Chalk and Co’s deliver a concert to remember

There are two reasons why your favourite divine being gave us brass bands. One was to entertain the masses. Another one was to bring cultural enrichment to the masses. In other words, the joys of introducing classical music to the provinces. Whilst finding room for entertainment value.

Last night, Phil Chalk’s Ashton-under-Lyne Band gave us a concert which combined the two camps: classical enrichment and entertainment. The choice of classical pieces were chosen with entertainment in mind, with a healthy dose of light concert music and five superb solos.

Once again, Phil was a joy to listen to as well with his witticisms and scholarly manner. There was no wall between him and the audience. He was with the audience and guided us through the fastest two hours ever enjoyed at Boarshurst Band Club.

As we said last year, he was taught well. His first band was Boarshurst ‘B’ Band, when they used to rehearse at the (soon-to-close) Greenfield Conservative Club. He later moved to Fairey Band where he took up an apprenticeship. Outside of his brass banding endeavours, he is the owner of Factory Transmedia.

Also in attendance was Gilbert Symes, this time without the one liners and corny jokes. Outside of performing with Ashton-under-Lyne Band, he has had numerous slots on Principal Microphone Solo for Oldham Community Radio. Each Monday and Wednesday at 8pm, he presents Community Brass on the local station.

Ashton-under-Lyne band were formed in 1996, 178 years after the formation of last week’s brass band. Their rise through the higher echelons of brass banding is the envy of most brass bands. This was shown in last night’s performance.

If you thought last year’s performance was tighter than Ebenezer Scrooge in a spandex onesie, last night’s was tighter still. Most importantly, it left the audience with smiles on their faces.

The Programme

First Half

  1. March: Arnhem (A.E. Kelly);
  2. Overture: Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna (Franz von Suppe, arr. George Hawkins);
  3. Cornet Solo (performed by Claire Chalk): Cantilena (John Golland);
  4. Post Horn Solo (performed by Ian Twiss): Post Horn Galop (H. Koenig, arr. S. Herbert);
  5. Hymn: Prelude on Lavenham (Geoffrey Nobes);
  6. Film Music (from Meet Me In St Louis): The Trolley Song (Hugh Martin/Ralph Blane, arr. Jeremy Sleith);
  7. Trombone Solo (performed by Tony Vaughan): Feeling Good (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley);
  8. Musical Piece: Overture from South Pacific (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein, arr. Sandy Smith).

Second Half

  1. Classical Piece: Act III from Lohengrin (Richard Wagner, arr. John Howarth);
  2. Original Piece: Little Serenade (Ernest Tomlinson);
  3. Flugelhorn Solo (performed by Rachel Dines): Under the Boardwalk (Artie Resnick/Kenny Young, arr. Philip Harper);
  4. Light Concert Music: Tritch Tratch Polka (Johann Strauss II, arr. Goff Richards);
  5. Light Concert Music: Just a Closer Walk With Thee (Traditional)
  6. Eb Bass Solo (performed by Paul Conchie): Tuba Tapestry (Michael Brand);
  7. Musical Piece: You’ll Never Walk Alone (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein, arr. Howard Snell).


  • March: The Radetzky March (Johann Strauss, arr. Pat Ryan).

Culture for the masses

For the first piece of the night, we were taken back to the summertime Hymn and March Contests in Brighouse, Hebden Bridge and Darwen. Or any deportment march on Whit Friday. Enter A.E. Kelly’s Arnhem, a rousing march written to commemorate a British Army defeat, contributed to the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. Played well, Arnhem never fails to give you goose pimples. Ashton-under-Lyne Band’s rendition was up with the best.

This was bettered by Phil Chalk’s choice of overture: Franz von Suppé’s Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna. The operetta was composed in 1844 and, as we found last night, is a great number for brass band concerts. The operetta was an unlikely premise for a 1959 Bugs Bunny cartoon. For entertainment value, the piece is up there with Poet and Peasant, also by the same composer. An exhilarating performance.

Poet and Peasant is also associated with James Shepherd, the legendary soprano cornet player. Her daughter, besides being Phil Chalk’s wife, took centre stage in the first solo performance of the night. Enter on Principal Cornet, Claire Chalk, with a performance of Cantilena. For the live audience, a rare opportunity to hear one of John Golland’s lesser known pieces. In Claire’s performance, vibrancy coupled with spot-on intonation and clarity. Virtuoso was quite an understatement. Sheer perfection.

How could you top Claire’s performance? What about a solo performance from one of the best soprano cornet players from this side of the Pennines? Enter Ian Twiss – this time on Post Horn rather than cornet. Last night saw a welcome return for The Post Horn Galop with backing from The Nether Alderley Working Dog Society (on secondment). Though the canine backing added to the piece, Ian Twiss’ precision was the Best In Show Supreme Champion.

Our next piece offered a real contrast. No Sunday concert is complete without a hymn. This time with Geoffrey Nobes’ Prelude on Lavenham. Geoff was bandmaster at the Portsmouth Citadel Band, following his father and grandfather. He has also worked in choral settings and, today, he is a music lecturer at the South Downs College. A lovely contrast. 

Our sixth piece of the night was a neat diversion into the world of film. Judy Garland’s Meet Me in St. Louis. This time with The Trolley Song. What inspired Ralph Blane was a turn-of-the-century newspaper headline. Or, if you believe his 1974 interview, a caption in a book he borrowed at Beverly Hills Public Library which read “Clang, Clang, Clang went the trolley”. Another class act.

The musical theme continued with our third soloist of the night. This time with Leslie Bricusse’s and Anthony Newley’s Feeling Good. The soloist, another Anthony: Anthony Vaughan. The song was written in 1964 for the little known musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. Beyond its use in the musical, it has been covered by Michael Bublé, John Coltrane, George Michael, and The Pussycat Dolls. As for Anthony, a slick performance. Feeling good in more ways than one.

To round off the first half was another musical number. This time a medley of pieces from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Arranged by Sandy Smith, this superb arrangement gave us a whistle-stop tour through the musical’s finest songs. Including There’s Nothing Like a Dame, played only three weeks ago at Milnrow Band’s Boarshurst gig. A great piece to get everyone in a good mood for the interval.

From Chalk, some cheese

We opened the second half in rousing style with a bit of Richard Wagner’s work. This time with Act III from Lohengrin. The Wagner opera is a romantic one in three acts with its Bridal Chorus (as we heard last night) its most notable part. A romantic and imposing piece to get the band and live audience ready for the next seven pieces.

The rest of the second half programme was a bit lighter, though nothing too clichéd. Our next number was Little Serenade, composed by Ernest Tomlinson. Sometimes known as Alan Perry, the Rawtenstall-born composer was noted for his organ pieces and has composed music for BBC test cards. Brother Fred Tomlinson performed the music for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Another neat contrast.

In the words of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, there was “…something completely different” for the fourth soloist of the night. With Rachel Dines on flugelhorn, we heard another concert classic: Artie Resnick’s and Kenny Young’s Under The Boardwalk. With a little bit of help from the hardware stall on Ashton Indoor Market (thanks to sandpaper). With Rachel’s performance, you couldn’t stop yourself from singing along. Superb stuff.

The fourth piece gave us some more cheese. Cheese which lends itself to audience participation, reminding us all of the late great James Last. How could you not like Tritsch Tratsch Polka by Johann Strauss II? It is a happy piece which never fails to get the audience moving. With a virtuoso performance from Ashton-under-Lyne Band, everyone in the club was swinging.

Our fifth piece was different again: Just A Closer Walk With Thee (or Just a Closer Walk to Thee). It has been used in the hymn and dirge section of New Orleans funerals. Once more, to the same high standards of Ashton-under-Lyne Band.

This took us to our last soloist of the night. This time on Eb Bass with Michael Brand’s Tuba Tapestry. On the Eb Bass, enter Paul Conchie. This colourful piece gave us notes which few people would have expected to hear on that instrument. Needless to say, we lapped up Conchie’s punchy performance. Irresistible.

To close proceedings prior to the encore was a rather topical piece given yesterday’s football match (Manchester City’s 0 – 0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield). Taken from the musical Carousel, we finished with You’ll Never Walk Alone. Adopted by fans of Liverpool Football Club, it was Gerry and the Pacemakers’ third successive Number One single in 1963. With or without the Pacemakers, it has been an encore at Gerry Marsden’s concerts.

With the distinct lack of Manchester City supporters in the Boarshurst Band Club, there was no shouting of ‘crap’ or boos from the back. Their choice of finale was a cracker. Well played and leaving us gasping for more. ‘More’ meant another concert classic: Johann Strauss’ The Radetzky March. If you watch (or have been to) the New Year’s Day concerts in Vienna, this is their usual encore piece. Forgetting it in Johann Strauss’ hometown would be sacrilege. As would going to one of Brighouse and Rastrick Band’s concerts without The Floral Dance.

Make no mistake: any brass band concert led by Phil Chalk should be on prescription. Ashton-under-Lyne Band didn’t only give its audience a fantastic performance all the way. The programme well thought out, the running order was tight and, most importantly, it fulfilled its mission in being entertaining with a dash of culture.

Wherever they may be performing, just go and see Ashton-under-Lyne Band in concert. I mean it, after seeing one of the greatest concerts to grace The Mecca of Brass Banding.

*               *               *

Next week at Boarshurst Band Club…

In a change to the original programme, St. John’s Mossley Band will be making their way to Boarshurst Band Club. Situated in Roughtown near the church which bears the band’s name, they were formed in 1933 and are a Fourth Section band.

As per usual, doors open at 7pm for an 8pm start. Admission is £3.00, or £2.00 for members and concessions. With the band being fairly local to Greenfield (you could even walk from Roughtown to the band club if you are fit enough), arrive early to get a good seat. 


  • 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. Both 180 and 350 services are operated by First Greater Manchester.

Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.


S.V., 08 October 2018.

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