Besses O’Th’ Barn Band: Sunday Brass at the Boarshurst Band Club

Autumn concert season opens with a bang (and Besses offered a lot for your buck)

Boarshurst Band Club’s autumn season began in fantastic style on the 04 September where Besses O’Th’ Barn Band captivated audiences for the best part of two hours. The Section Three – soon-to-be Section Two – brass band offered a traditional and accomplished programme. For the price of a pint of lager and the quality of their performance, Sunday’s concert was a real snip.

Besses O’Th’ Barn Brass Band are one of the oldest brass bands in the world. Formed in 1819 – ten years after Stalybridge Old Band – they are one of Britain’s most renowned brass bands. For most of their history, they have performed in the highest echelons of the brass banding world. They also have a training band, known as the reserves.

From 2006, they slipped out of the Championship section before falling into the Third Section. Following recent success in regional competitions, including the Rochdale Brass Band Contest, they will be promoted to the Second Section. They are clearly a band on the way up with most of the improvements due to Simon Cowen’s stint as Musical Director.

Mr. Cowen joined Besses O’Th’ Barn Brass Band. At 42 years of age, he is Principal Trombonist for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2009, he has also performed alongside Christian Lindberg. Other bands he has performed for include Yorkshire Building Society, Black Dyke, and Fairey. He has also performed alongside The Beautiful South and Elbow (where Guy Garvey’s birthplace is a mere bus or tram ride away from the band club).

The high point of the programme included four fantastic solo performances, and a medley arranged by one of the band members.

The Programme

First Half

  1. Signature March: Whitefield (W.A. Allison);
  2. Overture: The Pirates of Penzance (Arthur Sullivan);
  3. Cornet solo (performed by Kenny Pain): The Nightingale (Harold Moss);
  4. Cornet Trio: Three Little Maids from School Are We (Arthur Sullivan);
  5. Song: Seren Fach (Nigel Lawless);
  6. Popular Music: In The Mood (Glenn Miller);
  7. Baritone Solo (performed by Gareth Nelson): Benedictus (from The Armed Man) (Karl Jenkins);
  8. Medley: Blast From The Past (arr. Tilly Tompkins):
    1. Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash);
    2. In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins);
    3. Copacabana (Barry Manilow);
    4. Come on Eileen (Dexy’s Midnight Runners);
    5. Starman (David Bowie).

Second Half

  1. March: Death or Glory (Robert Brown Hall);
  2. Classical Piece: Judex (Mors et Vita) (Charles Gounod);
  3. Trombone Solo (performed by Jonathan Brierley): Rhapsody for Trombone (Gordon Langford);
  4. Hymn: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind (Hubert H. Parry);
  5. Bass Solo (performed by Steve Hughes): Mein Bass (Pol Stone/Fraver, arr. Dennis Wilby).
  6. Suite: The Three Musketeers (George Hespe);


  • Hymn: Sandon (Charles Henry Purday, arr. Alex Owen).

As Seen on TV


Besses O’Th’ Barn band opened their concert with Whitefield, the brass band’s signature march. Written by W.A. Allison, it made for a rousing and fantastic piece.

For the second piece he stated how he had got into the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. He also stated how he liked his concert programmes to be traditional (opening march, overture, first solo… you know the drill). For the overture was the one from The Pirates of Penzance, which was generally well received by the Boarshurst audience.

Sticking to the Traditional Concert Template (why change a winning formula?), was our first solo of the night. That of Kenny Pain’s performance of The Nightingale. The piece was written Harold Moss who was known at one time as The King of Trombones. Mr. Moss judged the National Brass Band Championship of Great Britain six times and before then, conducted Wingates Temperance Band to victory in 1931 at Crystal Palace. There was brevity and consistency in Pain’s playing abilities, which didn’t escape the audience’s attention.

This was followed by our second incursion to Gilbert and Sullivan. We were treated to a cornet trio for the fourth piece, which was Three Little Maids from School Are We. Seen in Act One of The Mikado, our very own Yum-Yum. Peep-Bo, and Pitti-Sing gave a vintage performance.

Going for a quieter tone, our fifth piece was part Welsh and part Diggle (the composer’s home). Phil Lawless’ Seren Fach translates from Welsh to English as Little Star. His arrangement includes a snatch of the nursery rhyme, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It started out as a gift to Robert and Claire Westacott (the former person whom we have seen at the Slaithwaite concert on the 26 June 2016), following the birth of their daughter, Jessica. Again, clarity and balance was key to the well played piece.

Our sixth piece was the second most populist item of their fifteen pieces. That of Glenn Miller’s In The Mood. In previous concerts, Glenn Miller’s work – in full, or abridged forms – have formed the part of many a programme. An evergreen number, it has been covered in bite-size form by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers (1989 as Swing The Mood) and with chicken voices by Ray Stevens.

This neatly took us to our second soloist. That of Gareth Nelson’s baritone solo. Unlike cornet solos and bass solos, baritone solos are a rare beast in any concert programme (as stated by Simon). Mr. Nelson’s playing of Karl Jenkins’ Benedictus (from The Armed Man) was brooding, solid, and strong.

Taking us to the interval was a newly arranged piece. An arranged piece by one of the band members, Tilly Tompkins. Entitled Blast From The Past, the medley features five songs by musical legends. We opened with Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. This was followed by Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight (complete with the drum part used in a recent Cadbury’s advert). Then Copacabana by Barry Manilow, which took us into party mood, followed by Come On Eileen. Following Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ 1982 Number One, we finished with David Bowie’s Starman. A fantastic flourish for the first half.

Dad, What’s a Baritone? 

Opening our second half was a possible subliminal ad for Boarshurst Silver Band’s involvement in Brassed Off at the Oldham Coliseum. That of Hubert Browne Hall’s Death or Glory. After the close of this march, Simon asked how many people knew this march (everybody in Boarshurst Band Club, obviously), then asked if anybody knew the first one they played (hardly anyone).

After announcing the title of the first march, our second piece was a classical one by Charles Gounod. Entitled Judex (Mors et Vita), it is a brooding piece which translates into English as Judas (Life and Death). More people would recognise the piece as the theme music to The Bradshaws. Starting in 1982 on Piccadilly Radio, Buzz Hawkins created the comedy as a radio soap opera set in 1950s Manchester. It has been aired on numerous radio stations great and small with the franchise spawning live gigs and a plethora of merchandise. On most of the radio shows, cassettes and CDs, we hear Glossop Old Band playing the aforementioned piece.

Following Besses O’Th’ Barn band’s excellent performance of Judex, this was complemented by our first solo of the second half. Jonathan Brierley’s solo of Rhapsody for Trombone by Gordon Langford had body, depth, and urgency. This is one of Gordon Langford’s best known test pieces and Mr. Brierley gave an accomplished performance.

Continuing with the traditional nature of the programme, the last piece before the raffle draw was a hymn. That of Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. With the words taken from a traditional poem, it is popularly set to the music of Repton on our shores (by Hubert H. Parry). Here was proof that Besses could also do soft as well as bombastic.

For our fifth (and post-raffle piece) was our last solo piece of the night. This time, a bass solo by Steve Hughes. Mein Bass (written by Pol Stone/Fraver, and arranged by Dennis Wilby), is a German style piece inspired by the Oompah bands. A joyous addition to any concert programme. One markedly enhanced by Mr. Hughes’ playing abilities.

The sixth and penultimate piece was a bit of a history lesson for some audience and band members. Delving into the archives (partly due to Mr. Cowen’s love of the older-yet-forgotten pieces) was the suite entitled The Three Musketeers. Written by George Hespe, it was used as a test piece in the British Open on the 05 September 1953 (63 years ago at this very time of writing). That contest was won by the National Band of New Zealand (and we thought having Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest was pretty new-fangled).

According to the excellent Brass Band Results website, its peak in popularity as a test piece was between 1978 and 1985. Primarily among Second and Third Section bands. For me, it was one of many highlights alongside Tilly’s Blast From The Past and all four soloists. A fantastic concert closer.

To round off a most enjoyable concert we finished with Sandon, a hymn arranged by Alexander Owen. Another oldie but a goldie indeed with the piece derived from Charles Henry Purday’s work.

Prior to his death in 1920, Alex Owen began his association with Besses O’Th’ Barn brass band in 1884. This was whilst he was involved with J.H. Foster Black Dyke Mills Brass Band. Legend has it that Mr. Owen locked the band room door till the end of rehearsals, keeping the key in his waistcoat pocket.

By 10.20pm they brought us tradition, innovation, and a sterling performance throughout the concert. On the whole, their performance was tight, persistent, and a real joy to watch. A famous brass banding name on the cusp of returning to the big time.

If you get to see them at any future concerts, they are well worth seeing. Their next one takes place on the 10 September at Prestwich Methodist Church, starting at 7.30pm. Either take the tram or catch any of the Bury New Road buses. It is right in the town centre and a short walk from the bus stop outside Richer Sounds (or The Longfield Suite if you’re catching the X41 and X43 services). Prestwich is your nearest tram stop with the Methodist Church about 5 to 7 minutes walk.

At a contesting level, they aim to continue their success at the Hardraw Scar contest (11 September), and the Rochdale contest (23 October). We wish them the very best of luck; onwards and upwards we say.

Next Week…

Next up at the Boarshurst Band Club are Flixton Band. They are a Second Section band and the highest placed one within Trafford MBC boundaries. At this year’s hymn and march contest at Brighouse, they won the Second Section prize. They were formed in 1877 as the Flixton Volunteer Band. In 1894, they played in front of Queen Victoria on the opening day of the Manchester Ship Canal.

They dropped ‘volunteers’ from their name in 1908, then faced a period of decline caused by the 1929 depression. Flixton Brass Band was disbanded in 1933 with the instruments held in trust till reformation. That came in 1967, when they reemerged as the Flixton Silver Band. The Silver sobriquet was dropped in 1988, and the band started contesting again.

Today, funded by members’ subscription fees, engagement fees and prize money, the band are also working their way up the sections. Their present musical director is Jason Smith, who has played flugelhorn for over eighteen years. In 1986, his first Championship section band was… Besses O’Th’ Barn, under the directorship of the legendary Roy Newsome.

As always at the Boarshurst Band Club, doors open at 7pm with the concert starting at 8pm.


  • 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., 05 September 2016.


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