that he regularly visits and a close and very supportive family life. “The family to me is the most important thing in my life. Alison, my wife, gives me advice, support, encouragement and the right amount of telling offs! Bob is also a source of inspiration, whilst Rebecca, my daughter gives me the energy to carry on trying to be a success”.

Success has always been a part of the Childs story, but Nicholas Childs has also had his fair share of disappointments. The 90’s have seen him be runner up at the British Open on three occasions with three separate bands. “Second with Tredegar, beaten by Marple who were last band on, second with Fodens in what I consider the closest contest I have ever been involved in, and last year, second with Black Dyke and beaten by my brother! I think someone up there may think I shouldn’t get it.” It’s said with a wry smile, especially as he is very proud of the achievements of Bob. He also recalls disappointment at a young age, when at a local Welsh solo contest he played on even though his main tuning slide was falling out, making his sound progressively flatter by the bar, until it dropped to the floor and his chances of winning the Under 10 title were scupperred for another year.

The lessons were learnt however, and even though he left school not over endowed academically, he realised that he would have to gain musical qualifications if he was to meet his ambitions. “Getting musical qualifications was a means to an end for me. They were very difficult to obtain, but it was essential for me to get them if I was to conduct at the highest level.” He can now boast an M.A. after majoring in conducting and is a Fellow at London College of Music and an Associate at the Royal College of Music - not bad for someone who was told at school that he couldn’t expect to make a living from playing the euphonium!

Further lessons in the world of music came when he decided to set up Doyen Recordings Limited with his brother Bob, and to branch out into a conducting career. Both have seen a long apprenticeship before success came his way. “The business was a big risk, but one that through sheer hard work by all the family and friends has I think paid off. It’s a small market we trade in, but one in which we are expanding our scope to cover not only the making of CD’s but becoming recording specialists in general.” The conducting has also been a long road to success. “ I started at the bottom, because I knew that was the level I was at. My focus has been to develop the bands I have been associated with so that together we become better and better. I think therefore that I have had good relationships with all the bands I’ve been with and have left them as they have left me, in better shape than when we started.”

The record backs Nicholas Childs up, with the Deiniolen Band in North Wales now a thriving lower section organisation, whilst Tredegar, the band he took to three Welsh titles, runners - up at the British Open and winners of the Own Choice Section at the Europeans, now a confirmed top ten band in the UK. A couple of stints as resident conductors at both Fodens and Yorkshire Building Society showed the qualities required to succeed at the apex of banding, and so it was at Fodens when he took over as Professional Conductor in 1997.

Fodens were a band of brilliant talents but were also a band that had remarkably underachieved at the major contests. Luck was something to do with it, but too many there was a lack of self belief. “Fodens were a great band, but a band that was accustomed to being pipped at the post. They realised this and together we set out to win a major to show everyone how good we really were.” The 1999 National Championships were the crowning glory for the partnership, a partnership that had won nearly every other prize on offer, but not a major for over 40 years. “It’s my greatest moment. A brilliant performance from a brilliant band”, he says.

The banding world was now geared to seeing Nicholas Childs and Fodens (Courtois) head the prizes at the major championships for years to come, but it was not to be. The lure of Black Dyke was too much and the sense of fulfilling his own ambitions lead to him leaving Fodens and taking on the premier conducting job in the brass band world.

“This is the ultimate challenge for me, and one that I know I will have to work harder than ever to succeed at. I don’t see the job as a caretaker, and I realise that I am in a long legacy of wonderful musicians, but whatever directions I take the band in, I will do it together with them, even though most of the time I will realise that I will either stand or fall by my decisions.”

Some of these decisions have already been made, with obtaining sponsorship at the top of a long list. “A band like Black Dyke needs a sponsor, but we have a Board of Trustees that run the band very well indeed and have ambitious plans for the future, such as the development of the bandroom. I have also been very lucky to bring on board Dr Philip Wilby as Musician in Residence and Dr Peter Graham as Associate Conductor, so I believe the band will receive excellent guidance in the future.” Contest wins however, are the barometer that measures success in the banding world and Nicholas Childs is well aware of the fact that even though in recent years Black Dyke have a record most bands would give their high teeth for, he knows Black Dyke are not like most other bands. “Contesting is the sport of our movement, and everyone knows I enjoy contesting, especially if you do well. However, there is more to the life and development of a brass band, including Black Dyke, than just gearing ourselves for the contests. I want to win the “Majors” with Black Dyke, but at the moment I do not see a need a to change our policy of what contests we enter. There are developments which I believe are equally if not more important, and it is these that I wish to attain at present.”

These include the recent Festival of Brass in Manchester that saw the band perform two world premiers of works by Martin Ellerby for trombone and Kenneth Hesketh for band and included works from the pens of James MacMillan, Britains foremost young composer at present as well as his great mentor, Elgar Howarth.

Whatever the future holds, it surely will be an interesting one for the man from South Wales. It’s the hardest job in the world, but everyone would love to do it - Manager of Manchester United or Musical Director of Black Dyke Mills Band, Nicholas Childs knows he’s got the best job and nothing is going to stop him succeeding.

Nicholas Childs

Usk, South Wales. 7th October 1961

Tredegar Junior Band, Tredegar Town Band, Yorkshire Imperial, Grimethorpe Colliery, Britannia Building Society

Deiniolen Silver, Grimethorpe Colliery (Bandmaster), Britannia Building Society (Assistant Conductor), Tredgera Town Band, Yorkshire Building Society, Fodens Courtois, Black Dyke Mills.

Cwm Slow Melody Champion Under 10’s: Welsh Solo Champion: National Eisteddffod Champion: Euphonium Player of the Year: National Coal Board Champion of Champions.

Member of Yorkshire Imperial Band that won BBC Band of the Year and Yorkshire Area Champions. Member of Grimethorpe Colliery Band that won BBC Band of the Year, NCB Champions, British Open Champions 1984, Granada Band of the Year, Brass in Concert Champions. Member of Britannia Building Society Band that won BBC Band of the Year, North West Champions, Masters Champions 1990 and 1991, European Champions 1992.

Conducting Successes:
Tredegar Town Band: Champion Band of Wales 1994,1995,1996. Runners-Up, British Open 1995. Winners Own Choice Section European Championships 1997. Pontins Champions 1998

Fodens Courtois: National Champions of Great Britain 1999. North West Area Champions 1998,1999,2000. Brass in Concert Champions. British Open Runners-Up 1998. French Open Champions. Harry Ramsden Champions.

Black Dyke Mills: Runners-Up British Open 2000.

Iwan Fox.

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