Skelmersdale Prize Band: Sunday Brass at the Boarshurst Band Club, 07 April 2019

A five star performance by Skelmersdale Prize Band in their first visit to Boarshurst Band Club

When you go to some brass band concerts, what you might gain on the roundabouts in terms of concert items, you might lose on the swings. Following your favourite movie themed piece you might switch off during the test piece. Or gain listener fatigue from the usual March/Overture/Solo Piece formula. In the words of the uncle of the MD of last night’s band, Skelmersdale Prize Band aim to “break the mould”.

Break the mould they did! They shied away from some of the conventions of many a brass band concert from Nuuk to Port Stanley. Some listeners may be up in arms over the lack of solo spots. Or overtures and test piece excerpts. Nevertheless, the programme put out by Skelmersdale Prize Band reassured traditionalists, newcomers to brass band concerts and casual concertgoers.

For Ben Coulson, their unflappable Musical Director, last night’s concert was his second Sunday gig. Earlier yesterday, he was involved in Hammonds Band’s concert at Glossop Old band room. His next visit to Boarshurst could well be Hammonds’ gig on the 28 April 2019. Ben has also tutored budding brass banders and has had a stint with Blackburn and Darwen Band.

Skelmersdale Prize Band was formed in 1878 as the Skelmersdale Temperance Band. Their early rehearsals were held in the bakery of Ellis Lawrence’s shop in Old Skelmersdale. The band’s zenith came in the 1960s and 1970s when they became a Championship Section band. This coincided with Skelmersdale getting New Town Status, with a utopian vision built on low rise housing, roundabouts and covered shopping centres.

The band’s biggest blow came in 1976 when their band room was ravaged by fire. Its library and band room was destroyed, with only a few of its instruments left as a sorry reminder. From the ashes they continued, though didn’t regain their place in brass banding’s top table.

Now in the Fourth Section, Skelmersdale Prize Band’s role in the community is exactly the same as it was 141 years ago. Not only in providing first rate live entertainment at affordable prices. They offer an alternative to boredom and a possible career path. With Ben, they are a band on the up, and their stint in the Fourth Section could be a temporary blip.

Make no mistake, last night’s concert programme wouldn’t have been out of place in a Second Section or Third Section band’s repertoire. Their performance, well beyond the standard you would expect from a Fourth Section band. Dare I say it, better than some concerts hosted by bands in the higher echelons. On The Stream Team’s efforts via Boarshurst Silver Band’s Facebook, they were rewarded with viewing figures expected for Championship Section bands.

The Programme

First Half

  1. March: On the Quarter Deck (Kenneth Alford);
  2. Original Piece: Trailblaze (Goff Richards);
  3. Cornet Feature: Shepherd’s Song (Sir Edward Elgar, arr. Goff Richards);
  4. Film Music: Theme from Star Trek: First Contact (Jerry Goldsmith, arr. Darrol Barry);
  5. Hymn: Guardian Of My Soul (Darren Shaw);
  6. Light Concert Music: Mr Jums (Chris Hazell, arr. Alan Catherall);
  7. Film Music (from The Deer Hunter): Cavatina (Stanley Myers, arr. Derek Broadbent);
  8. Musical Medley: Symphonic Suite from Mary Poppins (Sherman Brothers, arr. Gordon Langford).

Second Half

  1. Original Piece: When Thunder Calls (Paul Lovatt-Cooper);
  2. Classical Piece: Apres un Reve (Gabriel Fauré, arr. Howard Snell);
  3. Popular Music: Clog Dance (John Marcangelo);
  4. Film Music (from Saving Private Ryan): Hymn to the Fallen (John Williams, arr. Philip Sparke);
  5. Film Music (from Follow The Fleet): Let’s Face the Music and Dance (Irving Berlin, arr. Goff Richards);
  6. Musical Piece (from Les Miserables): I Dreamed a Dream (Michael Schoenberg, arr. Darrol Barry);
  7. Light Concert Music: The Golden Lady (Goff Richards).

Encore

  • Classical Piece: The Radetzky March (Johann Strauss II, arr. Walter Hargreaves).

To boldly go… where few brass bands have gone before

With only 68 days to go till Whit Friday, Skelmersdale Prize Band gave us a hint of what could be their choice of deportment march. That of Kenneth Alford’s On The Quarter Deck. Whether on Chew Valley Road, Bethel Street or Market Street, his march never fails to raise the spirits of anyone aged 8 months old or 80 years old. Skelmersdale Prize Band’s performance proved just that.

This was followed by Trailblaze, the first of last night’s pieces by Goff Richards. It is a fine original piece which deserves a decent airing in many concerts. It is also the opening piece and title in Lofthouse 2000 band’s 2011 CD release, released shortly before Goff Richards’ death. Well played.

The third piece of the night is often reserved for the cornet soloist. Skelmersdale Prize Band did things differently, breaking the mould with a cornet feature. This time with our second Goff Richards piece of the night, Shepherd’s Song. An arrangement of Sir Edward Elgar’s work, it is a pastoral work of longing. It tells the tale of two people being separated by a river. Instead of being cut off (a la Water of Tyne), one of them swims across the river. Another one we loved.

This was followed by our first piece of film music. Once again, they broke the mould and chose a theme from Star Trek. More precisely, Jerry Goldsmith’s theme from Star Trek: First Contact. Reassuringly for its listeners, Darrol Barry’s arrangement includes an excerpt of the original Star Trek. Listen long and prosper (gloriously misquoting “live long and prosper”) could have been an appropriate phrase for this dreamy theme.

From Klingons on the starboard bow, our next piece was anything but alien to both last night’s live and recorded audiences. Enter Darren Shaw’s Guardian Of My Soul. To more switched-on listeners, it is a mash-up. A mash-up of two hymns: O Jesus I Have Promised and his own composition, I Worship You. Both have Guardian Of My Soul quoted in their lyrics. With a great sound, this performance was well received.

If you went to Hammonds Band’s concert in Glossop on the same Sunday, last night’s MD was involved in two feline compositions. At Glossop, Leroy Anderson’s Waltzing Cat. Hours later at Boarshurst, the irresistible Mr Jums by Chris Hazell. It forms part of the Three Brass Cats suite which later inspired a fourth piece by the same composer entitled Kraken. Less well known (unless you’re a Child of the 1980s) is his role in Central Television’s children’s programme Let’s Pretend. As performances go, purr-fect and far from the imagery of the scruffy tom cat portrayed in this number.

From the feline, we moved onto animals of the cervine variety: deer. Or rather, our second movie theme of the night. In a late change to the programme, Gabriel’s Oboe was replaced by Cavatina. Stanley Myers’ tune was originally written for guitar and famed for its use in The Deer Hunter. Last night’s version was arranged by Derek Broadbent, possibly following the film’s release in 1979. In that year, The Shadows’ cover led to Hank Marvin’s band enjoying a revival. A fantastic performance.

To close the first half was another enjoyable piece from the big screen. Also played by Hammonds Band at their concert earlier in the day was a Symphonic Suite from Mary Poppins. The Sherman Brothers’ works, carefully arranged and curated by Gordon Langford includes Chim Chim Cheree, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, It’s a Jolly Holiday, and Feed The Birds to name a few. The percussion section showed off their skills with whistles and fire bells alongside the usual instruments. A superb finale for the first half.

Moonlight, music, love and romance…

If you thought On The Quarter Deck was a good, traditional opening piece for any given half, Skelmersdale Prize Band broke the mould with their choice of second half opener. Enter When Thunder Calls by Paul Lovatt-Cooper. Few pieces can contain as much as PLC Music’s miniature epic, packing a real punch two seconds shy of four minutes. Powerful stuff, well performed.

The Yang to the Yin of Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s piece was Gabriel Fauré’s Après un Rêve. Translated into English, it has a more prosaic title (After the Dream). The song forms part of Fauré’s Trois Mélodies and is based on Romain Bussine’s poem. It has also been sung by Kiri te Kanawa. Skelmersdale Prize Band’s rendition was another good one.

Thanks to Messrs Herman and Co., John Marcangelo’s Clog Dance has taken on a new lease of life in many a brass band concert programme. In Brassed Off, it is heard when Grimley Band make their way to the Royal Albert Hall for the National Finals. Before Brassed Off, Clog Dance was a quirky number inspired by Brew’s Clog Shop in Whitehaven. In 1979, this was Violinski’s one and only chart single which peaked at Number 17. One member of the group was Mik Kaminski, the Harrogate-born violinist who played with the Electric Light Orchestra. In 2017, the song inspired a musical.

After a solid performance of Clog Dance came another gift to the brass banding world: the collected works of John Williams. More precisely, the excellent Hymn To The Fallen which featured in Saving Private Ryan. A staple in each one of Ben Coulson’s concert programmes, it is often performed on Remembrance Day concerts. Skelmersdale Prize Band’s performance proved how evergreen this piece is on the other 364 (or 365) days in a year on Earth. Brilliant.

Our next piece took on a more light-hearted subject. If you could cast your mind back to Christmas Day 1977, you would never forget Let’s Face the Music and Dance in a hurry. Besides the infamous Angela Rippon clip on that year’s Morecambe and Wise Show, it features in the Fred Astaire film Follow The Fleet. Irving Berlin’s piece has been covered by Nat King Cole, with his version the subject of an insurance advert in the early 1990s (Allied Dunbar). As memorable as Ms. Rippon’s clip 42 years ago was Skelmersdale Prize Band’s tip-top performance.

Had The Morecambe and Wise Show been around in the age of social media, ‘that clip’ would have gone viral. 32 years on, Susan Boyle stunned Britain’s Got Talent audiences and social media with her performance of I Dreamed A Dream. Ironically, on the second day of this year’s series of BGT, the Les Miserables number was the penultimate item in the programme for last night’s band. With a bit of magic from the late great Darrol Barry, this made for a fantastic arrangement. Adding to this, a great whole band performance, which at this time of writing has been seen by over 1,100 people on Boarshurst Silver Band’s Facebook page.

Our final piece of the night was another golden oldie as far as concert pieces are concerned. Also another one by Goff Richards, in the form of The Golden Lady. This original piece was written for Cornwall Youth Brass Band’s tour of Luxembourg. As for The Golden Lady, it stands atop an obelisk in Luxembourg City, dedicated to Luxembourgers who gave their lives to Allied Powers in both World Wars and the Korean War. An uplifting piece which brought an uplifting concert to an end.

Some of us knew differently, with the encore also having European leanings. There are no prizes for guessing which piece I am referring to should I mention the New Year’s Day concerts in Vienna: The Radetzky March. From Nuuk to Port Stanley, Johann Strauss II’s piece never fails to get audiences clapping or tapping their toes to the beat. Whether in an orchestral or brass band setting, even the most stony faced of listeners couldn’t be moved by this number. Skelmersdale Prize Band’s performance was no exception to this rule.

Wherever they may be in the cosmos, give Skelmersdale Prize Band a go. Just take away any inhibitions and preconceptions you may have had about Fourth Section bands. Enjoy the show, and prepare to be dazzled. With a most enjoyable programme and the odd anecdote from Ben, you will have a wonderful time.

Skelmersdale Prize Band’s next concert is at Lathom Park Chapel on the 06 May (May Day Bank Holiday), starting at 7.30pm. For more information, visit Skelmersdale Prize Band’s website or give their Facebook page a like.

Next Week…

Palm Sunday sees the arrival of Middleton Band. The First Section band won the First Section title in last year’s National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain. If Black Fives, Whistlers, Hoovers and Deltics vie with your passion for brass bands, you may have seen Middleton Band on the East Lancashire Railway.

As always, doors open at 7pm for an 8pm start. Admission will be £5.00 (or £4.00 for concessions and members). To avoid disappointment, arrive as early as possible, especially as next week’s band have a good local following.

Buses:

  • 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 services operated by First Greater Manchester.

Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

S.V., 08 April 2019.

Skelmersdale Library background image by Rept0n1x, 2013 (Creative Commons License, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0).

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