Brass in Concert Championships 2001: Grimethorpe
take Entertainment Laurels (and Hardys)
With a performance that was a sublime as it was entertaining Grimethorpe
Colliery UK Coal (to give them their full stage name) came to Spennymoor
with a reputation to uphold and left with a reputation thoroughly
enhanced, for in winning the Spennymoor Brass in Concert title for
an unprecedented tenth time, the boys from Yorkshire gave unimpeachable
proof that in terms of musical thespianism they are well nigh untouchable.
On a day of very many highs (and a few lows), Grimethorpe gave a
performance that showed that when allied to musical intelligence,
brass band entertainment can be thoroughly stimulating as well as
great fun. This was a performance of sheer professionalism that
has once again highlighted that the boundaries of brass band entertainment
performances are still being pushed in the right direction - by
Not that they were on their own either as Fodens under the
direction of Ray Farr, Sellers with Philip McCann, Leyland with
the inimitable Richard Evans and Kirkintilloch under an inspired
Allan Ramsey all giving performances of the highest class, and more
importantly musical intelligence. Some of the big names may
have been missing, but this year it made no difference as the overall
standard of the top bands was as good as anything heard in the past
Garry Cutt was naturally delighted when he spoke to 4BarsRest and
heaped praise on his team of many talents that have again proved
themselves to be a class apart in the entertainment field.
We worked very closely together in deciding what approach
we took this year. We wanted to show that we can move away from
the Brassed Off image and so we deliberately wanted
to show other aspects to our playing.
Grimethope have always been innovators in this type of field and
2001 was no exception with a programme that started off with Ray
Farrs arrangement of Elgar Howarths Agincourt Song
that led into a superb new arrangement by Sandy Smith of the Arturo
Sandoval Latin number Mambo Caliente which featured
some great individual playing (5 percussionists!) and an equally
superb horn section honking away one minute and as smooth as silk
the next. This was showy, brassy stuff a bit like Bet Lynch
from Coronation Street in a bikini deliberately OTT with
plenty of frontage to show off.
Gary Cutt explained that Sandy Smiths arrangements have been
integral to the band being able to explore new exciting musical
avenues, and this was never more obvious when straight into their
piece de resistance Another Fine Mess which featured
the best pair of doppelgangers since the last Stars In You
Eyes show was on the telly.
With Mike Dodd (8 stone soaking wet by the look of him) and Shaun
Hudson (18 stone, bone dry and no stranger to a fish supper) the
two euph players took the stage as Laurel and Hardy to display and
perform a comedic routine that was nigh on perfect. Three tunes
from old Stan and Ollie films, including the ubiquitous Blue
Ridge Mountains that brought off a very clever arrangement
with style and more than a little panache that included a soft shoe
shuffle Muhammad Ali would have been proud of in his prime. It was
inspired stuff visually and musically.
They followed this up with Richard Marshall on top class form with
a ripper of a show on Chiavari before they ended their
performance with yet another Sandy Smith arrangement this
time the music depicting the Barbarian Horde from the Oscar winning
Gladiator. It was brilliantly dramatic and exciting
and brought to an end a performance that was a worthy and clear
winner even in this high-class field.
It gave Grimethorpe the title and with it a hatful of individual
prizes that were also won with some style. Richard Marshall took
the top honours in the soloist stakes, whilst their also walked
off with best sop player (Nigel Fielding), best new arrangement
for Another Fine Mess, the entertainment prize (full
60 out of 60 from the judges), best euphonium player to Mike Dodd
plus the conductors prize to Garry Cutt. That was the measure of
They even won the smallest trophy (the replica given to the winning
conductor to keep) that as 2nd baritone player Cliff Hopes stated
was awarded for Best Boiled Egg it was that small.
Garry Cutt of course was very pleased. We put a lot of work
into the programme and I emphasised to the players before we went
on stage that for it to work we had to be committed to it 100%.
Derek Jackson even stated that did it mean he had to smile, to which
I replied yes and he replied that he had to take a
tablet for that, and then it only lasted for half an hour!
Garry Cutt couldnt praise his players high enough for the
way in which they went about their business especially Sandy
Smith whos new arrangements he felt were instrumental in the
Sandy has brought a new direction to brass band arranging
that has been like a breath of fresh air. A great deal of todays
success is down to what he has now brought to us as both a player
and arranger. All the players are fully committed to the band and
that gives us the strength we need to maintain the very high standards
we set ourselves.
The win means a further raft of entertainment that Grimethorpe can
now bring to the concert stage a stage that they are fully
at home upon and one that will in the next few weeks see them perform
at Stoke, Croydon, Bradford and Market Deeping near Peterborough.
Garry Cutt relishes the opportunity to show off his band and on
this form they are not to be missed.
Runners up were last years champions Fodens who gave a thoroughly
entertaining set that on any other day would surely have seen them
retain their title.
Starting off with the Ray Farr arrangement of Alabamy Bound
which was as slick and tight as Kylie Minogues hot pants they moved
onto the flugel horn solo Children of Sanchez which
featured Helen Fox on fine form and plenty of choreography from
the band. It was a super bit of playing, but as we said when they
played the piece at the Best of British Concert, it somehow lacks
a degree of sparkle and range in the solo line that means that it
becomes bland to the ear. Quintessence by Robert Redhead
was a very brave and inspired choice though and welcome too. It
came off because of the quality of the ensemble playing and even
though it is usually used as a finisher it fitted well
into the programme.
Mark Landon was the xylophone soloist on Xylomania
and a very fine job he did too, whilst the big finish this year
was provided by Ray Farrs arrangement of The Cup of
Life a selection of World Cup tunes of glory, which was for
us a tremendous finisher. It ended a fine defence of their title
that was highlighted by superb ensemble playing (special note about
the bass end who were top class), but in the end it didnt
quite have enough to top Grimey and the flugel solo for us was the
only weak spot in a slick and well rehearsed set.
Third spot was taken by Sellers International under Philip McCann
and what a difference the old warbler made. Right from the
start they sounded a totally different band to the one that has
blown hot and cold (and usually cold to the point of chilly) over
the past 18 months or so.
The Andy Duncan arrangement of the Overture to Lawrence of
Arabia offered plenty of scope to show off their strengths
and this was followed by a superb bit of cornet playing by Kirsty
Abbotts playing the Trattina from Carmina Burana
real quality stuff.
I Love a Parade arranged by Alan Fernie and Hornpipe
Humoresque by Noel Rawstone were well presented and obviously
well rehearsed and special mention to the solo lines by the sop,
rep and flugel who were very good indeed. David Manns In
the wee small hours of the morning was well played by David
Mann on trombone and they finished off with another tight finisher
from the pen of Andy Duncan, which (our notes were a bit mixed here)
was entitled Gettysburg. Sellers sounded like a real
top class band and although there were plenty of little blips and
blobs throughout, it was a performance of real merit. Congratulations
Mr McCann and the band Sellers are back on form.
Leyland had to be content with 4th spot this year, but once again
they showed that they are back with a vengeance. Richard Evans has
more moves in his hips than a German porn star, but he still oozes
charisma like some conductors ooze sweat.
Under the White Ensign by Sir Vivian Dunn was a marvellous
march and once again showed that the great Tricky Dickey still has
the nose for an inspired choice. It won the march prize by a mile.
Andrew King then displayed an awesome technique in the old pot boiler
Bluebells of Scotland that made it sound ridiculously
easy, whilst there was some lovely balanced ensemble playing in
The Catskills arranged by Philip Littlemore. Leyland
has rediscovered the rich full bass sound that was such a feature
when they were last at the top of the tree and it marks them out
as a class outfit.
Jocelyn Robinson showed nifty skills on the old bone machine in
the xylophone solo Helter Skelter. Very well played,
but nowadays you get the feeling that if youve heard one youve
heard them all in the xylo stakes and there must be more interesting
solos out there for such a fine player. What about an old Lionel
Hampton number eh?
Leyland rounded off with the Finale from Symphony Number 1
by Gustav Mahler arranged by Garry Westwood and for us this was
perhaps the weak spot of a fine set. When it loud, Mahler is very
loud indeed he once exclaimed on visiting Niagara Falls At
last fortissimo! so even going at full pelt the arrangement
lacked the volume and more importantly the colour and texture that
makes any Mahler worth spending hours on end (they are usually bleeding
long) listening too. Still a very fine effort from Leyland once
again watch out next year at the majors we predict.
Fifth spot went to Kirkintilloch with an excellent set that featured
some very tight ensemble playing allied to a wonderful full bodied
sound in a well presented and executed performance. Special mention
to the sop player Steve Stewart who was on inspired form throughout
and soloist Alan Wardrope on horn who was also top class.
They started off with Alleluiah Parade by Kevin Norbury,
which was tight and compact, whilst Sandy Smiths arrangement
of Hymn to the Fallen from Saving Private Ryan was given
a very thoughtful airing. This has been featured on their well-received
CD and here it was very well performed.
Back Seat Driver by David Arnold arranged by Rodney
Newton worked well and as stated Alan Wardrope was top notch in
his solo spot playing Surrender. Summon the Heroes
finished off the set which although may not have had the flash and
showiness of some others on the day, but certainly contained some
of the best playing. It was a well-merited 5th place.
Below the top five, the standard slipped a little a bit like
the difference between the Premiership and the Nationwide League,
but there was still much to commend in many of the performances.
Carlton Main displayed a very big sound in a set that was a brave
choice and very nearly came off. Not for the traditionalists but
effective none the less, they were let down only by too many unforced
errors and a propensity to not take enough risks with the quieter
A Shot in the Dark by Henry Mancini was a different
opener and Jimmy Hayes followed this up with a fine bit of playing
in his solo spot with Girl Talk. Eric Claptons
Layla was perhaps too way out for the audience and judges,
but was exciting stuff and reminded us of Eric in his prime
white suit, flares and George Harrisons wife in his bed, whilst
Time Lines by Kit Turnbull was an effective finisher.
Not everyones cup of tea this, but congratulations to Paul
Andrews and the band for taking the risk give it a couple
of years and this wont sound so out of place.
Ransomes perhaps tried to put in too much in their set and as a
result it sounded a bit too bitty and disjointed to really make
a mark. Plenty of good playing though and Chris Jeans on trombone
showed superb technique in the solo Concert Etude by
Goedicke whilst the band showed off their vocal talents to good
effect with Jan Magne Fordes Ayallah.
Russell Gray continues to work his charges well and there are real
signs of quality throughout the band, but in trying so much they
were let down by too many slips and errors that tended to distract
from the overall picture. The Fanfare from Carmina Burana
was showy and brash just as it should be, but the Mumbo
Jumbo from the pen of Barry Gott didnt quite work as
well as expected.
George Thackery showed quality of tone and lyricism in the Adagio
by Marcangelo Corelli and they finished off with a plenty of big
bold sounds (well balanced though) in the Katchaturian Symphony
Number 3. Pretty good stuff that possibly needed a bit less
to have given a bit more.
Todmorden Old and Dennis Hadfield took 8th place, which started
well only to fall away a bit at the end when they bravely put on
Moon Pictures by Andrew Duncan complete with projected
visuals. As a concert item it has much to commend it, but as a concert
contest item it felt out of place somewhat and may have cost them
a few points. A pity for Todmorden put themselves out on
a limb with it.
Todmorden Centenary March by Simon Kerwin was another
well played and brave choice (self advertisement can sometimes not
be a great thing) but it showed off the bands qualities well. The
Lords Prayer arranged by Stephen Bradnum had echoes of his
other more ubiquitous Blessing and was perhaps a bit
too cloyingly sentimental, but Peter Smith on tuba was tremendous
as the bands featured soloist on Simon Kerwins Tico Taco Tuba
plenty of antics and plenty of brilliant tuba playing. Well
As we said, up to this point we thought it was a set that may have
got them higher up the prize list but the Moon Pictures
was a bit overlong and distracted the listener and may have cost
points. Still a worthy show from a band that continues to mature
and improve year on year.
9th spot went to Yorkshire Imperial Rothwell under David Evans,
who performed very well off the earliest of draws but were undone
perhaps by a programme that lacked sparkle and finesse.
Malaguena was a ripper of an opener and very well played,
but there were too many blobs and it didnt sound clean enough.
Leon Renilson on cornet however put in an excellent performance
of Apres un Reve that for us was very close to taking
the soloists prize. Hes been around a longish time (we mean
that in the nicest possible way) but on this form hes playing
as well as he ever did when he was on the end at YBS. Real quality
The Gallop by Shostakovitch arranged by Howard Snell
(whatever happened to all his arrangements eh?) didnt offer
enough contrast to the opener for us and Washington Grays
as the march was rather weak in comparison to what was played later
in the day. The Jungle Book stuff was OK and was a pretty
good arrangement by Alan Fernie, but if you are going to dress up
and play the part then youve got to go for it 100%. 99% and
the audience can start to smell the embarrassment. Gaelforce
is a fine bit of work to finish but even in its short life
its been played to death and in this company it has dated
out of fashion quicker than a Manchester United away kit. Still
there was enough evidence here to suggest the Imps are on the right
Ever Ready came in last but one but we felt the reliance on a single
theme of a tribute to the USA meant a lack of variety and this cost
them in our eyes (and ears). Plenty of good playing especially from
the corner men and Ann Armstrong on the xylophone, but it was like
eating a McDonalds beefburger. One or two you can manage but 6 leave
you with a bit of a problem on the digestion front.
Olympic Fanfare and Theme was a solid opener and Brian
Tait was very good on Carnival of Venice the
Hubert Clarke version arranged by Simon Kerwin. The slightly odd
Sousa march, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine was a welcome
insert as was My Funny Valentine arranged by Alan Catherall.
The problem was that by now we were getting a bit full up of the
USA stuff however good the intentions were and by the time Ann Armstrong
whipped through On the Track in impressive fashion we
needed a change of scenery (in fact a change of continent).
Stephen Roberts very neat and slick American Carnival
would have been so much better if it wasnt for what went on
before it just sounded much of a muchness, which was a pity.
Another brave choice that perhaps looked better on paper than it
was in reality and Ever Ready we think suffered the consequences
of placing their eggs all in the one basket.
Besses O th Barn came 11th and last and to be fair it
wasnt the best we have heard them play. Sousas Sempre
Fidelis just didnt shine and there were too many slips
and accidents floating around in the ether. Northern Festival
was OK but again didnt seem to have any zest and life and
although the players tried to make it sound upbeat it never really
took off and Paul Coupe on trombone played well but had to content
with an over zealous accompaniment that at times drowned him out
in his solo Heres That Rainy Day.
Robert Nesbitts Ride to Ashkelon was a very neat
bit of work and the band played it well, but by now the damage had
been done. The Witches Sabbath from Symphony Fantastique
by Berlioz was a good ender but again the band somehow seemed tired
and lethargic. Some good playing in places from all the solo lines
but overall it was a bit of a disappointment and we had hoped for
more from Besses and Gareth Pritchard.
Not the greatest day at the office for Besses then, but they still
have plenty to offer on their day this wasnt one of
So at the end of the day it was Grimethorpe who won it and
won it well. Luckily for us we tipped them for victory so they didnt
let us down, and Fodens were excellent value for second place. Sellers
made a welcome and deserved return to the podium whilst Leyland
possibly lost out for a higher place with their last number. Still
we had the top four right (and very nearly in the right order as
Spennymoor continues to set the pace for new music and for the standards
that other bands must now try and emulate if they too are to be
successful in the entertainment contests that will litter the new
year - starting with Yeovil in less than three months. How many
of the 25 or so new arrangements on view will survive to be heard
again will be debatable and many will collect dust as soon as the
librarians get their hands on them, but some will make their mark.
None however will make it quite like Grimethorpes Laurel
and Hardy, but then, no band is quite like Grimethorpe.