Nationals 2001: Gala Concert Review
Epic Brass featuring The Black Dyke Band, The International
Staff Band and The Symphonic Brass of London
Royal Albert Hall: Saturday 20th October 7.45pm
The promoters couldnt have asked for anything better could
they? A great days contesting had finished just about on time
and to cap it all the winning band were going to take part in the
Gala Concert just a couple of hours later. Add the crowd pulling
International Staff Band and the Symphonic Brass of London and they
surely had a dead cert success on their hands.
The old Hall shone in all its faded glory and outside there
was even a ticket tout trying desperately to flog off a few seats
in the stalls, whilst inside the auditorium was about three quarters
full. The only spaces were in the very top stalls near to the gods,
which had just a sprinkling of punters and the main floor where
the back four or five rows were empty.
Before Black Dyke opened proceedings the two huge screens perched
high above the two sides of the stage showed a video introduction
of the band. This was an excellent idea and put the audience in
the right frame of mind so that they burst into applause as Nicholas
Childs and Geoff Whitely, the bands administrator brought the National
Trophy onto the stage to sit proudly next to the new Champion Band
of Great Britain.
Sheila Tracy was again the compere, and again was a complete irritation
with her inane babble and her habit of stating the bleeding obvious
in her oh so correct BBC home service tones.
Still, Dyke hadnt had chance to celebrate their win and were
in a bit of a rush to get their main segment over and done with.
They opened up Toccata in D Minor the Ray Farr
version, not the Bach original and fairly flew through it. Nearly
all the detail was lost in the acoustics, but to be honest, who
cared? The percussion were very good though.
Before the next offering, up popped Nicholas Childs on the big
screens looking like an image from the film Blade Runner.
Hes an imposing chap, but having him look down on you from
50 foot up on a screen the size of a London Double Decker Bus is
a little spooky and reminded you of the scene in Citizen Kane
with Orson Welles. Still it certainly beat Ms Tracy, even though
we thought he introduced the next item as La instead
of Le Corsair.
A couple of hectic minutes that was over and done with! We dont
know if the band and MD had done a deal to get to the pub a bit
quicker but it was a whip through with the turbo charger on. All
the detail got lost in the empty spaces, but as we said before
who cared? Black Dyke were National Champions.
Chance of another look at the screens and this time Nicholas Childs
doing a more than passable impression of Michael Parkinson in interviewing
David Thornton (although it would be interesting to find out how
many out takes there were). It was a bit cheesy but none the less
a welcome change from the usual weak introductions many concertgoers
have to put up with.
David was on very fine form and gave a spankingly good account
of himself in Philip Sparkes Brillante. At the
end he was deservedly awarded the Euphonium Player of the Year Award
for 2001 a fine achievement for a player who has really matured
into one of the very best in the business. His playing both on the
contest and concert stage for Black Dyke over the past year has
been of the very highest class and this was an award that was fully
justified for a very popular and likeable young man.
A last look at the screens and Dyke finished off with another up-tempo
run through the Toccata from Suite Gothique. This was
a fine end and featured a little chap (he seemed little as he was
so far away) on the organ of the Albert Hall, which added it must
be said very little except a rumbling drone to the music. Still
Dyke had done the business and could go off for a well-earned shandy
before the second half.
The International Staff Band took the stage (after a short video)
and sent the willies up most of the audience by starting off with
music that sounded as if it was the theme from the original Star
Trek shows of the 1960s. You know the bit that starts just
before old James T. Kirk says Space the final frontier
yep, that bit. Very odd. Still the music entitled Truth
Aflame by Kevin Norbury was a nice enough bit too much of
a pot - pourri of ideas and thoughts to work for us.
Stephen Cobb conducted in a very precise and elegant manner and
he himself introduced the next item, I know Thou Art Mine
by Len Ballantine which before the band could start playing was
interrupted by an amazing bit of nose blowing from a member of the
audience Bleeding heck mate and heaven help anyone who was
seated in front of you.
The music was nice enough, but the amazingly the big screens put
up the words of the hymns to coincide with the music a bit
like a Salvationist Karaoke Night! Spooky aint the word for
it as the group of people around me started to sing along. It was
a nice idea that should have been explained a bit more to the audience
I felt I was in the middle of a revivalist meeting.
Kenneth Downie appeard on screen to introduce his Rejoice!
The Lord is King which was given a fine account by the band.
Based on excerpts of Zadock the Priest it was a fine piece of brass
writing and it should hopefully be heard more often in the future.
15 minutes for a break and then back to concert and the Symphonic
Brass of London, who opened with Dance Episodes from On the
Town and featured the third movement, Times Square 1944.
They then followed up with the Suite from West Side Story
which has become something of their hallmark over the years.
The playing was of a very high standard, although it did lack the
polish of some of the other combinations we have seen under the
ubiquitous banner. Eric Crees conducted with style and the playing
of the individual members was excellent. It was nice to see Robin
Taylor, once of Grimethorpe, on euphonium and Gareth Small once
of Penclawdd Brass on flugel horn.
Both pieces worked well, but you had the feeling that this was
really just another job for the boys and although it was slick and
very professional, it was a bit cold in its execution. Still
you have to admire the standard of their playing, even if one or
two of them looked more than a little bored.
The finale saw the massed bands (and we mean all three combinations)
squeeze onto the stage for a run through four items of enough volume
to rumble the foundations of the hall.
Also Sprach Zarathustra complete with splits and blobs
was exciting and very loud, whilst Lord of All Hopefulness
by Kenneth Downie was very well performed and a delight amongst
all the crash bang wallop.
The highlight however was the duet between David Daws of the Staff
Band and Roger Webster of Dyke in Wonderful Words by
Wilfred Heaton which was superb. Both are players of the very highest
class and both complimented each other with such musicality. It
was worth the £15 ticket price alone.
Finally, the March from the Pines of Rome which to
be honest was so loud it nearly hurt the ears. Still exciting stuff
and the audience loved it which is what its all about
really isnt it?
People have complained over the years that there should be a return
to the Gala Concert as it should be the climax of a weekend of music
making. On this evidence, Kapitol Productions have taken a huge
risk and made it work very well. The International Staff Band were
good value and of course brought the crowd in, and the Symphonic
Brass were truly professional, but it was Dykes win in the
afternoon that somehow put the icing on the cake and made the event
a bit more special.
Congratulations to Phil Morris and Nicola Bland for the promotion
of the event, and to the Salvationist Publishing Press for stumping
up the considerable money (about £25k we here) to underpin
the event itself. Lets hope it will continue next year.