City of Chester Band: Sunday Brass at the Boarshurst Band Club

Excellent first concert for Ewan Easton M.B.E.

The word nostalgia is derived from two Greek words. That of nóstos which translates as “homecoming”, and álgos (which translates as “pain” or “ache”). Following a stunning set of results for our hosts [Boarshurst Silver Band], it was almost a post-Whit Friday homecoming. As usual, for most Sundays, the spotlight turned to another superb band. This time, the City of Chester Band.

The musical director, Ewan Easton M.B.E., has an incredible C.V with the Hallé Orchestra among his previous engagements. He is a recent arrival to the City of Chester Brass Band, having joined three months ago. Sunday night marked his first concert as Musical Director for the City of Chester Brass Band. The Boarshurst faithful were treated to a wonderful night with the Section Two band.

Under Ewan’s tutelage, City of Chester Brass Band will be a formidable force. Even more so, given the presence of its Training Band as well, ensuring a steady flow of talent to the Main Band. Today’s concert, using Nostalgia as the night’s theme, was living proof.

The Programme

First Half

  1. March: Calling All Workers (Eric Coates);
  2. Classical Piece: First Suite in E Flat, Movement 1: Chaconne (Gustav Holst);
  3. Song: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (Eric Maschwitz/Manning Sherwin);
  4. Signature Tune: Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler? (theme from Dad’s Army) (Derek Taverner/Jimmy Perry, arr. Chris Hardy);
  5. Big Band: Moonlight Serenade (Glenn Miller);
  6. Test Piece: Main Street (Eric Ball);
  7. Light Concert Music: Mr Jums (from the suite Three Brass Cats) (Chris Hazell).

Second Half

  1. Classical Piece: Rondo (from the Abdelazar Suite) (Henry Purcell);
  2. Classical Piece: First Suite in E Flat, Movement 2: Intermezzo (Gustav Holst);
  3. Signature Tune: Theme from The Last of the Summer Wine (Ronnie Hazlehurst);
  4. Classical Piece: The Girl With The Flaxen Hair (Claude Debussy);
  5. Tuba Solo (performed by Matthew Birkett): The Bare Necessities from The Jungle Book (Terry Gilkyson);
  6. March: Hootenanny (Harold L. Walters):
  7. Classical Piece: First Suite in E Flat, Movement 3: March (Gustav Holst);
  8. Big Band: Valero (arr. Sandy Smith).

Eric Coates’ Calling All Workers got proceedings off to a great start. For audience members of a certain age, it is best remembered as a theme for the BBC Light Programme’s, Music While You Work slot. What inspired Mr. Coates at the time was a challenge to compose a rousing tune for production workers. He succeeded with his opening theme, and Music While You Work – originally devised to raise the morale of factory workers in the Second World War – ran till 1967. The formation of BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2 put paid to its 27-year run.

For our second piece was First Suite in E Flat by Gustav Holst. As opposed to playing all three movements at once, we would hear each movement in separate parts. We heard the first movement, Chaconne, which we found was the quietest part of the three movements. A tight piece well played.

We travelled from Cheltenham (Holst’s birthplace) to London for our third piece, taking a lighter tone. This time, the Eric Maschwitz song, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. A popular song written in 1939, it has been covered by Vera Lynn and Frank Sinatra. As we heard on Sunday, its transfer to brass band worked very well.

With 1939 meaning the start of the Second World War, we turned to one of Britain’s finest sitcoms for inspiration. This time, the Jimmy Perry and David Croft situation comedy, Dad’s Army. Elaborating and enhancing the original piece (by Jimmy Perry and Derek Taverner) for brass bands was another version by Chris Hardy. The pastiche of Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr. Hitler? was arranged by the Training Band’s conductor and trombonist. It worked very well, though one couldn’t help trying to sing along.

With a more inter-war theme, was the big band sound of Glenn Miller. Big Band music and brass bands blend in as well as butter on hot toast. Moonlight Serenade was a case in point, with echoes of Art Deco opulence radiating from the band. It would have been just at home by the Empire State Building or the (long demolished) New Brighton Open Air Swimming Pool in the sunset.

In Ewan’s time machine, we set the clock towards 1961. Not only, as he said, the year he was born, but also the age of the band’s sixth piece. Yours truly was thinking of T.J Powell’s march The Spaceman with 1961 being Yuri Gagarin’s year. Not so. 1961 was the year when Eric Ball’s test piece, Main Street was composed. On publication, it was a test piece for top section bands. The multifaceted yet circular nature of the piece was inspired by Eric Ball’s Salvationist leanings, with one movement being a return trip to a church.

Closing the first half was Mr. Jums, a lighter piece from the suite entitled Three Brass Cats. Usually played by brass ensembles, It was a fun piece, offering the band a break from the more complex previous one. Written by Chris Hazell, it is inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (whence the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical Cats came from).

With most of the audience suitably refreshed, the second half began with Henry Purcell’s Rondo from Abdelazar Suite. This marked a rousing start for the second half. A restrained yet bombastic piece. Drinkers of a certain age would remember hearing Purcell’s piece in a TV advertisement for Whitbread Trophy Bitter.

Sticking to the subject of beer advertisements, there was a three-part Carling Black Label advert from the mid-1980s which weaved its way through a typical two-minute ad break. In a similar way (within a two hour concert), this was true of Holst’s First Suite in E Flat which we returned to. This time, the second piece of the second half was the second movement, the intermezzo. This used the same set of notes as the first movement, though to a faster tempo.

This took us neatly to the raffle and our second television theme of the night. This time, we moved from Cheltenham to Dukinfield – the home town of Ronnie Hazlehurst. Our third piece is one of Mr. Hazlehurst’s best known compositions, the theme from The Last of the Summer Wine.

The fourth piece of the second half is a popular one with brass bands, yet it was originally composed for piano. Claude Debussy’s The Girl With the Flaxen Hair, is a delightful piece. City of Chester Brass Band reminded me of how well it worked for brass bands. The first time I remember hearing the brass band version was on an EMI/Music For Pleasure cassette of Desford Colliery Dowty Band.

For the fifth piece was our first and only soloist of the night. This time, on tuba, Matthew Birkett entertained the audience with The Bare Necessities. Tuba and late-1960s Walt Disney themes: a match made in heaven, and Matthew’s delivery was about as smooth as a patent leather shoe or a mug of drinking chocolate.

Taking us back to a golden oldie concert favourite was Harold L. Walters’ Hootenanny. A rousing piece, its teasing introduction gets the audience thinking “this doesn’t sound hootenanny-ish”. Halfway through the piece, a change of pitch and tempo, more befitting of a party atmosphere.

Sticking with a similarly fast tempo – and using the same set of notes as the first two movements, we came to the final movement of Gustav Holst’s First Suite in E Flat. The March. What a great conclusion to Holst’s piece. (Music teachers said he couldn’t write a composition for toffee; then came The Planets Suite and the rest, as they say…)

Fourteen pieces later, City of Chester Brass Band concluded their programme with the upbeat Valero, arranged by Sandy Smith. A fantastic piece to close any concert with, encore or otherwise.

Throughout the concert, City of Chester Brass Band had excellent volume. The programme was well rounded and accessible without any need to dumb down. Its balance between technically-sounding pieces and popular pieces was just right. Breaking the First Suite in E Flat to each of the three movements, as separate freestanding pieces, was a boon for audience members who may have been unfamiliar with separate movements. Main Street, was a beautiful, immersive piece.

For Ewan Easton M.B.E., a brilliant first concert for him as Musical Director with the City of Chester Brass Band, and at the Boarshurst Band Club. His delivery as Master of Ceremonies was punctuated by humorous anecdotes and jokes which added to the concert. We shall be hearing more from him, and the band in future months, possibly in 2017 in another concert at Boarshurst Band Club.

Next at the Boarshurst Band Club

With the next Sunday following Spring Bank Holiday, there’s no concert on the 29 May 2016 (so our fellows at Boarshurst Band Club will be given a well deserved rest). Instead, the next concert will be on the 05 June 2016. Taking their positions in front of the hundred or so regulars will be Denton Brass Band.

The fourth section band were seen on the Whit Walks at Tameside and Saddleworth and like the City of Chester Brass Band, they also have a training band. Their rehearsals take place in The Oasis on Mancunian Road, Haughton Green, on Mondays and Thursdays between 8.00pm and 10.00pm (Stagecoach Manchester buses 204 and 347 call nearby). The training band rehearse at the St. John’s Ambulance building on Taylor Lane between 7.00pm and 8.15pm (MCT Travel’s 345 service stops nearby; Stagecoach Manchester 201 and 204 services from Manchester Road, a short walk away).

Denton Brass have been going for 156 years, firstly as the Denton Original Band. They were formed by Thomas Baxendale as the brass band for his works. For a time, they were among the leading brass bands in the south eastern part of Lancashire. In 1993, a fire in the band room led to the original band folding. Immediately taking their place was sister band, Denton ‘B’ Band. They were renamed as Crown Point Brass, before changing their name to Denton Brass in 1999.

Buses:

  • 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.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

S.V., 23 May 2016.

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