Ironbridge Gorge Festival - Brass & Iron combined


Brian Eggleshaw reports from the recent Ironbridge Festival in Shropshire, where brass bands played their part in a celebration of all things iron.

Iconic bridge work: The famous Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale

One of the most important industrial heritage areas of the world played host to a wonderful celebratory Festival a couple of weeks ago, which included a substantial input from the brass band community.

World Heritage

The Ironbridge Gorge Museum of Iron in Shropshire hosted the Festival for the sixth time over the weekend of 10th & 11th July, where numerous bands performed varied concert programmes during the day, whilst on the Saturday night there was a superbly presented ‘Last Night of the Proms’ concert in the World Heritage site’s Enginuity Building.

And whilst every outdoor event is very reliant on the weather, the organising committee must have had a direct link to the souls of the great industrialists such as Darby, Watt and Trevithick, as the sun beat down as hot as one of the areas famous iron furnaces. It made for a wonderful venue and wonderful entertainment.

Famous gorge

The Saturday saw an early start to the day long proceedings, with the huge figure of Martin Wood, the Shrewsbury Town Crier, resplendent in his red and gold uniform making sure that everyone heard about the attractions with a voice that carried clearly throughout the famous gorge.

Any potential problems were handled so smoothly that none of the general public ever noticed they had occurred, and each of the participating bands enjoyed performing their programmes to enthusiastic and appreciative audiences.

Appropriately, the Abraham Derby Band (named after one of the great industrialists of the area) started the ball rolling, followed by Porthywaen Youth, Sabrina Brass, Wellington (Telford) Brass, Stiperstones Brass, Porthywaen Silver, and Black Country Brass.

Easy listening

Easy listening programmes were very well played, and it was nice to see that the bands were bolstered by a number of ‘helpers’ from other well known bands .

On the Saturday night, the climax of the day came with a wonderful ‘Last Night of the Proms’ Concert at the Enginuity Building, which was very ably compered by Jim Hawkins of BBC Radio Shropshire.

First to take the stage was the Porthywaen Silver under the baton of Mark Parry, who gave the appreciative full house a well chosen programme of music, played with real enthusiasm and plenty of quality.

After a short break came Jackfield Elcock Reisen under the superb direction and control of Simon Platford, who also showed off their talents to fine effect with a wonderfully broad based programme, extremely well performed, the highlight being a very slick and humorous performance of all the bells and whistles of ‘Mr Sandman’.

Grand finale

With both bands coming together for the finale, the stage was re-set so that mezzo soprano Helen E May and audience to join in all the traditional ‘Last Night of the Proms’ celebrations – all packaged by the organisers in a brilliant showcase for the brass band movement.

On Sunday, the events in the grounds commenced midday with bands performing 40-minute programmes. Those featured were Highley Colliery, Salopian Brass, The Bell Inn Brass, The Salvation Army (Oakengates Corps), Newport Town and Festival Brass, whilst the Festival was brought to a close by a grand finale featuring Jackfield Elcock Reisen under the direction of Simon Platford.  

Where there's brass: Flags ready to be waved at the Last Night of the Proms

Charity funds

The whole event (with the exception of the ‘Proms’ concert) had free admission, whilst all the monies raised went in aid of the Severn Hospice, which has progressed from the planning stages when this event was first undertaken six years ago, to a fully operational unit today.

Neil Fury, the Festival Chairman, and a member of Wellington Telford Band and his committee, along with the Ironbridge & Severn Lions International organisation can feel justly proud of what they achieved on the weekend and over the past six years in particular. It was a wonderful example of what working together ‘in harmony’ can produce.

Brass credit

It is a very sobering thought in today’s world, that all the bands participating in this event gave their services freely, and were an immense credit to the movement.

As the recent Brass Band Summit Conference so rightly highlighted recently, it is only with events such as this that we can retain the interest and enjoyment of younger players in the banding movement.

The number of youngsters taking part – and clearly enjoying themselves was a joy to behold and with successful events such as this I’m sure that several of the bands in the locality will find they have several more youngsters interested in getting involved after what they have witnessed this weekend.  
Brian Eggleshaw


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