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CD review: Postcards from Grimethorpe

Grimethorpe Colliery Band
Conductors: Jack Stamp, Ben Palmer
Toccata Next: CD TOCN 0030


In recent years Grimethorpe Colliery Band has rediscovered its spirit of musical exploration.

Reignited by the influences of former conductor David Thornton and Composer in Association Nigel Clarke, it has been built upon with the appointment of Liz Lane and Jack Stamp as Composers in Association – the latter’s ‘international’ epithet broadening the band’s global connections.

This absorbing release also reconnects to the ethos of Elgar Howarth over 50 years ago, which saw ground breaking links made with composers such as Hans Werner Henze and Toru Takemitsu. 

Welcome homage

This CD may not have the startling impact of the ‘Grimethorpe Special’ recording of 1976 featuring the sardonic inflections of ‘Ragtimes & Habaneras’  and crystalline juxtapositions of ‘Garden Rain’.  However, the inclusion of Birtwistle’s ‘Grimethorpe Aria’, in a wonderfully taut interpretation from conductor Ben Palmer recorded live at the 2023 RNCM International Brass Band Festival, pays welcome homage.  

The simply defined sophistication is a potent reminder of Birtwistle’s uncompromising ability to cut through the blubber of needless effect straight into the marrow of elemental music making. 

The simply defined sophistication is a potent reminder of Birtwistle’s uncompromising ability to cut through the blubber of needless effect straight into the marrow of elemental music making. 

Howarth called it a response to brass band music that “had become inbred and stale”. In Palmer’s thoughtful care, his words and Birtwistle’s music ring true today more than ever.

Premiere recordings

Welcome premiere recordings of works by David Hackbridge Johnson, Michael Halstenson, Ben Gaunt and Edward Gregson as well by the two Composers in Association are also featured.

‘Slow March on Gresford: In memoriam E.R. II’,  has a misty, elegiac pulse of muffled footsteps and sombre reflection, whilst ‘Winters Moon’  evokes the crisp chill of lunar solstice, icy and mysterious.  Robert Bernat’s ‘Dunlap’s Creek’  is a respectful arrangement of the original wind band version from 1976 that fixes a hymnal quality to its American pioneer harmonies and outlook.

It is Ben Gaunt’s ‘More Like What It Is’  that reveals a kindred Birtwistle spirit though – elegantly sly and darkly questioning.  His is an original voice that needs to be heard again.  

Liz Lane offers her carefully considered textures in ‘Serenata’  and ‘Beyond the Light’,  whilst Jack Stamp (who directs with cultured authority throughout) brings the Curnowesque American confidence of ‘Handsel Overture’  and academic developments of ‘Vociferation’.

Kindred spirit

It is Ben Gaunt’s ‘More Like What It Is’  that reveals a kindred Birtwistle spirit though – elegantly sly and darkly questioning.  His is an original voice that needs to be heard again.  

The recording is rounded off with  Edward Gregson’s title track ‘Postcard to Grimethorpe’  – a transitory reconnection spanning almost 30 years, that undergoes a metamorphosis from anger and jeopardy to majestic defiance and gentle confidence.  

It is a fitting end to a fine release that embraces Grimethorpe’s reinvigorated musical ethos.

Iwan Fox


To purchase: https://grimethorpeband.co.uk/product/postcards-from-grimethorpe/

Play list:

1. Handsel Overture (Jack Stamp)
2. Slow March on Gresford: In memoriam E.R. II (David Hackbridge Johnson)

3. Winter’s Moon (Michael Halstenson)
4. Serenata (Liz Lane)

5. Grimethorpe Aria (Harrison Birtwistle)**
6. Dunlap’s Creek (Robert Bernat)

7. More Like What It Is (Ben Gaunt)
8. Beyond the Light (Liz Lane)

9. Vociferation (Jack Stamp)
10. Postcard to Grimethorpe (Edward Gregson)

**Live recording conducted by Ben Palmer

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