Welcome return to Boarshurst for North Eastern band with well presented concert

Absence they say makes the heart grow fonder. Whether it’s two minutes away from your dog or two years away from your last concert, this maxim applied to Westoe Brass Band at the Boarshurst Band Club. They opened this year’s season of concerts with a programme that was traditional, yet had a nod to the band’s history.

Westoe Brass Band was formed in 1911. In cricketing terms, they are celebrating a Nelson (the band is in its 111th year). In 1919, they were the first colliery band to win the British Open. Nearly two years ago, due to the pandemic, they could have gone the way of the dinosaurs like Kingston Mills and CWS Manchester bands.

Since the closure of Westoe Colliery in 1993, the band change its name from Westoe Colliery Band to Westoe Brass Band. The Westoe name was added to the band in the 1950s with Harton dropped in 1986.

Saved by funding, the band played on – outliving the colliery which gave the band its original name by 29 years. As with the previous soirée at Boarshurst, the Musical Director was Aidan Hodgson. Reassuringly, the programme had a few traditional Tyneside pieces including Water of Tyne and Bobby Shaftoe.

Last night’s concert was directed by Aidan Hodgson. Previously of Dunston Silver Band, he has been with Westoe Brass Band since January 2019. Aidan was taught at the University of Huddersfield, with Philip McCann (yes, the Cornet Legend that is Phillip McCann) as his tutor. He is also a music teacher.

Five weeks on from the last concert at Boarshurst, it was great to be back to the old routine (yes, even the raffle). Aidan was most informative with a bit of gentle humour between pieces.

The Programme

First Half

  1. Concert Opener: Valaisia Variants (Tom Davoren);
  2. March: Castell Caerffili (T.J. Powell);
  3. Original Piece: Sanctuary (Philip Sparke);
  4. Euphonium Solo (performed by Fiona Casewell): Rhapsody for Euphonium (James Curnow);
  5. Hymn: In Perfect Peace (Kenneth Downie);
  6. Cornet Solo (performed by Dave McKeague): Concert Etude (Alexander Goedicke, arr. William Broughton);
  7. Light Concert Music: Elephants On Patrol (Philip Harper);
  8. Film Music: The Children of Sanchez (Chuck Mangione).

Second Half

  1. Original Piece: Hyperdrive (Mathias Wehr);
  2. Signature March: Hartonian (George Hawkins);
  3. Original Piece: The Hewer’s Prayer (Stephen Gibson);
  4. Light Concert Music: The Water of Tyne (Traditional, arr. Philip Harper);
  5. Light Concert Music: Bobby Shaftoe (Traditional, arr. Gordon Langford);
  6. Film Music (from Empire of the Sun): Cadillac of the Sky (John Williams, arr. Jonathan Bates);
  7. Overture: Overture to Henry V (Ralph Vaughan Williams).

Encore

  • Light Concert Music: Balkan Dances (Etienne Crausaz).

In perfect peace with elephants on patrol

Finding a good concert opener besides a band signature piece, or any piece billed as a Concert Opener takes a bit of thought. Westoe Brass Band got that off to a fine art with Tom Davoren’s Valaisia Variants. The piece was commissioned by Valaisia Brass Band in 2018. It was premiered in the Gala Concert of the 2019 European Brass Band Championships in Montreux, Switzerland. A fantastic start.

From the highly renowned Swiss National Champions, we moved on to a piece associated with what is now The World’s Highest Ranked Brass Band (The Cory Band). Or more precisely, its one-time Musical Director T.J. Powell. The next piece was our first march of the night, Castell Caerffili. At a Whit Friday band contest, it is a popular one for lower section bands (likewise with Powell’s other marches, The Spaceman and Castell Coch). With last night’s concert being hosted by a Championship Section band, nothing more than an eloquent mastery of the manuscript was expected. True to form, Westoe Brass Band delivered the goods.

From Wales, our next piece took us to New Zealand, the home of Eastern Bay of Plenty Brass. Under Alan Spence’s direction, the band has risen from the C Section to the A Section. He has been the band’s Musical Director since 2007 and before then, played principal cornet under the direction of Philip Sparke at Hillingdon Band.

This takes us to Sanctuary, a most expressive piece commissioned by Spence and the Eastern Bay of Plenty Brass. It was performed as an own choice piece in the 2018 New Zealand National Brass Band Championships. This was a great piece that showed off all sections of the band to the full.

Next up was the first of two solo performances. Enter on euphonium with James Curnow’s Rhapsody for Euphonium, Fiona Casewell. As solo pieces go, it is one of two contrasting halves (like a Cadbury’s Double Decker chocolate bar). The soft nougat half is the quiet opening section which tested Ms Casewell’s abilities at the slow melody end of things. The second half (that bit with the chocolate covered crisped rice) is the audience-pleasing scherzo. A fantastic piece well performed.

This was followed by a nailed-on classic, our first and only hymn of the night in Kenneth Downie’s In Perfect Peace. It is based on the words of Isaiah 26 and is one of more than fifty compositions by Kenneth Downie. He is noted in Salvationist circles for his work. As for Westoe’s performance, another good one.

This took us to our second and final soloist of the night. Enter on principal cornet, Dave McKeague. This time with Alexander Goedicke’s Concert Etude. It was first written for trumpet in 1936, with the cornet solo arrangement by transcribed by William Broughton. Whether on trumpet or cornet, it is a demanding piece that requires delectable double tonguing technique. This was mastered to perfection by Mr. McKeague; if I had to pick the best soloist from last night’s concert, it was this gentleman.

For our second Cory Band related piece of the night, we had one by their present Musical Director, Philip Harper. A joyous piece called Elephants on Patrol which is a fantastic, whimsical piece of music. Definitely one for reviving The Lost Art of the Novelty Item in the Brass Band Concert Programme (see also The Whistler and His Dog). We loved every note in Westoe Brass Band’s performance.

The final piece of the first half was just as sumptuous. Definitely one that gave you the goose pimples and one we haven’t heard for a while. With some fabulous flugelhorn from Jo Wright, Westoe Brass Band finished the first half with The Children of Sanchez. Composed by Chuck Mangione, it is the title track of the 1978 film – and by far, its best known piece – which won a well-deserved Grammy. As for last night’s performance, a real blockbuster.

“Never forget where you’re coming from…”

As with their last concert in 2020, Westoe Brass Band opened with another space themed piece. This time a fairly new piece in Mathias Wehr’s Hyperdrive. The piece was written for The Cory Band Composers’ Prize 2019 and came third. It is a testing piece that takes the listener on a journey into space, without donning the spacesuits or paying daft money to Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Or dreamt of the (now demolished) Derwent Tower taking you to the Moon. A breathtaking piece, and one for an ever-growing number of pieces for a space themed brass band concert. If you pardon the pun, a real blast.

For our second piece, we were home in time for tea after our trip to the Moon. This time with Hartonian, Westoe Brass Band’s signature march. This was written by their legendary former musical director George Hawkins. As signature marches go, a well bodied one that compares well with better known signature marches like West Riding and Queensbury. Another solid performance.

At this part of the concert, we continued the local favourites theme with another locally arranged piece. This time, Steve Gibson’s arrangement of The Hewer’s Prayer. Consistent with the band’s mining heritage, the hymn is an imagined prayer for mineworkers who often worked in the deepest and most dangerous areas of the pit. Once again, a fantastic, well bodied performance of an original piece.

Next up was another classic in The Water of Tyne. In the song, a woman sees her paramour being separated by the aforementioned river. The ferry depicted in the song is said to be near Haughton Castle. Today, no ferry exists, and buses are virtually non-existent. Westoe Band’s rendition would have made our paramour’s wait for a taxi fly by – even if the next cab wasn’t due till the following day. Another great performance.

Criticising our local or central government officials in song isn’t a new thing; though some may argue it began with The Beat’s Stand Down Margaret, Bobby Shaftoe predated that tune by 175 years. The song is about an 18th Century Member of Parliament for County Durham called Robert Shafto who broke the heart of Bridget Belasyse of Brancepeth Castle. (A modern-day equivalent would look at the lovers, children, and adopted Jack Russell Terrier of the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip). The arrangement we heard was the ever-reliable one by Gordon Langford. Fantastic work.

After the raffle, we had our one and only piece of film music. That of John Williams’ Cadillac of the Sky from the Steven Spielberg film The Empire of the Sun. The title comes from the line “P-51: Cadillac of the Sky”, shouted by one of the film’s younger characters, Jim (played a young Christian Bale). A most immersive theme, par for the course with most of John Williams’ works anyway. With the added touch of brass band music, even better as we found out on Sunday.

The final pre-encore piece of the night was an overture, and a cracking one at that in Vaughan Williams’ Overture to Henry V. It was used as a Fourth Section test piece in the 2011 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain. At the 2018 Butlins Mineworkers’ Championships, it was the Third Section Set Work. The eight minutes leading up to the encore flew past. A most exhilarating finale.

To finish the concert we had Balkan Dances by Etienne Crausez. Inspired by Eastern European music, it is an audience-pleasing piece which brings out the best in each soloist. In some cases, the MD can announce each soloist The Intro and Outro fashion. As with their last Boarshurst concert, Aidan refrained from such frippery, leaving the soloists to work their magic.

*               *               *

Last night’s concert was another good one for Westoe Brass Band, a worthy return to Boarshurst Band Club after a two-year hiatus. We wish them well in the regional and national competitions and hope their next concert at Boarshurst Band Club is a lot earlier than the 21st January 2024!

If you wish to support the band further, they have released two CDs entitled Beyond The Colliery and Call of the Colliery. If you use one of these new-fangled streaming devices, you can find their releases on Amazon Prime Music and Spotify. (But, strictly speaking, it would be great if you bought their CDs as well as going to your favourite streaming service, because the royalty rate isn’t enough to buy a few bulldog clips for their music).

Next week at Boarshurst Band Club…

On the 6th February 2022, Leyland Band will be making their way to The Brass Banding Mecca of the North. The Lancashire band has a fantastic record at national and regional level. Leyland Band’s concerts at Boarshurst Band Club have wowed audiences in previous years.

Doors open at 6.30pm for the usual 7.30pm start. Please arrive early to be sure of a good seat. If previous concerts have been anything to go by we should be in for a spectacular night.

Public Transport:

  • Trains: Transpennine Express all-stations service from Manchester Piccadilly to Huddersfield call at Greenfield, also serving Mossley, Stalybridge, Marsden, and Slaithwaite stations.
  • 350: Ashton-under-Lyne – Mossley – Greenfield – Uppermill – Dobcross – Delph – Waterhead – Oldham.

Alight at the former Greenfield Conservative Club. The 350 bus route is operated by First Greater Manchester and (after 7pm) Stagecoach Greater Manchester.

Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

S.V., 24 January 2022.

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