Phoenix Brass Ensemble: Sunday Brass at the Boarshurst Band Club

Ensemble offers ten good reasons for a great night

Breaking from the norm a little, last night’s [Sunday 17 April] concert was brought to us by a ten-piece ensemble. The Phoenix Brass Ensemble gave a great concert at the Boarshurst Band Club, with the ten players providing a powerful and well-rounded sound.

The band with musical director Alan Widdop, have been going for 36 years, established in Littleborough. Recent changes in personnel have seen the arrival of players from the disbanded Versatile Brass. One of them took a back seat from being our front man, the flugelhorn player we shall mention later.

The linch pins of Phoenix Brass Ensemble are its two founder members, Andrew Stott and Carol Dolan. Andrew Stott also plays euphonium for Diggle Band. Carol Dolan also plays the B flat cornet for Stacksteads Band.

Their musical director, Alan Widdop, has outstanding credentials. He has spent six years as a bass trombone player for Black Dyke Mills Band and five years with Versatile Brass. The programme was influenced by his term with the latter band. Furthermore, he has toured with the Syd Lawrence and BBC Northern Dance orchestras, The Three Degrees and Dame Shirley Bassey.

When he’s not involved with the Phoenix Brass Ensemble, he is also musical director for Uppermill Band. He has proven success in leading brass bands from the Fourth to Championship sections within five years.

As well as the standard brass banding fare, Phoenix Brass Ensemble also do a good line in Bavarian-style Bierkeller evenings. With lederhosen, steins and schunkeln. Last night’s programme was pretty varied without being too heavy for the audience.

The Programme

First Half

  1. Big Band: Brassman’s Holiday (Billy May, arr. Ray Farr);
  2. Classical: Embraceable You (George Gershwin);
  3. Flugelhorn Solo (John Whittle): Just the Way You Are (Billy Joel);
  4. Cornet Feature: Twelfth Street Rag (Euday L. Bowman);
  5. Classical: Gymnopedie No. 1 (Erik Satie, arr. Graham Walker);
  6. Film Music (from Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book): I Wanna Be Like You (Robert B. Sherman/Richard M. Sherman);
  7. Big Band: Cute (Neal Hefti);
  8. March: Triumphal March (Giuseppe Verdi, arr. Michael Hopkinson);
  9. March: Georgia Boy (Derek Broadbent).

Second Half

  1. Musical (from The Sound of Music): My Favourite Things (Richard Rodgers, arr. Ray Woodfield);
  2. Musical (from Hello, Dolly!): Hello, Dolly! (Jerry Herman);
  3. Trombone Solo (Simon Fitton): Leaning on a Lamp-post (Noel Gay, from the film, Feather Your Nest);
  4. Surrealism: Frere Jacques (Traditional (French));
  5. Euphonium Solo (Andrew Stott): Varied Mood (David Moore);
  6. Medley: A Bit of Glenn Miller (various, Glenn Miller);
  7. Film Music (from Battle of Midway): Midway (John Williams).

Encore

  1. Song: Show Me the Way to Go Home (Irving King).

 

Phoenix began proceedings with the sunny Brassman’s Holiday by Billy May, arranged by Ray Farr. The original piece was written in 1958, and featured in the album Billy May’s Big Fat Brass. It is vaguely reminiscent of Leroy Anderson’s Bugler’s Holiday, written in 1954. Interestingly, Billy May’s best known work is I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat, with Mel Blanc.

Cartoon Music could have followed, but our second piece was Embraceable You by George Gershwin. The second piece ascertained how well Gershwin’s works have translated into brass band form.

Our third piece saw the appearance of a familiar face. The first soloist of the night – on flugelhorn – was Boarshurst’s very own John Whittle. He performed a brilliant solo piece of Just The Way You Are, written by Billy Joel. The song was also covered, a few octaves lower, by Barry White.

The fourth piece saw a lively yet familiar tone. A blast of Euday L. Bowman’s Twelfth Street Rag continued the big band/1930s theme. This saw the ensemble give a strong performance.

The fifth piece of this half was billed by Alan as the most technically advanced of the programme. Though simple in structure, we learned how Gymnopedie No. 1 was a tough piece for brass bands. The reason, its reliance on instruments from the soprano section, making for a technically demanding piece.

The sixth piece could have gone down well in the Maundy Thursday concert. Our first concession to Walt Disney came in the form of I Wanna Be Like You. Written by the Sherman brothers (Robert and Richard), it is – erroneously – referred to as the King of the Swingers. The piece from Disney’s version of The Jungle Book, saw some audience members singing along.

For the second time this year at Boarshurst, and their seventh piece, was Neal Hefti’s Cute. Their playing of Cute was lively and tight. On original release, Hefti’s piece appeared on the 1962 album, Jazz Pops, with other tracks including Li’l Darlin’.

For the eighth piece, Alan turned to the Versatile Brass archives for inspiration. Arranged by Michael Hopkinson from Giuseppe Verdi’s original, Triumphal March was a measured melodic piece, which took us nicely to the last one of the first half.

Our ninth piece was penned by brass banding legend Derek Broadbent. Georgia Boy neatly tied up the first half with a rousing performance.

The second half would take on a lighter air with more populist pieces. Our second half opener was My Favourite Things. Many of us may be familiar with the dulcet tones of Julie Andrews, but the dulcet tones of trombones, euphoniums and the percussionist from Stacksteads Band, were music to last night’s ears. Ray Woodfield’s arrangement of the Richard Rodgers piece was every bit as good.

The next piece, and the third one of this half, would allow for audience participation. The eponymous song from Hello, Dolly! would see the ensemble lend their vocals. Along with backing from the audience.

Our second soloist of the night, Simon Fitton, played what was for some an old favourite. Noel Gay’s Leaning on a Lamp-post, popularised by banjolele legend George Formby, went down very well with the audience. Much to the slight annoyance to our musical director, who was happy with how well they did with Erik Satie’s piece in the first half. The exasperated Mr. Widdop said:

“Let’s have Leaning on a Lamp-post as a test piece!”

Compared with Cambridge Variations, used in the heats for Championship Section bands in this year’s National Finals, Gay’s piece would have been an absolute cinch. A doddle.

Unless you were there, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Phoenix Brass Ensemble were having a laugh with their next piece. A laugh in the sense that next year’s test piece could be called Testy McTest Piece. The fourth piece in the second half was the school recorder favourite, Frere Jacques.

There was one major difference. It was played to a tempo more at home with dance music. At least 120 beats per minute or thereabouts.

Following the raffle came our third and final soloist of the evening. This time from Andrew Stott, one of two founder members of the ensemble. His euphonium solo was the David Moore composition, Varied Mood. Which, cleverly, is an anagram of David Moore. Very good it was too.

This was followed by our only medley of the night, entitled A Bit of Glenn Miller. Once again, there was scope for audience participation as we moved from Varied Mood to In The Mood in 80 seconds. The medley also included Pennsylvania 6-5000 and Chattanogga Choo-Choo (as you would expect).

For our final piece with the full ensemble, we turned to John Williams for inspiration. This time with Midway, from the 1980 film Battle of Midway. True to form, a rousing piece of his for brass bands, which converted well to the 10-piece ensemble.

The concert came to a close with Show Me the Way to Go Home, by Irving King. Throughout the encore piece, each of the ten filed out one-by-one.

All in all, another great night at the Boarshurst Band Club, with powerful performances from each of the ten players. If you hear of any of their future engagements, come along to one of their concerts. You wouldn’t regret it.

Next Week…

Next week’s Sunday Brass concert (24 April 2016) sees the arrival of Besses Boys, a world famous junior band who ply their trade in the Second Section. They were formed in 1943 as the junior section of Besses O’Th’Barn Brass Band.

Their musical director is James Holt, from Bredbury, near Stockport. His first band was the Stockport Schools Intermediate Band, before progressing to the Stockport Schools Senior Band. He will be one of the few musical directors at Boarshurst to have featured on Blue Peter. He first joined Besses Boys in 2002 as Solo Baritone player and has played for BT Band, Leyland Band, United Co-op Milnrow Band, and Besses O’Th’Barn band.

Prior to their Boarshurst soiree, Besses Boys will be doing the St. George’s Day parade in Simister. After Boarshurst, they will be going to St. James’ Park in London (Brass in the Park, 30 April 2016). On the 19 June, they will be doing Peasholm Park, Scarborough, which is noted for its summer Sunday concerts in the midst of the boating lake (don’t worry, they are ferried to the bandstand by boat).

Twitter details: @boarshurstband#SundayBrass.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

S.V., 18 April 2016.

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