2004 National Finals - Gala Concert


The National Championships Gala Concert
Black Dyke Band, Dr Nicholas J Childs
The Band of HM Royal Marines, Lt Col Chris Davis
The Royal Albert Hall
Saturday 16th October 2004

 After a day of competition, Black Dyke and The Band of HM Royal Marines took centre stage to give a concert that had plenty of entertainment, a very high standard of playing and provided the purists with some real musical culture. This was the first time that a wind band had had involvement in a Gala Concert after the National finals, and the combination with the newly crowned Champions worked, as it has done previously in May at Gramercy Music's tenth anniversary concert.

What was missing though was the audience that this concert deserved.  The RAH seats around five and a half thousand, but the hall was less than half full.  Tickets ranged from 5 to 25 (plus another 3 for the programme) but sadly banding folk voted with their feet as the cost of purchasing tickets twice in one day wasn't on the agenda for many. The pull of the Royal Marines in the capital should be appealing, but with so much to do in London on a Saturday, you wonder whether there really is still a market for such an event outside the confines of the traditional brass band sphere. 

The hall is booked for the day, and the objective is to have as many people in as possible, but potential audiences are now a fickle lot and the marketing trick is certainly to give them something that can persuade them to attend both - and pay twice.   Why not have an all day ticket (as Philip Biggs does for Great Northern Brass Arts Festival and the Friday Festival that precedes the Nationals) or two tickets for the Gala Concert, for the price of one?  Kapitol Promotions have worked hard this year to make the event come off - it was a slick and professional operation, but the average punter is till put off by not feeling he is getting a "good deal" when it comes to putting his hand in his pocket a second time to sit in the same venue the same day. 

Mnozil Brass who delighted everybody before the results were announced gave the pre-concert entertainment, and in hindsight, it might have been better if this had been in a different area than the foyer of the building.  The artiste's were performing where they were asked too, but people not inside had a problem gaining entrance as those that were in the bars, or stairways were riveted by what was on offer and no one was moving.  This didn't go down to well with the stewards (who were only doing their job) but was it the most practical place for them to perform?  The stage was already set, but it perhaps might have been preferable to give Mnozil that floor once more, and as a result get people into their seats early as possible - they were a real treat.

The concert itself was split into three slots: individual performances by both bands, before combining in the second half for massed items (which will be forever memorable for the performance of the new Gregson work, 'Age of Kings') and the performance of Band Sergeant, Dave Prentice, on drums, of which more, later. 

It was the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines  that got the proceedings under way, accompanied by the trumpeters at the top of the stage and the sound of Professor Peter Graham's 'Summon The Dragon' made a dramatic impact in the hall itself.  The band is used to the Albert Hall, and the balance between band and trumpeters was such at the beginning that it wasn't overpowering.

Next up, a performance of 'Masque' by Kenneth Hesketh.  The brass band arrangement first appeared on the CD 'Hymn of the Highlands' by Yorkshire Building Society, but the original commission came from the Merseyside Youth Orchestra in 1987, before the first performance of a transcription for symphonic wind band was given in 2001.  Masque is another of those exciting works where the tempo of the piece never wavers and the harmonies and rhythms are prominent throughout.  This was the first time I have heard this version, but it certainly doesn't lose any of the impact that is evident in the brass band arrangement.

The featured soloist in this segment of the concert was Black Dyke's Roger Webster. In a 'Harry James Tribute', the audience were given a real change of mood and whisked away to that desert island in 'By The Sleepy Lagoon' (the theme tune for BBC Radio Four's Desert Island Discs) before a change in style with 'Ciribiribin'.  Even though Roger was accompanied by The Marines (and not Dyke) the level and quality of performance didn't alter from that associated with the great man.

Music from 'The Mummy Returns', was featured before the band brought their individual spot to a close with music that is typically associated with The Marines - 'Belle Isle'.  During this, the band is in full flow, and is joined by the Corps of Drums with bugles in hand, in what is in fact a 'Bugle March', taking its title from the Battle of Belle Isle dating back to 1761.  Whilst the March idiom is never lost, the musical theme is passed around the band before concluding with the magnificent sight (and sound) of band and drummers going at full throttle.

Whilst the band left the stage and Black Dyke took their seats, the audience were given a virtuoso display in the art of 'drumming' by the Corps of Drums from Her Majesty's Royal Marines, and entertaining stuff it was too.

The newly-crowned National Champions, opened it's programme with a tribute to 'Music from the Movies', smoothly introduced by Dr Nicholas Childs in the manner of a Radio 4 continuity presenter.  Dr Childs spoke as any father does about what it is like to go with the family to the pictures; the rush to get into the seats, the things you might miss, with Black Dyke performing those musical themes that are so familiar before any film begins (Pearl and Dean and 20th Century Fox - as cheesy as a mouthful of Chedder, but a great reminder of when the Saturday Morning Pictures were the highlight of any kids week), before they launched into the 'Main Theme' from 'Mission Impossible', 'Soul Bossanova' (Austin Powers) and the trombones taking centre stage with 'I Will Follow Him' from the film Sister Act.

Buoyed by the win, the band was in good form, but it certainly didn't mean that they would relax more than they should and take the foot of the gas.  This concert was as one of the premier engagements of the year (regardless of the result) for the band, and any thoughts of celebrating would be forgotten for a little while longer yet.

David Thornton then stepped forward to give a fine rendition of the classic, 'Auld Land Syne' arranged by Composer-in-Residence, Peter Meechan, before the World premiere of 'An Age of Kings'.

National Finals day saw the release by Black Dyke of another Professor Gregson CD, entitled 'The Trumpets of the Angels'.  Along with the title track is the Symphonic Rhapsody for Euphonium and Band, Concerto for Tuba and Band, and this new work performed in the presence of the composer. 

This new/revised piece by Professor Edward Gregson is unusual in many ways, but once you are aware of the titles of the three sections, it pays to just sit back and listen to music that is very atmospheric.

The fact that contained in the score are off-stage trumpets (Roger Webster and Jamie Prophet), grand piano (Philip Wilby), mezzo soprano (Meera Bell Thomson), and harp (Louise Thomson) plus an optional male chorus (not in this performance) makes it acceptable Radio 3 listening (but not perhaps Radio 2's Listen to the Band), so we will look forward to Paul Hindmarsh's programme in a few weeks time.   The band instrumentation with the odd extra player in the horns (Alan Edmonds from Besson Instruments no less!) and four trombones is as we know it, and the piece is slightly over 20 minutes long.

The work was commissioned in 1988 by the Royal Shakespeare Company for use in "The Plantagenets" trilogy - music portraying a turbulent period of the British monarchy. It was scored for wind band in its original form of two symphonic suites. However, Gregson re-scored the works for augmented brass band especially for this performance, and "An Age of Kings" is the result. It also commemorates Professor Gregson attaining the age of sixty in 2005. Congratulations, Professor!

The music is in three sections; 'Church and State', 'At the Welsh Court', and 'Battle Music and Hymn of Thanksgiving'. It's a busy piece, with the first section displaying all the complex musical images of war and death. The middle section has peaceful moments, with female voice and harp; however, the sound of conflict is never far away, but a more placid mood brings this section to a close with the plaintive sound of Lesley Howie's off-stage tenor horn. The final section is an all-action event, with multi-percussion depicting war again, but which is subdued by the triumphal 'Hymn of Thanksgiving' which finally rises over all, bringing an air of celebration and musical conclusion as a result of Henry IV's defeat of the rebellious forces of evil. (usually the French)

It was a very interesting musical experience, with some fantastic playing and with Dyke on top form with the help of augmenting artistes it certainly broadened the musical taste of your 'average' band anorak. It received a magnificent ovation on the night.  On the evidence of this performance, and if serious band music appeals to you, Black Dyke's latest release is a must buy investment.

After the interval, the bands combined to perform four items.  Firstly, 'Deep Space Nine' - the American version of Star Trek, followed by Black Dyke accompanying bass player, Joseph Cook in Monti's 'Czardas', before both bands joined forces again in 'Windows of the World'

This was something else; a very powerful 'Amazonia' was followed by some beautiful horn playing by Lesley Howie.  'Drums of Thunder' heralded the reappearance from the top of the stage of the Corps of Drums and the euphoniums excelled in 'Celtic Dreams'.

The final section 'Earth Walk' was memorable for the fantastic drumming display right at the end of the section by Band Sergeant, Dave Prentice (from the Royal Marine Band in Dartmouth).  It was a real 'jamming' session.  On more than one occasion, Dr Childs, was more than happy to bring everybody in to finish the piece off in fine style, but Band Sergeant Prentice was having none of it!; he kept going and going and going, (receiving musical appreciation from the MD on more than one occasion) in a remarkable display that took the roof off at the end.

The day finished the way it had started. The National Championship trophy on stage and music with Irish influences in Peter Graham's 'Gaelforce'.  'The Rocky Road to Dublin', 'Minstrel Boy' (featuring some great ensemble playing off-stage by Dyke players) and 'Tossing the Feathers'

Great concert, great playing. The audience wanted more but one (pre-planned) encore was sufficient.  Highlights of the concert will be featured as usual on BBC's Listen to the Band on Friday 22/29 October and a CD release will be available in the not too distant future.

Malcolm Wood