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The Golden Oldies:
4BarsRest take a look at some great 'Long Players' from yesteryear.

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.

Black Dyke Mills Band
High Peak for Brass
Golden Guinea for Pye Records 1970
Conductors: Geoffrey Brand and Roy Newsome

One of the greatest ever LP’s for us. The Dyke of Shepherd, Clough, Jackson, Slinger, Hardy, Berry, Turton, Ellis and Pogson. Brand at the helm and Newsome doing all the spade work. Just five pieces of sheer brilliance with Dyke producing the classic “sound”, even when you played the LP on your own fairly awful record player.

“High Peak” by Eric Ball and “Four Little Maids” by John Carr make up the first side of the disc. Who today would play “Four Little Maids” eh? Neat, clean and with a rounded plum of a sound that is never forced or hard – the type of sound that has fatally gone out of fashion in the last ten years or so in fact.

“Elegy” from the popular Gilbert Vinter’s “Entertainments Suite” and “Spectrum” form the core of the flip side, but it is the cornet playing of one James Shepherd playing “Pandora” that makes this priceless. The man at the time was at his peak; breathtaking technique allied to the perfect “classic” cornet sound and a musicality that only the true masters of their craft are born with. Triple tonguing that fire like soft edged machine gun bullets, and not a hint of rushing or unevenness – this is simply awe inspiring playing.

This was a band that was moving to it’s own High Peak in 1972 when they won the “Double”, but never before or since has one man simply dominated the direction of a generation of players like Shepherd did after this release.

Hands up how many young cornet players sat in front of the mirror, cornet in left hand, wishing they were the “King” for just a moment - and just like his picture on the front cover of the record. The man was a bloody genius.

The Grimethorpe Colliery Band
Firebird Polyphonic Records – 1981
Conductor: Ray Farr

Up until the late 1970’s entertainment contests were for the most part an extension of the type of concert programme a band would put together for a concert, park job or radio recording. The formula was simple and straightforward and left nothing to the imagination. March, solo, quiet number, a piece with a bit of percussion and the big finish from an old test piece.

This seemed perfectly fine until Grimethorpe and Ray Farr hit the scene. Recorded at St George’s Hall, Bradford in August 1981, “Firebird” hit the brass band scene with the force of a late tackle from an Australian prop forward. After people heard what Grimey were doing, nothing was the same again.

Out went the march and in came “Midnight Sleighride”, out went the cornet solo and in stepped Peter Roberts with a coruscating “On with the Motley”. Stan Lippeatt did the jazz stuff like a natural and Elgar Howarth wrote the type of quirky entertainment bonbons such as “Berne Patrol” that audiences wet themselves for.

All this and “Pictures at an Exhibition” and the finale from “The Firebird”. Brass bands don’t play this type of thing we said. Cobblers! This was brass band playing taken to the next level – a level that no other band at the time was even remotely approaching.

Others took note (Fodens and Desford in particular) but perhaps they all owed a debt to Grimethorpe and “Firebird”. Never has an LP caused such debate or been as popular – even non brass band people bought it for heaven’s sake. By the mid 80’s the entertainment contest perhaps reached it’s peak, with Grimethorpe winning the Granada Band of the Year Contest playing without a conductor. It wouldn’t have been possible unless someone made the step to play music like this. We have a lot to be thankful for and Polyphonic have even released the LP on a CD for a new generation – that’s how important it was.

Black Dyke Mills Band
Double Champions 1972
Decca Records SB 308 – 1973
Conductors: Geoffrey Brand and Roy Newsome

The last great brass band of the old age and the first great brass band of the new. Just look at the picture opposite. A band made up of men (this was 1972 remember) one percussionist and not a student in sight. This was how the great bands were constructed 30 years ago – maturity was everything and banding was a men only world. These were players who had served their apprenticeships and had finally made the grade at the most famous band in the world and was the last hurrah for the type of post war banding that your grandfathers knew and loved.

Entertainment contests had started to make a mark, youngsters and females were starting to play in more and more bands and polytechnics and colleges were starting to take brass band players as serious students. Within a year Jim Shepherd had set up “Versatile Brass” and the “Double Champions” were no more. Change and a new age had finally reached Queensbury.

The LP is a brilliant reminder of how great these boys really were. Brand takes them through a reprisal of their winning performances of “Kensington Concerto” and “Sovereign Heritage” (both now rarely heard), whilst Newsome gets to grips with the “Shipbuilders Suite” and the Bliss “Antiphonal Fanfares”.

The highlights are perhaps the last reminder of an age past with the “Queensbury” march played as only Dyke could with players like those around the stand and Jim Shepherd giving the definitive account of “Cleopatra”. No one has ever come close to this standard of playing. It gives you goose pimples just listening to it and you sense that you know that Shepherd and the rest of the Dyke knew it was the end of an era. Unbelievable stuff.

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Long Players... Black Dyke - High Peak for Brass

Long Players... Grimethorpe Colliery Band - Firebird

Long Players... Black Dyke - Double Champions 1972

Note: the above LP covers have been modified slightly

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