Hard working York youth band put on fantastic show

Hours before they came to Boarshurst Band Club, the Shepherd Group Youth Band held a concert in Selby Abbey. Courtesy of one of York Pullman’s finest coaches, they were on the M62 motorway whilst yours truly was enjoying his Sunday Dinner.

After being on one of the UK’s most traffic-clogged motorways, the Shepherd Group Youth Band gave us all a superb performance. With a dozen pieces and an encore, this was a concert in two halves. The first half was a traditional concert programme, with the second half given over to Christmas tunes.

Founded in 2011 by Musical Director Craig Brown, the Youth Band is one of six bands that make up the Shepherd Group Band brass banding community. The senior band was formed in 1907 as Rowntree’s Cocoa Works Band by Joseph Rowntree, as an antidote to the pub. For most of its existence, they were sponsored by Rowntree and its successors (Rowntree Macintosh, and Nestlé Rowntree).

After Nestlé withdrew their sponsorship, another local business stepped in: the Shepherd Group. There’s a good chance you may have studied in one of their structures. By the time you have read this review, you will be casting your vote in this year’s General Election inside one of them. The Shepherd Group’s most iconic brand is Portakabin. Due to the strength of the brand, some people call non-Portakabin buildings ‘Portakabins’ (see also hoovering the house with your Shark or Dyson vacuum cleaner).

Craig Brown, founding father of the Youth Band and Musical Director, gave us all a most enjoyable programme. The sound was fantastic and compared well with many senior bands. If you looked away from the stage, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a Second or Third Section senior band.

The Programme

First Half

  1. Popular Music: The Final Countdown (Tempest, arr. Frank Bernaerts);
  2. Popular Music: The Eye of the Tiger (Jim Peterik/Frank Sullivan, arr. Alan Fernie);
  3. Principal Cornet Solo (performed by Joelly Mosses): First Light (Ben Hollings);
  4. Hymn: Jupiter’s Theme (Gustav Holst, arr. Frank Bernaerts);
  5. Baritone Solo (performed by Imogen Fewster): Grandfather’s Clock (Henry Clay Work);
  6. Original Piece: Finale from The Dark Side of the Moon (Paul Lovatt-Cooper).

Second Half

  1. Christmas Piece: Ding Dong Christmas (Derek Broadbent);
  2. Flugelhorn Solo (performed by Isobel Thompson): Away in a Manger (Traditional, arr. Peter Graham);
  3. Christmas Carol: The First Nowell (Traditional, arr. Steve Hague);
  4. Christmas Piece: Christmas In A Minute (Craig Mann);
  5. Christmas Piece: Jingle Bell Swing (Gavin Somerset);
  6. Christmas Song: Christmas Eve/Sarajevo (Paul O’Neill/Robert Kinkel, arr. George Megaw).

Encore set

  • Christmas Piece: Jingle Bell Swing (Gavin Somerset);
  • Christmas Piece: Christmas In A Minute (Craig Mann).

* * *

“Rising up the challenge of our rivals…”

Our first two pieces of the night were UK Number One singles in 1986 and 1982 respectively. First up was The Final Countdown, Europe’s best known single from November 1986. In the words of songwriter Joey Tempest, it was written “as a good-time hard-rock song”. Last month, in The Daily Mirror, he urged the Tories to stop using his song in relation to Brexit. The song has been covered by 60 artistes, with the most surreal being The Toy Dolls‘ version (with kazoos). Shepherd Group Youth Band gave us an energetic opener.

This was complemented by The Eye of the Tiger, a smash hit for Survivor from 1982 (and one of two UK Top Ten hits). From the film Rocky III, we have Queen to thank for the song’s existence. After being refused permission to use Another One Bites The Dust, Sylvester Stallone enlisted the services of Survivor. The result was a Number One hit on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean with a four-week stint in the UK singles chart. With the tiger in the tank, Shepherd Group Youth Band were in cruise control.

To avoid peaking too early, our two exuberant openers gave way to a quieter piece – and our first soloist of the night. Enter on principal cornet, Joelly Mosses with Ben Hollings’ First Light. This original piece marks the first light of any given morning. In other words, dawn. The piece was first written for Kirsty Abbotts, undoubtedly one of the finest cornet soloists north of the Woodhead Pass. From Joelly’s performance, there was plenty of potential for her to make a bid for the Principal Cornet seat at a higher echelon brass band. Fantastic work.

This was followed by our one and only hymn of the night: Gustav Holst’s Jupiter. It is one of the composer’s best known works from The Planets suite which incorporates the hymn I Vow To Thee. The hymn was also sung at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, and requested as a hymn at Charles and Diana’s 1981 Royal Wedding. Another great performance.

This piece, the previous and the next two pieces (some of which rather tenuous) all have a space theme. Taking us to another world was our second soloist, Imogen Fewster. This time with Grandfather’s Clock; for euphonium solo or bass solo pieces, a must as far as concert items are concerned. Last night, we heard Henry Clay Work’s song on a baritone horn. The results were delightful with a more melodic edge. With Imogen’s superb performance, even more so.

Our last piece of this half gave us a sneakier-than-sneaky sneak preview of next week’s concert featuring Robert’s Bakery Band. If you correctly said that the Cheshire band’s Musical Director was Paul Lovatt-Cooper, give yourself a gold star.

Now award yourself another gold star if you could guess the piece: The Dark Side of the Moon. Having nothing to do with Pink Floyd’s 1973 album, the full piece 12 minutes and 30 seconds long. It was commissioned by Black Dyke Band and Dr. Nicholas Childs and premiered on the 27 January 2007 at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff. In the following year, it was selected as a Test Piece for the Third Section Regional Finals of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain.

With time at a premium, we heard the piece’s resplendent finale. What a finale that was; an excellent piece performed very well by Shepherd Group Youth Band.

Songs for swinging jingle bells

With The Most Wonderful Time of the Year getting closer, the whole of Shepherd Group Youth Band’s second half was given over to Christmas songs. Like Strata Brass last week, they defied convention by giving us a fresh take on traditional pieces. If you wanted a swinging version of The First Nowell, your wish was granted.

First up was Ding Dong Christmas, an arrangement of Ding Dong Merrily on High by Derek Broadbent. With pieces by other arrangers like Alan Fernie, Philip Harper and Christopher Wormald being more popular these days, Mr. Broadbent’s work seems to have been forgotten of late. If you wanted a side serving of cheese and a merry Christmas song, you got that. A lovely start.

This was followed by the third and final soloist of the night: Isobel Thompson with Away In A Manger on flugelhorn. In three verses, the most common arrangement of the carol came from William J. Kirkpatrick in 1895. It is based on the New Testament Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 2, Verses 4 to 7. One thing you could take as gospel was Isobel Thompson’s performance: a strong showing in the tone and volume department. Fantastic.

Upholding tradition, we moved on to our third carol: The First Nowell. This time with a difference, courtesy of Steve Hague’s arrangement. Instead of the usual slow paced choral style, Hague’s arrangement was more like easy listening music. Very much in the vein of Max Harris, Geoff Love and his Orchestra or Bert Kaempfert. This punchy arrangement was another hit for Shepherd Group Youth Band.

After the raffle, last night’s band set themselves a Band Speed Challenge with their next piece. Entitled Christmas In A Minute, this high speed Christmas medley has bite size (for a hamster) versions of Jingle Bells, Once In Royal David’s City and The First Nowell. Just the thing for a short Christmas concert programme for a supermarket gig. Brilliant stuff.

No Christmas concert is complete without Jingle Bells. For some Musical Directors, better without the aforementioned song. Last night, Craig Brown and Co. gave us a middle way with Gavin Somerset’s Jingle Bell Swing. A swing fused version of the Christmas song, this was another arrangement that wouldn’t have felt out of place in Easy Listening Land. A fantastic change from the run-of-the-mill hackneyed arrangements.

For our last piece of the night, we took a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina with Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24. It is a mash-up of two carols: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Shchedryk (or Carol of the Bells in English). It was released in 1995 on Savatage’s debut album Dead Winter Dead. A year later, it was re-released by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The piece depicts a lone cello player in the then war-torn city of Sarajevo. Once again, different to the usual Christmassy fare and, most importantly, another great performance.

As for the encore, we had a reprise of Jingle Bell Swing and Christmas In A Minute. Both irresistible pieces which, used in the context of our finale, got us leaving Boarshurst Band Club in a more Christmassy mood. Mission accomplished for Shepherd Group Youth Band’s busy Sunday schedule.

* * *

With their recent success at the Ripon contest and Brass Factor in Holmfirth, Shepherd Group Youth Band are a band to look out for in the next year. Last night’s concert proved that, both in terms of musicality and entertainment value.

For Shepherd Group Youth Band, erstwhile coach driver Irwin, and its audience, it was well worth the long journey. We wish them well in the future and hope they make an impact in regional and national contests.

Next week at Boarshurst Band Club…

On the 15 December, Robert’s Bakery Band will be heading over to The Mecca of Brass Banding. The Cheshire based First Section band, off the A556, is conducted by Paul Lovatt-Cooper. If you know your brass bands, Paul Lovatt-Cooper is synonymous with meaty original pieces like The Dark Side of the Moon, When Thunder Calls and Donegal Bay.

Admission will be £8.00, or £7.00 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., 09 December 2019.

York Minster image by Matze Trier, 30 December 2003 (Creative Commons License 3.0 Attribution ShareAlike).

One thought on “Shepherd Group Youth Brass: Sunday Brass at the Boarshurst Band Club, 08 December 2019

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