A truly spectacular concert that put many open age bands to shame

Less than a month after the Dobcross Youth Band wowed audiences, another great youth band took to the stage at Boarshurst Band Club. Last night, it was the turn of Rochdale Borough Youth Band, one of four brass ensembles within Rochdale MBC’s Music Service.

With Elland Silver and Tewit Youth Bands setting the gold standard for youth banding, Dobcross Youth and Rochdale Borough Youth bands face stiff competition. Almost a month ago, we thought Dobcross Youth Band gave us a stunning concert.

Then came Rochdale Borough Youth Band.

If you entered the venue halfway through the performance of any piece, you could have mistaken last night’s band for a Top Ten Second Section band. There was excellent musicality, volume and dynamic well beyond their years. The admission fee for last night’s performance was a mere £4.00. An absolute steal.

There was something for everyone; not a dud piece among the fourteen programme items. A fantastic mix of popular music, original compositions, a couple of sublime solos, and a delightful duet. Two of which were by Paul Lovatt-Cooper – and a stern test for any Second or Third Section band, let alone Youth Bands.

Throughout the best part of 1 hour and 50 minutes, Rochdale Borough Youth Band wowed its live audience, and several others at home via the live stream. Musical Director Ben Dixon was concise and knowledgeable, and left no slack. Due to his tight running order and an excellent programme, one or two audience members would have happily watched them for another hour.

First Half

  1. March: On The Quarter Deck (Kenneth Alford);
  2. Film Music Medley: Breezin’ Down Broadway (Various, arr. Goff Richards):
    1. (From Kiss Me, KateAnother Op’nin’, Another Show (Cole Porter);
    2. (From Annie Get Your GunThere’s No Business Like Show Business (Irving Berlin);
    3. (From My Fair Lady and High SocietyGet Me To the Church on Time (Stanley Holloway);
    4. (From Oklahoma!Oklahoma! (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein);
    5. (From That’s Entertainment!That’s Entertainment! (Howard Dietz, Arthur Schwartz);
    6. (From The Music ManSeventy-Six Trombones (Meredith Wilson).
  3. Hymn: Hymn for Africa (Peter Meechan);
  4. Test Piece Movement (from Windows of the World): Amazonia (Peter Graham);
  5. Film Music (from The Lion King): Circle of Life (Elton John/Tim Rice, arr. Reid Gilje)
  6. Hymn: As The Deer (Martin Nystrom, arr. James Wright);
  7. Hymn: I’ll Walk With God (Nicholas Brodzsky, arr. Goff Richards).

Second Half

  1. Original Piece: When Thunder Calls (Paul Lovatt-Cooper);
  2. Flugelhorn Solo (performed by Hollie Lancaster): Under The Boardwalk (Artie Resnick/Kenny Young, arr. Philip Harper);
  3. Test Piece Movement (from Windows of the World): Drums of Thunder (Peter Graham);
  4. Principal Cornet Solo (performed by Ellie Warren): First Light (Ben Hollings);
  5. March: Slaidburn (William Rimmer);
  6. Euphonium Duet (performed by Matthew Shaw and Max Johnson): Softly As I Leave You (Alfred Devita, arr. Alan Catherall);
  7. Original Piece: Fire in the Blood (Paul Lovatt-Cooper).


  • March: On The Quarter Deck (Kenneth Alford).

Act I: On The Quarter Deck

In traditional style, we opened with a march: a much-loved street march in the form of On The Quarter Deck. Written by Kenneth Alford, it is a favourite deportment march among higher level brass bands. Performed well, Alford’s piece can move the audience from Chew Valley Road to Road End on many a Whit Friday. Rochdale Borough Youth Band’s performance would have fared well alongside First Section bands and scared a few Second and Third Section Bands. Sensational.

This was followed by a straightforward medley: a film music medley arranged by Goff Richards. If you answered Breezin’ Down Broadway, there’s a plastic Oscar award on the mantelpiece waiting for you. Richards’ journey into the world of stage and screen has six famous tunes including There’s No Business Like Show Business and Seventy-Six Trombones. For any film music based concert, a popular addition to any programme. Rochdale Borough Youth’s performance was more Broadway in New York City than Broadway in Moston or Chadderton. You could almost smell the greasepaint.

Filed under “now for something completely different” was our third item: a hymn, but a hymn unlike many others you may have heard at a brass band concert. Peter Meechan’s Hymn For Africa fits that bill with African style melodies. It was written as part of a series of pieces for Brass Band Aid, a charitable organisation set up by members of Stanhope Brass Band. It is inspired by the release of Nelson Mandela. A fantastic performance that would set the trend for our next two pieces.

First to follow our previous piece was Amazonia, the first movement of Peter Graham’s test piece entitled Windows of the World. The beauty of Peter Graham’s piece is each movement is self-contained. A boon for Musical Directors wishing to use each part as a separate concert item. Rochdale Borough’s performance vividly depicted the rain forest and neatly segued into our next piece.

From Peter Graham, we moved on to Sir Elton John and Tim Rice with the Circle of Life. This time, the band’s percussion section took centre stage with African drums adding to the atmosphere. If you are familiar with The Lion King film, Circle of Life is one of Elton John’s best known songs. It has been translated into 45 languages from Arabic to Zulu and peaked at Number 11 in the UK singles chart. Apart from being Number 1 in Canada, last night’s performance was Number One in Saddleworth. Fantastic.

Our penultimate piece of this half was a fairly modern hymn: Martin Nystrom’s As The Deer. Written in 1984, it is based on Psalm 42:1; “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee, You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship Thee“. This piece gave us an insight into the band’s prowess with slow melody and the results were delightful.

To finish the first half was another great Goff Richards arrangement. This time, Nicholas Brodzsky’s I’ll Walk With God. The hymn was most famously used in The Student Prince, where Prince Karl sung the song at the King of Carlsburg’s death bed. Played by Edmund Purdom, his singing was replaced by Mario Lanza’s dubbed voice. It has also been sung by Placido Domingo and Michael Crawford. A stunning first half finale.

Act II: When Thunder Calls

Our second half opened and closed with two Paul Lovatt-Cooper compositions. PLC’s works never fail to captivate audiences, and When Thunder Calls was no exception. Apart from giving us a truly stunning performance, there was room for some Garry Cutt style stagecraft with the percussion section taking their place before the rest of the band. The piece was commissioned by Dr Nicholas Childs for Black Dyke Band in 2011, for their gala concert performance at the Swiss Open Championship. If Carlsberg did concert openers… this could have taken the cake.

Only that cake is more likely to be served in the café at Llandudno Pier, instead of the hot dogs or French fries in our next piece. For the second piece of this half, Artie Resnick’s and Kenny Young’s Under The Boardwalk. This time with our first soloist of the night, Hollie Lancaster (on flugelhorn). Adding to her superb performance was a bit of sandpaper and sousaphone action. Philip Harper’s arrangement of The Drifters’ best known work never fails to wow audiences, and Hollie’s performance was a splendid case in point.

After the raffle came another thunderous performance: this time with Drums of Thunder, the fourth movement of Peter Graham’s Windows of the World. In its entirety, the test piece was premiered in 2000 by The YBS Band at Birmingham Symphony Hall. As for Rochdale Borough Youth Band’s performance, a strong showing in the percussion section and superb volume. If they played Windows of the World in full, it wouldn’t surprise me if they turned a few heads at their peers in open age Second Section bands.

This was followed by the second and final soloist of the night, and what a performance that was. On Principal Cornet, Ellie Warren played Ben Hollings’ First Light. This magnificent piece was written by Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band’s in-house composer for Kirsty Abbotts and depicts the dawn of a new day. The Yin to the Yang of his other notable work, Lake of Tenderness. As for Ellie’s performance, a magnificent one that compares well with Kirsty’s a few months earlier in the same venue.

After two great solos and a stunning test piece movement in between the solos, we returned to Lancashire. The village of Slaidburn which inspired William Rimmer’s march. Either as a deportment march or a contest march, Slaidburn is another staple of any Whit Friday Brass Band Contest. For Rochdale Borough Youth Band, a solid performance and (most importantly) a reminder of the fact we were 215 days away from Whit Friday.

Our penultimate piece of the night was another concert classic: Alan Catherall’s arrangement of Softly As I Leave You. Arranged in 1985 for Nicholas and Robert Childs as a duet, it is another test of skill for slow melodic music. Up to the challenge on euphonium last night was Rochdale’s equivalent to The Chuckle Brothers (“Ben Dixon’s words, not mine.” – Ed), Matthew Shaw and Max Johnson. As for their performance, so slick; no slacking whatsoever.

If you thought the performance of last night’s dynamic duo was enough, this was dwarfed by our finale. Another Paul Lovatt-Cooper piece, this time with the much-loved Fire In The Blood. This was commissioned by Dr. Stephen Cobb to commemorate the 120th anniversary of The International Staff Band of The Salvation Army’s formation. The title is a play on the Salvationists’ motto, with the piece using three songs of worship (Sing For Joy by Richard Phillips; Howard Davies’ Lord, You Know That We Love You; and I Love You Lord by Laurie Klein).

As finales went, a truly mind blowing experience. With a youth band, unbelievable would have only scratched the surface of a truly outstanding concert.

To end the concert, we had a reprise of Kenneth Alford’s On The Quarter Deck for our encore. After performing such heroics with euphoniums, percussive instruments, flugelhorns and so on, Alford’s march acted as both an opening and closing signature tune. This was their lap of honour, a homecoming. Their civic reception in front of thousands of adoring fans. As for those thousands, including the live audience and several more online viewers, “more” could have meant another hour. Those 110 minutes at the Boarshurst Band Club flew by.

* * *

Rochdale Borough Youth Band opened a fresh month in convincing style. They gave us all a concert that would have left Second Section bands quaking in their boots. Not only in terms of their programme, but also musicality, volume, and dynamic. With most of their members having several years of brass banding ahead of them, we really did see tomorrow’s stars in action.

Long may the Rochdale Music Service continue. With the amount of talent that has come from their brass ensembles, it all augurs well for the future shape of brass banding. Still not convinced? Listen to their performance of Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s When Thunder Calls from Boarshurst Silver Band’s Facebook page.

Next week at Boarshurst Band Club…

With next week’s concert falling on Remembrance Sunday, our very own Boarshurst Silver Band will be doing their traditional Remembrance Day concert.

Doors are open at 7pm for the usual 8pm start. Admission is £10.00 or £8.00 for members of Boarshurst Band Club, including a potato pie supper at the end of the concert.

As always, please arrive early to be sure of a good seat.

Public Transport

  • 350 bus: Ashton-under-Lyne – Mossley – Greenfield – Uppermill – Delph – Waterhead – Oldham (First Greater Manchester/Stagecoach Manchester).
  • Trains: Manchester Piccadilly – Stalybridge – Huddersfield (First Transpennine Express) – then walk along Shaw Hall Bank Road and Chew Valley Road till you see Greenbridge Lane on your right hand side. Turn right onto Greenbridge Lane.

Please alight outside the former Greenfield Conservative Club which is just before (to Oldham) or after (to Ashton) the zebra crossing. All post-6pm journeys of the 350 route are operated by Stagecoach Manchester.

S.V., 04 November 2019.

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