Mareika and Co.’s marvellous May Day treat
Making their second visit to Boarshurst Band Club, of 2016, was Eccles Borough Band. Our fellows from Lancashire were one of five brass bands at the North West Regional Championship Preview Evening. Our May Day concert was one of the highest quality.
Behind the podium was Mareika Gray. She has taken Eccles Borough Band to the dizzy heights of the First Section, a journey that began in 2010. Born in Papua New Guinea and raised in Australia, she has played with Brisbane Excelsior, Sola, and Ransome brass bands. As well as working with Eccles Borough Band, she has also worked with Milnrow Band, with similar success. Besides her role as musical director, she is also a Conductor For Hire, for guest spots.
Her husband, Russell Gray, is also involved in the band. They hope to get their son, Angus, following in their footsteps. Under Mareika’s tutelage, Eccles Borough Band won the Second Section prize at the 2015 Butlins Mineworkers’ Championships.
It was a pacey, tightly packed enjoyable programme with a vibrant selection of pieces. Nothing too heavy yet friendly enough for the Boarshurst faithful, whilst being a meaty selection of prime brass banding goodness.
- Overture: A Tameside Overture (Philip Sparke);
- March: The Wizard (George Allan);
- Soprano Cornet Solo (performed by Bradley Allsop): Flowerdale (from the Hymn of the Highlands) (Philip Sparke);
- Popular Music: When I’m Sixty-Four (Lennon/McCartney);
- Original Piece: Sunrise Over Blue Ridge (Dan Price);
- Euphonium Solo (performed by Nick Giles and Melvin Tay): Fantastic Fast Finger Fandango (Dan Price);
- Flugelhorn Solo (performed by Liv Appleton): Beneath the Willow She Went For Me (Philip Sparke);
- Jazz Music: Birdland (Zawinul arr. Philip Sparke).
- Big Band: Valero (arr. Sandy Smith);
- Horn Solo (performed by Sammy Latus): A Time for Peace (Peter Graham);
- Hymn: ‘Mid All The Traffic of the Ways (Colonel Leonard Ballantine);
- Popular Music: Honey Pie (Lennon/McCartney);
- Popular Music: Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma);
- Medley: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein, arr. Ralph Pearce):
- Jazz Music: Spain (Chick Corea, arr. Raed Gilliar).
- March: The Waltonian (J.J. Richards, arr. Thomas Wyss).
We began proceedings with the first of four Philip Sparke pieces. This time with A Tameside Overture. Given his role with the Tameside MBC Educational Department at the time, he was commissioned to write an overture which best reflected the borough’s diverse terrain. Throughout its eight minutes, it is a piece that has echoes of its industrial and moorland setting.
Afterwards, Mareika added that Eccles Borough would be doing the Whit Walks in the Tameside area. This was met with some polite pantomime style booing, with the band choosing Tameside over Saddleworth. Last week’s band, Besses Boys, too are doing Tameside’s Whit Walks on the 15 May (Whit Sunday).
This neatly took us to their contest march, The Wizard by George Allan. This well loved piece was successful for Marsden Silver and Hepworth Silver in the last decade, at hymn and march contests in Marsden, Morley and Brighouse. It was note perfect, and every bit as good as any Championship section band’s mastery of the piece.
The first soloist of the night was Bradley Allsop, on soprano cornet. His piece – another arranged by Philip Sparke – took us from Tulip Sunday at Stamford Park to a waterfall in the Scottish Highlands. Flowerdale, from The Hymn of the Highlands, is a forest and sheltered glen in the Wester Ross area (not to be confused with Westeros – that is in Game of Thrones, by the way). The glen itself is in the village of Gairloch, with The Old Inn on its banks (if you love your real ales and pubs with character, it is well worth seeking out).
After a fantastic soprano solo, came our first brush with Lennon and McCartney. This time, Mareika asked the Boarshurst audience if they knew the piece, with the clue that “some of them may be old enough to know”. Which obviously ruled out Fernie’s arrangement of Ticket To Ride. Without a doubt, it was When I’m Sixty-Four, with some good work from the bass and tuba sections near the close of the piece.
For our fifth piece came Sunrise Over Blue Ridge, a piece inspired by America, which was first played by Cory Band in 2008. For our musical director, it was evocative of Australia’s worst bush fires in 2009. Yours truly had the joy of listening to this piece in a recent concert at Eccles Town Hall. It was just as good as the first time I had heard it at their Bold As Brass concert on the 21 November 2015.
The sixth piece took a different tone, with the (easy for you to say) Fantastic Fast Finger Fandango. This was a euphonium duo with Nick Giles and Melvin Tay providing the music. It was originally written for the Childs Brothers, brass banding legends who cut their teeth with the Boarshurst Silver Band. Nick Giles was erroneously referred to as Nick Childs – Professor Nicholas Childs, musical director for Black Dyke Band.
Our second soloist played the third Philip Sparke piece, entitled Beneath the Willow She Went For Me. A serene piece which offered a real contrast to the next one – the jazz-influenced Birdland. Also arranged by Philip Sparke, its catchiness would have felt just at home as television theme music.
The same could have been said of the first piece of the second half, Valero. This was a lively big band number arranged by Sandy Smith. From Sandy to Sammy – our final soloist of the night – came Sammy Latus’ beautiful performance of Peter Graham’s A Time for Peace.
With a little help from our percussion friends, Mareika had no regrets about choosing Honey Pie, our second Beatles piece of the night. Having enjoyed the piece before, this arrangement gave the band’s percussion section free reign of the whistles and the drums. To good effect.
No self-respecting brass band concert is complete without a hymn. This time, Colonel Leonard Ballantine’s ‘Mid All The Traffic of the Ways (performed by Blackley Band at the demonstration evening in February). According to Salvation Army Songbook, it can be played to the same tune as Lloyd or Colne.
From the travails of the M602 at rush hour to a walk through Buile Hill Park in October, the last piece before the raffle was Autumn Leaves. The popular piece was famously sung by Nat King Cole, Eric Clapton, and Eva Cassidy. Written in 1945 by Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma, it is a French song, whose literal translation is The Dead Leaves.
Our first and only medley came in the form of Symphonic Dances of West Side Story. Mareika said on receiving the original manuscript, she fell in love with Ralph Pearce’s arrangement and received a full set of pieces following her review. In the medley was Cha-Cha, America, and Somewhere.
The final – non-encore piece – was Chick Corea’s Spain. Of the jazz-fused piece, there was a cheeky little snatch of Concerto D’Aranjuez at the start. It was a lively piece which tested the band very well and brought the show to a joyous climax.
For the final final piece, we finished with a march. This time, The Waltonian, arranged by Thomas Wyss. A most rousing march, it ended the concert on a high note with the near two-hour set the fastest two hours known to man. It was pacey, dynamic, and fast-moving, so much so you was sorry to see it finish. That a true testament to a well-rounded concert programme compiled by Mareika Gray herself, and the associate conductor, Dave Hamilton.
As with hundreds of other bands participating in The Greatest Free Show on Earth, Whit Friday is next on their agenda. Eccles Borough Band have historically participated in the Tameside area Whit Friday contests, from Denton to Upper Mossley, and Stalybridge. Which influenced the choice of opening piece.
On the 8th May, Austonley Brass will be next up at the BBC. They are a ten-piece ensemble with four on trumpets (Neale Hobson, Dave Moore, Jim Bulger, Andrew Holmes), four on trombones (Chris Gomersall, Ryan Watkins, James Garlick, Gareth Beckwith), Phil Garlick on horns, and David Clegg on tuba.
It goes without saying that James Garlick is a familiar face in these parts. Besides being the Austonley Brass Secretary, he is also the conductor of Boarshurst Silver Band. It is likely to be a good night, with the cream of brass banding within its tentet.
- 180: Greenfield [Clarence Hotel] – Lees – Oldham – Hollinwood – Manchester [Oldham Street];
- 350: Ashton-under-Lyne – Mossley – Greenfield – Uppermill – Dobcross – Delph – Waterhead – Oldham.
Alight at Greenfield Conservative Club. Both services operated by First Greater Manchester.
Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.
S.V., 02 May 2016.