An August treat from the world’s oldest brass band

It has been a long time since Stalybridge Old Band darkened the doorstep of Boarshurst Band Club. Over three years, in the words of Musical Director, David Ashworth. The last time your reviewer saw the world’s oldest brass band, was at Stalybridge Civic Hall in December 2015. This was weeks before the Sunday Brass concert reviews appeared on East of the M60. At that gig, they were supported by The Yew Tree Singers.

Almost two years on, without Jean Depledge’s choral group, yours truly was glad to see Stalybridge Old Band in live form. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Stalybridge Old Band proved just that on Sunday night.

Last night [20 August 2017], we were treated to a splendid concert with Stalybridge Old Band. We also said hello to a few players (and a musical director) with Boarshurst Silver Band connections. Particularly David Ashworth Junior (on flugelhorn), and David Ashworth Senior (Musical Director). A welcome return in more ways than one.

Comradeship was a running theme in this concert. As well as some borrowed players, including a percussionist from Fairey Band, the raffle prizes came from Stalybridge Old Band. Instead of the usual three prizes, there was ten in all, adding some money to the Boarshurst Cheltenham Money Tree (for the National Brass Band Championship Finals on the 16 September). In the first half, the penultimate piece in the programme was dedicated to the families of those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire in June.

Their concert programme offered a good mix of old and new tunes, including a few brass banding classics. The Musical Director, David Ashworth (Senior), came across as warm and humorous with the audience.

The Programme

First Half

  1. March: Ridgehill (Corporal Sam Sykes);
  2. Overture: Impresario (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arr. Alan Fernie);
  3. Flugelhorn Solo (performed by David Ashworth Jnr.): Share My Yoke (Major Jo Webb, arr. Ivan Bosanko);
  4. Popular Music: Eleanor Rigby (Lennon/McCartney, arr. Alan Fernie);
  5. Light Concert Music: Water of Tyne (Traditional, arr. Philip Harper);
  6. Popular Music: Mr. Sandman (Pat Ballard, arr. David Ashworth Snr.);
  7. Trombone Solo (performed by Adam Stretton): Blessed Assurance (Phoebe Palmer Knapp, arr. Simon Wood);
  8. Original Piece: Tower of Hope (James McFadyen);
  9. Light Concert: Conga del Fuego (Gustavo Dudamel/Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar).

Second Half

  1. Overture: Prismatic Light (Alan Fernie);
  2. Horn Solo (performed by Beverley Harper): An Untold Story (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
  3. March: The Torchbearers (Eric Ball);
  4. Hymn: ‘Mid All The Traffic of the Ways (Captain Leonard Ballantine);
  5. Euphonium Solo (performed by Barry James): Grandfather’s Clock (Henry Clay Work, arr. William Rimmer);
  6. March: Star Lake (Eric Ball);
  7. March: Marching Onwards (Ivan Bosanko);
  8. Popular Music: Bring Me Sunshine (Arthur Kent).

The thrill of the Ridgehill

We started with Stalybridge Old Band’s signature tune, Ridgehill. Written by Sam Sykes, it is a rousing piece which best encapsulate the grit of the Victorian town. The composer is related to Robert Sykes, euphonium player for St. John’s Mossley. Also to the rather famous Melanie Sykes (of Des and Mel, and The Big Breakfast fame, and countless other TV programmes). The Ridge Hill we know and love, looks out to Stalybridge town centre and is served by the 387 and 389 bus routes.

This was followed by Impresario, a piece from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s comic opera. It is set to libretto and described by the composer himself as “a comedy with music”. Plus, it has been seen as a parody on the vanity of singers, who argue over pay. If you are familiar with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a snatch of the overture is played prior to entry into Oompa Loompa Land (in the 1971 film version).

With a brilliant start from the first two pieces, we moved onto our first soloist. This time on flugelhorn, with David Ashworth (Junior). He chose to mark his return with Major Jo Webb’s piece (arranged by Ivor Bosanko), Share My Yoke. His return was well received both by the band and the audience. A smashing performance.

For our fourth piece, we moved towards a song that was written by Paul McCartney in his entirety, though with Lennon/McCartney on the credits. Released at the same time as The Beatles’ Revolver LP in 1966 was Eleanor Rigby. Arranged by Alan Fernie, it was a nice change to see another Beatles song being performed by a brass band besides Yesterday, or Ticket To Ride. Another good performance with well defined tonal value.

The fifth piece was a traditional favourite arranged by Philip Harper. That of Water of Tyne, an ancient folk song covered by Sting and Jimmy Nail. This offered a neat contrast from the previous, slightly more bumptious piece. Taking us from the High Force waterfall to Tynemouth could well have been our next piece, owing to the North Tyneside resort’s popularity with surfers.

Mr. Sandman, rather than having any surfing links, was more to do with mythical sandmen. Whether in the desert or beside a sandcastle in Cullercoats, this entertaining song was written by Pat Ballard. It has been covered by the Chordettes, Marvin Gaye, the Joe Loss Orchestra, and Emmylou Harris. With David Ashworth (Senior’s) arrangement, there was a lot of love in there which made the audience go all fuzzy. His late mother used to play Mr. Sandman on her piano, and his labour of love was reflected throughout the band.

After this gorgeous piece, we moved onto our second solo of the night. This time with Adam Stretton on trombone, playing Blessed Assurance. The hymn by Phoebe Knapp is based on 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.”). There’s every faith in Adam’s abilities on trombone, where he gave us all a splendid performance. One to watch out for, and we wish him luck with his studies.

The penultimate piece of this half reflected on what has been one of the darkest days of this year so far. This June saw a terrible fire at Grenfell Tower, affecting a great many families. To raise funds for their London Fire Relief Fund, James McFadyen wrote Tower of Hope. With Stalybridge Old Band’s performance, the piece was well played. David, prior to introducing the piece stated how different it was to anything he had heard before. With parts of the piece inspired by emergency vehicles it was one of the most avant garde pieces to have been played at the Boarshurst Band Club. It was also recorded for posterity and shown on Facebook.

We wrapped up the first half with Conga del Fuego by Gustavo Dudamel. The Venezuelan star is a fine young talent who has played to packed houses. He was the youngest musician to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day concert this year. At this time of writing, his US tour with Venezuela’s National Youth Orchestra has been cancelled. If you could disregard the piece’s unfortunate position in the programme (it translates as Fire Conga in English), it got the first half off to a good finish. It all boded well for an equally entertaining second half.

Tripping the prismatic light fantastic

Whoever plays Prismatic Light well means you’re in for a good treat, and Stalybridge Old Band were no exception. It has been a popular piece at the Boarshurst Band Club, having been played by Marsden Silver and Elland Silver Youth bands. This was a good showcase for the players’ abilities.

Also filed under “you know your getting older when musical composers are getting younger” is Paul Lovatt-Cooper (41 – five years older than Dudamel). His pieces never fail to impress, and this was proven by Beverley Harper’s Horn solo of An Untold Story. This forms part of Lovatt-Cooper’s collaboration with Ray Farr, on the album entitled Untold Stories. A joyous piece with a good performance from Beverley.

By contrast, the third piece of this half was more rousing. This time, Eric Ball’s first ever brass band piece, The Torchbearer. From there, you could see the promise which would lead us to another one of his pieces in tonight’s concert. Then the magnum opus that is Journey Into Freedom. Some very good intonation and oomph in abundance.

Our fourth piece of this half was ‘Mid All The Traffic of the Ways, written by a Canadian living composer, Colonel Leonard Ballantine. It is often played to the tune of Colne. Plus he also offers one-to-one tuition with his wife, Heather, helping out behind the scenes. This piece took us to The Mother of All Raffle Draws.

After the raffle, came the final soloist of the night. This time with Barry James’ performance of Grandfather’s Clock. A brass banding classic, it is an arrangement of the Henry Clay Work folk song by William Rimmer. This piece, part of which used near the end of Half Man Half Biscuit’s Joy Division Oven Gloves, was well played.

This took us towards our second Eric Ball piece of the night. This time, Star Lake, which takes its name from the American camp with the same name. It was written whilst he was Guest of Honour. On his second visit, he wrote Star Lake 2. For Stalybridge Old Band’s visit to Boarshurst, another fine performance.

After our dedication to the families affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, we had a dedication to the late Janet Payne. This time by means of Marching Onward, Ivan Bosanko’s take on Onward Christian Soldiers (a favourite piece of Janet’s). This was a lovely, rousing tribute to one of Boarshurst’s greatest and larger than life personalities.

Our last piece (discounting the National Anthem) was written by Arthur Kent and used by Britain’s finest comedy duo. That of Messrs Bartholomew and Wiseman – Morecambe and Wise. Stalybridge Old Band closed the concert with Bring Me Sunshine. It ended the concert on a high.

From the raffle, £189.00 was raised. One of the prizes, a bottle of single malt whisky was auctioned and went for £33.00. The final total was £222.00.

*               *               *

There’s one thing we could say about Stalybridge Old Band: onwards and upwards. With David Ashworth (Senior) getting the band on an upward trajectory, this was the concert of a band on the up. There was good local support from Stalybridge Old Band’s devotees whom – in their own borough – seldom see their own band in concert. We wish them well in their competitive endeavours and hope to see more of them in a live setting.

Tower of Hope, James McFadyen

To raise money for the British Red Cross for their London Fire Relief Fund, James McFadyen is offering Tower of Hope, for the princely sum of £5.00. All you need to do is go to the Devilish Publishing website to download the score free of charge. Then, for the rest of the parts, all you need to do is click the Buy Now button. From your fiver, £4.50 goes to the British Red Cross’ appeal. The other fifty pence will cover costs.

Next at Boarshurst Band Club…

Stacksteads Band will be coming to Boarshurst Band Club on the 03 September 2017. Please note there will be no concert on the 27 August. This is due to the Rushcart Festival Weekend, which is celebrated by all the Saddleworth villages.

Also a Third Section band like Stalybridge Old Band, Stacksteads Band are situated between Bacup and Rawtenstall. They rehearse in the former Tunstead Co-op shop (off the 464 bus route from Accrington to Rochdale). The band were formed in 1872 as the Stacksteads Amateur Brass Band.


  • 180: Greenfield [Clarence Hotel] – Lees – Oldham – Hollinwood – Manchester [Oldham Street];
  • 350: Ashton-under-Lyne – Mossley – Greenfield – Uppermill – Dobcross – Delph – Waterhead – Oldham.

Alight at the former Greenfield Conservative Club. The 180 and 350 services are operated by First Greater Manchester.

Twitter details: @boarshurstband#SundayBrass.


S.V., 21 August 2017.

3 thoughts on “Stalybridge Old Band: Sunday Brass at the Boarshurst Band Club

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