Lofty and Co. lifts audience with polished performance
Christmas is getting closer now. As you would expect, brass bands the world over would be polishing their festive programme. It is a busy time for many bands, whether private functions, live concerts or supermarket gigs. For many people, seeing their local brass band is a part of their Christmas as much as turkey and stuffing or falling asleep in front of the latest James Bond movie.
Last night, Marsden Silver Prize Band’s approach to Christmas was ‘nice and easy does it’. Since Andrew Lofthouse became Musical Director in 2018, the band have picked themselves up. Most markedly in the last year alone when they came second in the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain’s First Section National Final at Cheltenham.
Whether Christmas or Michaelmas, New Year’s Day or Ascension Day, entertainment is everything to its audience. It is about bums on seats for concert nights; it is about properly sequencing a programme so the next two hours seem like twenty minutes. It is an advertisement for a band (even in the online age of advertising, word of mouth and voting with one’s feet are still powerful messages). People would go out of their way to avoid them if they were dissatisfied with their performance.
Marsden Silver Prize Band and Mr. Lofthouse knew how to engage the audience. With a lot to love for jazz fans as well as traditionalists, it was a tight programme with even tighter performances – from opening piece to rousing encore. Even a few Christmas pieces and the return of an old friend to The Mecca of Brass Banding, as the soon-to-be Musical Director of Hoover Bolton band.
As expected during the World Cup match between England and Senegal, the live audience was down on usual numbers. The enlightened few that chose marches over matches had a real feast of fine music.
- Concert Opener: Ye Morning Stars of Light (Andi Cook);
- March: The Spaceman (T.J Powell);
- Principal Cornet Solo (performed by Jason Evans): Don’t Doubt Him Now (Leonard Ballantine, arr. Craig Woodland);
- Ballet Music (from Rodeo): Hoe-Down (Aaron Copland);
- Film Music: Theme from Once Upon a Time in the West (Ennio Morricone);
- Christmas March: Christmas Joy (Erik Leidzen);
- Baritone Horn Solo (performed by David Bracegirdle): O Holy Night (Adolph Adam, arr. Stephen Tighe);
- Test Piece: The Kingdom Triumphant (Eric Ball).
- Light Concert Music: Just a Closer Walk With Thee (Traditional);
- Light Concert Music: Sweet Gingerbread Man (Michael Legrand);
- Light Concert Music: Blue (Thomas Gansch, arr. John Doyle);
- Christmas Piece: Carol of the Bells (Ukrainian Traditional, arr. John Parkinson);
- Horn Solo (performed by Ben Hill-Wilson): Santa Baby (arr. Lucy Pankhurst);
- Christmas Medley: Santa Claus-Trophobia (arr. Sandy Smith);
- Popular Music: Fat Bottomed Girls (Brian May, arr. Stuart Morley, transcribed by Andrew Lofthouse);
- Jazz Piece: Birdland (Joe Zawinul, arr. Sandy Smith).
- Jazz Piece: Caravan (Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol, arr. Sandy Smith).
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Hoe-Down or ‘Oe Down?
First up was a barnstormer of a concert opener by Andi Cook in Ye Morning Stars of Light. It is an immersive piece based on the hymn Diadem – also known as All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name. The lyrics of the original hymn was penned by Edward Perronet in 1780. A powerful, fantastic opening piece to the concert and – with 21 days till Christmas at the time – appropriately the first Christmas piece of the night. An excellent start.
Next in the programme was a T.J. Powell march. Not his best known one, Castell Coch, but his most melodic and somewhat overlooked classic, The Spaceman. It is a well bodied piece that is equally at home as a concert march and a contest march. One where you could imagine Yuri Gagarin or Neil Armstrong ‘floating in a tin can’. From Marsden Silver Prize Band’s performance, we came to the conclusion that The Spaceman needs more love. A lush performance.
This was followed by the first of our three soloists. Enter on principal cornet Jason Evans with Don’t Doubt Him Now. Colonel Leonard Ballantine’s piece was published in the July 1990 issue of The Musical Salvationist, and written with a female voice in mind. Earlier this year, it was performed by Kirsty Abbotts at The Hammonds Band’s concert at Boarshurst Band Club. As for Jason’s performance, a cracker.
Next up was a bit of ballet music, and an energetic number in Aaron Copland’s Hoe-Down. It is the fifth and final movement of the ballet suite, Rodeo. The ballet was choreographed by Agnes de Mille and premiered in 1942. At Boarshurst Band Club, it was last performed by Skelmanthorpe Band on the 8th October 2017. Cheesier than an S Club 7 tribute act, it was an enjoyable romp. Hi Ho, Marsden Silver!
The next piece was a real contrast, and a neat transcription of a classic piece of film music. Anything by Hans Zimmer, John Williams or Ennio Morricone never fails to please audiences. This was true with Ennio Morricone’s Theme from Once Upon a Time in the West. The 1969 Spaghetti Western, directed by Sergio Leone, sees a widow hiring an outlaw and a mystery man to protect their land from a ruthless cattleman. As well as its use in Leone’s film, it features in the third and final part of Adam Curtis’ series of documentary films All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace (The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey; BBC Two, 6th June 2011). Fantastic work!
We lightened the mood a little with a Christmas march called Christmas Joy. It was composed by Erik Leidzen in 1953. The piece includes snatches of Jerusalem and Jingle Bells. If you like your brass band marches with a bit of tinsel, you would love this piece. Needless to say, we did.
This was followed by the second solo of the night: another classic Christmassy number in O Holy Night. It is set to a French poem entitled Minuit, Chrétiens (which translates into English as Midnight, Christians) and has been performed by many artistes from Mirelle Matteau to Celine Dion. Taking his position on Baritone Horn was David Bracegirdle. A suave, well measured performance by David.
If the first two pieces of our trio of Christmas tunes were Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game and The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show, our third one was The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show in its sheer magnificence. Well and truly getting all the right notes in the right order was the band’s performance of Eric Ball’s The Kingdom Triumphant. Composed in 1962, Ball’s immersive tone poem was premiered at the Festival of Gospel Song at the Royal Albert Hall. Though in one complete movement, the work is in three parts: Vision of Judgement; Remembrance of the First Advent; and Vision of the Second Advent.
Though not sounding like an obvious Christmas song, it is every inch an original more technical Christmas piece for brass bands. Lofty and Co. succeeded in giving us an exhilarating first half.
Another Kind of Blue
With Marsden Silver Prize Band’s long time involvement in the Marsden Jazz Festival, the second half programme took its inspiration from jazz music and big bands.
First off the blocks was a traditional gospel number in Just a Closer Walk With Thee. It is the most frequently played piece in the hymn and dirge section of a traditional New Orleans Jazz Funeral. The song alludes to two biblical passages: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:8). There was nothing dirge like about Marsden Silver Prize Band’s performance: it was a well measured, highly entertaining start to the second half.
Next up was a number highly unrecommended for people with diabetes: Michael Legrand’s Sweet Gingerbread Man. This irresistible tune was written in 1970 for a film called The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart. In brass banding circles, it is a dependable novelty piece that could slot into any concert programme, whether a budding Fourth Section band or an established Championship Section one. Interestingly, in the last three days since this concert, there had been a furore over Morrisons calling its toilet sign shaped biscuits ‘Gingerbread Persons’. As well as being a candidate for a Message In The Music song, Marsden Silver Prize Band’s rendition of the Greggies’ themed piece was a tasty confection to behold.
This was followed by Thomas Gansch’s Blue. Not to be confused with Joni Mitchell’s 1971 LP, the Fine Young Cannibals’ 1986 song, or Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, this is an original piece by the sensational Mnozil Brass. Halfway through the piece, we found that Lofty wasn’t above getting his instrument out. To much great applause, he gave us all a quick blast of his trumpet. Superb.
After adding a shade of yellow to the previous piece, our next one was a Ukrainian Christmas song, Carol of the Bells. This is a traditional piece by Mykola Leontovych arranged by John Parkinson. It is based on a Ukrainian folk chant which has been recorded by several artistes, and the subject of many parodies. In 2009, The Muppets did a parody which climaxes with a large bell beaten by Animal. The arranger of this piece was Mr. Lofthouse’s one time teacher – who with a bit of Christmas spirit – could have gifted him a copy of the manuscript, and saved him a good £50 towards beer money. Once again, another great performance.
This was followed by the third and final solo of the night – one by a young man that yours truly has seen go from strength to strength in the last five years. Back in 2016, he was the stand out solo performer at an afternoon concert with Dobcross Youth Band. Last night, on horn, Ben Hill-Wilson wowed us again with Santa Baby. The song was made famous by Eartha Kitt, then later covered by Madonna and Kylie Minogue. Ben’s performance was sensational – and we hope he makes a name for himself as Musical Director for Hoover Bolton next year.
If the brass band movement has an equivalent to Whamageddon (trying to avoid listening to the excellent Last Christmas for the uninitiated!), Sandy Smith’s Santa Claus-Trophobia is a likely candidate. This suite has six Christmas songs – all the classic tunes in When Santa Got Stuck Up The Chimney, Here Comes Santa Claus, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town and A Rootin’ Tootin’ Santa Claus. Also Giving from 1985’s Santa Claus: The Movie. Whether you like it or not, it really does get you in a Christmassy mood (oh, and don’t get us started on which version of Jingle Bells is more equal than others). We lapped it up.
This was followed by a classic Queen tune in Fat Bottomed Girls. At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking the only thing in common it had in jazz music was the 1978 LP it came from (entitled Jazz). Instead of the Sandy Smith arrangement many listeners are enamoured with, we had a jazz/big band tinged arrangement by Stuart Morley – transcribed for brass band music by last night’s musical director. Inspired by The Squadronaires’ take on the Queen song, it worked a treat. So suave, certainly one that Brian May or Freddie Mercury would have been proud of too.
The last piece of the night was a jazz standard by Joe Zawinul, made famous by Weather Report. If you said Birdland, please enjoy a mince pie. Zawinul, a member of Weather Report, has performed alongside Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis. The song was written in 1977 as a tribute to the Birdland night club in New York City. The arrangement we enjoyed was Sandy Smith’s easy going and sparkling rendition. A fantastic finale.
In all honesty, the real finale was our encore piece. Duke Ellington’s Caravan, arranged by Sandy Smith, never fails to lift the audience. 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. Marsden Silver Prize Band’s real strength in depth was seen in its cornets and horns as well as the trombones which make Ellington’s standard a much loved piece. What an excellent finish.
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Since their previous visit to Boarshurst Band Club, Marsden Silver Prize Band has gone up in leaps and bounds. A lot of this is down to Lofthouse’s work, which has given the band a clear sound with excellent volume all round. In addition to working his magic in the technical department, he has worked wonders on the stage with a most entertaining programme. We can’t wait to see their next concert at The Mecca of Brass Banding before long.
Next week at Boarshurst…
Next week’s concert will be Littleborough Band. It is the senior band of four within the Littleborough Brass Band Community. That’ll be at 7.30 pm, doors open at 6.30 pm. Please arrive early to be sure of a good seat.
- 350: Ashton-under-Lyne – Mossley – Greenfield – Uppermill – Dobcross – Delph – Waterhead – Oldham.
Alight at the former Greenfield Conservative Club. The 350 route is operated by First Greater Manchester before 6pm on weekdays and Saturdays (7pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays). After 6pm (or 7pm Sundays and Bank Holidays of course), all journeys are operated by Stagecoach Manchester.
Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.
S.V., 5th December 2022.