An exclusive review of Phoenix, Boarshurst Silver Band’s second LP

Hot off the success of their first LP, Images, Boarshurst Silver Band have another hit on their hands with the long-awaited follow-up Phoenix. Taking the name of a Peter Graham piece, it symbolises two things. One is the band’s triumph over adversity. The other is their return to the Championship Section in 2020, breaking a 29-year absence from brass banding’s top flight.

2019 has been a busy year for Boarshurst Silver Band. It has been a successful one which saw the band gain respectable results in the Bolsover Entertainment Contest. In the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, they finished Third in the First Section Final at Cheltenham, behind Rainford Band (2nd) and Philip McCann’s Unison Kinneil Band (Champions).

With respectable results at local and national level, they have been invited to participate in next year’s Senior Trophy in the British Open Spring Festival at Blackpool Winter Gardens. That year’s test piece in The Spanish Room is Cyril Jenkins’ Life Divine. With their recently elevated status, getting the band’s name out to a wider public matters more than ever.

Just in time for Christmas, Boarshurst Silver Band’s Phoenix LP aims to solve many a brass band lover’s Christmas present predicament. It includes three solo performances, plus a well-sequenced selection of popular pieces including a traditional Whit Friday contest march. Is it worth the best part of a tenner? Kindly read on.

Track listing

  1. Contest March: The President (William German);
  2. Principal Cornet Solo (performed by Ryan Ashley): Tico Tico (Zequinha de Abreu, arr. John Iveson);
  3. Light Concert Music: Light-Walk (Barrie Gott);
  4. Light Concert Music: Felton Lonnen (Traditional, arr. Lee Morris);
  5. Classical Piece (featuring Georgia Payne): Rusalka’s Song to the Moon (Antonin Dvorak, arr. Gordon Langford);
  6. Light Concert Music: Dance To Thi’ Daddy (Traditional, arr. Darrol Barry);
  7. Hymn: Prelude on Lavenham (Geoffrey Nobes);
  8. Euphonium Solo (performed by Harry Newton): La Belle Americaine (John Hartmann);
  9. Light Concert Music: Cossack Wedding Dance (Peter Graham);
  10. Eb Bass Solo (performed by Liam Welsh): Grandfather’s Clock (George Doughty, arr. Gavin Somerset);
  11. Original Piece: Phoenix (Peter Graham);
  12. Light Concert Music: The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Burl Ives, arr. Alan Fernie).

First on the CD is William German’s The President. If you are familiar with the Whit Friday Band Contests in Saddleworth and Tameside, you would associate this march with Foden’s Band or The Fairey Band. The former band has had a Real Madrid-style hold on the Tameside contests for over 20 years. If Boarshurst Silver Band’s performance of The President was as good as this recording at eleven contests, they would give the likes of Fodens a run for their money. A superb start.

Next up is Tico Tico, a lovely piece of light concert music that has, believe it or not, been used for peddling cat food in the 1990s. We are introduced to the first soloist on this album, Ryan Ashley. On the Principal Cornet, he makes light work of John Iveson’s arrangement. If you are still not convinced about his excellence, listen to this track again. Seriously, this is one hell of a solo performance.

If you fancy something less heavy going, Barrie Gott’s Light-Walk fits the bill. A big band style take on hymn music, it was written in 1986 for the Star Lake camp in New Jersey. As for the hymn that inspired Mr. Gott’s piece, it was Walk In The Light. If you care little for hymn music though feel vaguely religious, it is a neat compromise.

From light work to Light-Walk, we move on to Lee Morris’ arrangement of Felton Lonnen. Based on a traditional Northumbrian folk song, Westoe Brass Band’s performance of the piece left such a great impression on Boarshurst Silver Band MD James Garlick. So much so that he purchased the sheet music from Lee Morris and added the piece to many a Boarshurst Silver Band concert programme. A fantastic piece that works well whilst playing in the background on a good stereo system. Better still on a good set of headphones.

Our next piece, Rusalka’s Song to the Moon, follows Lee Morris’ composition with a neat segue. Also known as Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém, it is the best known excerpt from Dvorak’s opera, Rusalka and seen in the opera’s first act. Once again, Boarshurst Silver Band’s abilities in the slow melody department come to the fore with another pristine performance.

If you remember the 1970s BBC drama series When The Boat Comes In, there’s every chance you have heard its theme music several times over. The tune is Dance To Thi’ Daddy, which on our album is arranged by Darrol Barry. It is a vibrant piece with great percussion work, testing the band in both fast and slow melody departments. If this album was released 40 years earlier, this would have worked well as a good final track on the ‘A’ Side of our cassette or 12″ LP.

Offering a neat contrast to the previous piece’s strident finale is Geoffrey Nobes’ Prelude on Lavenham. It is based on Reverend Nick Fawcett’s hymn. Geoffrey Nobes, the former Bandmaster of Portsmouth Citadel Band who arranged this piece remains an active composer today. His recorded works are published by Kevin Mayhew Productions. A fantastic performance.

Nobes’ hymn was the calm before the storm of our next piece: John Hartmann’s La Belle Americaine. This piece also gives us the second soloist on our album with Harry Newton on euphonium. It has, most famously, been performed by Lynton Baglin on The Famous CWS (Manchester) Band’s Fantasia LP (Fontana, 1961). As for Harry’s euphonium solo, such a joy to listen to: excellent tone and volume.

We stepped up a few gears with the next piece: Peter Graham’s Cossack Wedding Dance. If you are enamoured with Peter Graham’s seminal Call of the Cossacks suite, this is the last of its five movements. The suite in its entirety was written for Black Dyke Band’s solo spot in the 2002 European Gala Concert in Belgium. A fantastic piece, and certainly not the last we will hear of Peter Graham on this album.

Before we reach our second and final Peter Graham piece on this album, we have another solo performance. This time with Liam Welsh’s performance of Grandfather’s Clock. Though George Doughty’s work has appeared on Images, there is something different about this solo. It is played on an Eb Bass instead of a euphonium. The change of instrument adds colour to Gavin Somerset’s arrangement, all the more helped by Liam’s stunning performance.

With two more tracks left, our penultimate one is Peter Graham’s Phoenix, the title track of Boarshurst Silver Band’s latest release. This, my friends, is the sound of a band that is making a bid for a lengthy stint in brass banding’s top flight. A fantastic two minutes and thirty-eight seconds which show all parts of the band giving a stunning performance.

After the invigorating penultimate track, our album finishes with The Big Rock Candy Mountain. At many of Boarshurst Silver Band’s concerts, this has been James Garlick’s favourite finale which he uses to sign off and say goodbye to the audience (a la Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s The Intro and Outro). It is by far the second lightest piece on this album after Light-Walk and one that never fails to get you on your toes. Or in our case, one that never fails to get you playing the CD again. And again. And again.

Overall verdict

From start to finish, Boarshurst Silver Band’s Phoenix is a stunning album. It is one you cannot help listening to over and over again. As a full package, all the tracks work well enough to get you listening to all twelve pieces. There are no dud tracks whatsoever and the solo performances are amazing.

Make no mistake, this is the album of a Championship Section band. The equal of anything you would expect from the likes of Brighouse and Rastrick, Black Dyke, Fairey and Cory bands. You could put this CD on in the house and get them thinking you are listening to Black Dyke Band. Till you show them the cover.

Production wise, the sound is clear enough to listen to on headphones without turning the volume up too high. Presentation wise, the cover and photography is good with good typographical choices and informative inlay notes written by yours truly.

If you wish to introduce your friends to high quality brass band music with a programme to suit all ages, Phoenix is an essential addition to anybody’s record collection. Highly recommended.

Phoenix by Boarshurst Silver Band is priced £10.00 and is available to purchase from their Facebook page or from behind the bar during concert nights.

S.V., 18 December 2019.

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