Trepanning for excellence
Light bulb open mindedness at the RNCM Festival of Brass

4BR Editor Iwan Fox looks forward to the most vital showcase for brass banding excellence in the UK at the RNCM Brass Band Festival in Manchester this weekend.


There’s a pretty persuasive argument to suggest that the brass band movement needs more top flight contests as much as it does a hole in the head.

At a time when there is a danger of myopically concentrating on the promotion of excellence through competitive insularity, what is actually required is an open-minded trepanning approach to showcase our playing and compositional talents to a far wider musical world.

That’s why you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to turn on the light bulb in the cranium to work out that what is actually needed are more events likes the RNCM Brass Band Festival.

The addiction to competition is a craving that is only beneficial when it has a purpose.

Contesting for contesting sake does not.  It’s a selfish fix to make us feel good about ourselves until the next hit. Nobody else matters. 

Essential outlet

The RNCM Brass Band Festival therefore remains an essential connective outlet – as without it (and the need for others like it) we are increasingly in danger of being further marginalised from the wider musical public.

Thankfully Festival Director Paul Hindmarsh continues to shine the brightest of lights on a superb weekend of brass music making (supported excellently by the RNCM) - attracting world class musicians to compliment the outstanding ensembles - as well as persuading BBC Radio 3 to continue to record performances for broadcast.

The addiction to competition is a craving that is only beneficial when it has a purpose. Contesting for contesting sake does not.  It’s a selfish fix to make us feel good about ourselves until the next hit. Nobody else matters. 

We may rail with faux-outrage at the lack of coverage brass banding gets on arts programming on radio and television (and we wait anxiously at how the forthcoming Sky Arts series will portray us), but his is almost a lone voice in putting forward a persuasive argument for regular output. 

It was only four years ago here in fact that the broadcaster John Suchet poured a cold dose of realism over those very gripes - yet what has happened in the interim?  


This year the spotlight falls on the works of the Wilfred Heaton (celebrating the recent 100th anniversary of his birth), Arthur Bliss, Edward Elgar, Hans Werner Henze, Herbert Howells, John McCabe (in his 80th year anniversary) and Sir James MacMillan (in his 60th), alongside festival regulars, Martin Ellerby, Edward Gregson and Philip Wilby, plus world premieres from Jonathan Bates and Andy Scott.

The performers include the RNCM Brass Band, Cory, Foden’s, Black Dyke, Brighouse & Rastrick, Tredegar, Fairey and the International Staff Band of the Salvation Army - with soloists Ian Bousfield, David Childs, Felix Geroldinger, Seth Livingstone, Brett Baker and Chris Thomas amongst others.  

Ian Bousfield will feature in recital and with Foden's on the weekend. 

It is a line-up of talent in every aspect that should be supported, celebrated and shouted about to anyone in hearing distance from every rooftop of every bandroom across the country.

Because, without this event gaining the widespread support and more importantly, the advocacy of not just devoted aficionados and supporters, but also the decision makers, representative bodies and organisers within the brass band movement, this essential showcase for artistic excellence is in danger of becoming as marginalised as the slavish adherence to our contesting habit.

Hopefully then the ‘full house’ signs will be posted for every performance – with listeners leaving enthused, informed and inspired to tell everyone about just how important it is.

Friday night kick-off

It kicks off on Friday night (6.30pm) with a ‘Festival Prelude’ - Paul Hindmarsh introducing the themes of the weekend as well as music performed by members of the RNCM euphonium and baritone classes led by Prof Steven Mead and Dr David Thornton. 


It provides the aperitif for the main course of 2018 National Champion, Foden’s (7.30pm) under James Gourlay and Michael Fowles.

They will be joined by the extraordinary trombone virtuoso Ian Bousfield for a concert that will feature works by Andy Scott, Henry Geehl, John McCabe, Wifred Heaton and Edward Elgar.

It provides the aperitif for the main course of 2018 National Champion, Foden’s (7.30pm) under James Gourlay and Michael Fowles.


The following morning sees the RNCM Brass Band (10.00am) conducted by James Gourlay, Dr David Thornton and Melvin Tay alongside rising euphonium star Seth Livingstone.      

Paul Hindmarsh will give a talk about the enigmatic genius that was Wilfred Heaton (12 noon) before Brighouse & Rastrick (2.00pm) directed by Dr David Thornton and baritone soloist Felix Geroldinger give us a menu of Bliss, Howells, Ellerby and McCabe.

A recital performance by David Childs accompanied by pianist Christopher Williams is at 3.00pm, before the International Staff Band (4.30pm) makes a welcome return under Dr Stephen Cobb with a programme entitled ‘Wilfred Heaton 100: The Salvation Army Classics’.

David Childs will be featured in both concerto and recital mode 

Following an engaging interregnum from the Junior RNCM Brass Band (6.15pm) under Jon Malaxetxebarria and Les Neish with compositions from Karl King to Gordon Goodwin, the International Staff Band returns with Black Dyke in a double header at 7.30pm.

The Queensbury Band lead the first half under Prof Nicholas Childs with their ‘Wilfred Heaton 100: The Legacy set’ followed after the interval by a trio of massed band items of his works.     


Sunday kicks-off with the Foden’s Youth Band (10.30am) led by Mark Bousie and Michael Fowles with works by Pankhurst, Downie, Heaton and Bates, before the Fairey Band and Garry Cutt (11.30am) host the John Golland Award - featuring works by the late composer as well as the three finalist Marcus Venables, James Chan and Jay Richardson. 

The afternoon recital treat comes courtesy of Ian Bousfield and friends (1.30pm) before Tredegar Band directed by Ian Porthouse (2.30pm) and soloist David Childs showcase works by MacMillan, Goffin, Gregson and Henze. 


The Young Artist spotlight (4.15pm) featuring prize-winners from the 2018 European Solo Competition; Dutch tuba player Luc Geraats and Swiss bass trombonist Lionel Fumeaux provides the exciting prelude to the festival finale, with 2018 British Open champion Cory under Philip Harper (above) and featuring soloist Chris Thomas perform works by Steadman-Allen, MacMillan and Heaton to close.

2019 RNCM Brass Band Festival

Friday 25th January:
6.30pm - 7.15pm
Carole Nash Recital Room 

Festival Prelude: 
Artistic Director Paul Hindmarsh introduces this year’s festival with performances by RNCM students.

Free admission, no ticket required. Please note seating in this venue is limited.

7.30pm - 9.30pm
RNCM Concert Hall 
Foden’s Band

Conductors: James Gourlay and Michael Fowles
Soloist: Ian Bousfield
Salamander (John McCabe)
Trombone Concerto (Wilfred Heaton)
Soloist: Ian Bousfield
Edwin (Andy Scott) (world premiere)
Threnody (for Fred Mortimer) (Henry Geehl)
A Severn Suite (Edward Elgar)

Tickets: £17; £14

Saturday 26th January:
10.30am - 11.30am
RNCM Concert Hall
RNCM Brass Band

Conductors: James Gourlay, Dr David Thornton, Melvin Tay
Soloist: Seth Livingstone
Circius - Wind of the North (Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen)
Euphonium Concerto (Philip Wilby)
Soloist: Seth Livingstone
Northern Lights (John McCabe)
New work (TBA) (world première) (Jonathan Bates)

Tickets: £10

12.00pm - 12.40pm
Carole Nash Recital Room 
Wilfred Heaton: A Composer before his time

An illustrated talk with RNCM Brass Band Festival Artistic Director Paul Hindmarsh

Free admission, no ticket required. Please note seating in this venue is limited.

2.00pm - 3.00pm
RNCM Concert Hall 
Brighouse & Rastrick

Conductor: Dr David Thornton
Soloist: Felix Geroldinger
Greetings to a City (Arthur Bliss)
Three Figures (Herbert Howells)
Baritone Concerto (Martin Ellerby)
Soloist: Felix Geroldinger
Cloudcatcher Fells (John McCabe)

Tickets: £17; £14

3.30pm - 4.10pm
RNCM Theatre
Recital with David Childs

Accompanist: Chris Williams (piano)
Tickets: £10

4.30pm - 5.30pm
RNCM Concert Hall
The International Staff Band of the Salvation Army

Conductor: Dr Stephen Cobb
Featuring: Wilfred Heaton’s ‘Toccata - O the Blessed Lord’, ‘Just As I Am’, ‘Celestial Prospect’, ‘My Master’s Will’, ‘Victory for Me’ and ‘Praise’.

Tickets: £17; £14

6.15pm - 6.50pm
RNCM Theatre 
Junior RNCM Brass Band

Conductors: Jon Malaxetxebarria, Les Neish
Barnum & Bailey’s Favourite (Karl King arr. Roberts) 
Eyes of a Child (Svante Henryson arr. Larsen) 
Dimensions (Peter Graham)
A Quiet Moment (Philip Sparke)
Samba del Gringo (Gordon Goodwin)

Free admission, no ticket required

7.30pm - 9.30pm
RNCM Concert Hall 
Black Dyke and the International Staff Band of the Salvation Army

Conductors: Prof Nicholas Childs, Dr Stephen Cobb
Soloist: Brett Baker

Black Dyke Band will perform some of the scores that have surfaced since Wilfred Heaton’s death; including ‘Le Tricot Rouge’, ‘Meditation on Aberystwyth’, ‘Scherzo, A Pilgrim’s Song’, ‘Sweet Hour of Prayer’ as well as ‘Contest Music’.

The concert will conclude with a joint performance of Wilfred Heaton’s ‘Glory! Glory!’ and ‘My Treasure’.

Tickets: £17; £14

Sunday 27th January:
10.30am - 11.10am
RNCM Theatre 
Foden’s Youth Band

Conductor: Michael Fowles
The Children’s Friend (Wilfred Heaton)
Repton Fantasy (Jonathan Bates)

Free admission, no ticket required

11.30am - 12.15pm
RNCM Concert Hall
The 2019 John Golland Award
Fairey Band

Conductor: Garry Cutt
The final of the 2019 John Golland Award featuring new brass music by young composers, as well as two John Golland rarities; a march and ‘Bellna’, a suite for brass band.

Tickets: £5

1.30pm - 2.10pm
RNCM Theatre
Recital with Ian Bousfield

Accompanist: Philip Sharp
Tickets: £10

2.30pm - 3.30pm
RNCM Concert Hall 
Tredegar Town Band
Conductor: Ian Porthouse

Soloist: David Childs
Jebel (James MacMillan)
Rhapsodic Variations: My Strength, My Tower (Dean Goffin)
Euphonium Concerto (UK première) (Edward Gregson)
Soloist: David Childs
Ragtimes and Habaneras (Hans Werner Henze)

Tickets: £17; £14

4.15pm – 5.00pm
Carole Nash Recital Room 
Young Artist Spotlight

The festival welcomes prize-winners from the 2018 European Soloists Competition, the Swiss bass trombonist Lionel Fumeaux and Dutch tuba player Luc Geraats, who will be accompanied by RNCM Junior Fellow Carlos Sanchis Aguirre.

Free admission, no ticket required. Please note seating in this venue is limited.

5.30pm - 6.30pm:
RNCM Concert Hall 
Cory Band

Conductor: Philip Harper
Soloist: Chris Thomas

The Beacons (Ray Steadman-Allen)
Immortal Theme for Trombone and Band
Soloist: Chris Thomas
The Gallant Weaver (James MacMillan)
Variations (Wilfred Heaton)

Tickets: £17; £14


Weekend Ticket Full: £95
Students and under-18s £47
(covers admission to all Brass Band Festival events)

Saturday Day Ticket: £53
Sunday Day Ticket: £35

Group booking discounts available through Box Office
RNCM Box Office
124 Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9RD
By phone 0161 907 5555

Online: http://www.rncm.ac.uk
(individual event tickets only)

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