Crewe Brass: Sunday Brass at the Boarshurst Band Club, 21 April 2019

Matt Pithers’ promising Boarshurst debut sees satisfying programme

Crewe is very much a child of railway mania. The Victorian times saw the once pastoral part of Cheshire become a hub for inter-city trains to most parts of the United Kingdom. Though Birmingham New Street has stolen its thunder in terms of passenger traffic, Crewe station remains an important railway centre.

From the railways came brass bands, but Crewe Brass is one of Britain’s youngest bands. They were formed in 1989 as South Cheshire Young Brass. Following sponsorship by the United Norwest Cooperative Society, they became a fully fledged band accommodating players from 15 to (if they’ve got the puff left) 150. Today, as Crewe Brass, they are a First Section band. At Boarshurst Band Club last night, a pretty decent one.

For Crewe Brass, it was a fruitful first trip to Boarshurst for their musical director Matthew Pithers. Before 2017, Matt was involved in Test Valley Brass, a short distance away from his home town of Andover. He moved over to brass banding after playing the clarinet for the Irish Guards and the Coldstream Guards bands. Part of his programme reflected Matt’s transition to the brass banding cause.

There was two solo performances; one in each half, both of which were superb. Matt’s warmth also made for a good concert and a well received programme. Just the thing for a sweltering Easter Sunday in Saddleworth.

The Programme

First Half

  1. Concert Opener: Prismatic Light (Alan Fernie);
  2. Light Concert Music: Irish Tune from County Derry (Dennis Wright/Percy Grainger);
  3. March: Valdres March (Johannes Hanssen/H. Moller);
  4. Flugelhorn Solo (performed by Alice Newbold): Swedish Hymn (Traditional, arr. Peter Graham);
  5. Overture: Jubilee Overture (Philip Sparke);
  6. Hymn: Calon Lân (Daniel James, arr. Robert Richardson);
  7. Light Concert Music: Gaelforce (Peter Graham).

Second Half

  1. Overture: Liberty Fanfare (John Williams, arr. Steve Sykes);
  2. Light Concert Music: Vitae Lux (Frode Alnaes, arr. Aagaard Nilsen);
  3. Euphonium Solo (performed by Jan Walukiewicz): Grandfather’s Clock (Henry Clay Work);
  4. Light Concert Music: Valero (James Swearingen, arr. Sandy Smith);
  5. Light Concert Music: Stal Himmel (Alan Fernie);
  6. Original Piece: Fire in the Blood (Paul Lovatt-Cooper).

Encore

  • Original Piece: Doyen (Goff Richards).

2000: Loanhead to Dublin

To begin with we had a classic concert opener in the form of Prismatic Light by Alan Fernie. This was written for the Loanhead Youth Band’s 10th anniversary concert in 2012. Played well, this piece never fails to lift the spirits of its audience. Crewe Brass’ performance of this piece was one of the best renditions we have heard at Boarshurst Band Club to date.

A bus and two coaches away from Loanhead is the location of last night’s second piece: Derry. For many people, Percy Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry is a familiar number. You may have come across this piece as Londonderry Air. Or Danny Boy. In Brassed Off, it is played by Grimley Colliery Band outside the hospital where Danny Ormondroyd is being treated for pneumoconiosis. Another good shift from the band.

From Londonderry we moved to Norway for our next piece. One that was new to many ears. Valdres March, composed by Johannes Hanssen and H. Moller, was originally written for woodwind instruments. It is based on the fanfare for the Valdres Battalion. In brass band form, it scrubbed up very well, as Crewe Brass proved last night.

This eased us into our first solo of the night. Enter on flugelhorn Alice Newbold, Crewe Brass’ youngest member. Her piece was Swedish Hymn, another piece you may be familiar with under another name. Many of you would recognise it as How Great Thou Art by Carl Boberg. In its sung form, it has been covered by Elvis Presley and Bryn Yemm (who also chose How Great Thou Art as the title of his best selling album from 1984). A fantastic performance and, in Matt’s words, definitely one to watch.

This was followed by another brass banding classic: Philip Sparke’s Jubilee Overture. Published in 1983, it was written to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the GUS Brass Band. It was premiered in the band’s Golden Jubilee concert, conducted by Keith Wilkinson. A neat addition to the programme.

From Kettering we moved to Wales with a familiar tune. One that has been sung on the terraces before each Rugby Union test match with the Welsh national side. Calon Lân, written by Daniel James, has been translated and adapted to many languages. In Wales, it is seldom sung in the English language. Good in any language was Robert Richardson’s arrangement, which we had the joy of listening to last night.

After an in-house arrangement by one of Crewe Brass’ stalwart members, we boarded a ferry from Fishguard to the Emerald Isle for our first half finale. Enter the not-so-light light concert music piece that is Peter Graham’s Gaelforce. Though a joy to listen to for the audience, its three movements make for a real lip frazzler. It was commissioned by Foden’s Band (almost a 38 bus away from Crewe) with three Irish songs: The Minstrel Boy, Tossing the Feathers and The Rocky Road to Dublin. A fantastic closing piece to take us to the interval, well played.

2106: Manhattan to Workington

Whereas the first half had a piece for GUS Band’s Golden Jubilee, our second half opened with another commemorative piece. This time, John Williams’ Liberty Fanfare, written to commemorate the Centennial of The Statue of Liberty in 1986. From the first note, you could tell this was pure 1980s Williams chutzpah with its patriotic leanings. One thing you could never mistake is how well his works well in a brass band setting. Crewe Brass’ performance was a classic case in point with their fluency.

For the second piece of this half, we returned to Scandinavia: Norway this time with Frode Alnaes’ Vitae Lux. From Latin to English, it translates as Light Is Life. The piece is a slow burner which ends in bombastic fashion before fading into a peaceful melody. Another good performance.

This led us to our second and final soloist of the night. Another brass banding classic in the form of Grandfather’s Clock by Henry Clay Work. Taking his position on euphonium was Jan Walukiewicz, who has also followed Matt Pithers from Test Valley Brass. The song has been covered by Johnny Cash and Sam Cooke, and referenced by Half Man Half Biscuit in their 2006 song Joy Division Oven Gloves. Another fine solo performance.

After breaking for the raffle, our next piece was James Swearingen’s Valero. As jazz standards go, this never fails to blow the cobwebs off the audience. With 33 brass band players and goodness knows how much hundredweight of metal, a formidable number. Swearingen is a prolific composer who has written over 600 pieces. Great work from Crewe Brass.

The next piece was a more relaxed affair: this time, Alan Fernie’s Stal Himmel. In English, the piece translates as Steel Sky, offering a contrast to the sticky weather outdoors. It was inspired by a trip to Norway made by the Scottish composer, depicting a typical Norwegian scene. A neat contrast which turned out to be a lull before our storm.

As for the storm, that came courtesy of Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s Fire in the Blood. This breathtaking number was written as a test piece, performed in 2014 at the St. Galler Kantonal-Musikfest for Second Section bands. Two years later, it became the second section test piece for the Butlins Mineworkers’ contest (won by Besses Boys). For Crewe Brass, their rendition was truly breathtaking.

Spending the best part of a few hours walking could be breathtaking at times. So much so that a good sit down is needed and nothing beats a comfy chair. Especially a train seat, or a coach like the Leyland Royal Tiger Doyen.

Sadly, the Doyen flopped, but British Leyland had enough faith in the coach to commission a bespoke piece. The result was Goff Richards’ Doyen. A driving piece, it depicts a coach journey in full flow. From the engine ticking over to the vehicle in motion, right up to its final destination. A fantastic end.

In all, Crewe Brass gave us all a smooth two-hour musical journey. There was no bumps along the way, nor were there any musical potholes. A smooth run on continuously welded rail instead of jointed track. With Matt’s dry humour and a well thought out programme, they made the going easy. All for the price of two lattes on a cold February, whilst waiting for the Caledonian Sleeper train to call.

Next week…

The mighty Hammonds Band will be heading down to Boarshurst Band Club. Last May, Morgan Griffiths’ band won the Grand Shield at the Blackpool Winter Gardens.

Doors are open at 7pm for an 8pm start. Admission will be £6.00 (or £5.00 for concessions and members). To avoid disappointment, arrive as early as possible.

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. Please note that the 180 is operated by First Greater Manchester whereas post-7pm journeys of the 350 will be operated by Stagecoach Manchester from the 28 April 2019.

Due to Stamford Road, Mossley being closed from the 25 April for five days, expect delays due to diversions on the 350 route.

Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

S.V., 22 April 2019.

Crewe railway station background image by Ben Brooksbank, 1962 (Creative Commons License, Attribution-Share Alike 2.0).

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