Mass Brass 3: Saddleworth’s Brass Banding Bonanza

Why Dobcross Youth, Delph, Diggle, and Boarshurst Silver bands gave us 120 reasons to enjoy Saddleworth’s biggest night in brass band music

At Saddleworth Civic Hall, brass banding nights seldom get any bigger than the annual Mass Brass concert in Uppermill. Apart from any of Saddleworth’s bands hiring The Roly Polys as a support act, only the sight of 120 brass banders at twenty to ten could trump that. All four bands gave a good performance with a 30 minute set.

Mass Brass is now in its third year. Two bands perform in the first half with another two bands performing in the second half. At the close of each concert, all four bands form a massed band for the finale. Since its inception in 2017, each of the participating bands have sold tickets to the public from their respective band rooms.

On Saturday 23 March 2019, Mass Brass 3 enjoyed a packed house. Its 300 or so audience members were treated to some memorable solos, a whistle-stop tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals in one set, and a familiar piece from Brassed Off. As well as being a great night for followers of any of the four participating bands, Mass Brass is also a nice introduction to brass bands for audiences who have never seen a brass band concert.

Dobcross Youth Band

  1. Concert Opener: Fanfare and Flourishes (James Curnow);
  2. Overture: Witch of the Westmerlands (Archie Fisher, arr. Philip Harper);
  3. Trombone Solo (performed by Connie): The Acrobat (J.A. Greenwood);
  4. Light Concert Music: Oregon (Jacob de Haan).

Musical Director: Matthew Hindle

Dobcross Youth Band started off in great style with James Curnow’s Fanfare and Flourishes. It is a pithy work which has the trappings of a military tattoo. In the context of Saturday’s concert, an exciting piece which set the tone for our next eighteen items in the programme.

This was followed by Archie Fisher’s Witch of the Westmerlands. Arranged from his 1976 folk song, it was a lively number which neatly complemented their opening piece.

The high point of Dobcross Youth’s half-hour set was their solo performer Connie. On the trombone she performed J.A. Greenwood’s The Acrobat. In 2016, it was used by the British Trombone Society for charitable endeavour (to raise money for trombonist Stephen Sykes). In the 1980s, part of The Acrobat was used as the signature tune for Children’s BBC television series Jonny Briggs. Connie’s performance was a mature one, well beyond her years.

Their fourth and final piece, Oregon, was Dobcross Youth Band’s more ambitious piece. Written by Jacob de Haan, it is a rich patchwork quilt of melody with a bit of Americana thrown in for good measure. Almost a road movie in brass band form. In fact, Jacob de Haan’s work is inspired by a journey on the Northern Pacific Railroad.

At the end of their set, Dobcross Youth Band surprised most of the audience. In fun-size form we had a Second Section or Third Section concert programme, and a performance that would have been good for a Third Section band. Saturday’s performance showed us why they (cough!) finished above the senior band in last month’s North West Regional Finals in Blackpool. Don’t be surprised if we see Connie in a higher section band before long.

Delph Band

  1. March: Imperial Echoes (Arnold Safroni, arr. James Ord Hume);
  2. Musical Medley: Aspects of Andrew Lloyd Webber (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice, arr. Peter Graham);
  3. Euphonium Solo (performed by Keith Palmer): Lament from Stabat Mater (Sir Karl Jenkins);
  4. Light Concert Music: Let’s Face the Music and Dance (Irving Berlin).

Musical Director: Jonathan Davies

With their usual Musical Director Phil Goodwin otherwise engaged (a Black Dyke Band concert at the Methodist Hall in Bolton), Jonathan Davies stood in for him. Their programme was traditional, a little conservative even with the emphasis on light entertainment.

Our first item in Delph Band’s set was a march: Imperial Echoes. Originally a piano piece, it is better known as a brass or military march for many listeners. For some elderly listeners, best remembered as the signature tune for the BBC Light Programme’s Radio Newsreel. An irresistible march.

This was followed by Aspects of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Peter Graham’s medley of Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes. This includes excerpts from The Phantom of the Opera (for example Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again), Aspects of Love, and the theme tune from The South Bank Show (its Sunday name is Variation on Paganini’s 24th Caprice).

After this lovely diversion we moved on to our second solo of the night. Enter Keith Palmer on euphonium. The band’s stalwart soloist performed Lament from Stabat Mater. It is based on the Carol Barratt poem and is the fourth movement of Sir Karl Jenkins’ 12-movement suite. Another good solo performance.

With ‘baritone’ our B word of choice instead of that polarising six-letter B word, Delph Band finished their set with a timely number. A piece just as appropriate in 1936 and 1977 as it is in 2019: Irving Berlin’s Let’s Face the Music and Dance. Used in the Fred Astaire film Follow The Fleet, it is better known by people of a certain age for Angela Rippon’s guest appearance in The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show of 1977.

Overall, Delph Band gave us all a pleasing set which gave us a spring in our step towards the bar queue.

Diggle Band

  1. Concert Opener: Blenheim Flourishes (James Curnow);
  2. Euphonium Solo (performed by Phil Kerr): Macushla (Dermot MacMurrough, arr. John Glenesk Mortimer);
  3. Cornet Quartet: My Favourite Things (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein, arr. Ray Woodfield);
  4. Light Concert Music: Clog Dance (John Marcangelo);
  5. Classical Piece: Finale from Faust (Charles Gounod, arr. Ray Woodfield).

Musical Director: Rob Westacott

With their usual Musical Director Alan Widdop being unavailable, Rob Westacott stepped in for Diggle Band’s programme.

Following the interval, Diggle Band opened their set in a similar way to their peers from Dobcross Youth. With another James Curnow piece, in the form of Blenheim Flourishes. At just under four minutes, it asserts itself as a lively piece.

This was followed by a splendid solo performance by another stalwart: Phil Kerr. On euphonium he played Macushla by Dermot MacMurrough. The piece has dates from 1910 and has been covered by Josef Locke. Macushla is also the Irish word for ‘sweetheart’.

After Phil Kerr’s solo performance came another important addition to any light-hearted concert programme: a cheeky little cornet quartet. One that took us to the home of the Von Trapp family with My Favourite Things. Arranged by Ray Woodfield, this was a jolly composition.

Similarly jolly, though less redolent of the verdant Austrian scenery was Clog Dance. Thanks to Brassed Off, John Marcangelo’s work has increased in popularity as a concert item due to the film. In the film, it is heard when Grimley Colliery Band, and its followers, leave for the Royal Albert Hall for the National Finals. 40 years ago, it was a Top 40 hit for Violinski, inspired by a cobbler’s shop in Whitehaven.

To finish their set, Diggle Band signed off with an audience friendly classical piece. Enter Charles Gounod’s evergreen Finale from Faust. The finale was action packed and gave us a true reflection of Diggle Band’s abilities. Saturday’s MD for Diggle, Rob Westacott came across as warm and authoritative.

Boarshurst Silver Band

  1. March: The Waltonian (J.J. Richards);
  2. Light Concert Music: Light-Walk (Barrie Gott);
  3. Light Concert Music: Lake of Tenderness (Ben Hollings);
  4. Eb Bass Solo (performed by Liam Welsh): Grandfather’s Clock (Henry Clay Work);
  5. Original Piece: Phoenix (Peter Graham).

Musical Director: James Garlick

In showbusiness tradition, Boarshurst Silver Band would have been top of the bill in Saturday’s concert. With its 2020 vision of Championship status achieved, Boarshurst Silver Band’s half hour set was a Championship Section band concert in miniature. Due to its choice of pieces, almost an application for a Brass In Concert gig.

If you are the proud owner of their Images CD (get it bought, it is well worth a listen!), their 2017 recording opens with The Waltonian. Which on Saturday was Boarshurst Silver Band’s march of choice. A virtuoso performance no less.

This was followed by Light-Walk, Barrie Gott’s big band fused hymn (great if you wish to have a big band piece and a hymn though only room for one item). The piece was written for the Star Lake Salvation Army camp in 1986 and showed off the flugelhorn skills of Georgina Hulme. Superb stuff.

Showing off Boarshurst Silver Band’s abilities in the slow melody department was Ben Hollings’ Lake of Tenderness. This was written in 2016 for Dr. Robert Childs and Grimethorpe Colliery Band as part of their Brass In Concert programme for that year. From what we have heard of Boarshurst Silver’s performance of that piece, a trip to SAGE Gateshead could be likely in the next decade.

Sticking to the Brass In Concert theme was our final soloist of the night, Liam Welsh on Eb Bass. If you are familiar with the autumn event, there’s a fantastic clip of Grimethorpe Colliery Band’s performance of Grandfather’s Clock. With Sandy Smith’s arrangement, the band lay their hands on anything they can blow including the kitchen sink. Sans kitchen sink, Liam Welsh gave us all a sensational performance, with superb backing from the percussion section.

To finish off Boarshurst Silver Band’s set was a driving Peter Graham piece, Phoenix. Taken from his War of the Worlds suite (not to be confused with Jeff Wayne’s work), it is a real feast which packs a punch in less than three minutes. Fantastic work.

Mass Brass Finale

  • March: The Radetzky March (Johann Strauss II).

Following the raffle (22 prizes in all from wine to assorted chocolates) came the Mass Brass Finale. The very point in the concert where Mass Brass did exactly what it said on the tin.

To finish off a spectacular night was The Radetzky March by Johann Strauss. Since yours truly started following the Saddleworth brass banding scene, Strauss’ march has been a popular finale for the local bands. Still, if it is good enough for Vienna on New Year’s Day, why not Saddleworth on the cusp of Spring?

But, and this is quite a huge but (not Kardashian style though), you would never see four bands travelling en masse to Austria. Strauss 0, Saddleworth 4. The sight of 120 brass banders performing The Radetzky March is a joy to behold.

By 9.50pm, most of Mass Brass 3’s 300 or so live audience members filed their way out of Saddleworth Civic Hall. After hearing nineteen pieces, played 120 brass banders and four bands with four conductors. Some of which among the 22 winners of that night’s raffle.

As they say, that’s it for another year. Here’s to 2020’s Mass Brass, which we hope equals or surpasses this year’s event. In this year’s event, you could say that Mass Brass came of age with good grace and has truly established itself in Saddleworth’s brass banding calendar. More the merrier, we say.

S.V., 26 March 2019.

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