Classy ensemble kicks off Poppy Appeal in style

Since moving to its present-day premises in 1979, Boarshurst Band Club has played host to the finest bands and some of the finest players in the brass banding world. Getting the pick of each band’s finest players together in the same room is easier said than done.

In the same way we would like to have Ronaldo and Haaland in our Fantasy Football Teams, there’s every chance we would have James Shepherd and Kirsty Abbotts in our Fantasy Brass Band. Whittling down our Fantasy Brass Band down to a ten-piece ensemble makes it a little tricky.

Last night, the Phoenix Brass Ensemble did well in that department. For the best part of two hours, its ensemble gave us all a memorable concert. This was helped by seven stupendous solos and a great Musical Director in Steve Robson. 

Based in Littleborough, most of Phoenix Brass’ ensemble hail from Lancashire and Yorkshire. Some of which have played with the James Shepherd Versatile Brass group which wowed many audiences in the 1980s and 1990s.

With the concert being a fundraiser for the Royal British Legion, and the launch of this year’s Poppy Appeal, there was a couple of military marches. Also Sir Edward Elgar’s Nimrod, a must for a concert of this ilk, as well as handy for flexing these slow melody jaws for Remembrance Day concerts and services. What’s more, they found room for a sing song and a potato pie or cheese and onion pie supper in the interval.

The Programme

First Half

  1. March: Strike Up The Band (George Gershwin, arr. Ray Woodfield)
  2. Principal Cornet Solo (performed by Mike McLean): The Paragon (Edward Sutton)
  3. Hymn: Love Unknown (John Ireland, arr. Steve Robson)
  4. Tuba Solo (performed by Jimmy): Aria from The Magic Flute (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
  5. Light Concert Music: Seren Fach (Nigel Lawless)
  6. Flugelhorn Solo (performed by John Whittle): Dimitri (Rodney Newton, arr. Trevor Slade)
  7. Classical Piece: Nimrod (Sir Edward Elgar)
  8. March: The British Legion March (Thomas Bidgood)

Second Half

  1. March: Royal Air Force March Past (Sir Henry Walford Davies/Sir George Dyson)
  2. Euphonium Solo (performed by Andrew): O Sole Mio (Traditional, arr. Philip Greenwood)
  3. Original Piece: Daisy Does Diggle (Harry Dacre, arr. Nigel Lawless)
  4. Mellophonium Solo (performed by Dave): A Tisket A Tasket (Ella Fitzgerald)
  5. Light Concert Music: Waltzing Matilda (Thomas Edward Bulch, arr. Derek Broadbent)
  6. Percussion Solo (performed by Bill): Cute (Neal Hefti)
  7. Trombone Solo (performed by Paul): First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Ewan MacColl)
  8. Hymn: Evening Hymn and Sunset (Arthur C Green arr. Max Stannard)
  9. Medley: Wartime Favourites (Various)


  1. Light Concert Music: Marching The Blues (Richard W. Bowles/Harold Gore, arr. Philip Wilby).

Act 1: A Refined Spectacle

First off the blocks was a bit of George Gershwin, a classic concert march in Strike Up The Band. Written in 1927 for the eponymous musical, the title song was more popular than the musical itself. In 1937 it took on a second life as a song for the University College of Los Angeles. A fantastic start to the concert.

Next up was another classic, and the first of seven solos of the night. Enter Mike McLean on principal cornet with Edward Sutton’s The Paragon. As classic solo pieces go, this is UEFA Champions League material, thanks in some part of James Shepherd’s seminal performance some six decades ago. Mike’s performance of Sutton’s piece was sensational.

This was followed by the first hymn of the night, also an arrangement by Steve Robson. If you go to many a hymn and march contest, John Ireland’s Love Unknown is a popular choice, and for good reason. Played well, it captures an atmosphere that no other hymn does. Though the hymn is best heard in a solemn, contemplative outdoor setting, Steve Robson’s arrangement works well in a Band Club setting. With a full band, as seen with the Trimdon Brass concert (26th June 2022), brilliant. With a highly accomplished ensemble, a match for any full band. Fantastic.

We moved on to our second soloist of the night. Enter on tuba, Jimmy with the aria from The Magic Flute. The opera, written in 1791, sees the Queen of the Night persuades Prince Tamino to rescue her daughter Pamina. She is held hostage by the High Priest, Sarastro. A most solid performance from Jimmy.

Next, we moved on to Seren Fach. In English, did you know that Seren Fach is Little Star? This was written for Rob and Claire Westacott for their baby daughter, Jessica. Arranged by Dukinfield’s second most famous brass band arranger Nigel Lawless, it is a nice suite of Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star and Brahms’ Lullaby. It was penned by Mr Lawless when he played for Versatile Brass. Another great performance.

Our third solo of the night came from a most familiar face in the Saddleworth area. Enter on flugelhorn John Whittle with Rodney Newton’s Dimitri. Born in 1945, Mr Newton was educated at the Birmingham School of Music before joining Sadler’s Wells Orchestra. By the late 1980s, he started getting involved in military bands and brass bands with Dimitri written in 1998. As for John’s rendition, another virtuoso performance.

For the penultimate piece of the first half, we had Nimrod. At many Remembrance Sunday concerts, Sir Edward Elgar’s Nimrod is a must for any concert programme. It is the ninth and, by far, best known one of his fourteen Enigma Variations. With last night’s concert being a fundraiser for the Royal British Legion, and a launch for the Poppy Appeal, this was even more of a must. Another great shift at the office for Phoenix Brass Ensemble.

Rounding off the first half was Thomas Bidgood’s The British Legion March. The march was written in 1912, fourteen years after his most famous march, Sons of the Brave. Born in Woolwich, he started out on the violin, taught at the London Academy of Music. Later, he became the Bandmaster of the Beckton Band of the Gas, Light and Coke Company. A nice finish to a neat first half programme.

Act 2: The Lighter Side of Phoenix Brass

Our second half took on a lighter air, opening with another familiar march. Whether you have heard a military band or a brass band, you may have heard Royal Air Force March Past by Sir Henry Walford Davies and Sir George Dyson. It is the official march of the RAF, originally known as Adastral I. It is either played as a slow march or a quick march. Phoenix Brass Ensemble’s rendition was played to a most moderate tempo, and played well.

Next up was our first solo of the second half: a euphonium solo by Andrew. His piece was O Sole Mio, a traditional song that has seen more than one iteration. In 1960, it formed part of Elvis Presley’s Number One song It’s Now or Never. In the 1980s, it was used to sell modestly priced ice cream for Unilever as Just One Cornetto (also covered in a ska style by the delightfully named Pookiesnackenburger). As for Andrew’s performance, a cracker.

If you liked Gordon Langford’s arrangement of Harry Dacre’s Daisy Bell, you would have found the third piece of this half to your liking. Daisy Does Diggle is a brasher great grandchild of the classic tune. It has leanings particular to German style oompah bands, is reminiscent of The Amazing Bavarian Stompers’ interpretation, and in some way a Product of Dukinfield (thanks to the arranger’s pen of Nigel Lawless). A fantastic novelty piece, cheerfully ended with a bicycle bell (well, it is rude not to).

This was followed by the fifth solo of the night. An unusual one, using an instrument that is barely seen in brass band concerts. Enter on mellophonium Dave, with his rendition of A Tisket A Tasket. A late 1870s nursery rhyme, the song was popularised by Ella Fitzgerald’s version of 1938. For the benefit of anybody who hasn’t seen a mellophonium, it either looks like a cross between a flugelhorn and a bugle, or a French Horn and a bugle. Andrew played the latter form of mellophonium, popularised by Stan Kenton. As for his performance, beautiful, brooding and colourful in equal measure.

Next up was a piece by Shildon’s other famous composer, Thomas Edward Bulch. He was self taught and wrote his first march at the age of 17, Typhoon. He moved to Australia and published pieces under various nom de plumes. One of them was his arrangement of Waltzing Matilda, an Australian folk song. A gorgeous piece of cheese, lovingly played by our ensemble.

Equally adorable was our penultimate solo performance of the night. This time, a percussion of Neal Hefti’s Cute from Bill. On original release, Hefti’s piece appeared on the 1962 album, Jazz Pops, with other tracks including Li’l Darlin’. On the drums, Bill’s performance was polished and tighter than Ebenezer Scrooge on an economy drive. Excellent work.

This was followed by the final solo of the night. After covering a fair selection of what covers a full brass band, we finally got round to adding a trombone solo. Enter Paul and his rendition of a classic Ewan MacColl song. That of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. The song was written for political songstress Peggy Seeger. In 1969, Roberta Flack’s covered the song, being her breakthrough chart single. Paul’s performance did Flack’s cover proud. If he was alive today, Ewan MacColl might have approved.

Following the last solo of the night was our last hymn of the night. That of Arthur C Green’s Evening Hymn and Sunset. It incorporates the hymn tune St. Clement (also known as The Day Thou Gavest) and the Sunset Bugle call. A most pleasant penultimate piece, and a real contrast as to what followed next.

For the final piece it was Audience Participation Time. With Wartime Favourites, we got a medley of wartime songs, and we were encouraged to sing along with the ensemble. This medley included all the classics like Pack Up Your Troubles, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary and Bless ‘Em All. What a good finale.

The real finale came with a brass band piece that was half march and half blues. Filed under The Stating The Obvious Department is Harold Gore’s Marching The Blues. This uptempo number also appears on Lyndon Baglin’s Best of Brass LP which has a few gems like Endearing Young Charms. Another one we enjoyed, leaving us on a high.

Once again, Phoenix Brass Ensemble impressed their audience with a most entertaining concert. With such a well bodied sound and impressive virtuoso performance, you could be forgiven for thinking they sounded like a full band of 33 players.

Wherever they play, give them a go: you will be in for a good night. Apart from that, the meat and potato pie supper was amazing with a dash of red cabbage.

Next Week at Boarshurst Band Club…

Our next concert is on the 9th October when our next band is Hebden Bridge Brass Band.  That’ll be at 7.30 pm, doors open at 6.30 pm.  Please arrive early to be sure of a good seat.

…and at Glossop Old Band Club…

Boarshurst Silver Band will be in concert on the same day (9th October 2022). This will start at 2.00pm and admission is free. During the concert there will be a raffle, an auction, and – last but not least – the infamous Bucket Collection (please give generously).

Public Transport:

  • Trains: Transpennine Express services from Huddersfield, Manchester Piccadilly and Stalybridge;
  • 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 that after 6pm all evening 350 journeys are operated by Stagecoach Manchester.

Twitter details: @boarshurstband#SundayBrass.


S.V., 03 October 2022.

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