Classy performance by South Tyneside band in swan song for musical director
All was happy in the Chew valley last night as Westoe Brass Band gave its live and streamed audience another great concert from Boarshurst Band Club. For the regulars who braved the cold conditions on foot, the warmest of receptions could be found, to the tunes of Cole Porter, Paul Lovatt-Cooper and Lionel Richie to name a few.
Having a bearing on live audience numbers was the finale of Happy Valley on BBC One. Though streaming services are making inroads into our viewing habits, it got 11 million viewers on Steam Powered Old School scheduled telly. For a younger generation, an online era equivalent to the finale of To The Manor Born which got 24 million viewers. Ironically, last night’s running order had a signature tune from another TV programme that was huge in 1979.
Since then, numerous events across the UK and overseas couldn’t take away two things about last night’s band. Firstly their proud industrial heritage which was seen in their second half set. Secondly, how the band has survived the loss of its pit and everything else around them.
Like South Shields, the local Northern Premier League Premier Division side (where COVID had thwarted its elevation to National League North), they are on the up. Instead of ex-Stalybridge Celtic and Oldham Athletic favourite Darius Osei, Westoe’s star player has an Eb bass.
For those accepting what is probably last year’s Phrase of the Year (“It is what it is”), there was another swan song. Last night’s concert was Aidan Hodgson’s final one as Westoe’s musical director. He closed the concert with a heartfelt speech, paying tribute to the band as well as thanking the audience.
- Concert Opener: Rise of the Firebird (Steven Reineke)
- Musical Piece (from Gay Divorce): Night and Day (Cole Porter)
- Euphonium Solo (performed by James Henry William Wright): In Gardens of Peace (Philip Harper)
- TV Theme Tune: Theme from The Muppet Show (Jim Henson/Sam Pottle, arr. Thomas Wyss)
- Flugelhorn Solo (performed by Jo Wright): Only In Sleep (Ēriks Ešenvalds, arr. Philip Littemore)
- March: Castell Caerfilli (T.J Powell)
- Hymn: Abide With Me (Henry Francis Lyte)
- Light Concert Music: Presto (Edouard Lalo, arr. Keith Wilkinson)
- Signature March: Hartonian (George Hawkins)
- Popular Music: All Night Long (Lionel Richie, arr. Leigh Baker)
- Hymn: Gresford (Robert Saint, arr. Sandy Smith)
- Eb Bass Solo (performed by Matt Jolley): The Bass in the Ballroom (Roy Newsome)
- Light Concert Music: The Water of Tyne (Traditional, arr. Philip Harper)
- Light Concert Music: I Got Rhythm (George Gershwin, arr. Alan Fernie)
- Light Concert Music: Felton Lonnen (Traditional, arr. Lee Morris)
- Original Piece: Vitae Aeternum (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
- Popular Music: Fat Bottomed Girls (Brian May, arr. Philip Harper)
“The Most Sensational, Inspirational, Celebrational…“
As with last year’s concert, Westoe Band found another great concert opener. This time with Rise of the Firebird by Steven Reineke. According to a blog post on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he is “The Crown Prince of pops programming”. He cites John Williams as one of his influences, which was especially true about this piece. He is also Musical Director and Conductor of the New York Pops Orchestra. As for its transcription to brass band music, superb to say the least.
Equally sumptuous was an arrangement of Cole Porter’s Night and Day. It is by far Cole Porter’s best known piece, taken from the Fred Astaire musical Gay Divorce. Upon its initial release in November 1932, it broke new ground in having a 48 bar chorus instead of 32 bars. It has been covered by numerous artistes, the most recent being a 2021 duet with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga (the artistes being 94 and 34 years of age at the time). In 1980, it was sung on The Muppet Show by Muppets dressed as Egyptian mummies. As for Westoe Brass Band’s performance, another cracker.
Most sensational and inspirational was our first soloist of the night. Enter the splendidly named James Henry William Wright on euphonium. His piece was the first of three arranged or written by Philip Harper, the excellent In Gardens of Peace. It commemorates the life of Henry Nichols, who was killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1917. More famously, it has been recorded by Glyn Williams with The Cory Band. Dan Thomas has also performed the piece with York Railway Institute Band. As for James’ performance, beautiful and well measured.
In such miserable times, no concert is complete without a TV or film theme. Better still, a TV theme that could be classed as a novelty piece. At their most sensational, inspirational and celebrational [sic], Westoe Band gave us the theme tune from The Muppet Show. Written by the late Jim Henson and Sam Pottle, it is as iconic a TV theme as Eric Spear’s Coronation Street signature tune, or Johnny Pearson’s The Awakening (the ITN News at Ten theme). With a brass band version, you can go to town on its arrangement almost as much as the happy scene in its opening titles. Though Waldorf and Stadler wouldn’t have liked it, last night’s audience lapped it. Great choice of programme item and an excellent performance.
We calmed things down a bit with the second soloist of the night, though not in the usual position of any self-respecting soloist. In the not-so-solo flugelhorn solo was Jo Wright, playing Ēriks Ešenvalds’ Only In Sleep. It is based on a poem by Sara Teasdale which is a nostalgic vision of childhood in a dream state. If you read the poem, it is a heartwarming piece. Another great performance by Jo.
Next up was a march by The Welsh Sousa, T.J. Powell in the delightful Castell Caerffili. At a Whit Friday band contest, it is a popular one for lower section bands (likewise with Powell’s other marches, The Spaceman and Castell Coch). With last night’s concert being hosted by a Championship Section band, nothing more than an eloquent mastery of the manuscript was expected. True to form, Westoe Brass Band delivered the goods, though with more eloquence and better volume on last year’s performance.
Our penultimate piece of this half was Henry Francis Lyte’s hymn Abide With Me. It is a popular piece at funerals and on F.A. Cup Final days before kick off. It is also known as Eventide where the hymn is set to W.H Monk’s tune. An evergreen piece played to perfection. Well done Westoe.
Our final piece was Edouard Lalo’s Presto from Norwegian Rhapsody. The main body of work was composed in 1879 and a transcription for violin and orchestra. Thanks to the arranger’s pen of Keith Wilkinson, its transcription of a violin and orchestra transcription was a joy to behold. With a great band making light work of this piece, say no more.
“Never forget where you’re coming from…”
For most of the second half, we returned to the band’s roots and celebrated the North East of England’s industrial heritage. We opened the first half with Hartonian, Westoe Brass Band’s signature march. This was written by their legendary former musical director George Hawkins. As signature marches go, it is a well bodied march that compares well with the likes of West Riding and Queensbury. Another solid performance.
A slight deviation from this was Leigh Baker’s arrangement of All Night Long. From 1983, it is one of Lionel Richie’s best known songs, and his biggest solo chart success in the UK till Hello topped the charts in 1984. The accountancy student joined The Commodores to boost his popularity with the opposite sex. As a solo artiste he became a hugely successful recording artiste in his own right. Though kept off the top spot by Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl, Westoe’s wondrous performance topped our charts.
Anyone with at least a passing interest in labour history as well as brass bands ought to be familiar with Robert Saint’s Gresford. Gresford is known as The Miners’ Hymn, written in memory of the Gresford colliery disaster near Wrexham (22 September 1934) which killed 266 mineworkers. The composer himself was a miner (born 1905), who became unemployed in 1932. It is played at miners’ meetings, most notably the Durham Miners’ Gala that takes place on the second Saturday in July. Superb stuff.
For the second concert in succession we had an Eb Bass solo. As the saying goes, you wait ages for an Eb Bass Solo then two come along at once (well over the space of seven days that is). Once again, the solo piece was Roy Newsome’s Bass in the Ballroom – a most enjoyable piece that introduces newcomers to the sublime sound of an Eb bass. Taking his position was Matt Jolley. His mastery on the bass was smooth, eloquent and well measured, all of which coming into its own in the final third of Newsome’s piece. A most memorable solo and a stunning performance.
We were back on familiar territory with The Water of Tyne. In the song, a woman sees her paramour being separated by the aforementioned river. The ferry depicted in the song is said to be near Haughton Castle. Today, no ferry exists, and buses are virtually non-existent. A moot point being as the only viable walking route is 4.6 miles long instead of a few yards! Westoe Band’s rendition would have made our paramour’s wait for a taxi fly by – even if the next cab wasn’t due till the following day. Fantastic as always.
Next up was another classic: George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm. Though a fast paced song it was originally written as a slow number in the musical Girl Crazy. It is the final track on Mike Oldfield’s 1979 album Platinum (Wendy Roberts on vocals). It also featured on The Ethel Merman Disco Album (and she also sung this song in its more original form in Girl Crazy). With Westoe Band, we were treated to a most vibrant performance (well, who could ask for anything more?).
Our penultimate piece of the night was Felton Lonnen. Arranged by Lee Morris, it is based on the ballad known as The Kye Have Come Hame, telling the story of a child lost in a farmer’s field. It has also been sung by the High Level Ranters, Eliza Carthy and Eleanor Waterson. Rachel Unthank and the Winterset also sung the song with Brighouse and Rastrick Band. It is a lovely piece that Boarshurst Silver Band liked so much they added it to their library and on to their second CD, Phoenix. Westoe Brass Band reminded us of its power with another smashing performance.
After Musical Director said his farewell speech, we moved on to our grand finale. A most rousing piece by Paul Lovatt-Cooper in Vitae Aeternum. It is a top drawer piece with three Salvation Army hymns: God Came in Jesus to Live Among Us; I Will Praise You, Lord, With All My Heart; and His Provision. One that’s a message of hope with a stunning rip-roaring finale. It was commissioned by Gerard Klauke of GK Design and premiered by Black Dyke Band at their 2007 concert at the De Lawei Concert Hall, Drachten. A truly amazing piece to finish the concert off in style.
As for the encore, a Queen classic completed the Philip Harper Trilogy: that of the group’s 1978 chart single Fat Bottomed Girls. His arrangement of this tune from the 1978 Jazz LP never fails to lift audiences with last night’s performance being no exception to the rule. As for the song, it was released on a double A-sided single with Bicycle Race and peaked at Number 11 in the UK singles chart. What a fantastic finale.
* * *
Once again, Westoe Brass Band delivered the good in a truly amazing concert. One that many of the Boarshurst regulars had missed out on. Unlike the final episode of To The Manor Born, last night’s concert has been captured for posterity and repeated viewing at a later date on Boarshurst Silver Band’s YouTube channel. Something we are happy to do with our favourite TV series. As with yesterday’s must-see episode of Happy Valley, many millions tuned in on its transmission time at 9pm because they wanted to see it first instead of on BBC iPlayer.
Seeing the film you want to see at the cinema, or your favourite football team or brass band at a given time is better than at your own convenience. You get the sense of shared experience with your friends. At a football ground or concert hall, you feel part of the action, which is something you can never get nor recapture properly on a big screen. You may get the goals or hear your favourite pieces, but you cannot get the same buzz or feeling through the speakers.
Next week at Boarshurst Band Club…
Next week at Boarshurst Band Club is Boro’ Brass, a non-competing band with budding players old and young within the Littleborough Brass Band Community. On ITVX, Boro’ Brass will be TV stars themselves – appearing in Nolly, Russell T Davies’ dramatisation of Noelle Gordon’s life in relation to Crossroads. Recently they travelled to Liverpool Docks for the filming session.
Please note this concert will start at the earlier time of 7.00pm due to the band having younger members so doors shall be open from 6.00pm. Please arrive early to be sure of a good seat.
- 350: Ashton-under-Lyne – Mossley – Greenfield – Uppermill – Dobcross – Delph – Waterhead – Oldham.
- 356 Saddleworth Rambler: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Mossley – Greenfield – Uppermill – Diggle – Dobcross – Delph – Denshaw – Moorside – Watersheddings – Greenacres – Oldham
Alight at the former Greenfield Conservative Club. The 350 bus route is operated by First Greater Manchester and (after 7pm) Stagecoach Greater Manchester. The 356 bus route is operated by Nexus Move Ltd with smaller buses and hail and ride sections over part of its route.
Twitter details: @boarshurstband; #SundayBrass.
S.V., 06 February 2023.