Morgan Griffiths and Co. deliver yet another stunning concert

In terms of superlatives, what has been said about Hammonds Band that has not yet been seen said? Is it their ability to keep audiences aged 9 to 90 captivated by a stunning two hours worth of brass band music? Is it a well thought out programme that leaves audiences asking for more at the end? Is it the band’s memorable solo performances? It is a mix of the aforementioned and more besides.

The sheer magic of Morgan Griffiths’ band lay in a truly memorable concert at the Boarshurst Band Club last night. There was sixteen stunning pieces including four memorable solos. There was one piece which, dare I say it, was totally a-mew-sing.

In the last year since their previous visit to Boarshurst Band Club, they have added the Grand Shield to their lengthy list of trophies. That of course was there to see for the live audience. For the best part of two hours, you could see why they were worthy winners.

Last night’s performance also proved that such honours in brass banding aren’t dished out like Smarties. They are built on hard graft and a collaborative environment within the band with a mix of experienced heads and younger members. Compared with last year’s Saturday concert with Hammonds Band, they were rewarded with a much higher turnout and some great viewing figures on the live streams.

For this year’s season of Sunday Brass concerts, very few concerts may equal or top last night’s performance.

The Programme

First Half

  1. Concert Opener: A Short Ride in a Brass Machine (Andy Baker);
  2. Overture: Jubilee Prelude (Philip Sparke);
  3. Cornet Solo (performed by Philip Varley): Adagio from Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony (Rachmaninoff, arr. Ray Farr);
  4. Musical Medley: Mary Poppins Symphonic Suite (Robert Sherman/Richard Sherman, arr. Andy Duncan);
  5. Light Concert Music: Waltzing Cat (Leroy Anderson);
  6. Trombone Solo (performed by Matthew Brown): Rhapsody for Trombone (Gordon Langford);
  7. Test Piece Classic: Labour and Love (Percy Fletcher).

Second Half

  1. March: The Waltonian (J.J Richards);
  2. Baritone Solo (performed by Mike Walsh): Donegal Bay (Paul Lovatt-Cooper);
  3. Film Music: Theme from Jurassic Park (John Williams, arr. Alan Catherall);
  4. Euphonium Solo (performed by Ashley Higgins): La Belle Americaine (John Hartmann);
  5. Original Piece: In Memoriam from the Royal Parks suite (George Lloyd);
  6. Original Piece: Sarie Marais (arr. Gordon Langford);
  7. Hymn: Meditation from Nicaea (John Bacchus Dyke, arr. James Curnow);
  8. Original Piece: Tale of the Dragon (Paul Lovatt-Cooper).

Encore

  • March: Quality Plus (J.J Richards, arr. Morgan Griffiths).

Welcome to the (Brass) Machine

Whereas many a band prefer to open their programme with Prismatic Light, Hammonds Band’s choice of concert opener was Andy Baker’s superb A Short Ride in a Brass Machine. The piece was written in 2006 for Brighouse and Rastrick Band’s 140th anniversary year. It was first performed that year by the band in the Central Methodist Church.

The title is lifted from A Short Ride in a Fast Machine, a piece by John Adams. In just three minutes, both the live and streamed audience were taken to another dimension.

With astute timing came our second piece: Philip Sparke’s Jubilee Overture. In the last week, Virtuosi GUS Band decided to change their name back to The GUS Band. Whilst as The GUS Band, Jubilee Overture was written to commemorate the band’s Golden Jubilee in 1983 at the request of Keith Wilkinson. A fantastic performance which was a match for GUS’ premiere in their anniversary concert.

Whilst adhering to the traditional conventions of a brass band concert, our third piece was a solo performance. Enter on principal cornet Philip Varley with the Adagio from Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. Apart from offering a neat contrast to the first two livelier pieces, Philip’s performance had superb volume and tone.

For the fourth and fifth pieces, we let our hair down a little. The first of which was Andy Duncan’s arrangement of the Sherman Brothers’ Mary Poppins songs. From the original Walt Disney film based on P.J. Travers’ books, Mary Poppins Symphonic Suite had bitesize chunks of Chim Chim Cher-ee, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Let’s Go Fly a Kite and so on. The sound of last night’s performance, something quite stupendous.

If you love light-hearted compositions, the works of Leroy Anderson never fail to raise a smile on anybody’s face. Instead of The Typewriter or Bugler’s Holiday, our fifth piece was the oft-overlooked Waltzing Cat. Why this wonderful piece is forgotten about is beyond me. With slide trumpets as well as trombones and miaows from the band, a cheaper option than a course of Prozac for raising the spirits. Hammonds Band’s performance, besides their high standards of musicality was purr-fect for livening up a typical Sunday night in April.

Our last two pieces of this half were nailed-on brass banding classic. First off was our second soloist of the night, Matthew Brown on trombone. His piece was Rhapsody for Trombone by Gordon Langford. Written with Don Lusher in mind, it was captured on Chandos Music’s 1976 release The Spectrum of Brass Featuring the Music of Gordon Langford. In the album, Don performs the said work alongside Black Dyke Mills Band, who were conducted by Roy Newsome.

If Don Lusher followed last night’s live stream up in Heaven, he would have been proud of Matthew Brown’s performance. Was it really ten minutes long? Excellent stuff, Matthew.

To finish our first half was a real classic: Percy Fletcher’s Labour and Love. Written in 1913, it was one of the first pieces to be written as a bespoke test piece instead of being an arrangement of existing music. The premise sees one person giving up on work and dropping everything. Then, after being lambasted by the partner, has a change of heart. On the 27 September 1913, it was first performed at the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain at Crystal Palace. The victorious band that year was Irwell Springs, conducted by William Halliwell.

Last night’s performance showed that you couldn’t keep the golden oldies down. Especially when a band at the top of their game perform Labour and Love with great fluency. The piece itself, timeless; Hammonds Band’s performance, flawless. Yet we were only halfway through.

Quality plus entertainment

Whereas the first half was identical to their earlier concert at Glossop Old Band room, there was two changes to their second half programme. Instead of El Cid, our march was The Waltonian. Written by J.J Richards in 1928, it is regarded as a Circus March. The kind of march you would expect to hear before the ringmaster begins proceedings. A very good piece to open the second half.

This was followed by the third soloist of the night who performed this rarest of beasties: a quiet Paul Lovatt-Cooper piece. Enter on Baritone, Mike Walsh with PLC’s much-loved Donegal Bay. The piece paints a peaceful picture of the Irish county bay, noted for fishing, sunsets, and wild swimming. A beautiful, virtuoso performance.

Instead of peaceful waters, we turned our attention to dinosaurs. More specifically, John Williams’ theme from Jurassic Park. Based on Michael Crichton’s book, 1993’s smash hit film (directed by Steven Spielberg) spawned a number of sequels and goodness knows how many merchandising spin-offs. Especially dinosaur toys, part works on the subject and LCD handheld games. Hammonds Band’s performance was accomplished, making it seem like another day in the office.

If their performance of John Williams’ dinosaur themed film tune was “another day in the office”, the next performance was that day in the office when somebody brought in a giant chocolate cake or a dozen pizzas. Enter the euphonium excellence of Ashley Higgins with La Belle Americaine. Note for note, volume, intonation and dynamic, Ashley couldn’t put a foot wrong. A truly smashing performance.

From the air-conditioned near-anarchy of the raffle draw came a more sombre piece. Dedicated to the memory of the Royal Greenjackets Bandsmen, killed by a bomb in Regents Park on the 20 July 1982 is In Memoriam from the Royal Parks suite. In Memoriam is the second movement from the suite written in 1997, shortly before George Lloyd’s death in 1998. Another solid performance, showing the band’s effectiveness in playing quiet contemplative pieces.

This was followed by a second piece from the arrangers’ pen of Gordon Langford: Sarie Marais. Based on a South African folk song, the original song was written during The Boar War. It has also been covered by Jim Reeves. Fantastic work.

Our penultimate piece of the night was James Curnow’s Meditation from Nicaea. Based on the hymn Holy Holy Holy, it is suitable for church services as well as concert settings. The original hymn was written by John Bacchus Dyke in 1861 and is familiar to many churchgoers. Hammonds Band’s rendition was another fine performance, but their next piece would be something special.

To close the second half was our second Paul Lovatt-Cooper piece of the night. One with the bombast that depicts a typical PLC work for many listeners. Enter the Tale of the Dragon. Depicting triumph over adversity, the dragon we tame could either be literal (a great premise for many a 1980s style computer game) or metaphorical (i.e. trying to tame our personal demons). The highlights of this piece came from last night’s soprano cornet player and the percussion section.

In a few seconds shy of nine minutes, Tale of the Dragon asserted its presence as a truly scintillating finale. Breathtaking in scale with epic volume and awesome dynamics. A candidate for one of the best finale performances to have graced Boarshurst Band Club this year.

After this unbelievable finale, Hammonds Band found room for a suitable encore. A piece which could have described the band to a tee: J.J Richards’ Quality Plus, arranged by the band’s Musical Director Morgan Griffiths. Quality Plus is described as an American style quick march, a neat bedfellow to The Waltonian. It has also been arranged by Derek Broadbent.

Few concerts anywhere on our “pale blue dot”, let alone Saddleworth could have topped Hammonds Band’s performance. Their musicality was top drawer and left me wanting to see them again a few weeks later. Yes, that’s how good they were last night.

Next week…

Two bands will be making their way to Boarshurst Band Club: Dovestones Youth and Oldham Music Centre. Based in the Lyceum Theatre on Union Street, Oldham Music Centre have had a wealth of success in the 1990s and 2000s.

Dovestones Youth band are newcomers to the local brass banding scene and this will be their first Boarshurst Band Club date. Doors are open at 7pm for an 8pm start. To avoid disappointment, arrive as early as possible.

Buses:

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

Alight at the former Greenfield Conservative Club. Please note the change of post-7pm operator for the 350 route (Stagecoach Manchester).

Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

S.V., 29 April 2019.

Salts Mill background image by Jeff Hgt (Creative Commons License, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0).

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