Silk Brass: Sunday Brass at the Boarshurst Band Club

Continental influence adds variety to enjoyable concert programme

Macclesfield’s Silk Brass gave the Boarshurst faithful a flavour of the continent in the second part of a brass banding double header, at the BBC last night [25 September]. Prior to Silk Brass’ concert was the first Sunday Lunchtime Youth Concert with Elland Silver Youth Band.

Founded in 1997, Silk Brass are relative newcomers to the brass banding scene, in comparison to previous visitors this year’s Sunday Brass season. They started out as a ten-piece ensemble but rose through the ranks to their present position: the First Section. The band are situated in Marton. It is a village between Congleton and Macclesfield on the A34.

The Musical Director for the night was Tony Wyatt. He started young at the age of seven, before joining Cheshire Youth Brass Band at the age of eleven. He has been Musical Director for Vernon Building Society Poynton Band, and Whaley Bridge band. Furthermore, he has also played for Fairey Band, and under various musicians, including Russell Gray and Peter Parkes. His programme had a slight continental air, which was influenced by the band’s recent trip to Austria. Plus a healthy dose of ‘yellow music’ – in other words, some forgotten treasures from the archives.

There was some changes in personnel. With three empty seats in the Silk Brass XXXIII, two players came from Bollington Band with a third player from Marple Band. As for the night’s Master of Ceremonies, there was a another change. With the usual MC, John Whittle, otherwise engaged (playing at a concert with Uppermill Brass Band at the Delph Band Club), an understudy was required. The choice of understudy that night may surprise you.

The Programme

First Half

  1. March: Arnhem (Albert E. Kelly);
  2. Symphonic Poem: Finlandia (Jean Sibelius);
  3. Light Concert piece: An Evening Prayer from Hansel and Gretel (Engelbert Humperdinck, arr. Kevin Birch);
  4. Cornet Trio (performed by Adrian Horn, Ben Bradley, and Pete Weaver): Trumpets Wild (Harold Walters);
  5. Popular Music: Daisy Bell (Harry Dacre, arr. Gordon Langford);
  6. Test Piece: A Downland Suite (2nd Movement, Elegy) (John Ireland);
  7. Musical piece: Knights of the Round Table (Monty Python, arr. Adrian Horn);
  8. March: The Free-Lance March (John Philip Sousa, arr. Adrian Horn).

Second Half

  1. Overture: Walking With Heroes (Paul Lovatt-Cooper);
  2. Classical piece: To The Spring (Edvard Grieg, arr. Pat Ryan);
  3. Percussion Solo (performed by Catherine Flanders): Czardas (Vittorino Monti, arr. Gert Bornhof);
  4. Trombone Solo (performed by Yan Malboeuf): Blessed Assurance (Phoebe Knapp, arr. Simon Wood);
  5. Light Concert piece: Nightfall in Camp (Tom Wade-West, arr. D.A. Pope).
  6. Light Concert piece: Cry of the Celts (5th Movement: Victory) (Peter Graham).

Encore

  • March: Highland Cathedral (Michael Korb/Ulrich Roever, arr. Simon Kerwin).

He’s not the Master of Ceremonies, he’s a very naughty boy…

The writer of this piece was also the stand-in Master of Ceremonies at last night’s concert. My experience of taking John’s position was slightly nerve-racking yet enjoyable at the same time. (Instead of rabbiting on about my experience, I shall continue the review).

Our first piece was the rousing march, Arnhem. It is clear that Mr. Wyatt’s musical journey began in the Netherlands (probably on the Hull ferry to Rotterdam). Written by Albert E. Kelly, it is a well-loved and often requested march – with military bands as well as brass bands. On the Whit Sunday and Whit Friday Processions of Witness (in Oldham, Saddleworth and Tameside), it is a popular choice among brass bands as a street march.

The next stage on our musical journey was Helsinki, the capital of Finland. This was marked by Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia. A classic piece in many brass band concerts, the story behind the piece is interesting. It was written as a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire. A modern-day equivalent would be a trite song telling Putin where to stick his (censored) in the Eurovision Song Concert. Silk Brass’ performance was well bodied and had strength in tonal depth.

Sticking with the Eurovision Song Contest, what’s the link between Great Britain’s 2012 Eurovision entrant, and the third piece of last night’s concert? Believe it or not, it is Engelbert Humperdinck, the writer of An Evening Prayer from Hansel and Gretel. With our Air Miles reaching Judith Chalmers levels, you could say the next stage was Germany, birthplace of the said fairy tale. It was also the first piece of the night to be arranged by one of the fellows involved in Silk Brass: Kevin Birch.

After their joyous playing came another treat for the ears: a cornet horn trio. Adrian Horn, Ben Bradley, and Pete Weaver treated us all to the exuberant Trumpets Wild. Written by Harold Walters, it made for a fantastic and escapist piece.

With similar leanings, and equally light on the palate, Daisy Bell was a neat follow-up to the trio. Written by Harry Dacre and arranged by Gordon Langford, it is based on the traditional song. It has been covered by numerous artistes (sometimes alternately known as Bicycle Made For Two) including Nat King Cole, Blur, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. If you’ve seen the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was performed by the HAL 9000 computer on its deactivation. Also stealing the show was the presence of bicycle bells near the end of the piece.

The previous piece, and the next one, A Downland Suite, was one of two pieces of ‘yellow music’ in the first half. The 2nd Movement, Elegy, probably its most bombastic part, was another cracker for Silk Brass. Written in 1932 by John Ireland, it was written for the National Brass Band Championship of Great Britain. It is so-called after the composer’s love of the Sussex Downs. You could say that we got to the location of our sixth piece via the ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven. At the cheaper foot passenger rate with our tandems.

On a privatised train journey of Python-esque proportions (finding space for our tandems was a struggle on Southern), the next stop could well be Cambridge. The home of the Footlights club which brought us the Monty Python comedy team and – ultimately for our seventh piece – Knights of the Round Table. Arranged for brass band by Silk Brass’ very own Adrian Horn, the piece is used in the musical, Spamalot. If you ever get to see the production, it is a stage version of the 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A fantastic arrangement faithful to the stage version and well played.

Apart from being the second successive Boarshurst concert to feature a Monty Python related piece, the last piece of the first half had a slight Python connection. The link between last fortnight’s encore by Flixton Band (The Liberty Bell) and Adrian Horn’s arrangement of The Free-Lance March, is the composer.  Yes, John Philip Sousa. The first half finished with a rousing performance of the Sousa march, neatly taking us to the interval.

Highland Cathedral, a Scottish sounding piece which was written in… Germany” 

The second half began with a most rousing overture. That of Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s Walking With Heroes. An exciting talent, Mr. Lovatt-Cooper’s works have been performed to sell-out audiences at London Royal Albert Hall, and Sydney Opera House. He is also Composer in  Association with Black Dyke Band. The first piece of the second half is the title track of his 2008 album. Performed at The Mecca of Brass Banding (aka the Boarshurst Band Club), Silk Brass would have done Messrs Lovatt-Cooper and Childs proud, as well as Black Dyke Band.

For the second concert in a row, this was also the second piece in the second half. We revisited Edvard Grieg’s To The Spring. It was well played by the band and, as we said in the previous review, it is one of a suite of sixty-six pieces written by the composer for piano. Why To The Spring seems to be overlooked by most listeners in favour of Peer Gynt astounds me.

With seven prizes at stake and yours truly, the stand-in compere at the helm, came the raffle. After what seemed to be a slightly longer than usual draw, the Boarshurst faithful were in a jolly mood prior to last night’s first soloist.

In what was a first for this year’s Sunday Brass concerts, we had a percussion solo. This time, it was birthday girl Catherine Flanders, whose sixteenth birthday was marked by a fantastic performance of Czardas. I was surprised with how well Vittorino Monti’s piece transferred to the xylophone. The applause and atmosphere was electric.

Changing the tone to a softer volume was Phoebe Knapp’s Blessed Assurance. This was beautifully performed by our second and final soloist of the night, Yan Malboeuf. The hymn tune was written by Ms. Knapp in 1873, with lyrics written by blind hymn writer, Fanny Crosby. It reflects the lyricist’s walk of faith, as expressed by the apostle Paul (Philippians 1:21: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”).

It neatly complemented Nightfall in Camp, a piece which at face value, could conjure up summer nights under the canvas. Not so, being as the piece neatly segues The Last Post with the hymn Unto The Hills. It is also a popular piece for Remembrance Day concerts and with Military Bands.

Taking us towards the end was a Peter Graham composition. How can any brass band concert be a cracking afternoon or evening without a piece by a fellow Cestrian (played by a Cestrian brass band no less)? The penultimate piece was the fifth movement of Cry of the Celts, entitled Victory. A fantastic rousing piece.

Following this fellow’s closing lines, our encore piece was one which sounds as Scottish as an Islay single malt whisky. As Scottish as fluffy white terriers, Taggart, Sir Alex Ferguson, and tartan. Rounding off proceedings was Highland Cathedral, a Scottish sounding piece which was written in… Germany. Written by Michael Korb and Ulrich Roever, it is a lively piece best suited to concerts as a closing one.

Overall, Tony Wyatt and Silk Brass Band took us on a splendid musical journey. One for slightly more than a day rover on the 180 to Piccadilly Gardens. Albeit with a footprint several times greater than the local operator’s territory (including the 184 to Huddersfield). One via Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Scotland, and Cambridge.

Silk Brass’ quest for the Holy Grail of continuous success recommences at Rochdale Town Hall for the two-day NWABBA Rochdale Brass Band Festival. Starting on the 22 October, Silk Brass will be on the following day. Following that will be the Remembrance Day parade in Macclesfield town centre on the 13 November. We wish them well at the Rochdale contest.

Next Week…

In a recent change to the programme, next Sunday shall see the arrival of Delph Band. Founded in 1850, they have had a nomadic existence in their formative years. The band gained some stability when they moved to the present-day premises on Lawson Square in 1954. They have also appeared in Coronation Street and in the Pete Postlethwaite film, Brassed Off. They were also the first Saddleworth band to win the National Championship of Great Britain.

Regular readers of these reviews (and devotees of the Saddleworth brass banding scene) will be familiar with Delph’s Musical Director, Philip Goodwin. Whilst at school, he originally started out as a baritone player but, to the disappointment of his parents and neighbours, he had to play the only instrument that was left: the Eb Bass.

None of that fazed him, so he kept up the brass banding habit, went to the Manchester College of Music, and joined the CWS Manchester Band. His original stint was supposed to be a year: they were out by twelve. In 1985, he moved to Black Dyke Band and the rest, they say… triple Latin.

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.

East of the M60′s review of Boarshurst’s first Sunday Lunchtime Youth Brass concert (Elland Silver Youth Band) shall be up on this blog by Thursday. All will be revealed on the East of the M60 Facebook page in due course.

S.V., 26 September 2016.

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