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On the Road...
By Howard Snell

Just like old times … during the few last weeks I have conducted quite a few different bands. In early February I was with Fairey, on an assignment to conduct Steven Mead’s latest CD for Polyphonic. Good news for all fans, he was on top-plus form. The Band was superb, extremely disciplined, with such a high level of musical artistry! And, of course, the players were as good natured and pleasant to work with as ever. In short, an example of the British Brass Band at its very best! All the Fairey Band needs now are the right projects on which to display its musical talents to the full. I hope that the National result gives the Band the lift-off it deserves. The more top bands that are seen, and heard, and publicised, the better for banding as a whole. It all seems a bit limited at the moment.

What else? For the last few months I have very occasionally given a helping hand to my local Manx Concert Brass, conducted by the indefatigable Ian Clague. Lo and behold, in the North-West Second Section, in the stews of Blackpool, they go and get 2nd! In its different way, spending a little time with Ian and MCB has been as rewarding as the other things I have been doing. Helping to make a difference, at any level, is hard to beat for satisfaction. (I always think that unless you can adopt a support role, you won’t be much of a leader.) MCB’s willingness to graft was exemplary. I have to say, that when they put their collective mind to it, the Manx are a resourceful lot, especially when they forget the favourite national saying – “tredd a lioar” – which means “time enough.” (It’s Manx for “mañana”.) It’s no accident that the Isle of Man is, by some distance, the best run country in the British Isles. Which wouldn’t be hard at the moment!

At the moment of writing I am in Norway preparing for a concert with Eikanger. Even though it’s my eighteenth year of coming here to Bergen, (and the travelling seems to get harder) I’m pleased to be still returning regularly, in spite of not doing contests any more. Eikanger is a band in the same bracket as Fairey, but quite different in personality … which is how good bands should be … individual and unique. A rehearsal evening spent with the Oster Brass Band was also most enjoyable, with a good standard of playing in evidence.

For the last dozen or so years, Eikanger has been promoting its own annual series of concerts devoted to serious brass band music. In addition, the band has three terrific arrangers in its ranks, who, between them provide an enviable stream of concert material of very high quality lighter fare. The Band uses a variety of conductors, both Norwegian and international, and I do two or three projects per year, always trying to find one or two interesting new things to introduce. I don’t know of any Brass Band in the world that has done so much, so many times, at any period in banding, to further the cause of high-quality repertoire. One brief recent example: in addition to all their usual activities, over the last six months they have done numerous performances with a ballet company of a specially written work. Apart from playing the specially written score, the choreography involved the players in actual stage work. (No, none of them were in tutus.) And in Norway, the players pay to belong to their band, by the way. Back in the Nineties Britannia/Foden Band made a big effort to support three annual concert series that I put on at the Northern, but the great English banding public largely stayed in the pub. All that talk about ‘tradition’, but precious little action to keep it going! Somewhere, sometime, someone had to create that tradition, and they didn’t do it looking backwards, because when they looked backwards it hadn’t been made yet. Geddit? No? Well, tradition is made by looking forward. Would I be wrong to allow the words ‘one-eyed’ or ‘idle’ or ‘freeloaders’ to cross my mind? Mahler called backwards-looking traditionalists ‘schlamperei’: ‘slovenly’ to you and me.

However, for the moment, banding continues to do its different sorts of stuff for all kinds of people, in all kinds of places. Yet people keep on asking about the future of banding. Are there really any clouds on the horizon, you ask? Well yes, there really is one very black one, apart from some other smaller silver linings with clouds attached. But I won’t go into that at the moment, critical though I think the situation is …. except to say that it’s a bit like the banding equivalent of ‘fiddling while Rome burns.’ (Anyway the Emperor Nero couldn’t have been fiddling, because the violin had to wait another fifteen hundred years to be invented! He must have been doing something else. ‘What an artist will die when I go!’ he said. Sounds like a few people we’ve all met.)

For the moment, I’m just going to smile and think of the bands that have recently given me such a lot of enjoyment, and look forward next to seeing the Manx National Youth Band when I get back in a few days time, ….. and then having a celebratory drink with MCB before their historic trip for the National Finals to ….. where? ….. did you say – Dundee?

Previous articles by Howard Snell:

• Article 6: If I was Dictator Maximus - more
• Article 5: Regulation Junkies - licensing laws - more
• Article 4: Judge for yourself - more
• Article 3: The whole truth and nothing but - more...
• Article 2: The gang of four, or was it five - more...
• Article 1: Hours with the Masters - more...

© Howard Snell 2003 [© 4BarsRest]

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