Mass Brass IV: The Review (Uppermill Civic Hall, 07 March 2020)

120+ reasons why Mass Brass IV delivered and entertained its audience

Last Saturday (07 March), over 120 brass band players, plus families and spectators descended on Uppermill Civic Hall for what was Saddleworth’s biggest night in the brass banding calendar. Like previous Mass Brass nights, the four bands gave us yet another great concert.

The audience turnout was noted by some observers as being down on previous years. Firstly, this year’s event was earlier in March instead of near the end of March. Secondly, fears over catching the Corona Virus might have put a few off from going.

For those who went on Saturday, there was two hours worth of brass band music of the highest order. There was time for a couple of solos, an epic piece with narration by Uppermill Band’s John Whittle, and two space themed pieces. Or, if you prefer, a bit of product placement for confectionery products of Martian origin.

Dobcross Youth Band

Musical Director: Seth Livingstone

  1. Hymn: Just a Closer Walk With Thee (Traditional, arr. Alan Fernie);
  2. Light Concert Music: Blue (Thomas Gansch, arr. John Doyle);
  3. Film Music (from Beaches): Wind Beneath My Wings (Jeff Silbar/Larry Henley, arr. Darrol Barry);
  4. Popular Music: YMCA (Jacques Morali/Henri Belolo/Victor Willis, arr. Rob J. Hulme).

First up was a traditional song that has been covered by Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson. Just a Closer Walk With Thee is a traditional gospel standard that demands tight playing. In the 2017 Action Medical Youth Championships, this was a lucky piece for Elland Silver Youth Band, who finished second that year. The traditional song is based on a line from Genesis 17:1 (“Walk before the Lord, in a way that is pleasing to Him“). This was pretty topical as Genesis announced their return to the stage with The Last Domino tour.

By the second piece, Dobcross Youth Band knew how to ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk’. This was followed by Blue, which had nothing to do with Joni Mitchell’s 1971 LP nor the noughties boy band. Our version of Blue was an original piece by Mnozil Brass’ Thomas Gansch. A neat entertaining little piece.

Our third piece of the night was used in the 1988 film, Beaches. Though the film didn’t pull up any trees in the box office, one of its best known songs is Wind Beneath My Wings. The original version was sung by Bette Midler, with the song being covered by several artistes thereafter. One of them being the late William Tarmey – Coronation Street‘s Jack Duckworth. Another good blast.

For the last piece of their set, we had an absolutely cracking number. One that was a UK Number One single at the start of 1979. One with an American Indian, a traffic cop, a construction worker with hard hat, and a cowboy. If you guessed The Village People’s YMCA, congratulations are in order. Better still, Musical Director Seth Livingstone encouraged the audience to dance along. Which yours truly, your reviewer, couldn’t resist doing – with a pint glass of Thwaites Smooth in one hand!

What’s more, Seth was dancing along too, making for a memorable finale to Dobcross Youth Band’s slot. Unlike Messrs Collins, Rutherford and Banks, he did pretty well in the footwork department, so you might remember Mass Brass IV for that interlude alone. If that doesn’t feature in their programme as an entertainment contest entry, I would be very surprised.

Delph Band

Musical Director: Jonathan Davies

  1. Original Piece: Horizons (Paul Lovatt-Cooper);
  2. Light Concert Music: Lux Aurumque (Light of Gold) (Eric Whitacre, arr. Sandy Smith);
  3. Light Concert Music: Zulu: The Battle of Rorke’s Drift (John Barry/Sir Edward German, arr. Roger Thorne) – plus narration by John Whittle.

Delph Band’s opening programme item set the trend for the next two bands, with a bombastic opening piece. Enter Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s Horizons, with a great fanfare for trombones and cornets. In four and a half minutes, it makes for a most enjoyable opener which was seen in Delph Band’s performance.

The next piece was different again, a transcription of an Eric Whitacre woodwind piece by Sandy Smith. Lux Aurumque is a choral piece which translates into English as Light of Gold. Musical Director Jonathan Davies said this work was a Christmas piece that could be played any time of the year. (Well, if a Slade tribute act could play Merry Xmas Everybody in March or August, why not?)

The piece was written in 2000 as a translation of the Edward Esch poem Light and Gold. In 2009, Lux Aurumque was the subject of Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir project, where singers recorded and uploaded videos of their performance.

As for Delph Band’s performance of Whitacre’s composition, some more good work. The third and final piece of their programme was the real highlight of their set: Zulu: The Battle of Rorke’s Drift. As well as the brooding percussion and bass work in John Barry’s piece, there was one special ingredient which added to its appeal. Narration. Some excellent narration by Uppermill Band flugelhorn player John Whittle.

Delph Band’s trio of pieces were well chosen, leading us towards the interval in style. We would see more of Jonathan Davies later on in the second half.

Slaithwaite Band

Musical Director: Matthew Hindle

  1. Original Piece: Starburst (Dan Price);
  2. Cornet Solo (performed by Neil Booth): Jubilance (William Himes);
  3. Hymn: Love Unknown (John Ireland);
  4. Light Concert Music: Riverdance (Bill Whelan, arr. Ray Farr).

In previous Mass Brasses, all four bands came from the Saddleworth area. Within the West Riding of Yorkshire like its fellows, Slaithwaite Band broke the mould by being the first non-Saddleworth band in Mass Brass. Then again, with ex-Dobcross Youth Band Musical Director Matthew Hindle at Slawitt, our fellows from Hill Top way are honorary Saddleworthians.

To begin with, we had Dan Price’s Starburst, an excellent piece from the Lancastrian composer. It symbolises the cosmic activity of a star burst with the opening fanfare being its supernova. At the Bolsover Entertainment Contest, its inclusion in a space-themed concert set saw Crofton Silver Band winning last year’s First Section prize. A blistering start to the second half.

This led us to our first soloist of Mass Brass IV: Neil Booth’s performance of William Himes’ Jubilance on principal cornet. The piece was written for Peggy Thomas, who was at the time the Chicago Staff Band of the Salvation Army’s principal cornet player. This lengthy solo – four seconds shy of nine minutes – is a real test for the player, and a joy to hear for the audience. Neil’s performance well and truly ticked the last box, making light work of Himes’ piece.

Our penultimate item of Slaithwaite Band’s programme was another old friend. An old friend in the form of John Ireland’s Love Unknown. Based on My Song is Love Unknown, it is often sung on Good Friday. Performed well, it makes for a most atmospheric piece (as yours truly can testify from hearing it at the Brighouse Hymn and March Contest). Once again, another good day at the office.

To finish their programme, we had a more light-hearted piece. One that would happily take pride and place as a closing piece at any brass band concert. That of Bill Whelan’s Riverdance which, if Seth got his dancing shoes back on, could have been used to test the strength of the stage before the finale. After being added as interval entertainment for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994, the original piece spawned a monster, turning Riverdance into a nice little earner for its composer. Fantastic work.

Earlier that Saturday, they were in the Second Section Regional Finals at Huddersfield Town Hall, finishing in eighth place. Though hardly Phil Collins doing Live Aid at Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia on the same day, you couldn’t fault their work ethic.

With a mix of traditional pieces and high entertainment value, Slaithwaite Band were at their most vibrant best. We cannot wait to see them in concert again on the 19 July 2020 at Boarshurst Band Club. Speaking of which…

Boarshurst Silver Band

Musical Director: James Garlick

  1. Original Piece: Valaisia Variants (Tom Davoren);
  2. Film Music (from Walt Disney’s Aladdin): Friend Like Me (Alan Menken/Harold Ashman, arr. Lee Morris);
  3. Euphonium Solo (performed by Sam Thompson): In Gardens of Peace (Philip Harper);
  4. Original Piece: Enter The Galaxies (Paul Lovatt-Cooper).

Following a cameo appearance from Saddleworth’s Most Famous Raffle Drum, the protagonists/geniuses/creators of Mass Brass took their position. If you wondered why Boarshurst Silver Band fared better in the Championship Section contest than the First Section contest at Bolsover last year, there was living proof of that come 9pm.

First up was Valaisia Variants by Tom Davoren. If you wanted to see how a Championship Section band did concert openers, Boarshurst Silver Band answered that question straight away. The piece was commissioned by Valaisia Brass Band, premiered at their 2019 Gala Concert in Montreux, Switzerland. Like a good cuckoo clock or The Glacier Express, Boarshurst Silver Band kept perfect time along the way. Stunning.

From Switzerland, we moved to the world of Walt Disney with Alan Menken’s Friend Like Me. Used in Walt Disney’s Aladdin film (1992), it was sung by the late Robin Williams (who played the Genie). It was later covered by Will Smith in the 2019 remake. A nice jolly number.

If another soloist was one of your three wishes, your wish was granted by Boarshurst Silver Band’s penultimate piece of their set. This time, a euphonium solo by Sam Thompson with Philip Harper’s In Gardens of Peace. This was composed to commemorate the life of Henry Nichols, taken in the Battle of the Somme in 1917. Originally recorded for Glyn Williams with The Cory Band, Sam put in a fantastic performance.

Whereas the previous three pieces were superbly played, the fourth and final one eclipsed everything else beforehand. Once more, we turned to Delph’s very own Paul Lovatt-Cooper with Enter The Galaxies. For the best part of four minutes, the live audience were truly taken to another dimension. One where the 350 bus actually ran to time for the whole day. In truth, this was Boarshurst Silver Band in its imperial phase, and the force was very high at that.

For anybody wishing to see Boarshurst Silver Band’s very own Home Gig at Boarshurst Band Club (04 April 2020), this was a superb advertisement for that Saturday night. James Garlick and Co. gave us all an ambitious yet instantly accessible programme.

Mass Brass IV massed band

Conductor: Jonathan Davies

  1. March: On The Quarter Deck (Kenneth J. Alford).

Following Boarshurst Silver Band’s programme, we came to the close of Mass Brass IV. The part of the programme which justifies the Mass Brass premise.

After a few minutes of moving instruments, musical stands and getting 120+ players into position, the Mass Brass IV massed band gave us a well loved march. Kenneth Alford’s On The Quarter Deck. At many a Whit Friday Band Contest or Hymn and March Contest, it is a popular deportment march. If you thought one band – never mind the combined might of four bands – was loud enough, you could see why the gallery is a popular vantage point in Uppermill Civic Hall.

From the second row, the Mass Brass IV massed band didn’t half reward its audience with a satisfying performance. Conducting the massed band was Delph Band’s Jonathan Davies.

With strong performances from all four bands, Mass Brass IV proved to be another great night. Your £10.00 (or £8.00 if you paid concessionary rates) was good value for money. This year’s event, in years to come, will be best remembered for this clip. Over 5,600 viewers in the space of less than a week couldn’t be wrong, plus you might find a familiar face sat in the second row.

S.V., 12 March 2020.

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