Enjoyable concert sees Littleborough Band turn the Christmas spirit up to eleven
A brass band is for life, not just for Christmas. Many people associate brass bands with Christmas, whether occasional concerts or supermarket jobs. As well as giving the band a high public profile, it is good for their finances. It allows them to keep going all year round, enables them to be part of the community and enter regional and national contests.
Two years ago, that lifeline was cut off from all brass bands, due to the ban on live performance during the COVID pandemic. Due to social distancing measures, brass bands and theatre groups were hardest hit. This meant a year with Christmas concerts, pantomimes and a few bars of Santa Claus-Trophobia outside Tesco.
Littleborough Band is part of the wider Littleborough Brass Community. The Senior Band are a contesting band in the Fourth Section. There is also a Youth Band, a Training Band, and a non-contesting band called Boro’ Brass. Apart from keeping youngsters out of mischief, it puts the small town near Rochdale on the map.
The Senior Band is conducted by Ashley Higgins, who also plays for The Hammonds Band. For those who braved the cold winter weather and the icy pavements, he gave us all a warm reception. As Musical Director, playing Boarshurst Band Club was an item on his bucket list. Yesterday, he fulfilled that wish and, happily for him, he wasn’t disappointed.
Littleborough Band gave us a taste of what we have missed over the last three years, and it came gift wrapped with all the Christmassy classics. We were in party mood, as if the events of the previous two years had never happened.
- Christmas March: Christmas Joy (Erik Leidzen);
- Christmas Song: It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas (Meredith Wilson);
- Principal Cornet Solo (performed by Richard Briers): First Light (Ben Hollings);
- Christmas Song: Sleigh Ride (Leroy Anderson);
- Euphonium Solo (performed by Jonathan Cowans): O Holy Night! (Adolphe Adam, arr. Stephen Bulla);
- Popular Music: Stop The Cavalry (Jona Lewie, arr. Derek Broadbent)
- Soprano Cornet and Flugelhorn Duet (performed by Craig Bulpitt and Gina Heywood): Pie Jesu (Andrew Lloyd-Webber);
- Christmas Carol: In The Bleak Midwinter (Gustav Holst/Christina Rossetti, arr. Adrian Horn);
- Christmas Music Medley: Caribbean Christmas (Various, arr. Sandy Smith).
- Christmas Overture: A Christmas Festival (Leroy Anderson, arr. Andrew Duncan);
- Bass Solo (performed by Tommy Tynam, The Cory Band): Frosty The Snowman (Steve Nelson/Jock Rallins, arr. Sandy Smith);
- Christmas Song: The Christmas Song (Mel Torme, arr. Philip Sparke);
- Flugelhorn and Trombone Feature:Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) (Billy Joel, arr. Klass Van Der Woude);
- Christmas Medley: Santa Claus-Trophobia (Various, arr. Sandy Smith);
- Christmas Song: A Christmas Finale (Paul Lovatt-Cooper).
- Christmas Song: Jingle Bells (James Lord Pierpont, arr. Derek Ashmore).
“Wish I could be dancing now, in the arms of the girl I love”
We opened the concert with a Christmas march with a medley of Christmas songs in (you’ve guessed it) Christmas Joy. This medley, arranged by Erik Leidzen as a march did everything that was said on the cake tin. A Quality Street style cornucopia of singalong tunes for the festive period that got us off to a good start.
It is fair to say It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, as per Meredith Wilson’s song. At this time of the year, an appropriate second piece for the first half – what with shops and eateries getting busier – and queues for overpriced food and drink getting longer in Piccadilly Gardens.
Next up was our first departure from all things of a Christmassy theme. Enter on principal cornet Richard Briers with his rendition of First Light. The piece, written by Ben Hollings, is about the first light of day – that moment in time when the darkness gives way to sunlight. As in-house composer for Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band, it was written for its then principal cornetist Kirsty Abbotts. This also continues The Hammonds Band connection with Littleborough Band, as Ms. Abbotts has moved to The Hammonds Band. A good performance of a demanding piece by Richard.
What Christmas concert worth its salt is a Christmas concert without a bit of Leroy Anderson? How about Sleigh Ride, a song has been covered by numerous artistes from The Carpenters to The Ronettes. Back in the late 1970s, there was a disco version that appeared on a budget priced Christmas album called Disco Noel. (You might want to listen to something spectacular like Eric Ball’s Resurgam to avoid the mother of all earworms). Littleborough Band’s rendition was a real toe-tapper.
Next up was our second soloist of the night, Jonathan Cowans with O Holy Night. The carol was written by Adolphe Adam in 1847, set to Placcide Cappeau’s poem Minuit, chrétiens (or Midnight, Christians in English). It has been covered by Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Nat King Cole to name a few. As for Jonathan’s performance on euphonium, a joy to behold.
Next on the agenda was a popular protest song with a few jingle bells for good measure. One that is (alas) as poignant in 2022 with Putin as it was in 1980 in Jona Lewie’s Stop The Cavalry. This piece of popular music works well in a band setting. With a few jingle bells, some reference to Christmas, and a snowy promo video, the makings of a popular Christmas number. It was kept off the top spot by a posthumous chart topper (John Lennon’s (Just Like) Starting Over) and a rather obscure school choir with a future Coronation Street star headed by a one-time BBC Radio Manchester presenter (Eamonn O’Neal). Without a doubt, my favourite piece of this half.
This was followed by a soprano cornet and flugelhorn duet featuring Craig Bulpitt and Gina Heywood. Their piece was an Andrew Lloyd-Webber number from the musical entitled Requiem: Pie Jesu. The title is a text from the final couplet of hymn Dies Irae. Both Craig and Gina gave us a gorgeous duet and a neat contrast to the livelier pieces we heard earlier.
Next up was a much loved poem set to music by Gustav Holst. In The Bleak Midwinter was written by Christina Rossetti and set to Holst’s The English Hymnal – a world away from his more bombastic The Planet Suite. It is often performed as a Christmas carol. On the other hand, In The Bleak Midwinter has other connotations; in the Peaky Blinders TV series, it means something awful is about to happen. Thankfully, nothing awful happened last night, and Littleborough Band gave us a sound performance.
For the final piece of the first half, we finished with Sandy Smith’s Caribbean Christmas, a medley of Caribbean Christmas carols as the title suggests. The four pieces are Mary’s Boy Child, I Said: The Donkey, De Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy, and Mary Had a Baby. With the last one, your reviewer was back to being sat on the parquet floor of his school assembly hall. A welcome addition to any Christmas concert programme, and a fantastic way to break for the interval.
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”
We opened the second half with a generous chunk of Christmas concert cheese. The best piece for this isLeroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival. This has a mixed assortment of Christmas songs including Joy To The World, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Deck The Halls. Fantastic stuff.
We moved onto our final soloist of the night, and a guest soloist at that. From The Cory Band, enter Tommy Tynan on bass with Frosty The Snowman. Last night, he was one of two soloists to share celebrity namesakes; one sharing his name with The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles; the other, a leading goalscorer for Newport County and Plymouth Argyle. Walter Rollins’ and Steve Nelson’s Christmas song has been covered by a variety of artistes. Not only by The Jackson Five, but also – most memorably thanks to Phil Spector’s production – The Ronettes (on the legendary A Christmas Gift For You LP). Tommy’s performance was top drawer – a real coup for Littleborough Band – and a treat for the live audience who braved the cold weather to get to The Mecca of Brass Banding.
This was followed by a superb performance of The Christmas Song. Without fail, Mel Tormé’s number, arranged by Philip Sparke works well at any Christmas concert. Like the Nat King Cole version, it has this habit of lowering the room temperature by a few degrees. Littleborough Band’s performance was so hearty, yet cool enough to trigger a cold weather payment in the OL3 postcode area.
Next, we were treated to a trombone and horn feature in Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) by Billy Joel. The song features on his 1993 LP River of Dreams. It is inspired by his daughter Alexa Ray Joel, from his previous marriage with Christine Brinkley, and is the seventh track on the album. In the song, his daughter asks what happens when you die. As for the trombones and Gina on flugelhorn, a super performance.
Almost as ubiquitous as Jingle Bells at any Christmas themed brass band concert is Sandy Smith’s delightfully entitled Santa Claus-Trophobia. With its Hooked On Classics style pace, we got six Santa themed songs – 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.
Taking us towards the finale was a bit of Paul Lovatt-Cooper. If there is one composer who you would expect to get a good Christmas song out of, The Mighty PLC would be up there. Fitting the bill is A Christmas Finale which does exactly what it says on the tin in medley form. According to his notes, it encapsulates what Paul Lovatt-Cooper likes about Christmas – the unwrapping of presents, the films, and the music. A lovely way to finish the concert.
Last but not least, the real finale was Derek Ashmore’s arrangement of Jingle Bells. From concert hall to band room and supermarket vestibule, James Lord Pierpont’s piece is a must. Despite its use as a Christmas song, it was written about a sleigh race in his home town, Medford, Massachusetts around Thanksgiving Day. (A modern day equivalent could be a song about the Oxenhope Straw Race). Its original title was One Horse Open Sleigh, and the composer was a bit of a rebel.
As for Littleborough Band’s performance, the end of a great night’s worth of music. Well worth a fiver of anybody’s money and a steal at £3.00 if you’re a member of Boarshurst Band Club. Much better value for money than half a pint of overpriced lager at the Manchester Christmas Markets.
Next week at Boarshurst…
Next week’s concert will be your very own Boarshurst Silver Band. Yes, our very own Christmas concert with more turkey, trimmings and fun for all the family. 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 is operated by First Greater Manchester before 7pm on weekdays and Saturdays, and before 8pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays. All evening journeys are operated by Stagecoach Manchester.
Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.
S.V., 12 December 2022.