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Interview with Richard Evans

It is always a pleasure being in the company of Richard Evans. One of the most colourful and talented musicians to grace the banding world since the Second World War is perpetually on good form and is man who seems to have the happy knack of making you feel better – be it in rehearsal, contest stage, concert or pub.

It’s no coincidence that the War played a major part in his upbringing either, as Richard himself explained to us when he recently talked to 4BarsRest. “I was born in Aldershot – a military town in 1934, where my father was a soldier in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. As my dad was a career soldier, we were shipped out to India when I was just 18 months old, but by all accounts the climate was not to my liken as a baby and my mother, sister and I were shipped back to live in Plymouth during the War.”

“Plymouth was bombed and every night we had to go into the shelter for safety – it was terrifying. One morning we came out of the shelter to find our house and been blown up!” After a move to Dartmoor the Evans family finally found themselves back in Formby near Preston where Richard’s father, who he hadn’t seen for seven years returned to become a groundsman at the local Leyland Golf Club.

“We had a little house off the course and my dad became involved at the local British Legion as an ex soldier. After a while he said to me that I could join him there, and before long I was having lessons with Harold Moss, the “King of Trombones” as he was known and a lovely chap called William Haydock for a shilling a week.”

In 1952 Richard Evans became a founder member of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and took his seat on a front row of cornets that read Maurice Murphy, Fred Burns and John Clough. Lifelong friendships were forged.

“Murphy was an amazing talent even at that age and he played the cornet solo Zelda in such a way it made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. We became great friends and the courses were special times for me.”

It was at this time that Harry Mortimer became an influential figure in Richard’s life and even though they had their ups and downs over the following years, he remained a father figure to him. “The great man always gave me sound advice, even though sometimes I didn’t take it! It was he who made the first moves to get me to conduct, when I took the NYBB on “County Pallatine” by Maurice Johnstone – I was terrible!”

By the late 1960’s though, Richard Evans was conducting more regularly, even though he had to keep a night time job printing newspapers and was doing some semi professional trumpet work that saw him play with considerable success with the BBC Northern Orchestra, the Halle Orchestra and being part of the start with the world famous Sid Lawrence Orchestra. However, it wasn’t that well paid, so he decided to get a Diploma from the Royal Northern College of Music and forge ahead with a career in banding.

“I lived on 13 quid a week for two years and gave up a job when I was bringing home 45 quid – plus I had a wife and kids! It was madness, but the best thing I ever did. I also got involved with bands like Mossley where I really learnt my trade and did some choral conducting with the Wigan Choral Society which was bloody hard work but tremendously beneficial for developing a good ear.”

It was that link that led to his first major break into banding and success at the highest level – a level he has since never left.

“We did a concert with Wingates Band, and afterwards they asked me to audition to take them to the 1975 British Open. It was Elgar Howarth’s “Fireworks” and it was the hardest piece I had ever come across. We worked our socks off and deservedly won the Open, beating Fairey’s into second place.”

Following a third place at the 1976 Nationals, Harry Mortimer advised him to audition for the job at Fairey’s, which Richard accepted, although overall it was not the success he hoped. “There was a need for the band to change, but somehow we never really gelled and even though I enjoyed my time there it didn’t quite work out and the best we got was a third at the Open in 1977.”

It was then that he Leyland story began. “It was 1978 and they were a third section band at the time, when a chap called Desmond Pitcher – now Sir Desmond, met me and told me he wanted a band that that could get into the top three prizes at the British Open in three years! I thought he was having me on a bit so I told him what I wanted to do the job and he didn’t bat an eyelid! In fact, we beat our target when we came second at the Open in 1981 on “Variations on a Ninth”.

Leyland then grew into one of the UK’s top bands with their distinctive white dinner jackets their trademark. “I had gone to Japan where I worked with bands who were immaculately dressed in tuxedos. It looked brilliant and so I thought that’s what we need and so I got the band to wear them – it caused a fantastic stir, but the success soon shut up the doubters”

Leyland were now a contender at every major contest and they came third at the Nationals in 1984 and at the 1989 Nationals, won the North West Area title in 1990, 91, 93 and 94 and were All England Masters Champions in 1989 and 1992. This was some band. The crowning glory was in 1994 when finally after a series that read 2nd, 3rd, 2nd and 5th, they became British Open Champions playing John McCabes “Salamander”.

“This was a great time for the band. We had secured an amazing sponsorship deal with British Nuclear Fuels after 14 great years with Leyland Vehicles, that saw us tour Japan, Korea and the USA. I admit I ran the band as a benign dictator, but it worked. If things went right it was great for us all, but if it went wrong it was me who got it in the neck. However, the company was privatised and the deal came to an abrupt end and I was very fortunate to meet up with an old friend in Dave Whelan of JJB Sports and we managed to out a deal together that was only short term but very beneficial to the band.”

Although his full time association with the band he created over 20 years ago has now come to an end, Richard still is closely linked to them and recently took control of the baton to steer the band into second place at the Brass in Concert contest in Spennymoor. “I’ve always liked the entertainment contests where bands can really show off and give the audience a show to remember.”

So what does the future hold? “I’ll never really retire, although my wife would like me to! I’m enjoying the freelance life again and have taken Flowers Band in Gloucestshire and Tredegar in Wales over the past year as well as having a lovely time up in Scotland with Dallmellington and teaching two days a week at Kirkham Grammer School where I’m developing a little concert band with the pupils. They may not be as good as Leyland, but it gives me so much pleasure.”

So a quiet life then? “No. I’m going to be taking Fodens to the All England Masters on Pageantry, so I’m really looking forward to that and I’m still busy with my son running our little 9 hole golf course and driving range and will be taking the National Youth Band of Scotland on it’s course at St Andrews in July!” Nowhere near quiet then.

Richard Evans has been one of the movement’s great characters of the past thirty years or more and there is still more to come. Catch him if you can – you will certainly enjoy the experience.

Iwan Fox

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