The Famous Five and the Longest Day: The Best of British Brass,
Sunday 16 September, 2001
Sunday saw five of Britains most famous bands take the stage
at the Birmingham Symphony Hall to give a series of mini concerts
entitled Best of British Brass a great example
of an oxymoron as there ever was.
Black Dyke, Grimethorpe, Fodens, Faireys and Cory were the
chosen Best Of and Murphys Law of course decreed
that none of them would be taking the stage as British Open
Champions. This didnt undervalue the fare on offer,
but did make you wonder about Bram Gays (the Artistic Director)
Before we give our impressions on each bands offering, there are
a couple of points we at 4BarsRest would like to make. First is
a small point concerning the programme issued by the organisers.
Great value as it was for two pounds, it did however contain a confusing
series of old photographs of each of the bands that meant Black
Dykes photo featured James Watson, Matt Baker et all, Fodens
had Nicholas Childs at the helm, Faireys had James Gourlay
and Grimey were in a shot taken so long ago they were still in their
purple shirts! Only BAYV Cory were given an up to date photo, but
they then had to suffer the indignity of being wrongly named by
Bram Gay in his introductory notes and having the centre piece of
their programme wrongly titled. We are no angels, but this was sloppy,
Our second point however is so much more difficult. Saturday had
seen the audience at Symphony Hall unite in their grief at the atrocities
that befell the U.S.A. The playing of the American National Anthem
and the observance of a two-minute silence was a heartfelt and dignified
response from the organisers and the public to what had happened
under a week ago. Sunday should have seen the same observance.
We do not know what arrangements the organisers had made, but by
leaving the bands to perform their own individual tributes was both
misplaced and naïve. There is a time for personal as well as
communal expressions of compassion and respect and it surely would
have been a more fitting response for one band, either at the beginning
or as a massed band at the end to perform a meaningful, emotive,
responsive tribute that encompassed the feelings and thoughts towards
those who had suffered so terribly.
We therefore heard tributes from each band except Williams Faireys
(who in no way should be criticised) and even if you cannot argue
about the honest sentiment behind the bands playing these items,
the overall effect of it seemed almost mawkishly naive and inappropriate.
It could, and should have been undertaken with perhaps more concentrated
As for the performances well they ranged from the brilliant
to the seat of your pants variety.
Black Dyke took the stage at 1.00pm sharp and fairly blasted away
any slightly thick heads and tired lips with Peter Grahams
arrangement of the Olympic Fanfare. It took a few bars
to get things in working order, but the effect was good.
Dyke then undertook the main meat of their offering by a pretty
fine performance of Arthur Butterworths arrangement (or should
that now read transcription) of Brahms Variations and
Fugue on a theme of Handel. This was delightful music the
type really good bands can play well when they really put their
minds to it. Dyke had woken up and made the piece sound a treat
from start to finish. It was rumoured that the piece was in line
for the Open, and it would be a damn hard test - but someone else
got there first.
Brett Baker was the featured soloist. He was however laden with
a solo that was for us, bleeding awful. Brazilia by
Robin Dewhurst was the type of music you heard in the background
to those 1970s mini series such as Love Boat or
Fantasy Island and it never ever came off. His talents
deserve so much better a showcase.
For their finale, Nicholas Childs chose Shine As A Light
by Peter Graham, and this was a light and bubbly ending that rounded
off some classy playing. They must have all been a little disappointed
from the day before (although they certainly didnt show it
on Saturday night!) but this was a slick and well-rehearsed mini
concert that got things off to a great start. The band also played
two verses of Deep Harmony as a tribute at the end of
their official programme.
Grimethorpe Colliery UK Coal took the stage (nowadays with white
rather than the well loved purple shirts) and conducted by Elgar
Howarth has the air of mild academic eccentricity about him at
times, but he remains a superlative musician and conductor. As with
Dyke, Grimethorpe had changed their programme as a tribute and so
their proposed mini concert of Eric Ball compositions started with
Tournament for Brass which was given a good sharp run
out. It sounds more than a bit dated today, but still has some lovely
moments (especially Sandy Smiths horn playing) and was a welcome
offering even if the audience did clap between each of the three
You got the feeling that Eric Ball didnt really know much
about the more risqué aspects of life, and his
cornet solo Conchita confirmed the fact. It was like
one of those moments when you see a vicar casting a sneaky eye over
a shapely young woman in the street quaint and misplaced,
as if he was conscious that he already sinned too much. The quasi
tango solo was much the same and never became a full-blown gawp
of licentiousness that it really wanted to be. A pity! Richard Marshall
will surely get the chance to get to grips with more exciting musical
women in his career.
Howarth was on form both with baton and with his introductions
to the items, and he brought some fine playing out of Grimey in
Resurgam, which although sounded a little undercooked
in places, was perhaps the most appropriate of the musical tributes
given on the day. Howarth then gave us a little gem to end with
StarLake II the least known of Eric Balls two
marches that share the same name. It was an odd little piece that
had more than a hint of wit about it.
Fodens completed the first half under the baton of Bryan Hurdley,
who bounded on stage like a small rubber ball.
First up was Thomas Keighleys Lorenzo which was
given a very 21st century run through big, bold and at times
quite brilliant. It was miles away from its 1928 origin and all
the better for it, as its as dated as a Bob Monkhouse joke.
It sounds like music written for a silent film, where the heroine
is strapped to the railway line before being saved in time for her
to make tea for her moustachioed hero. It should return to the vaults
Helen Fox was the bands featured soloist in Chuck Mangiones
The Children of Sanchez which just like Brett Bakers
solo was another that was a whole amount of nothing. You can get
a band to stand up, turn out and razz like fury, but you cant
get over the fact that this was a very weak musical vehicle to display
the talents of such a fine player. It was like eating authentic
TexMex in West Bromwich not quite as good as the original.
Harmony Music however was a very different kettle of
fish and Bryan Hurdley must be congratulated for the bravery of
the choice, which was a real seat of your pants tour
de force by the band. Great solo work from Mark Wilkinson and Glyn
Williams (who held the top E in his cadenza for what seemed five
minutes!) and Martin Armstrong on horn was supplemented by plenty
of great sounds in the loud stuff from all around the band. It very
nearly came to grief in some places, but Bryan Hurdley held it all
together with some excellent direction and the overall picture was
colourful and exciting just as the piece should be.
Fodens tribute was Amazing Grace and ended an enjoyable
The second half featured Wiliams Fairey under Howard Snell and
they kicked off with Bram Gays arrangement of Verdis
Overture to The Sicilian Vespers which didnt start
too well but recovered to finish in fine style. Interesting piece
this, which should be heard more in concert if bands are brave enough
to go with it. Bram should be happy with his efforts.
Howard Snell then gave the audience a real treat with The
Old Chalet which worked superbly for us. This is the type
of witty, though provoking music that Howard Snell has produced
with such skill over the years. Why does it work when he conducts
it, but never when others try?
Nick Hudson was the featured soloist in Langfords Rhapsody
for Trombone and this was the high spot of the day in terms
of the soloists on offer. His was a faithful reading of a superb
showcase piece and his performance was never less than brilliant.
He is a supreme exponent of the art of solo playing.
As this was the 100th anniversary of Verdis death, Howard
Snell gave us a rare old charge through La Forza del Destino
to end Faireys offering, and it was gripping stuff. Kevin
Crockford had a field day on sop and the trombone section honked
liked geese right at the end. Well done boys! This was the most
enjoyable mini concert of the day for us.
Buy As You View Cory took the stage no longer as British Open
Champions, but as a band that further enhanced its reputation
in its defence of the title. Robert Childs seemed to be making a
home video of himself from the side of the stage and on this concert
performance it should make pretty good viewing.
Theirs was the most interesting fare on offer with John Pickards
Fanfare opening the proceeding with trademark muscularity.
It was an odd little piece that caught the audience out a bit and
finished with an abruptness that made for an uncomfortable few seconds
of silence before the applause set in. Interesting though.
The main part of the menu was the first performance of Havergal
Brians Battle Song (wrongly entitled Marching
Song in the programme). Robert Childs introduced Dr Pickard
onto the stage to give a brief synopsis of the piece, which he proceeded
to do in such a lovely insouciant manner that only true academics
Brian was very much a contemporary of Granville Bantock and his
composition sounded very much as if he had taken musical direction
from his compositions such as The Frogs, Oriental
Rhapsody and Land of the Ever Young. It was curious
stuff a bit odd and certainly listenable, but it sounded
very much inferior to Bantocks banding output.
Chris Thomas was the soloist in Bluebells of Scotland,
an old nag of a piece which really out to be finally put out to
grass the Sunset Retirement Home for Old and Knackered Trombone
Solos. Chris is a fine player and musician and like Brett
Baker, deserves to be showing off his talents with better repertoire.
BAYV Cory finished off with Aspects of Adiemus which
is the music you hear all over the place, from hairdressers to commercials
for Building Societies. Written by Welshman Carl Jenkins and neatly
arranged by Peter Graham, it made for a welcome change and ended
Corys programme on a high note. It would have been even better
if this could have been played with the vocal accompaniment that
really makes the music sound so sensuous and relaxing, but that
was a minor niggle to a well though out programme. BAYV Cory played
A Little Prayer by Evelyn Glennie as their tribute.
With that it was enough for us and we headed (as did many in a
pretty full hall) for our cars and the long journey home. We missed
the finale, so we cant comment on what went on, except it
was to be Cory and Faireys together under the baton of Hoard
Snell playing Procession to the Minster and Entry
of the Gods into Valhalla. It was we are sure, to have been
a good finish to a very long day of some fine music making.