A History of the Virtuosi Brass Band of Great Britain -
Fred Waters presents his first part of his definitive history of
an unique brass band - the 28 of the best players in the land, who
came together to perform on nine LP's and one concert in the heady
days of the 1970's called the Virtuosi Brass Band of Great Britain.
The Reasons for the Band’s Formation
The early 1970s saw the introduction of greatly improved domestic
audio systems which enabled music lovers to enjoy much more realistic
sound reproduction in the home. For the brass band enthusiast this
should have enabled the listener to appreciate more fully the quality
of playing contained on stereo LP's and audio cassettes available
at that time. Unfortunately these improved audio systems also exposed
shortcomings in recording techniques, not least of which was the
tendency in those days to record brass bands in such a way as to
give the listener the impression of sitting near the rear of the
concert hall. This was unfortunate as much of the playing was of
the highest quality.
In 1972 John Berryman and Fred Waters, both of whom were members
of the Camborne Town Band in the 1950s, were bemoaning the poor
recording quality of brass band records compared with classical
orchestra recordings. This made them decide that if they could not
buy brass band LP's recorded to the standard achieved in quality
classical recordings then they would produce their own. Unfortunately
this presented a problem – they didn’t have a band available
to them with sufficient technical expertise to realise this ambition.
They need not have worried as a discussion with Eric Ball resulted
in their forming an all star band similar to the Harry Mortimer
“Men o’ Brass” but with one vitally important
difference. HM’s bands carried significantly more players
than are allowed in a contest sized band thus making meaningful
comparison with other established bands impossible. Thus the Virtuosi
Brass Band of Great Britain® (originally called the Virtuosi
Brass Band®) was formed, comprising just 28 players who,
at the time, were at the peak of their banding careers. Whilst 27
players (25 + 2 percussionists) was the maximum size of contest
band normally permitted at that time, it was felt necessary to make
the small concession of carrying a fifth solo cornet player, bearing
in mind that each recording had to be completed, without prior rehearsal,
in a single day comprising just two three-hour sessions.
How the Musical Directors were Chosen
A total of five Musical Directors were employed in the making of
nine LPs plus one public concert. The founding MD was Eric Ball
who set the pattern by directing the Band’s first four LP's.
This was ably followed by James Scott directing our fifth recording
session and for numbers six and eight the baton was taken up by
Harry Mortimer. For record number seven there was a departure from
the practice of appointing established brass band conductors and
Maurice Handford was invited to take the helm.
Although Maurice had been a member of the Central Band of the RAF
in his younger days, he had made his musical career conducting various
world class symphony orchestras and was acknowledged to be one of
the world’s leading Elgarian conductors. This surprising choice
of conductor was due to the music selected for the seventh LP, but
Maurice was clearly bitten by the brass band “bug” as
shortly after directing the Band’s seventh recording session
he was appointed Professional Conductor of the Brighouse & Rastrick
Band. The final LP was directed by Stanley Boddington who also joined
with Eric Ball to conduct the Band at their only public performance
How the Players were Selected
James Shepherd, who was principal cornet at Black Dyke Mills in
1973, accepted an invitation to be the principal cornet of the Band.
With his guidance and advice from Eric Ball and the inimitable Les
Beevers (at the time principal Bb bass at Brighouse & Rastrick
Band), 27 players who were considered to be amongst the best and
most experienced bandsmen at that time where invited to join Jim.
It is gratifying to note that nobody who was approached declined
The initial line-up was indeed an impressive one:-
Jim Shepherd (Principal Cornet) - Black Dyke Mills,
David Read (Assistant Principal) - GUS,
Stephen Thornton - Hammonds,
Graham Walker - Yorkshire Imperial Metals,
Tony Whitaker - Brighouse & Rastrick,
Soprano Cornet:- Brian Evans - British Vita,
Flugel:- Malcolm Holmes - Grimethorpe,
Repiano Cornet:- Kevin Bolton - Carlton Main,
2nd Cornets:- James Scott - MD of Brighouse &
John Berryman - MD of Bodmin,
3rd Cornets:- Peter Roberts - Grimethorpe Colliery,
Alan Faraway - Bodmin,.
Tenor Horns:- Gordon Hindle (Solo) - GUS,
Gordon Higginbottom (1st) - Carlton Main,
Brian Wood (2nd) - Hammonds,
Baritones:- John Slinger (1st) - Black Dyke Mills,
Colin Hardy (2nd) - Black Dyke Mills.
Euphoniums:- Trevor Groom (Solo) - GUS,
John Clough - Black Dyke Mills,
Trombones:- John Pollard (Solo) - James Shepherd
Terry Hext (2nd) - GUS,
Ian Copland (Bass) - Black Dyke Mills.
Eb Basses:- Colin Aspinall - Black Dyke Mills,
Peter Wells - Black Dyke Mills,
Bb Basses:- Derek Jackson - Black Dyke Mills,
Les Beevers - Brighouse & Rastrick.
Percussion:- Harvey Whiteley - Black Dyke Mills,
Philip Gee – Manchester CWS.
In subsequent recordings, when any of the initial players were
not available, the following additional players took part:-
Cornets:- John Hudson, Ken McDonald, Peter Teal,
Dave Morris, Alan Tyler.
Flugel:- Stan James, Peter Teal.
Tenor Horns:- Jeff Hirst, Brian Smith, David Williams.
Baritones:- Tom Dodd.
Euphoniums:- David Moore.
Trombones:- Stan Priestley.
Eb Basses:- Derek Horsfall.
Bb Basses:- Mick Bryant.
The copyright of this document subsists with the author and must
not be reproduced complete or in part in any form without prior
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