Norway back to Cornwall? - A brass band trip remembered


The Mount Charles Band certainly enjoyed their trip to the Grenland Festival recently - even though they had doubts that they may not return...

mOUNT cHARLESThere are brass band contesting trips and there are brass band contesting trips.

Being situated in the dark recesses of the western end of Cornwall, does of course mean that the Mount Charles Band has to make almost military-like preparations for any occasion when they are called to organise a contesting weekend away from home, but a couple of months ago, even their well tested skills were put to the ultimate test when they were set to appear at the Grenland Festival in Norway.


The complex set of travel logistics was put in place by their management team led by Band Manager Derek Thomas, but even the best laid plans were never quite going to be enough to take into account the intervention of a volcano in Iceland.

”We had been looking forward to the trip for some time,” Derek recalled to 4BR. “It had been hard work putting everything in place, but we thought we had left nothing to chance. We forgot about the weather though!”

Thankfully, at the very last minute, a combination of the contesting, as well as the weather Gods made sure that despite cancellations all over the rest of European airspace, the Cornish band could make the trip – although some trip it turned out to be.


The band had accepted the invitation to compete at the contest about a year before, when event organiser Ovind Klingberg got in touch with the band after one of his many trips to the UK.

With the invitation accepted the hard work began to organise transport, accommodation, flights, conductors and players – all before the band could contemplate blowing a note in anger for what is a wonderfully unique banding event.

With everything finally in place (at this point the volcanic ash cloud was still perched precariously over the North Sea, but heading south) the band set off at 5.30am from their bandroom in Cornwall in optimistic mood.

Mount Charles
In action: Mount Charles on stage in Grenland
Cloud of ash

With one ear on the bus radio, they made their way to Stanstead airport, nervously expecting to be told at any time that their flight to Oslo had been cancelled due to the fast approaching cloud of ash.

Even as the band waited to check in at the airport terminal, reports filtered through that flights were already being grounded all over Europe, so it came as an enormous relief that they finally bordered their plane and took off. There was no way back now.

”We were getting reports by the minute that flights had been cancelled all over Europe, so we thought there would be a real possibility that we would be stranded,” Derek recalled.

”Thankfully, we managed to get on one of the very last flights out of the UK – and just in time too, as the airport closed soon after we took off.”

Last flight in

Amazingly, as they landed in Oslo the hard facts of those reported cancellations became clear, as theirs was one of only a handful of flights to make it into Oslo before that airport was closed too. With thoughts of return flights placed firmly to the back of the minds for the time being, the band made its way by bus to Skien.

The band had an evening to themselves on the Thursday, enjoying the final of the event’s conductors competition and a performance by the Norwegian Military Band.

Friday saw the band in rehearsal mode under the direction of Darren Hawkin, before putting the final touches of their preparation for the start of the ‘three legged’ contest that evening.

”With everything that had gone on we were determined to enjoy the experience,” Derek said. “The church at Skien was a wonderful venue, and the sound of a brass band there sent a jolt up the spine.”
Inspiring surroundings

Amid those inspiring surroundings of the Skien Church, Mount Charles performed their ‘Sacred’ programme of music in a 25 minute performance that featured a wonderfully atmospheric rendition of ‘Share My Yoke’ by flugel player Tim Whitehead.

With solid performances of the march, ‘Knight Templar’, ‘Light of the World’ (which won the ‘Best Hymn’ prize), ‘Light Walk’ and ‘Russian Christmas Music’, the band led the contest (although they didn’t know it) from rivals, Oslofjord Brass and Sandefjord Brass Symposium.

The next day, came the remaining two disciplines and the band were drawn number 1 to perform the specially commissioned set work, ‘Band on a Holy Crusade’ by Norweigan composer Oyvind Westby.

With that out of the way, there was time just to out the finishing touches to their own choice programme, before they were back in contesting mode for a reprise of their winning Miller Countrywide set, played just a fortnight before in Cornwall.

’Walking with Heroes’, ‘The New Colonial’, ‘Elegy’ from ‘A Downland Suite’, a sparkling ‘Best Soloist’ performance from Ian Thomas on the ‘Harry James Trumpet Concerto’, a bit of fun with ‘Mr Sandman’ and a rousing climax with Widor’s ‘Toccata’, brought to a close a performance that hit the nail on their head with the judges, Philip Harper and Bjorn Bogetvedt.

Mount Charles
Victory: Now to get back home...

Prizes announced

With time to enjoy a wonderful Gala Concert featuring the talents of the extraordinary Mnozil Brass, the prizes were announced and Mount Charles celebrated long into the Nordic night after winning all three legs of the contest to take the overall first prize of well over £1,000 and become the first band from the UK to be crowned Grenland Champions.

Thankfully, the weekend was rounded off with even better news too, as after three days of not a single flight making it back to the UK, the news came through that Oslo airport was open once again and at the crack of 6.45am, the band bordered their flight back to Stanstead.

Relieved man

Derek Thomas was of course a relieved man and as he recalled: “Getting the band overseas was a real test for us, but getting back with all that was going on was perhaps the greatest challenge.

”If things turned out differently, we could have been stuck for days with people needing desperately to get back to families and work. It says a great deal about the band that we were all prepared for the long haul if necessary – although I think we would have quickly used up the prize money in the Oslo airport bar!”


It is a trip though that Derek would thoroughly recommend to any other band given the chance.

”The support we received from Oyvind Klingberg and the rest of the people was amazing, “ he said. “We can’t thank them enough for all the help they gave us to enable Mount Charles to attend this wonderful festival.”

He concluded: “‘Whilst in Grenland, we were made to feel so welcome, and Morten and the team of helpers from Grenland Brass were there to help us throughout the trip! I can fully recommend the Grenland Festival to any UK band wanting to make a trip overseas. The organisation was excellent, the support remarkable, but the beer very expensive!”            


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