Skem Band’s second visit to Boarshurst Band Club another success

It is hard to imagine it was nearly three years since Skelmersdale Prize Band last played at Boarshurst Band Club. At the time, they were a fledgling fourth section band brimming with potential. That was also when its present musical director Ben Coulson made his Boarshurst debut. Back then they gave us a solid concert with a programme that would test one or two third section bands.

Despite the pandemic which is still with us at the time of writing, Skelmersdale Prize Band’s journey back to brass banding was a fruitful one. After finishing as runners-up in the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain Fourth Section Finals, they gained promotion to the Third Section.

The hallmarks of Skelmersdale Prize Band’s recent success lie in its personnel. There is quite a neat balance of experienced heads as well as young players. Brass banders who might join Championship Section bands like Leyland, Carlton Main Frickley Colliery, Cory and Boarshurst Silver. The present MD is young enough to continue his brass banding further.

If all of this sounds familiar, it feels like Boarshurst Silver Band’s climb from the Fourth Section to the Championship Section from 2014 to 2019. With a similar mix of players and, at present, a youthful musical director, the parallels are there.

Back to the present day instead of the future, Skelmersdale Prize Band gave us a most enjoyable concert. One that had you gripped by each note and Mr Coulson’s cheery and informative patter.

The Programme

First Half

  1. March: Imperial Echoes (Arnold Safroni, arr. J. Ord Hume);
  2. Overture: Domino Noir (Daniel Auber, arr. George Hawkins);
  3. Principal Cornet Solo (performed by James Ball): Georgia On My Mind (Hoagy Carmichael, arr. Alan Morrison);
  4. Original piece: Vitae Lux (Frode Alnaes, arr. Aargaard Nilsen);
  5. Trombone Solo (performed by Georgie Norman): Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael, arr. James Howe);
  6. Light Concert Music: Russian Circus Music (Ray Woodfield).

Second Half

  1. Classical Piece/Original Piece: Also Sprach Zarathustra (Richard Strauss, arr. Riekes van der Velde)/Dark Side of the Moon (Paul Lovatt-Cooper);
  2. Film Music: Theme from Batman (Danny Elfman, arr. Alan Catherall);
  3. Euphonium Solo (performed by Ste Gordon): La Belle Americaine (John Hartmann);
  4. Radio Theme Music (for BBC Radio Cornwall’s Sounds of Brass): Calling Cornwall (Kevin Ackford, arr. Goff Richards);
  5. Light Concert Music: Lady Stewart’s Air (Peter Graham);
  6. Original Piece: Starburst (Dan Price).

Encore

  • Classical Piece: The Radetzky March (Johann Strauss II, arr. Walter Hargreaves).

Imperial echoes of Georgia

In a nutshell, the concert programme was a traditional one with a few modern-day classics for good measure. Respecting traditional conventions was the opening piece: a march in the form of Imperial Echoes. J. Ord Hume’s march is a popular one on the road. Written by George Arnold Haynes Safroni-Middleton (or as Arnold Safroni in truncated form), it is known to many as the signature tune to the BBC’s Radio Newsreel. Great start!

The next piece was a classic overture in Domino Noir by Auber. Also known as the Black Domino in English, this stirring overture is the best known part of the eponymous comic opera. It is set in 1780 where Angèle de Olivarès, a trainee nun, attends a ball in the honour of the Queen of Spain. She absconds from the convent in disguise alongside her companion Brigitte. Brilliant stuff, and another fine performance.

This led us to our first soloist of the night, and the first of two Hoagy Carmichael songs of the concert. Enter on principal cornet James Ball with Georgia On My Mind. As well as being a concert favourite, Hoagy Carmichael’s song has been covered by the likes of Annie Lennox. As for James’ performance, a most enjoyable one.

Our fourth piece of the night is also a modern brass banding classic. This took us to the last piece of this half – our tenth no less – and what a cracker we had. Torsten Aagaard Nilsen’s arrangement of Vitae Lux, composed by Frode Alnaes. It is his best known work in Norway, written in 2003 which translates into English as Light of Life. A vibrant performance.

The bottom part of the Carmichael sandwich came from our second soloist of the night. This time, Georgie Norman on trombone with the song Stardust. Not to be confused with Dan Price’s Starburst (more on that piece later), the jazz standard was first recorded by Hoagy Carmichael in 1927. It has also been covered by Nat King Cole and featured in Sleepless In Seattle. As for Georgie’s performance, a cracker.

The last piece of the night was a fun one called Russian Circus Music, which does everything that is said on the tin. Composed by Ray Woodfield, it is inspired by the Moscow State Circus and the like. You could almost picture the clowns and acrobats throughout the piece. In some programme notes, this would be listed as a Novelty Piece instead of Light Concert Music. Nevertheless, the aural soundscape of jugglers and tumblers was also a cue to get to the bar. A fantastic first half which augured well for the second half.

In space, nobody can hear the back row tenor horns

The second half of the programme took us through infinity and beyond with a couple of space themed piece. First up was Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. The classic piece invokes a sense of menace and optimism in equal measure with its minimalistic horns and discordant notation following an almighty thud of drums. Most famously, it is heard in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Deodato (who also produced some of Kool and the Gang’s work) also made a disco version of that tune. In more recent times, it has been used in a radio advertisement for Experian to comic effect.

With such a fantastic start to the second half, Skelmersdale Prize Band raised their game even more with The Dark Side of the Moon. In brass banding terms, it is a bombastic piece from the pen of Paul Lovatt-Cooper – and a compositional cousin of Enter The Galaxies. Written as a test piece, it invites the listener to wonder what is on the dark side of the Moon itself – as to whether Neil Armstrong’s footprints are there or not. A sensational start in all.

If you thought the first two pieces of this half were stunning, we had a bonafide Oscar winner in Danny Elfman’s 1989 theme from Batman. For many devotees of the Caped Crusader’s activities, there are only three Batman themes that matter: Elfman’s; Zimmer’s theme for the latest set of movies in the Batman franchise; and the TV theme (the ones where Adam West was Batman). Like Mr Coulson, I agree with him on the Danny Elfman theme and Skelmersdale Prize Band’s performance reflected this passion. I also have a lot of love for Prince’s Batdance – also of 1989 – which is due for transcription as a brass band piece, surely.

After the raffle we moved on to our third and final solo of the night. This time with a classic in La Belle Americaine on euphonium. For hardcore brass band fanatics, this piece is associated with Lyndon Baglin’s performance in 1961, whilst at CWS Manchester band. Ste Gordon, the euphonium soloist gave us all a superb performance – arguably the strongest solo showing of the night.

For the next piece we had that rarest of things in a modern-day brass band concert: a radio theme tune. Rarer still these days is a brass band programme on mainstream media outlets. One exception to this was BBC Radio Cornwall and Devon’s Sounds of Brass, which had its own signature tune – written especially for brass bands. Entitled Calling Cornwall, it was written by Kevin Ackford and arranged by Goff Richards in 2004. On the original recording, the band you hear is Camborne Town Band. Its presenter, Philip Hunt did a lot for brass bands in the South West of England – not only through giving them airtime – but also by being Concert Secretary for Cornwall Youth Brass Band. Another great performance.

Continuing the theme of people who have done great things for brass banding was a Peter Graham piece. That of Dame Helen Adrianne Stewart, Lady Stewart who inspired Lady Stewart’s Air. Ms. Stewart is well known for being an arts patron in New Zealand after purchasing and managing electrical design company PDL. It also appears on the test piece entitled The Journal of Phileas Fogg. In full, this was used in the 2016 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain’s regional finals. A piece that never fails to impress, with Skelmersdale Prize Band’s performance another good one.

The final piece of the night could also be considered a modern classic. That of Dan Price’s Starburst. It was commissioned by the Greater Manchester Youth Brass Band as a test piece and premiered at The Bridgewater Hall in June 2014. The piece symbolises an abnormally high rate of star formation and a worthy addition to any brass band concert sci-fi theme. Often seen as a concert opener, it is also a stunning concert finisher – and our fellows from Skem really did us proud. Fantastic work again.

As for the final final piece, another cracker for the encore with James Swearingham’s Valero. It is a jaunty number that sounds and feels like the theme tune of a secret agent film. Or one for Music To Send Mid-Price Chocolate Boxes By due to its Mancini style leanings. With this finale, they left us wanting more. Once more, we hope the wait for their future Boarshurst gig is a lot shorter than last time.

Wherever they may be, Skelmersdale Prize Band are well worth seeing in concert. As seen at their more recent Glossop concert, this is a band that has gone from strength to strength.

Next Week…

Mossley Band will round off November’s programme at The Brass Vegas of Northern England.  As always, doors are open from 6.30 pm for the usual 7.30 pm start.  With great local support likely, please arrive early to be sure of a good seat.

If you like watching the live streams on Boarshurst Silver Band’s Facebook page, please go to the live concerts. You will have a wonderful time there, enjoy the company of other brass band lovers, have a go on the raffle, and enjoy a pint or two. To bring people back to brass, Boarshurst Band Club have kept admission prices as low as possible. Better still, bring a friend round and introduce them to some great music at sensible prices in great surroundings.

Public transport:

  • 350: Ashton-under-Lyne – Mossley – Greenfield – Uppermill – Dobcross – Delph – Waterhead – Oldham.

Alight at the former Greenfield Conservative Club. The 350 bus is operated by First Greater Manchester before 7pm. Evening journeys are operated by Stagecoach Manchester.

Trains to Greenfield are operated by Transpennine Express starting from Manchester Piccadilly, then at all stations from Stalybridge to Huddersfield

Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

S.V., 25 November 2021.

Skelmersdale Library background image by Rept0n1x, 2013 (Creative Commons License, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0).

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