Strata Brass: Sunday Brass at the Boarshurst Band Club, 01 December 2019

Superb concert with great solo performances and a Christmas set with a difference

In the words of their mercurial Musical Director Jonathan Bates, it has been quite a while since Strata Brass Band ever had a concert at Boarshurst Band Club. The last time they performed there, they were probably known as Hoyland Town Band. As for Jonathan Bates, he is known for his arranging skills and his role on Principal Horn with Foden’s Band. In many cases, absence makes the heart grow fonder – and Strata Brass’ latest concert was no exception.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Strata Brass are a newly formed band. They have previously been known as Hoyland Silver Prize Band and Wards Brewery Band. Their first success at contest level was at the Blackpool Mineworkers’ contest in 1949. By the start of the 21st century, their reputation as a good contesting band grew with several wins and runners-up places at the Bolsover Entertainment Contest.

Their pedigree at previous Bolsover contests was apparent in last night’s programme. There was a neat selection of traditional concert programme items, though each arrangement was unique and highly entertaining. For example: with In The Hall In The Mountain King, we had a big band style arrangement instead of the dry classical style piece.

Over seventeen pieces, Strata Brass delivered a well-rounded programme with a Christmassy second half that shied away from the tired old standards. Out went Frosty The Snowman, in went a tremendous tenor horn trio of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. With Boarshurst Band Club having Championship Section standards of Christmas decoration, they also found a good Championship Section band to add to the ambience.

The Programme

First Half

  1. Popular Music: Human Nature Part Two (Steve Porcaro/John Bettis);
  2. Hymn: The Old Rugged Cross (George Bennard, arr. Simon Wood);
  3. Light Concert Music: Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma, arr. Peter Blair);
  4. Light Concert Music: Glow (Eric Whitacre, arr. Jacob Wilheim Larsen);
  5. Original Piece: Armenian Fire Dance! (Goff Richards);
  6. Light Concert Music: In Perfect Peace (Kenneth Downie);
  7. Tenor Horn Solo (performed by Andrew Thompson): Someone Like You (Leslie Bricusse, arr. John Barber);
  8. Flugelhorn Solo (performed by David Peck): Writing’s On The Wall (Jimmy Napes/Sam Smith, arr. Rieks Van Der Velde);
  9. Bass Trombone Solo (performed by Nick Stokes): In the Hall of the Mountain King (Edvard Grieg, arr. Bill Geldard);
  10. Light Concert Music: Balkan Dance (Etienne Crausaz).

Second Half

  1. Christmas Song: On Christmas Night (Paul Sharman);
  2. Cornet Solo (performed by James Atkins): Candlelight Carol (John Rutter, arr. Andrew Wainwright);
  3. Tenor Horn Trio: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Edward Pola/George Wylde, arr. Rieks Van Der Velde);
  4. Bass Trombone and Cornet Duet (performed by Nick and Rhys Stokes): Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Frank Loesser, arr. Barrie Gott);
  5. Christmas Song: I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Kim Gannon/Walter Kent, arr. Jonathan Bates);
  6. Christmas Carol: God Rest Ye Merry Cha Cha Men (arr. John Barber).

Encore

  • Popular Music: Christmas Wrapping (Chris Butler).

* * *

“The other Someone Like You” (sorry Adele fans)

We opened with Human Nature Part Two, an arrangement of a Steve Porcaro and John Bettis song from 1982. It was written for Michael Jackson for his multi-million selling 1983 album Thriller. On the album, Steve and some of his other members from Toto performed the song with Michael Jackson. Peaking at Number 11 in the Billboard charts, it peaked at Number 62 in the UK. Strata Brass’ performance was top drawer stuff.

Next up was a hymn, a traditional one in The Old Rugged Cross though not a ‘traditional’ arrangement. Simon Wood’s interpretation is a fresh one with extra bells and whistles making for a most immersive experience. George Bennard’s hymn was written in 1912 and published in 1915. It has been covered by numerous artistes from Johnny Cash to Patsy Cline. Dennis Potter used the hymn in some of his plays, most notably Pennies From Heaven (1978). Last night’s band added some extra polish to Simon Wood’s arrangement.

If you have read enough of my concert reviews, this is usually the part where our Principal Cornet soloist would come in. Not this time; we followed up the previous piece with Autumn Leaves. The jazz standard, written in 1945 has been set to lyrics by Jacques Prèvert and Johnny Mercer in French and English languages respectively. Last night we were treated to Peter Blair’s arrangement – another one that exuded great volume, texture and Kodachrome style colour. Once again, another good shift.

In many concerts, no programme is complete without a tune from stage and screen. Even fewer concerts have a theme tune from a film project that was kyboshed in favour of other productions. Eric Whitacre’s Glow is a fine example of this, from the lost Walt Disney film World of Color Winter Dreams. With Walt Disney opting for Madagascar 2, Eric thought “stuff this” (or any other choice phrases that I shall leave to your imagination) and released the soundtrack instead. (Then again, Frozen is a much snappier title despite being a different film again).

As for Strata Brass’ performance, a lovely wintery shoo-in hinting at a more Christmassy second half. Within two minutes, ice gave way to fire thanks to Goff Richards’ Armenian Fire Dance!. This vibrant original piece appeared on the Brighouse and Rastrick Band Obrasso Records CD On A World Tour. One link with Strata Brass was Briggus’ conductor – Jonathan Bates’ predecessor, David Hirst. Whatever time of the year, it is a most enjoyable piece of light concert music that can be quite a test for the band. Strata Brass passed with flying colours.

The next piece offered a neat contrast: Kenneth Downie’s In Perfect Peace. It is based on words from Isaiah 26, which are often used as a benediction. Mr Downie has written over fifty compositions, including St. Magnus for the Championship Section test piece for 2004’s European Brass Band Championships. Another good performance.

For the next three pieces, Jonathan Bates gave the soloists a chance to shine. First to take his position was Andrew Thompson on tenor horn. His piece was Someone Like You – Leslie Bricusse’s version from the stage adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde instead of Adele’s song. In the musical, it is sung by Lucy, close to the end of Act I. For Andrew, some great volume and tone from his tenor horn.

Our next great literary character was covered by last night’s flugelhorn soloist David Peck. This time with Ian Fleming’s James Bond, thanks to Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall. This was released in 2015 for that year’s Bond film, Spectre. Though the song had mixed reviews, it was the first James Bond theme to reach Number One in the UK singles chart. (Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill came close, kept off the top spot by Paul Hardcastle’s 19 in 1985). Once again, another sublime performance in the tone and volume department.

Our third and final solo performance of the first half came from Nick Stokes. This time on the under-appreciated bass trombone with a swinging take on In The Hall of the Mountain King. On writing the piece, Edvard Grieg said he wrote “something that reeks of cowpats, ultra-Norwegianism, and ‘to-thyself-be-enough-ness'” that he couldn’t bear to listen to at all. An ephemeral piece in his view, which had been committed to Big Band style by Bill Geldard. His take works so well, and Nick Stokes’ performance proved that point handsomely.

Our last piece of this half was another lively number: Etienne Crausaz’s Balkan Dance. The piece, as you expect, is inspired by Bulgarian and Hungarian melodies (other Balkan countries are available) and includes a choral section towards the finale. All of which provided by your caring, sharing Strata Brass to great effect. If you need a lively concert finisher for a full length programme or a 20 minute long entertainment contest set, I fully recommend this piece.

“Bah humbug, now that’s too strong…”

Now that we are a month away from a new year, December inevitably means Christmas concert pieces. Yes, for many of us, this could mean Troika and Santa Claus-trophobia for the umpteenth time in TESCO’s Stalybridge store (other branches are available) or Jingle Bells on Grosvenor Square. Last night, Strata Brass went all Christmassy without resorting to the usual pieces.

To begin with, we had On Christmas Night by Paul Sharman. With the thermometer tantalisingly close to triggering Winter Fuel Payments, this atmospheric piece added real warmth to the chilly atmosphere outside Boarshurst Band Club. You could visualise all the usual Christmas card style images without the piece screaming ‘Christmas’ to you every 10 seconds. Its John Williams style references make this piece a real gem.

After a classy start to the second half came our fourth and final soloist of the night. This time with James Atkins on cornet performing Andrew Wainwright’s arrangement of Candlelight Carol. John Rutter’s carol brought us into traditional Christmas concert territory, with the piece inspired by Geertgen’s painting Nativity at Night. James Atkins’ fluent performance brought the Christmas factor up to eleven. Who needs a chart-topping singer to peddle premium priced groceries to the strains of REO Speedwagon’s Cannot Fight This Feeling Any More?

Well, there are some people who think this year’s Waitrose advert signals the arrival of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. At Boarshurst Band Club, Strata Brass did things differently – with a tenor horn trio performing The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Edward Pola’s and George Wyle’s song was released in 1963 and sung by Andy Williams. With last night’s performance, ‘three’ was the magic number. Superb stuff.

Then again, three could mean a crowd. Our next piece proved that two could do the job just as well. Enter Nick and Rhys Stokes: father and son, bass trombone and cornet respectively. Their duet was another winter classic: Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Arranged by Barrie ‘Light-Walk’ Gott, this was a beautiful arrangement that would have sat comfortably alongside Santa’s mince pie and sherry. The song has been covered by numerous artistes with Tom Jones’ duet with Cerys Matthews a fairly recent example.

Last night’s double act was up with the best versions we have heard of this song. Though all the soloists and the tenor horn trio put in fantastic performances, last night’s duet was truly special and a moment to treasure.

After the raffle came our penultimate piece – the only one of the night to have been arranged by Jonathan Bates himself. Written by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon in 1943 for Bing Crosby, I’ll Be Home for Christmas is very much of its time. It was written to honour overseas soldiers who longed to be home for Christmas. Like all great songs, it stands up well today. In other situations, applicable to loved ones returning from hospital; students coming home from university; or commuters trying to leave Manchester Victoria station in rush hour. Another cracking performance.

As for the last piece of the night, a traditional carol with a novel twist. How does a big band version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen grab you? The answer to that is God Rest Ye Merry Cha Cha Men, arranged by John Barber. This take on the carol proved to be a superb transcription and – alongside the tenor horn trio – a worthy addition to any Christmas concert programme.

Three minutes later came our encore piece, a cracker in the form of Christmas Wrapping. The Waitresses’ one and only UK hit peaked at Number 45 in December. This was inspired by the songwriter’s loathing of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. For someone most used to the usual Christmas brass banding clichés a fantastic change from the norm.

* * *

All in all, Strata Brass gave us a superb concert. One that truly had something for everyone with seventeen entertaining pieces. Seven of which got in a Christmassy mood without over-egging the plum pudding.

We hope the wait for their next Boarshurst concert isn’t as long as the previous one. If you ever get the chance of seeing Strata Brass in concert in your locality, give them a whirl; you wont regret it.

Next week at Boarshurst Band Club…

A fantastic youth band will be heading over to Boarshurst Band Club on the 08 December. This time, the Shepherd Group Youth Band. Formed in 2011, they are the youth offshoot of Shepherd Group Band in York. The parent band was formed in 1907 as the Rowntree’s Cocoa Works Band as one of several healthy pursuits introduced by Joseph Rowntree for his employees.

Admission will be £4.00, or £3.00 for members of the Boarshurst Band Club. Please note that next week’s concert will start at 7.30pm with doors open at 6.30pm.

Public Transport

  • Trains: Transpennine Express services to Greenfield from Stalybridge, Huddersfield and Manchester Piccadilly stations.
  • Bus: 350 bus from Ashton-under-Lyne, Mossley, Uppermill and Oldham (First Greater Manchester/Stagecoach Manchester).

Please note that all 350 journeys after 7pm are operated by Stagecoach Manchester. Alight at the stop outside the former Conservative Club and (for the next three weeks) the Christmas tree next to the bridleway on Chew Valley Road.

S.V., 02 December 2019.

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