James Shepherd... a legend:
Chris Helme takes time out to take a closer look at one of the banding
movement's greatest ever players.
If you started your 'banding' during the late 50's and 1960's like
me you were brought up on a rich diet of brilliant brass musicians
such as Derek Garside, Jim Shepherd, Geoff Whitham, Brian Evans,
Lyndon Baglin, Gordon Higginbottom and Maurice Murphy but to name
a few. These are the names that my own generation often tried in
vain to emulate, these players have been synonymous with not only
being a class act but as ambassadors, true professionals and gentlemen.
So what happens when the vinyl records have all gone even from
the charity and second hand shops and even the car boot sales. What
happens when their CD's have been reduced to the deletion list,
let alone the now rare and almost unplayable and disappearing 78's?
Where is the history about these long forgotten bands, more importantly
though the performers we now all acknowledge as simply truly great
players or dare we say simply sum them all up with one word - legends…
Yes there are many fine publications about the world of brass
bands both past and present but these great players often only form
part of the book's overall story.
Having been interested in local history, teaching and writing about
it for nigh on thirty years and having perfected a nose for research
and tweaking out some of the finer detail. Now recently having retired
after thirty years in the police service and used to applying a
little detective work this has now come in very handy for my brass
band research and jottings.
It was with this in mind that I thought it was time to tell the
story of at least one or two of these people and there could be
no finer player to begin with than Jim Shepherd. The man who led
the Black Dyke Mills Band under the baton of Musical Director Roy
Newsome and Professional Conductor Geoffrey Brand through one of
its most successful periods.
The first thing to establish was would Jim mind me poking about
asking his many friends and fellow musicians about him. Having established
where he lived I took the plunge to telephone him to make an appointment
- everyone told me you can't miss his house as he has one of the
best looking gardens not just in the street but in the whole village.
'I'd be very pleased…' was his answer and over a twelve month period
he became very supportive of my project.
From those childhood days and those first tentative steps on to
the stage at the Newbiggin Salvation Army Citadel, Jim Shepherd
was to become a true legend of the brass band movement. ]
Beginning as 'a learner' just as we all did he was introduced to
George Wright one of his early tutors and conductor of the Newbiggin
(senior) Band at that time, someone Jim still has the highest regard
It is hard to imagine him ever being nervous before a performance
but it is said that before performing 'Bless this House' at his
very first junior slow melody he went to pray. Someone was obviously
listening that day because he walked out and performed like an old
trooper and won the competition.
One of his later performances was on the occasion when Jim was
expected to be ice cool and have nerves of steel when he and the
Versatile Brass were asked to perform at the Berlin Philharmonic
Hall in front of a capacity audience.
Not only was the concert hall packed but it was heard live on German
national radio and also went out live on the B.B.C's Friday Night
is Music Night radio programme. Playing a perfect performance of
the old favourite 'Pandora' it was said to have been one of Jim's
finest solo performances under conditions that could only be described
as the ultimate in pressure.
He made rapid progress until eventually after his National Service
he was 'spotted' and invited to Yorkshire and join Carlton Main
and Frickley Colliery Band under the direction of Jack Atherton,
another name that conjures up memories from the past.
He made an early impact on the Yorkshire Band scene and was declared
the Champion Soloist of Great Britain for three years running during
the 1960's. It was long time family friend Ralph Lowery who had
initially encouraged him to travel south to join Carlton and was
now actively supporting his move to Black Dyke to replace the legendary
He led Black Dyke through one of their most celebrated periods
until in 1973 when he left to take his James Shepherd Versatile
Brass ensemble from something that many thought of as something
that would be a short lived novelty. His connection with the group
was to last twenty-five years, receiving rave revues wherever they
performed, travelling to almost all Four Corners of the world.
During his long career he has taught countless individual pupils
many that have gone on to join some of the finest brass bands, orchestras
and military styled bands in the country. As well as all those other
students who simply wanted to enjoy playing and making music at
their own particular level of performance. Whilst taking the odd
Masterclass he is in his element when confronted by a group of youngsters
who are taking their own first tentative steps and as yet have little
or no ability. Jim has the patience and rare talent of being able
to get the best out of his young students - he is known to be a
hard taskmaster but all his young students think the world of him
and endeavour to do their best for him - a rare talent indeed.
This Pied Piper of Banding - as some one called him has also been
a successful conductor and band trainer taking his raw recruits
on that difficult but highly successful journey from the Youth Section
through to the Championships section of the contesting world.
Along with all those other 'crinklies' Jim has just completed seven
years with the Kings of Brass. A brass band where the minimum qualification
had to be forty years in top flight banding. Having seen most of
their concerts and bought their CD's it has been a treat to see
and hear 'Gentleman' Jim taking his place and playing as one of
the true Kings of brass.
'I over heard two small girls who had taken part in the under 11
section at the annual Elland Silver Band Slow Melody competition
whispering to each other just before the results were to be announced
when one said to her friend in a very serious tone, '
… I bet you wouldn't win if Jim Shepherd were in it….'
...a LEGEND indeed, now what price do you place on this level
My thumbnail sketchbook of his life is illustrated with a number
of selected photographs from his family archives and with many tributes
from respected members both past and present of the banding fraternity.
This little book cannot fail to interest every member of the brass
band world both home and abroad.
This book is available from Chris Helme:
Priced £4.99 inc p/p
© Chris Helme