Stunning concert shows off classiness

If your local band chose to do a Fantasy Brass Band League to raise money for the Nationals, there’s every chance your fantasy band will include the MD of Cory. Your line up might have the principal cornet player of Hammonds Band. It would have Elland Silver Band’s youth policy, and an in-house composer/arranger in Paul Lovatt-Cooper. There’s a good chance your Fantasy Brass Band might sound as good as last night’s band did at Boarshurst Band Club.

For over two hours, Hammonds Band broke their three-year hiatus from Boarshurst in style. Every note was played to perfection with great volume all round. The programme struck a neat balance between technical pieces and lighter pieces and worked really well. All four solo performances were nothing short of amazing. With the talent on show, ‘amazing’ was quite an understatement.

There was two things we learned from last night’s performance. One was the difference in class between Championship Section bands, which explains why the Yorkshire Regional Championships is the hardest one to win (and we thought the competition in the North West Regionals was tough). The other point was two astute arrivals to Hammonds Bands: Alan Morrison (soprano cornet) and Kirsty Abbotts (principal cornet). In football terms, akin to having Marcus Rashford and Kevin de Bruyne in your team.

With Morgan Griffiths, Hammonds’ usual conductor being tested positive for COVID, a deputy was sought at short notice. Someone highly regarded in brass band circles, for his original works and arrangement. Someone who lives up the road from Boarshurst Band Club, who is the present-day musical director of Roberts Bakery Band. The answer to our prayers was the legendary Paul Lovatt-Cooper.

So far, in the post-lockdown season of concerts at Boarshurst Band Club, last night’s concert was the best yet. Mr. Paul also came across very well, as a most humorous and informative host. Probably one of the few where his Dad jokes flowed as well as his links to each piece.

The Programme

First Half

  1. Concert Opener: That’s Entertainment (Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz, arr. M. Bennett)
  2. Overture: Light Cavalry (Franz von Suppe)
  3. Principal Cornet Solo (performed by Kirsty Abbotts): Don’t Doubt Him Now (Colonel Leonard Ballantine, arr. C. Woodhead)
  4. Light Concert Music Medley: Astaire! (Irving Berlin/Jerome Kern, arr. Sandy Smith)
  5. Tenor Horn Solo (performed by Zoe Wright): Your Sweet Voice is Calling (Josephine V. Rowe/Dermot MacMorrough, arr. N. Jorgensen)
  6. Light Concert Music: The American Dream (Elgar Howarth)
  7. Television Theme: Theme from The Scarecrow and Mrs. King (Rubinstein, arr. Steve Sykes)
  8. Original Piece: The Call of the Righteous (Leslie Condon)

Second Half

  1. March: HMS Trinidad (George Lloyd)
  2. Cornet Solo (performed by Alan Morrison): Memory (Andrew Lloyd-Webber/Trevor Nunn, arr. Alan Catherall)
  3. Light Concert Music: Praeludium (Edvard Armas Järnefelt, arr. Morgan Griffiths)
  4. Baritone Solo (performed by Michael Walsh): Wee Cooper O’Fife (Traditional)
  5. Suite for Brass Band: Vivat Regina, Suite for Brass Band Op. 75 (W. Mathias)
  6. Horn Section Showcase: Nobody Does It Better (Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer-Sagar, arr. Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
  7. Light Concert Music: Billy Boy (Traditional, arr. Gordon Langford)
  8. Test Piece Movement: Vivo from Contest Music (Wilfred Heaton)

Encore

  • March: The Midwest March (J.J Richards).

Style and substance

First up was Howard Dietz’s and Arthur Schwartz’s That’s Entertainment. Written in 1953, it was used for the Fred Astaire film The Band Wagon (more on that bloke who could dance a little later). Directed by Vincente Minnelli (Liza Minnelli’s dad), the film features an ageing musical star, who hopes to resurrect his career. A rip-roaring start to the night’s concert.

Next up was a nailed-on brass banding classic. A traditional overture that never fails to impress its audiences. Enter Franz von Suppé’s Light Cavalry. Composed in 1866, it was premiered in Vienna as part of the operetta with the same name. As for the brass band arrangement, J. A. Greenwood’s version is the one that most listeners are familiar with, live or recorded. Hammonds Band gave us a performance that had boundless energy as well as great volume. Truly amazing.

For the third piece, we had our first soloist of the night, who performed a classic Colonel Ballantine composition in Don’t Doubt Him Now. Enter Kirsty Abbotts, who is without doubt the finest principal cornet player in Europe. Colonel Leonard Ballantine’s piece was published in the July 1990 issue of The Musical Salvationist, and written with a female voice in mind. Where Ms. Abbotts excelled in her performance was in her intonation, volume and prosody of each note. A performance that was nothing short of outstanding, which explains why she has picked up many solo prizes.

For the fourth piece, we returned to that bloke who could dance a bit. Yes, the highly revered Fred Astaire. This time with a piece of light concert music in Astaire!, a selection of tunes by Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern – arranged by Sandy Smith. This included classics like Putting On The Ritz and made for a most entertaining, light hearted addition to the programme. Oh, and yet another class performance.

For the second soloist of the night, we moved away from Hollywood to Holywood. Enter Zoe Wright on tenor horn with Your Sweet Voice is Calling. With St. Patrick’s Day fresh in the memory of Hammonds Band and the audience at Boarshurst Band Club, an Irish piece in the programme was a good fit. Written by Josephine V. Rowe and Dermot MacMorrough, you may have heard of it as Macushla, a love song that was covered by Josef Locke. As for Zoe’s performance on tenor horn, it was a smooth, highly accomplished one. Brilliant stuff.

Next up was a bit of Elgar Howarth. If you listened to your brass bands in the 1970s, he was noted for conducting Grimethorpe Colliery Band. Back then, any clichés you may have heard about brass band music were crushed by him, despite his arrangements being an acquired taste for some listeners. One of his most accessible works is The American Dream from 1976. It sounds like something John Williams would have written, if he was based in South Yorkshire.

The piece was one of four written for an American Bicentennial tour, featuring Grimethorpe and Cory bands. This was funded by the American mining unions, who paid substantial amounts to get the two colliery bands up to the USA. As for the piece, an immersive one. As for Hammonds Band’s performance, second to none.

We stuck with America for the next piece: the theme tune of an early 1980s TV series called The Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Originally aired by CBS from the 3rd October 1983 to the 28th May 1987, 88 episodes were made. It starred Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner as Amanda King and Lee Stetson. Though the programme is little heard of outside the States, Steve Sykes’ arrangement of its theme is irresistible. The same was true of Hammonds Band’s performance.

To finish our first half was a composition by Leslie Condon. That of The Call of the Righteous, a tone poem based on gospel tune When The Roll is Called Up Yonder. It was written for the Tottenham Citadel Band (now Enfield Citadel Band) in 1965. It is a piece that has real strength in depth, ending in a neat crescendo. Excellent work.

Midnight, not a sound in the band room…

If you thought the first half was outstanding, then think again. The second half would give us two more superb solos.

First up was a march in George Lloyd’s HMS Trinidad, a rousing march inspired by a Royal Navy Fiji-class Light Cruiser built by HM Dockyard Devonport. It was launched on the 21st March 1941 (81 years ago today!) and damaged in an air attack on the 15 May 1942. In 1991, Black Dyke Band (then conducted by Professor David King – later of last night’s band) played it on that year’s English Heritage LP. Hammonds Band made light work of this piece, giving us a neat start to the second half.

Next up was our third soloist of the night: a real class act in Alan Morrison. You may have heard of him through his original pieces and arranged works. Last night, you could see why he’s a worthy addition to Hammonds Band, with Memory. On soprano cornet, he played the best known piece from Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Cats. In the West End cast, this was sung by Elaine Paige and Barbra Streisland. The former singer – also a staple of BBC Radio 2’s Sunday afternoon schedule – got the hit single in July 1981 (peaking at Number 6 in the UK singles chart).

As for Mr. Morrison’s performance on soprano cornet, nothing short of exceptional. Every note, volume and tone perfect in what is a challenging piece.

This was followed up by Praeludium, a piece written by Edvard Armas Järnefelt and arranged by Morgan Griffiths. Praeludium is German for Prelude and his best known work. The composer was born in Finland and had a close professional relationship with Sibelius. A most fantastic performance of an atmospheric piece.

From Finland, we moved to Scotland for our fourth and final soloist of the night. This time with a lesser-spotted baritone solo taking us to the raffle. Enter Michael Walsh on baritone with Wee Cooper O’Fife. The traditional Scottish piece is about a cooper with “a braw new wife” who will not cook, clean, and sew in case she “spoil her comely hue”. As for Michael’s performance, nothing short of fantastic. (If you heard Mr. Walsh’s performance, you would find the world needs more baritone solos).

The next piece was another delight. That of Vivat Regina Suite for Brass Band Op. 75, W. Mathias’ six movement suite for Queen Elizabeth The Second’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. This was a piece that Paul Lovatt-Cooper remembered from his time at Tyldesley Band and Kennedys Swinton Band. Due to its original premise, the piece has had a short shelf life (a shame, because it is a fantastic suite). It is one that deserves another airing in The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Year. As for Hammonds Band’s performance, one must be impressed by their work.

For our next piece, we were still in 1977, courtesy of Jimmy Bond and Carly Simon. The Bond film of 1977 was The Spy Who Loved Me, and the stand-out song was Nobody Does It Better. Sung by Carly Simon, it was a smash around the world that won the Best Original Song categories in the 50th Academy Awards and the 35th Golden Globe awards. Giving the song a real cinematic feel is Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s arrangement. With a brooding intro and outro, it is clearly a labour of love for PLC, being as The Spy Who Loved Me is his favourite James Bond film.

This piece was used to show off the band’s Horn Section, and what a showcase it was. Excellent tone.

Our penultimate piece of the night was a Gordon Langford arrangement of a traditional song (how can you not love his arrangements?). That of Billy Boy, a traditional US folk song which has the words “Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?“. The song itself is based on a British folk song called My Boy Billy. A lovely diversion that took us to a sparkling finale.

The final piece of the night was a movement from Wilfred Heaton’s Contest Music. That of its jaunty yet complex (with changing time signatures mid way into the song) Vivo. When it first saw the light of day in 1972, Heaton’s work polarised critics in the brass band world. By 1984, at a later contest, it was better received. If you went to the Regional Heats of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, it was this year’s test piece for Championship Section bands.

As for Hammonds Band’s mastery of its Vivo, nothing short of exceptional. A performance that would have been lauded at Blackpool Winter Gardens as much as Huddersfield Town Hall. You could see why they left many of their Yorkshire contemporaries trailing in the dirt and – deservedly – got that Second Place spot in the regionals.

For the encore was another great march. That of J.J. Richards’ The Midwest March. Though the least technically demanding one of the night, it was one that was played to perfection. The march is also a favourite of Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s due to its uplifting nature.

Few people would have given up their birthday weekend for work, whether paid or otherwise. Mr. Lovatt-Cooper, stepping in at short notice did, and gave us all a most incredible concert.

Next up for Hammonds Band is their concert at Glossop Old Band Room and the Spring Festival. Wherever they may be in your neck of the woods, they are well worth seeing. If anyone is offering you a ticket or if the admission fee leaves you with change from a tenner, drop everything and see one of the greatest brass bands in Europe.

Paul: if you’re reading this, a Happy Birthday to you (though it may well be a belated one by the time you read this review).

Next week…

Thoresby Colliery Band will be making their way up to Boarshurst Band Club. They are based in a village near Newark-on-Trent and are another Championship Section band. In fact, the highest ranked band in Nottinghamshire. Doors are open at 6.30 pm for a 7.30 pm start. To avoid disappointment, arrive as early as possible.

Buses:

  • 350: Ashton-under-Lyne – Mossley – Greenfield – Uppermill – Dobcross – Delph – Waterhead – Oldham (First Greater Manchester/Stagecoach Manchester).

Alight at the former Greenfield Conservative Club. Please note the change of post-7pm operator for the 350 route (Stagecoach Manchester).

Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

S.V., 21 March 2022.

One thought on “Hammonds Band: Sunday Brass at the Boarshurst Band Club, 20 March 2022

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