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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 some.

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 few years.

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 Farr’s 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 Smith’s 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 film

“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 the victory.

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 couldn’t praise his players high enough for the way in which they went about their business – especially Sandy Smith who’s new arrangements he felt were instrumental in the success.

“Sandy has brought a new direction to brass band arranging that has been like a breath of fresh air. A great deal of today’s 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 Farr’s 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 didn’t 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 Mann’s “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 you’ve heard one you’ve 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 Smith’s 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 dynamics.

“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 Clapton’s “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 Harrison’s wife in his bed, whilst “Time Lines” by Kit Turnbull was an effective finisher.

Not everyone’s cup of tea this, but congratulations to Paul Andrews and the band for taking the risk – give it a couple of years and this won’t 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 Forde’s “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 didn’t 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 done sir!

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 didn’t 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. He’s been around a longish time (we mean that in the nicest possible way) but on this form he’s playing as well as he ever did when he was on the end at YBS. Real quality playing.

The “Gallop” by Shostakovitch arranged by Howard Snell (whatever happened to all his arrangements eh?) didn’t 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 you’ve 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 it’s short life it’s 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 track back.

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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t the best we have heard them play. Sousa’s “Sempre Fidelis” just didn’t shine and there were too many slips and accidents floating around in the ether. “Northern Festival” was OK but again didn’t 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 “Here’s That Rainy Day”.

Robert Nesbitt’s “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 wasn’t one of them though.

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 didn’t 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 well).

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 Grimethorpe’s “Laurel and Hardy”, but then, no band is quite like Grimethorpe.

© 4BarsRest

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Garry Cutt - MD Grimethorpe

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