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Top ten BBb Bass Players of all time: 4BR come up with ten of the best growlers...

The lamppost geezers at the back of the band (named after the monotonous way in which composers usually just wrote notes on the first of every bar) are a rare breed indeed, as BBb players are often labeled as the thick end of the band! It’s a tag that suits our fellow Reubensian shaped bellow players if this instrument is in the wrong hands.

However, this certainly isn’t the case with the ten chaps listed below, who were, and are good examples of the BBb being in the right hands – for these blokes are experts! Our top ten chaps of the bombardon could really make the floorboards rattle and give an experience every bit as good as the best Organs in the land. (Oops! – starting to sound like Sid James in a Carry On film here!)

You can’t just sit behind a BBb Bass and expect it to do what you want (a bit like another instrument we could mention), but these 10 guys have worked out a method by spending countless hours learning how to drive this unwieldy beast of an instrument.

4BarsRest would therefore like to pay homage to the truly great Pedal merchants who make brass bands what they are today. However it hasn’t always been that way. Back in pre 1960s they had to rely on the tools they had i.e. 3 Valve non-compensating BBb’s. This is when a lot of the range we have today was missing and an intelligent player got round this by the production of huge fog like sounds.

You also don’t often see soloists on this large bombardon, as they prefer to give the great soloists of today the perfect cushion on which to display their talents. However as you will see there are a few exceptions!

Below with the help of lots of people we have compiled a list of great BBb players. You may agree or disagree with our selection, but we feel it is a pretty good guide to some of the best BBb players of this or any other generation. As always we give a list in no particular order of merit – they are all great players.

Albert Frost
Albert started playing as a bass Trombone player in the Salvation Army band in Barrow in Furness. He was a joiner by trade and became a member of Black Dyke in the late 1940s. Speaking to people in the “know” about Albert, all commented that he had a sound like a 64ft organ stop and an amazing technique to go with it.

We are told that Albert was a bit of an awkward bugger - if this was the case he set in place a mould for lots of BBb players who followed him!

Dyke went on to be famous for the band sound that revolved round the Bass Section. It would seem Albert had the lot as a BBb player of his vintage.

Joe Poole
“Pedal Joe” as he became to be known, is the man responsible for the first Pedal notes plundered on a contest stage.

Fred Mortimer got hold of a 4 valve non compensating BBb and asked Joe to learn how to start adding lower unwritten notes on this new BBb. Because it was non-compensating he had the added complication of pulling slides, but Joe found he could now play F and F sharp. Joe, who was an engraver of nameplates on coffins in his time, produced his wonderful sound with the mighty Fodens and CWS Manchester.

Derek Jackson
Derek was and is the man who developed BBb Bass playing into a true art form. Now armed with a four valve compensating BBb he took on board the work started by “Pedal Joe” Pool and he proceeded to make his mark on British Banding.

Born in Poulton Le Flyde, he started by slipping the odd Pedal F to see how the rest of the Dyke chaps reacted, then went on to an E then D and so on.

Derek has had lots of jobs in his time ranging from, Private Detective to washing machine salesman, on to his present occupation which is supplying what seems like the banding world with household carpets.

Derek still has the most direct production anyone has ever produced below the stave. This ability was honed by hours of practice in the Dyke band room where he was to be found in any of his spare time. He was not limited to lower octave work however; as he had one of the biggest sounds with no edge we have ever had the pleasure to listen to. It is often said he treats his BBb with the same affection as the women in his life.

Derek had a unique way of practicing his art in the Dyke bandroom, as he would blow a bottom C and would only leave that note once the picture frame 4th on the left rattled. Then he would go to a D and make the George Wilcox picture rattle and so on. Each frame in the bandroom at the time, had a rattle on a certain note of Derek’s.

Derek is by far the most decorated BBb Player by way of contest wins, in a banding life that took him to Black Dyke Mills Juniors in 1961 moving up to the seniors in 1964. Then to Williams Fairey in 1992 until his semi retirement nine years later. The other day it was rumored someone into his Carpet shop only to find him with his beloved BBb working on Les Preludes for the British Open where he is helping out Grimethorpe.

Jack Millington
What many people regard as Fodens finest ever BBb player joined the band in 1953 - this was after an indirect poaching job from Fred Mortimer (he didn’t believe in directly poaching players). Fred put the word out that Jack was just the sort of player he was looking for to become the foundation of the mighty Fodens Band and so it came to pass that Jack was signed up.

He was a Blacksmith by trade and due to an accident at work lost four front teeth! At this time Jack was a member of ICI Alkali Band, a stint that was broken by his stint for King and Country in the Royal Navy.

A one time euphonium and horn player Jack developed into a BBb player of immense power and awesome quality, who could really make the floorboards rattle. Commenting to 4BarsRest he said, “There are too many players who are content to just shovel in notes” Brought up under the Mortimer tutelage, Jacks only overriding goal was “Quality Sound”.

Jacks final performance with Fodens was at the 1982 British Open at Free Trade Hall, bringing to a close thirty years service to Fodens Band. These days Jack still attends the occasional rehearsal, especially just before a contest when, no doubt, he will have a keen ear listening to the music, but especially “That Sound”

Les Beevers
Les Beevers went to Brighouse & Rastrick from Elland Band and followed in his father Walters’s footsteps playing for the boys from West Riding in the famous Purple and Gold.

In his time with the band, Brighouse & Rastrick had this big brooding sound for which Les was the quality deep-seated backbone.

Les was also a quality musician, which reflected in his playing. This musicianship led Les to become the Resident Musical Director of B&R, for whom he also served as Chairman in the Floral Dance era.

Les along with Derek Jackson formed a real golden period for the BBb and they were together in the famous Virtuoso Bands put together for recordings in the 70s. That must have been some section!

Roy Batty
Roy Batty was a product of Grimethorpe Junior band. He is an undemonstrative player who is happy not to hog the limelight.

He produces a great warm sound of real quality. Although he is now the elder statesman of Grimey he leads by example, and someone told 4Bars Rest the other day that Roy had now bought himself another BBb so he can practice at home. Anyone who knows Roy will be shocked at that as he is not one for spending his own money. Practice and spending money are not one of Roy’s favorite pastimes.

He has a great silky bottom register but is very happy to play the upper parts, which he does better than most, and this gives whoever plays the lower parts one of the strongest backbones of sound in banding today.

John Gillam
John Gillam is the true “Giant” among BBb Bass players. John first joined Brighouse & Rastrick sitting next to Les Beevers, and when Les retired from the band John took over his seat and made it his own. John had a lovely soft production and produced a velvet warm tone. As a young Eb Bass player Johns demonstrated time and time again his complete artistry of the instrument and the great emphasis he placed on “Team” play.

He moved on to Black Dyke in 1992 and went on to win lots of pots under James Watson.

To John’s own admittance he didn’t much care for the pedal merchant way of playing, preferring to find the exact musical moment to go down an octave. Anyone who knows John will testify that he is one of the nicest people around. He is Chairman and Bass tutor of the National Youth Brass Band and we know this will ensure a productive and enjoyable time for the NYBBGB as John never does things by half.

Dean Morley
Dean Morley is a larger than life character who works for Railtrack as a Project Manager and started his top-line banding career with the Desford Colliery Dowty Band under Howard Snell in the late 1980s.

Graduating from the National Youth Band as principle BBb he joined Desford in 1987 and was always keen to pick up tips from anyone who was willing to part with them. Dean has gone on to win the National Championships on numerous occasions winning many fans along the way for his style of play.

Dean is very large in stature, a feature that also describes his huge sound. This is produced with great directness backed up by strong airstreams of power. He is also a very nimble player with a super lower register of pure creamy quality.

The Fodens of today are built on the rock, which Dean provides. You never know you might one day find Dean on his feet, as he has been known to play the odd solo or three.

Simon Gresswell
Simon Gresswell is a product of the Queensbury Music Centre under the legendary James Shepherd, and was a member of the NYBBGB - being the only person to have held the principle position on both Eb and BBb Bass.

Appointed principle Eb with Brighouse at 17, it was at Desford that he moved onto BBb Bass, and aged 23 he joined Black Dyke Mills coming under the influence of the godfather of BBb Bass players Derek Jackson. Under Derek’s tutelage he developed into a superb player, producing a creamy sound like the finest draught Guinness one could imagine. Like his idol, he never over blows and one feels their presence rather than hear them, especially when they pedal.

Just like Jackson, Simon Gresswell can make the hair on the back of your head stand on end and the toes curl to listen to them play. After Dyke he joined Faireys, and then moved to YBS under David King. At present he’s playing with Brighouse and Rastrick.

Anthony Nash
Tony Nash is a West Country boy who came to prominence with the great Sun Life Stanshaw Band. Tony was principle BBb of the National Youth Band and actually won the Pye award for best soloist! Tony had an amazing technique and we have been told he was something of a “Paganini” of the BBb Bass.

Tony went on to have a short spell with Fodens in the 70s before returning to Sun life where he remained in stints, until the bands sad demise.

Tony is one of the nicest people in banding, but perhaps by his own admission a little more single mindedness would have propelled him to even greater heights. He is now to be found playing for local bands around his West Country home.

So that’s our top ten BBb players of all time. Not a bad selection of players and all of them more than capable of playing the usual fare that sees the run of the mill BBb baulk at the sight of a run of minims.

Every one of the chaps named would always tell you it would not be possible without great partners. Bass playing is a team game and one that is very technical by bay of balance, shape, sound, dynamics, phrasing and the obvious physical aspects of playing. Therefore many of these players achieved their greatness by having a great team of players around them.

They may be the shy and retiring members of any band (except for the few exceptions that every band has!) but they are just as indispensable as any fancy soprano or solo corner player. As one great BBb player once informed a rather drunken upstart cornet player who didn’t think much of their efforts after a certain contest. “ You can keep all the fancy decorations coming out of the end of your bell until the cows come home, but you can’t build a bloody good house unless you’ve got solid foundations!” Never a truer word has ever been spoken.

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