Harmony Street’s finest on fire in outstanding concert

With the thermometer days away from reaching a record high temperature for 2022, the hottest ticket at Boarshurst was Milnrow Band’s concert. With a packed house, The Mecca of Brass Banding was entranced by Gareth Brindle’s band. Each and every piece was tighter than Scrooge on austerity measures and the programme was immensely enjoyable from start to finish.

Without losing sight of its licence to thrill, Milnrow Band’s programme had the hallmarks of an established Championship Section Band. One that has held its own against the likes of Black Dyke, Brighouse and Rastrick and Cory bands for over a decade.

Whether you like something easygoing or technical, you were in luck. If you like film music or traditional march, you were well catered. Paul Lovatt-Cooper pieces? Ditto the above with two crackers, bombastic and tranquil. Cheesy tunes? Yep, there was room for that too. 

Their Musical Director Gareth Brindle was informative and eloquent. Though there was no brass banding dad jokes, his manner was gentle and more light hearted as the concert progressed.

The Programme

First Half

  1. Original Piece: Enter The Galaxies (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
  2. Overture: Le Corsair (Hector Berlioz, arr. Geoffrey Brand)
  3. Soprano Cornet Solo (performed by Donna Tawse): Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney, arr. Ray Farr)
  4. Cornet Showcase: Trumpet Blues and Cantabile (Harry James/Jack Mathias, arr. Bill Geldard)
  5. Film Music: Theme from Jurassic Park (John Williams, arr. Alan Catherall)
  6. Euphonium Solo (performed by Max Johnson): ‘Neath the Dublin Skies (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
  7. Popular Music: An American Trilogy (Various, arr. Goff Richards)

Second Half

  1. March: The New Colonial (R.B. Hall)
  2. Flugelhorn Solo (performed by Natalie Beer): Sweet Sunset (Jan de Haan)
  3. Light Concert Music: Caravan (Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol, arr. Sandy Smith)
  4. Hymn: The Day Thou Gavest (Clement Cotterill Scholefield, arr. Philip Wilby)
  5. Light Concert Music: Balkan Dance (Etienne Crausaz)
  6. Major Work: The Kingdom Triumphant (Eric Ball)

Encore

  1. Light Concert Music: Folk Festival (Dmitri Shostakovich, arr. Howard Snell)
  2. Light Concert Music: The Rochdale Coconut Dance (Traditional)

Elvis has just entered the galaxy

To begin with, we had a piece that is just at home at the start of a concert programme as well as the end of a concert programme. Taking us into orbit was Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s Enter The Galaxies. This piece was premiered at Brass In Concert 2008 by The Cory Band, who won that year’s competition. It is a tribute to the pioneers of space exploration. With a most dazzling performance, we were taken to another dimension by Milnrow Band. One where the R9 and R10 routes were the Rochdale section of the 181 and 182, and the 435 route. As smooth as a latte from River Beal Café, without a doubt. 

If PLC’s piece took us to another planet, we were taken to another universe with our next one. In traditional style we had an overture, though not any old overture at that. Only Hector Berlioz’s Le Corsair. Which in English is the less romantic The Corsair. This epic seven minute overture was first performed in 1844 as La Tour de Nice whilst Berlioz was on holiday. In 1969, it was transcribed for brass band by Geoffrey Brand and never fails to lift/wake up/or entrance the audience. Milnrow Band’s performance was first rate.

From distant galaxies, we took to waterborne craft in our first solo of the night. Enter Donna Tawse on Soprano Cornet with Ray Farr’s arrangement of Live and Let Die. Written by Paul McCartney, it is probably the second best known Bond theme after John Barry’s evergreen original from Dr. No. Giving us a splendid picture of powerboat based shenanigans on Piethorne Reservoir with Roger Moore was Donna’s solo. Superb play, every note well defined, and certainly not the last we heard of Donna either.

In our fourth piece, she was back with her fellow comrades in the Milnrow Cornet Section. This time in Harry James’ and Jack Mathias’ Trumpet Blues and Cantabile. This piece, arranged by Bill ‘Hot Toddy‘ Geldard captures the essence of the original jazz standard. An eighty-year-old one that saw the light of day on Parlophone’s The 1942 Super Rhythm Style Series. One that was a jazz equivalent of Now! That’s What I Call Music, only that albums back then were singles in a photo album style book before the first LPs came out in 1948. A superb piece of light concert music. Or a generous chunk of Cheshire Cheese to make you smile. Either way, excellent work.

The fifth piece was another old chestnut. Also a fairly topical one due to the latest instalment of the Jurassic Park franchise. Popular at many film themed concerts is John Williams’ theme from Jurassic Park. Apart from its familiarity, Alan Morrison’s arrangement is also a wee test in slow melody. One that our fellows from Harmony Street passed with flying colours.

Next up was our second soloist of the night. This time, a euphonium solo by Max Johnson with Neath the Dublin Skies, a quieter side to the Paul Lovatt-Cooper canon. This was also the second piece of the night to have been premiered by The Cory Band. It was written for David Childs and first performed in 2007. As for Max’s performance, a most memorable one with excellent tonal depth. Superb.

Closing the first half was a piece that many bands use for a pre-encore finale. That of the ever-popular An American Trilogy. It is also one that is fairly topical thanks to Baz Luhrmann’s latest film, Elvis. It is an aural triptych of well known 19th Century songs: I Wish I Was In DixielandThe Battle Hymn of the Republic, and All My Trials. After 1971, The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll finished his concerts with that number. (Then again, what percentage of our pale blue dot’s 78,000 Elvis Tribute Acts do the same?)

With Milnrow Band’s choice of first half finale, we couldn’t wait for their second half programme. Of the concerts we have seen at The Mecca of Brass Banding, one of the finest first half programmes we have seen in years.

“The Duke, The Duke, The Duke is on fire…*”

We started the second half with something less demanding yet traditional. A famous Robert Brown Hall march in The New Colonial. The American composer is better known for Death or Glory, most famously heard at the start of Brassed Off. Like Death or Glory, it is a popular deportment march on Whit Friday. It is also a popular march on the Whit Walks. For a less demanding piece, Milnrow Band showed us how Championship Section bands can play a simple piece with eloquence and swagger.

Next up was our third and final solo of the night: enter Natalie Beer on flugelhorn with Sweet Sunset. As stated by Mr Brindle, it is a test of slow melody which had him yearning for the return of Slow Melody Contests. Jan de Haan’s piece reflects the nature of a sunset, as it goes from dusk to darkness. It is also dedicated to de Haan’s daughter, Hermanda. As for Natalie’s performance, excellent breathing technique and not a duff note. Probably the strongest solo of the night out of last night’s trio.

The next piece was as far away as possible as you could get from slow melody. One that never fails to lift the audience in Duke Ellington’s and Juan Tizol’s Caravan. The piece was written in 1936 and set to lyrics by Irving Mills. Interestingly, it was Ellington’s chainsaw practitioner Tizol who inspired this piece (great work from Milnrow’s trombonists too). Sandy Smith’s arrangement is a vibrant one with enough oomph to have you on the edge of your seat. With Milnrow Band’s performance, we were bound for outer space. Sensational!

In a traditional brass band concert, no programme is complete without a hymn. A superb one in Clement Cotterill Scholefield’s The Day Thou Gavest. Also known as St Clement, we were treated to Philip Wilby’s arrangement, penned for Yorkshire Building Society Band (The Hammonds Band to our younger viewers). The hymn is also set to words by John Ellerton and is a popular choice at funerals. Another great performance, though a lull before the storm of our next two pieces.

Next up was our penultimate piece of the night, Etienne Crausaz’s Balkan Dance. It is inspired by the Balkan countries in mainland Europe (like Bulgaria and Albania) and another great finale piece. It is a style of dance that is performed at weddings and other festive occasions. Some Musical Directors have used this piece to acknowledge soloists before getting to its choral section. A fantastic performance, though one that would be dwarfed by its finale.

If you thought Balkan Dance was superb, Eric Ball’s The Kingdom Triumphant was three times better. Written in 1962, it is a spiritual, engrossing work which the composer said “remind listeners of the Christian doctrine of the Second Advent of Christ and the end of this age.” It is also in three seamless parts: Vision of Judgement; Remembrance of the First Advent; and Vision of the Second Advent. The third part is based on the hymn tune Helmsley. What a stunning finale, an excellent all round performance.

Was that it? Was it time to pack up and go home? Not so. In many a concert, an encore is an absolute given. Instead of hearing something light hearted and undemanding, Milnrow Band gave us two pieces. An encore set.

First up was Dimitri Shostakovich’s Folk Festival, a piece that I have heard as a main programme item at some concerts. It is part of the well known Gadfly Suite as Folk Feast (National Holiday). Which, if you watched the live stream in Belfast, meant a day off work in two days time. A fantastic, breathtaking piece – incredibly as part of an encore set – which upped its awesomeness a few more notches.

The second and final (final in the dictionary definition sense) was Milnrow Band’s de facto signature piece. That of The Rochdale Coconut Dance, a traditional piece of folk music. It is used as a polka step in the Morris Dancing tradition. For the dance, each dancer holds half a coconut shell in each hand. Sensational, an absolute joy to listen to; a fair assessment of this concert in a [coco]nutshell.

* * *

Had Milnrow Band been the last band of Boarshurst Band Club’s 2021 – 22 concert season, I would have said “that’s what you call a grandstand finish”. The final furlong of the Grand National or the all-important match point at Wimbledon Centre Court.

Milnrow Band gave us a most entertaining and technically accomplished concert. A performance that would take some beating for several years to come. At the start, their performance of God Save The Queen (our National Anthem) was also amazing.

Of the concert season, we have one more concert to go till Boarshurst Band Club break up for the summer holidays. On the strength of Milnrow’s performance, there might be an air of “after the Lord Mayor’s show”. Then again, there might be a few surprises in store.

Next Week at Boarshurst Band Club…

Our next concert at Boarshurst Band Club is on the 17th July, when we shall be welcoming Besses Boys – our friends off the Bury New Road.  That’s at 7.30 pm – as always – doors open from 6.30 pm.  Please arrive early to be sure of a good seat.

Buses:

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

Alight at the former Greenfield Conservative Club. Please note that the 350 First Greater Manchester before 7pm and Stagecoach Manchester after that time.

Website: www.boarshurstband.co.uk.

Twitter details @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass

S.V., 11 July 2022.

* – Stalybridge Celtic supporters’ chant in relation to former goalscoring hero Lee Ellington (2006).

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