LP review: Golden Melodies

The National Brass Band
Conductor: Geoffrey Brand
Soloists: Jim Shepherd, Gordon Higginbottom, Derek Southcott, Ray Farr, Brian Evans
K-tel Records: ONE 1075

The brass band movement has always been prone to a curious form of identity theft. 

Although something of a 21st century con-trick, we’ve all too often been duped by the purveyors of musical stereotype when it comes to the promise of high profile reinvention. 

Unfortunately we only have ourselves to blame in becoming confederates in reinforcing an outdated image of a reality that never really existed.

For all the commercial success it can occasionally bring (think of ‘Brassed Off!’) we invariably end up paying a much higher price. There is rarely a shiny new passport photo for us to flash to the wider world.

We are always left looking like the portrait of Dorian Gray.

Warning from history

It’s a problem we will face when the Coronavirus pandemic ends and we look to make a mark on a musical landscape itself changed in outlook and understanding. 

Do we create a new musical image that embraces the modern and relevant, or do we simply re-emerge hoping the public still has a yearning for a sepia-tinted fantasy heritage of yesteryear?

If it’s the latter then ‘Golden Memories’ by the National Brass Band should act as a warning from history. 

In the 1970’s K-tel was the undisputed champion of music compilation albums – from ’24 Great Truck Drivin’ Songs’  to ‘Disco Fire’  and even James Last’s ‘Super Party Pac’. They were cheap, garish and sold by the bucketful.

In the 1970’s K-tel was the undisputed champion of music compilation albums – from ’24 Great Truck Drivin’ Songs’ to ‘Disco Fire’ and even James Last’s ‘Super Party Pac’. They were cheap, garish and sold by the bucketful.

Climax Blues Band

Always on the lookout for a niche to exploit, in 1980 they came up with ‘Golden Melodies’ played by The National Brass Band. 

Much like a 1977 release that saw Cliff Richard and Kiss alongside the likes of the wonderfully named Climax Blues Band and Stankey Brown Group, they came up with the idea to handpick ‘stars’ and get them to play a mix of pop ‘hits’ and easy listening standards. 

And so Jim Shepherd, Brian Evans, Gordon Higginbottom, Ray Farr, John Clough, Derek Southcott (misspelt Southcote), Derek Jackson (misspelt Kackson) and friends were brought together under the baton of Geoffrey Brand to record 16 tracks at Dobcross Band Club.

Greatest array of talent

According to the K-tel the “star-studded group” comprised “selected players from the top British Brass Bands – Black Dyke Mills, Brighouse & Rastrick, Grimethorpe Colliery and Besses o’th’ Barn”.

They were the “greatest array of talented players ever assembled in one brass band”.

As marketing claims go, it was just a little misleading (there were a few ringers in the ranks), but nothing too serious. 

And whilst churning out neatly arranged tracks (many by Geoffrey and Michael Brand) such as ‘Take a Chance on Me’ and ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ mixed in with ‘Morning’ from ‘Peer Gynt’ and ‘Intermezzo’ from ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ wasn’t a musical identity crime, another rendition of the ‘Floral Dance’ and ‘Scotch on the Rocks’ come close to being worthy of a custodial sentence.

Perhaps at the time they were (the Virtuosi Band of Great Britain released its last album in 1977) - and the solo playing in particular is very good, despite a recording ambiance that sounds just like - well, Dobcross Band Club.  

And whilst churning out neatly arranged tracks (many by Geoffrey and Michael Brand) such as ‘Take a Chance on Me’  and ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’  mixed in with ‘Morning’  from ‘Peer Gynt’  and ‘Intermezzo’  from ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’  wasn’t a musical identity crime, another rendition of the ‘Floral Dance’  and ‘Scotch on the Rocks’  came close to being worthy of a custodial sentence.

Bread boy

That was left to the marketing execs to worry about, as it was they who sold it all as Northern working class music making bathed in a warm sunset glow of heritage, reinforced by an album cover featuring the famous ‘Hovis’ street in Dorset and a cul-de-sac of terraced houses on the back.

All that was missing was the bread boy on a bike and the dark satanic mills. 

By all accounts it still made K-tel a healthy profit, although the ‘trick’ was never played a second time.
That perhaps tells it own story. Will we ever learn though? 

Iwan Fox

Play list:

Side 1:
1. Take a Chance on Me 
2. Cavatina
3. Sailing
4. Air from the Suite in D
5. Bridge Over Troubled Waters
6. Largo from New World Symphony
Soloist: Gordon Higginbottom
7. Scotch on the Rocks
8. Amazing Grace

Side 2:
1. Floral Dance
2. Bright Eyes
Soloist: Jim Shepherd
3. Feelings 
Soloist: Derek Southcott
4. Clog Dance
5. Morning Mood from Peer Gynt
6. Don’t Cry Out Loud
Soloist: Ray Farr
7. Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana 
Soloist: Brian Evans
8. Don’t Cry For Me Argentina

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