2005 Mellieha International Band Festival - Malcolm Wood revisits Malta


Sunday 27-Thursday 31st March
Mellieha, Malta

Mellieha Band Festival logoFeatured Bands:
Azur Brass
Blackpool Brass
Coronation Brass
Doncaster Concert Band
Exeter University
Friendly Band
Hertfordshire Concert Band
Lysefjorden Musikklag
Socjeta Filarmonika La Vittoria

Audio interview

Audio Interview with festival organiser Joe Deguara [WAV 2.52Mb]

4BR was invited by the organisers of the Third Mellieha International Band Festival and The Maltese Tourist Authority to sample the delights of something completely different.

To paraphrase John Cleese's infamous line from the cult series Monty Python's Flying Circus, this event is "something completely different". 4BR arrived in Malta on Tuesday and along with Graham Fraser (representing The British Bandsman) was part of something that was nothing short of an amazing banding experience.

Music festivals take place all over the world and Malta is no different.  Music is an important part of the culture of the island through the church, orchestras and bands, although these are usually predominantly wind bands.

Malta has over ninety wind bands and seventy five band clubs, so you are never short of somewhere to go to hear music that appeals and of course, have a drink or two at the same time. It is perhaps the nearest pure mixture to a bandsmans heart anywhere in the world!

So why have a brass band festival in Malta?

Joe DeguaraThe answer to that question is Joe Deguara.  Joe is a shrewd businessman who has a passion for music and a permanent smile on his face, who can't do enough to help people.  An hotelier by profession, he hosted the Eynsford Concert Band four years ago as they had gone down a storm, the idea evolved to host a festival where brass bands could perform, and entertain the audiences which he knew would flock to come and listen to such an event.

With the virtual guarantee of good weather, Joe set out about his ideas of bringing bands to Malta to entertain and giving them a chance for a holiday at the same time.  They don't have to be strictly brass bands either, but the core does have to be brass.  With a team of helpers including Helge Haukas from Norway, whose experience and know how, makes life easier for Joe, Easter time in Mellieha is a musical experience for everybody.

Meillieha itself is in the North West of the island with a population of around 5-6000 people.   The local band club belonging to La Vittorria is an impressive site:  Marble flooring, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, spacious rehearsal facilities and a boardroom/committee room that even some of the best PLCs would be envious off. 

Mellieha Bay
Bonavista: Mellieha Bay

The venue, the format and the bands:

The venue for the event is a large marquee situated right outside the La Vittoria Band club in Mellieha square.  With a purpose built stage, eight hundred seats were readily available for anyone to come and listen free of charge to music they might not be used too. 

Each night 4BR was there, the atmosphere was fantastic and on the final night (Thursday) it was just plain crazy. 

The bands involved in this festival might not be household names, but for the purposes of this event, it doesn't matter that much.  Yes, Joe Deguara would love a prestigeous band to go to Malta for this event, and with the foresight to invite the banding media across and raise its profile, no real reason why that shouldn't happen – from Black Dyke to Blackpool Brass (who were here and had a great time) it is the ideal place for a bit of a bandsmans break.

This might only be what the Maltese call the ‘Third Edition' (third event) but already Joe is looking to capitalise on what he has started.  DVDs of the concerts were available the following day and Joe is the first to acknowledge that without the financial support of corporate sponsors, he wouldn't be able to do what he does.

From an audience perspective, its all free, the only costs that they are requested to pay is for the programmes on sale, although many bought DVDs from the previous nights.

Note: DVDs of the event will be available for sale on this site shortly

The bands have to pay their own flights and accommodation, but the organisers fund such things as flight transfers.

All of the bands involved embraced the festival with the one key ingredient required - ‘Entertainment'.  Nine times out of ten, 4BR would be giving analysed critiques of the bands performances, and whilst some of the performances varied in overall standard, they gave the audience what they wanted.

The format of the event is simple.  For three hours every night, a band did a programme for around fifty minutes and then afterwards, everybody disappeared into the local bars and clubs, for more entertainment and plenty of Maltese hospitality.  Granted some of the ensembles repeated some of their programmes during the week, but it didn't matter too much as the audience just lapped it up and the turnaround of couples, honeymooner's and general public milling around on a balmy evening must have meant that just about everyone on the island must have at least caught a chance to listen to at least one tune from the bands.

In addition, some of the bands took a fifty-minute bus ride to Valletta to entertain the crowds for an hour or so over lunchtime, and that provided them with a welcome break and the chance to impress even more people.  

Azur Brass
Azur Brass

Azur Brass was the first band 4BR heard here and this ten-piece group made up from players connected with Manger Musiklaag and Krohnengen in Norway were superb.  It was extremely professional stuff, all played to the highest standards, and it was exceptionally well received by the audiences to which they played.  

At the conclusion of their performance they got the first standing ovation of the night.  It was a little bemusing (although the standard of this playing certainly deserved it), but you realise that it wouldn't make any difference whether it was Grimethorpe or a ten piece band, they just love music in Malta and give them something different, and they can't get enough of it and show there appreciation by giving the receptions they do.

Coronation Brass and The Friendly Band were the other two bands on offer on the night. 

Coronation Brass
Coronation Brass

Coronation Brass epitomised what this festival is all about.  A scratch band from across the UK, they were formed in 2001 as a ten piece originally and things have evolved from there.

Chris Melville, Kim Flannagan, Gareth Flanagan and Kevin Parker playing solo cornet, Alan Wycherley on soprano, Nick Jones on principal trombone, Dave Wycherley on percussion - this was a band with plenty of experience (and talent) that could play anything from Bach to Beethoven without a problem.

The opening ‘Army of the Nile' set the tone followed by pieces such as the overture from ‘Mack and Mabel',  ‘The Hustle', some SClub 7 (Yes, it was a night for all sorts of great music!), The Beatles, ‘Floral Dance'. All this and how many MDs would you see doing dance movements as well?  Being on holiday, a bit of sun, and the delightful Max Joseph loved it, and the audience were very happy with 'YMCA' and 'Hey Baby, Baby' to get singing along. A touch surreal in places, but a tremendous bit of entertainment.

The Friendly Band
The Friendly Band

The Friendly Band was sandwiched in between Azur Brass and Coronation Brass on the Tuesday night.  As with the other two artistes on the night, they produced an entertaining programme that was well received and on Wednesday lunchtime performed in Valletta, and were very well received on both occasions.

Amongst the band was David Nesbitt, the legendary Black Dyke and Grimethorpe bass player (who also won the Nationals with CWS Glasgow).  David seemed to enjoy himself on the trip, playing bass solos and conducting the band whilst conductor Carol Caton was performing ‘Grandfathers Clock'. It was like that all the time – players showcasing their talents with a smile on their faces.

The Friendly Band: David Nesbitt
The Friendly Band: David Nesbitt

Wednesday's highlight was undoubtedly Blackpool Brass.  They followed the Norwegian Lysefjorden Musiklaag and Hertfordshire Concert Band on stage, and like all the other bands, had loads of fun - and they loved every minute of it.

High Command', ‘A Disney Fantasy',  ‘Over the Rainbow' (featuring the excellent Caroline Cross on tenor horn); Perry O'Brien in sparkling form in ‘Summertime', Bill Pritchard on bass trombone in ‘I wanna be like You' followed by ‘Bohemian Rhapsody'.

In addition, a touch of Strauss in ‘Trish Trash Polka', ‘a Breez down Broadway' and the band's anthem, ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside', its no wonder they got standing ovations as Stephen Simpson had the audience in the palm of his hand, even posing for the cameras where possible, whilst the band were still playing! What a star!

As with Coronation Brass, Blackpool could have played till midnight and nobody would have cared, but the call of liquid medication to sooth tired lips meant that they eventually had to stop, although if the audience had their way they would have played until dawn broke.

Blackpool Brass
Blackpool Brass

Thursday was a public holiday in Malta and the final (official) day of the festival. 

The night started off with the local Socjeta Filamonika La Vittoria who was formed in the early 1900s.  The opening number was spoilt somewhat by the chiming bells, and considering the first chime was before a note had been blown, it was surprising they didn't wait a little.

Again, it was a fairly light programme with ‘YMCA', ‘Over to the Overtures', ‘Phantom of the Opera' and ‘A tribute to Queen' (not the Queen – who is still very well thought of out here on the island) before Doncaster Concert Band took to the stage.

Doncaster Concert Band
Doncaster Concert Band

This band got the biggest ovation of the night when singer Julie Thomas sang a song about Mellieha Bay in Maltese.  Such was the response, Julie got a standing ovation long before she'd finished and the reprise had the same effect. It was wonderfully inspired stuff, and many a member of the audience was close to tears.

Earlier in the concert, the band featured two soloists playing post horns in ‘The Huntsman', and then went on to utilising hosepipes and even a kettle in their solo slot. They played it brilliantly, and response was amazing.

The evening came to a conclusion with over one hundred and fifty people getting on stage for a massed blow.  Conducted by Helge Haukas, this was an impressive site with players standing off stage in a programme that featured some Norwegian music, ‘Amazing Grace', music from Africa in the form of a ‘Harvest Song' where the MD sings and the band subsequently responds before playing.

The whole thing though was rounded off with what has become a tradition – Verdi's ‘Grand March from Aida'.  Over a thousand people went mad, and they were getting vantage points wherever they could, many standing inside the marquee and plenty more outside. It was a brilliant climax.

Whilst the festival finished on the Thursday night, Coronation Brass played in Valletta during Friday and in the local band club at night before like many bands returning on the Saturday for the trip home.

The Verdict

An unusual concept that works and is a quite fantastic experience.  This event is something that any band in the world should consider.  Taking place during the Easter Holidays, it will certainly appeal to any band that has players on leave during the holiday period, and you are assured a warm friendly welcome and are guaranteed a great time.

Any band thinking of doing that something different should consider the Mellieha International Band Festival.  The organiser wants to attract bands from anywhere in the world and Joe is to Malta, what Philip Biggs is to the UK.

Further details can be obtained directly from Joe at festival@plusmalta.com with 2006 running from Sunday 16th-Thursday 20th April.

Joe Deguara and his team cannot be praised enough for what the want to do with this event and who knows what lies in store in the future. 4BR hopes to be back – if we can survive the pace!

Malcolm Wood


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