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LP review: Spectrum

The Rise to Fame of the Stanshawe (Bristol) Band
Conductor: Walter Hargreaves
SAYDISC Recordings: SDLB 262



The singular pursuit of fame is ultimately sown with the seeds of self destruction. 

The obituary columns of top class banding history attest to that; filled as they are with the long forgotten names of those flawed by a corrosive obsession built on the quicksands of contesting success.

Fame can be bestowed but never bought.

Compelling

That is what makes the story of the Stanshawe (Bristol) Band such a compelling one.

Formed in 1968 with the intention of “achieving the best standards of banding in all its aspects”, by the time they recorded this LP in November 1974, they were already some way towards that; the 1972 Grand Shield and Edinburgh Festival, 1973 Wills Championship and 1974 West of England and Granada Band of the Year titles already to their name.  

In the months prior to the recording at Bristol University they had come runner-up at the British Open and gained a top 10 finish on their Albert Hall debut.

Self confident

There was an obvious self-confident swagger about the band from Eastville - especially under the baton of Walter Hargreaves who in 1971 was engaged to distil ambition into heady aspiration.

With strong financial support standards were set to emulate the finest rivals – the ‘Wee Professor’ employing his renowned powers of musical alchemy and mercurial psychology to turn raw base metal into gold.  

With strong financial support standards were set to emulate the finest rivals – the ‘Wee Professor’ employing his renowned powers of musical alchemy and mercurial psychology to turn raw base metal into gold.  

This LP summed them up perfectly; produced at a time when the majority of brass band LPs were of the ‘easy listening’ genre.  

It is a very singular statement of intent; a deliberate, almost provocative clarion call to be heard in the northern powerhouses of Queensbury and Brighouse, Fairey (where Hargreaves was to move next), Imps and Grimethorpe.  These were the dominant forces of the day and Stanshawe was determined to emulate them.

Rise to fame

The music acts like the stations of the cross on the ‘rise to fame’; ‘Suite Gothique’  winning the 1971 West of England Second Section title (their first success); ‘Academic Festival Overture’  securing the Grand Shield the following year; ‘Variations on a Ninth’  claiming the West of England top section in 1974. 

Oddly, ‘Spectrum’  didn’t served them as well (although they did win a local contest on it) – coming runner-up at the Edinburgh Festival and a couple of years later seeing them fail to qualify for the Albert Hall when in pursuit of a hat-trick of Area wins.

In 1974 Hargreaves was 67 and in his mature pomp; commanding a brazen vibrancy and stylish artistry from his players; sometimes over eager and over reaching, but never dull or uninteresting. 

It wasn’t quite as yet the 24 carat polished purity to match Black Dyke and Peter Parkes, but it was always, always thrilling. 

In 1974 Hargreaves was 67 and in his mature pomp; commanding a brazen vibrancy and stylish artistry from his players; sometimes over eager and over reaching, but never dull or uninteresting.  

That ambitious drive and endeavour is heard on each of the four tracks – still flecked with artisan impurities and occasional feral impulses, yet deeply imbued with such stylish intent; ‘Spectrum’  dipped in Day-Glo felt-tip pen colours; ‘Academic Festival’  measured and studied before releasing its pent up energy; ‘Suite Gothique’  full of character, sonority and Gallic flair. 

Glorious amalgam

However, it is ‘Variations on a Ninth’  that sets the pulse racing; a glorious amalgam of individual gems and ensemble precious metals - a musical portmanteau of wit and serious contradictions.  

However, it is ‘Variations on a Ninth’ that sets the pulse racing; a glorious amalgam of individual gems and ensemble precious metals - a musical portmanteau of wit and serious contradictions.  

There were greater glories to come for Stanshawe - the ultimate Pyrrhic victory secured in 1990 when the then Sun Life Band (they changed their name in 1978 after gaining financial support from the major insurance company based in the city), won the British Open. 

However, the goal achieved, the seeds of decline started to take root.  With no significant financial support to fall back on in later years by 1997 they were gone.  

This LP though is a wonderful reminder that despite their demise, their obsessive pursuit of lasting fame was ultimately successful.

Iwan Fox


A CD of ‘Spectrum – The Rise to Fame of the Stanshawe (Bristol) Band’ can now be purchased from: https://www.wyastone.co.uk/spectrum.html

Play list:

Side 1:
1. Spectrum (Gilbert Vinter)
2. Variations on a Ninth (Gilbert Vinter)

Side 2:
1. Academic Festival Overture (Brahms arr. Denis Wright)
2. Suite Gothique Op.25 (Leon Boellmann arr. Eric Ball)

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