PUSHING BOUNDARIES - How Les Neish is making a successful career of tuba playing

Issue 6011

ON THE BEAT - Gavin Pritchard emphasises the importance of preparation

FRANKLY SPEAKING - Frank Renton discusses the role of conductors


Brass in Concert Live Comments

Friday 16 November, 2018

Join us at The Sage on Sunday morning for the very best comments, analysis and predictions from The British Bandsman team!

Good Morning from the Sage on a crisp autumnal morning outside - nice and warm in here though!

The draw for today's contest as follows:

1 - Fodens

2 - Brighouse and Rastrick

3 - Cory

4 - Reg Vardy

5 - Whitburn

6 - Fountain City

7 - Manger Musikklag

8 - Flowers

9 - Hammonds

10 - Carlton Main Frickley

11 - Atlantic Brass

So that concludes a wonderful contesting day at The Sage.

Its going to be close at the top, but we are sticking our neck on the chopping block with a top 6 of:

1 - Brighouse

2 - Cory

3 - Manger Musikklag

4 - Whitburn

5 - Fountain City

6 - Carlton Main


As for the best instrumentalist, we are plumping for one of: 

Joe Cook, Gary Curtin, Kirsty Abbotts or Paul Richards - any one would be a worthy winner!!!


Results soon!



11 – Atlantic Brass (USA) Salvatore Scarpa


Theme of Liberty and Tyranny. Majestically kitted out in dress whites.

Asphalt Cocktail (John Mackey)

The second outing of this piece today, though by different arrangers. The playing starts off lively, sharp and with purpose. Not overblown and very balanced. Excellent percussion line throughout. A theme of today has been good use of the hall lighting system and projection system and Atlantic are no exception. Great opening from the New Jersey band.

Lest We Forget (Christopher Bond)

The band’s tribute to the WW1 fallen begins with such atmosphere. Frank Renton narrates and it works. This band has a great cornet rank and they are razor sharp in this. The playing has reverence and respect, is full and not overblown. Very poignant. Very well played and receives a wonderful ovation from the audience.

Xerxes (Daniel Hall – cornet solo Dr Bryan Appleby-Wineberg)

A world premiere for BIC. Tells the story of a Persian tyrant in the first Persian Empire. It’s a terrific solo for cornet, almost on an “air-vari” style and Dr Bryan takes us through his entire range of skills.  Well done sir.

Mongolian Folk Song (Gliere arr Craig Roberts) – soloist Dr Amy Schumaker-Blis

Another premiere now from Craig Roberts and it’s the turn of the band’s second doctor, Amy Schumaker-Blis on euphonium to take us through this delightful melody. Lovely.

A Spin Through Moscow (Shostakovich arr Gary Westwood)

Vladimir Putin himself welcomes us to Moscow – honestly. This is going at a furious tempo but the playing is light and controlled. Not everything comes through like crystal clear vodka, but it’s a pretty good attempt. The crowd enjoy it though.

La Befana from Roman Festivals (Respighi arr Snell)

The theme of Empires is fittingly brought to its conclusion with the Great Roman Empire, possibly the best of them all. The complete Roman Festivals work is immense, and the band have chosen to play the Epiphany. It’s a difficult opening and a couple of tuning issues come through. The band settles into the revelry though and the true spirit of a wine-soaked Respighi comes through. It’s edge of the seat stuff and the band is just about managing to stay in control of this. Such difficult music, the slightest error takes the gloss off. A good effort of a fiendishly difficult piece.


A programme that showed promise ultimately didn’t deliver as well as it possibly could have done. Enjoyable, nonetheless and the audience showed their appreciation.


10 -Carlton Main Frickley Colliery – conductor Paul Holland


The Murder In The Night (Ben Hollings)

Hercules Poirot to the fore as Carlton kick off their programme of Murder! An intriguing opener, both stylishly staged and well played. Dry ice, aka, steam from the rushing engine sweeps majestically across the stage, glamorous Hollywood style music full of drama and attack. Scary stuff!

Express To Murder (Geert Jan Kroon)

A slightly Spanish or Latin feel to open this piece, as more dry ice permeates the audience. Inventive programming but also a little overblown and heavy in places. This has a dance of death waltz feel to the music, not at all what we were expecting.  Different, but in a good way!

Threnody (Ben Hollings – Kirsty Abbotts, cornet solo)

As the body of our victim lays dead on the train carriage floor, Kirsty Abbotts recounts the scene in a beautiful haunting melodic solo that is just pure class. What a player Kirsty remains to be, it is simply stunning. The atmospheric use of lighting and special effects adds an extra layer of drama to an already spine-tingling piece. Just wow!!!

Cloak and Dagger (Jonathan Bates)

A very tasty trio feature of flugel, baritone and trombone, dish up an almost West Side story-esque  tale of intrigue and suspense as our Belgian detective narrows the possible killer down to three people!! Great piece and you can hear the little grey cells working overtime as to who the killer is. Bravo Anna Spedding on flugel, who delivers a terrific feature.

How To Catch A killer (Jonathan Bates)

Tubular Bells meets O Fortuna in this cagey opening before we find out who killed the hapless Mrs Jones! Great playing and composition as the tension ratchets up further and the killer, the evil husband, is revealed to us. We had Mr Hampton as the killer, so proves us wrong! The piece moves into a stunning finale never once letting the drama off the hook.


The best story telling of the day (literally), coupled with arguably one of the solo highlights of the day, ensures Carlton get a deservedly rapturous reception from the audience. Great stuff and so well thought out, planned and executed (and not just the murder victim). Well done to all for a thrilling ride.


9 – Hammonds Saltaire – Conductor Morgan Griffiths


Still a good audience in the hall who give a warm welcome for this band from the lovely town of Saltaire.


Myths and Folklore


A Short Ride in a Brass Machine (Andrew Baker)

Inspired by minimalist composer John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine. A rousing opening with cornets placed antiphonally to good effect. A few clips but this is fast paced and a vibrant start to the programme.


Brasilia (Robin Dewhurst – trombone soloist: Matthew Brown)

Inspired by the ‘land of legend’, Brazil, a ‘tour de force’ for trombone with soloist Matthew Brown. Some classy solo playing here with lyrical and rhythmic melodies executed with aplomb, although accompaniment is a touch untidy at times and slightly overpowers trombone. Takes us abroad to sunnier climes and well appreciated by the audience!


Clair de Lune


jazz influences by the young composer Daniel Hall. Some effective textures to start although cornets a touch untidy at times. A small group takes up the reins with atmospheric harmonies. Nice mellow sounds from the band here; although melodic lines could come through more at times, this has a lovely character, providing a laid back contrast.


Knut Loten og Syvelin


A legend about a king and somebody called Little Knut who has fallen in love with a princess.


Solo flugel creates an ethereal opening before the music segues into a folk ‘river dance’ style, gradually building in texture and getting louder. Great gliss sound effects! Although not always convincingly tight in rhythm, this is exciting stuff.



Tale of the Dragon


The last part of this journey through myths and folklore, a Japanese legend of adventure and bravery.


A strong opening featuringJapanese harmonies move into a percussion dominated fast paced section; band really go here, punctuated by vocals. Some effective quiet playing at speed - bravo - soloists take the floor and we almost build to a finish before a rich slow section takes us on another adventure to a speedy and grandiose finish, brave stuff indeed!





A good choice of programme with some bright moments. Lacking the panache - and dynamic contrasts - of some of the other bands today but very enjoyable.


8 – Flowers – Conductor Lee Skipsey

All the programme has been composed by Johnny Bates and is based on the theme of Freedom

The Red Hills of Georgia (Jonathan Bates)

A bold and vivid start from Flowers as another band uses the lighting to good effect, the stage turning blood red! Band is playing excellent on the whole but perc overpowers a little and a couple of clips are heard. It’s heart on the sleeve stuff and well appreciated by the audience.

Let Freedom Ring (Jonathan Bates) – sop solo Paul Richards

The spotlight falls on Paul Richards with the rest of the band in semi darkness on the stage. What a sound Paul has, its simple, old fashioned and glorious. This is playing of the highest order and is one of the highlights of the day. Owen Farr, judging today’s solo prize has his work cut out!!!

The War Dance of The Red Cossacks (Jonathan Bates)

This is a terrific arrangement and a heck of a tempo is set by conductor Lee Skipsey. Some back row cornet fluffs but then a classy parade from euph, flugel and basses. Gripping stuff, authentic and well executed by the band.

I wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (Jonathan Bates)

The Nina Simone classic is taken on board by a jazzy quartet. You may remember this as the theme music to Film, the BBC series with Barry Norman. It then shifts up a gear with timely hand clapping and a real foot tapping tempo. Basses to the fore in a classy, if not faultless feature. Baritone wins the award for best dancer of the day as the band rev it up into full gear. A great number and well choreographed.

That Promised Land (Jonathan Bates)

Based on the negro spiritual, Deep River, this new composition from Johnny Bates pays homage to the music to come out of the slave trade and cotton plantations. He is turning into a very good writer and this is right up there with his best. It is a stamina sapping finish, but the band show no sign of flagging as Lee drives them relentlessly for home. Thrilling climax to a very well thought out programme.


A good show from Flowers, with Paul Richards the star man, delivering a sublime solo. Well rounded and balanced program



7 – Manger Musikklag

Cubism With Brass. Martin Winter takes us on a personal tour of music inspired by Cubism in a specially written programme from Martin. Not to be outdone, his wife also plays the part of the museum guide! A real family affair. This programme went down a storm at SIDDIS two weeks ago…

My Mother Is A Fish (Martin Winter)

Percussion get the show on the road and the band whispers “My Mother Is A Fish!!” The band playing is just stunning. References to Pictures at an Exhibition flood through in such a clever way and mixed into wonderful compositional lines.

Rag For Igor (Martin Winter, xylo soloist Sigurd Olsen)

Igor Stravinsky was a huge fan of ragtime and wrote ragtime pieces, until they were banned by the Nazi party! Sigurd Olsen is one heck of a percussionist and plays a difficult xylo solo with such ease. His wrist speed is just incredible. Well played young man.

Parade (Erik Satie arr Martin Winter)

This is a homage to the ballet music of Satie, and in particular the various performers within his works, and showcases the different sections of the band. It is like a crazed array of circus acts, but all hangs together with some great composition from Martin Winter. The band segue into the introduction of Tears, expertly explained by Mrs Winter.

Tears (Martin Winter, solo Joe Cook)

Jo Cook takes to the front of the stage. What a sound he has, smooth, clear and true, just stunning. He gives a tuba masterclass and puts himself right in contention for the soloist award. We are just sat back admiring an artist at work. Take a bow, sir!

Trumpets With Man (Martin Winter)

Nick Walkely unleashes his jazz trumpet section, and it’s so good! This is Manger at their freewheeling, uninhibited best. In the trumpet solos, Martin Winter is fingering all the notes on his free hand! He obviously wants to play!! Terrific finish from the SIDDIS champs.


A full reprise from SIDDIS and played every bit as well. Will the BIC crowd get the slightly higher brow nature of the programme? We hope so and judging by the reaction and ovation the band are getting, the crowd definitely thinks so!!! Well done!!


6 – Fountain City (USA)

The Streets Of Life

Grow Till Tall (Jonsi arr Lee Harrelson)

Great entrance from the band, and percussion open with some lovely sounds. The staging is magnificent. Beautifully balanced playing. Openers don’t need to be in your face…. great programme start.

Libertango (Astor Piazolla arr Lee Harrelson)

The stage turns Argentinian red as the tango rhythms are set in stone by great percussion. This is one of Astor Piazzola’s very best and the arrangement is fresh and different. Stunning tuned percussion. Who said brass bands don’t swing, as the arrangement turns to jazz!! No conductor appearance yet!! This is great stuff from our American friends.

The Hymn of Acxiom (Vienna Teng arr Lee Harrelson)

The band arrange themselves in a circle as a very nice trio at their centre opens up. Ah, and here is Jo Parisi, their amazing conductor. This is a lovely arrangement and the staging is deliberate to get the best out of the chord structures. Beautiful, just beautiful! This band gets better every time we hear them!

Asphalt Cocktail (John Mackey, arr Lee Harrelson)

An intoxicating mix of New York street life is portrayed in this up-tempo picture. Great solo trombone contribution, percussion again excels – what a great team. It’s now very frantic in compositional style, but in great control by the band. Good piece, but our only question mark is will the BIC audience get it?

Malaguena (Ernesto Lecuona arr Lee Harrelson)

Lee Harrelson’s arrangement opening with lovely euph and flugel introductions. We are now back in familiar territory as the famous fanfares of Malaguena really hit us! Wow, we are now in full flight, with a superb percussion beat that doesn’t waver one jot!!S ome super octave trumpet playing gives this band a different dimension. Ah, Jo Parisi will be picking up the trumpet. This crowd is in for a treat!!! What a player this guy is, well done jo!!  Terrific finish by a great band.


Terrific stuff from the Kansas contenders. Worth the entry fee alone to hear Jo Parisi on trumpet, but a well-crafted, well played performance. The crowd get it, give them a great ovation and deservedly so!! Excellent stuff!


5 – Whitburn – Leigh Baker conducting

Whitburn discard their traditional maroon for black dinner suits, Leigh Baker dressed accordingly.

From Darkness To Light

7.1 (Dwayne Bloomfield)/All is Hell That Ends Well (Thomas Bergerson)

The hall descends into pitch black as drums from around the hall crescendo into a huge and amazing quaking noise. Bit of a problem for the cameramen though! The stage emerges into dawn with some beautiful then passion inspired Celtic brilliance. So much though has gone into the light show and screen effects, with corresponding synthesisers. Terrific. Electric piano sounds so good in this mix. Best opener of the day so far!

The stage once again descends into darkness……..

First Light (Ben Hollings – cornet solo Chris Bradley)

Chris Bradley emerges from the dawn to deliver such a beautiful solo.  The lighting and effects draw you right into this performance. It is riveting stuff. Wow, what a close. Dawn emerges and we hear what a fine band Whitburn are. Just wonderful.

The Royal Hunt of The Sun (Martin Ellerby)

This a great work from the very talented Mr Ellerby. Whitburn have a top percussion section, and they are just superb in this. The band ensemble is tight, balanced, in tune and full of drama. Great dynamics range, with true pp levels. The band burst into war chant as the hunt is really on, thrilling!

This Little Light of Mine (Henry Dixon Loes)

Arranged by Leigh Baker, jazz sousaphone kicks us off! Not often you can say that! This is a gospel nursery rhyme, featuring all the principals (and non-principals!), and they do not disappoint! Leigh just gets his feet up and lets them get on with it! The Whitburn choir is born as the band again break into song. Quirky, fun, but in great context with the rest of the programme.

Aurora Borealis (Ben Hollings)

Tuned rotator tubes give an eery opening but so effective. The context of light show and music has been superb from Whitburn today. So much thought has gone into this. The playing is pretty good too! Stunning climax to an amazing programme.



This was thinking mans entertainment! So cleverly put together and executed. The music and combination of special effects was entertaining enough in its own right, but the playing was very special too.  Right up there for us! Bravo to band and conductor!


4 – Reg Vardy – Russell Gray

Local favourites Reg Vardy take to the stage in their time inspired programme.

Moments in Time

Tourbillon (Tom Davoren)

Marty McFly and the Doc get a lovely tribute in the opening and the band segue into Tourbillon, a watchmaker’s fantasy from the pen of Tom Davoren. Stirring and clever writing but a couple of noticeable clips. Good perc work from their 6 strong perc team. A different opening number, but very welcome for it.

Lost in Times (Tom Davoren, baritone solo Fiona Casewell)

Another premier from Tom Davoren, based on a Times Square theme. Lovely sounds from Fiona and without music (thank you!), but the band are way too loud for her and she struggles to be heard clearly.

1918, A Time To Remember (Jessica Curry arr Alan Catherall)

The Last Post from the gallery heralds the intro to 1918 and some lovely hymn playing from the band. Again, a couple of small clips detract. Echoing cornet entries needed to be more convincing to work to their full potential. Otherwise, lovely arrangement.

The Longest Time (Billy Joel arr Alan Catherall)

Jimmy Hayes features in this Billy Joel classic. Getting 20 brass players to click their fingers in time is a difficult job though. Good fun, though, and a nice little interlude.

Back To The Future (Alan Silvestri, arr Alan Catherall)

Great Scot Marty! Another terrific Alan Catherall arrangement. The man is a genius! It’s a great finishing number to any programme. There were a couple of dubious entries and the balance wasn’t always there.



A mixed bag from Reg Vardy, who sounded as though two additional rehearsals could have brought a much higher level of polish to their performance. Nice concept and programme content, but in such a high-class field, mistakes will inevitably play their part today.


3 – Cory

Romeo and Juliet – all pieces arranged by Philip Harper

Cory in dress whites take to the stage. A Leonard Bernstein tribute is interwoven into the programme….Montagues and Capulets meets The Sharks and The Jets!

O Verona (Craig Armstrong)

A majestic opening complete with Phil Harper voiceover! The light show adds the final 5% to some terrific playing. This is a wonderful start to Cory’s programme,

Caribe (Michael Camillo)

Glyn Williams, Tom Hutchinson and co dazzle in the opening of this Caribbean inspired number, so different to the opening. Percussion a little on the loud side, but terrific band playing. Strictly, eat your heart out.

Love Theme (Tchaikovsky)

Glyn and Helen Williams play the parts of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet in the famous balcony scene. Hints of West Side Story as Glyn declares his love! Helen reciprocates with some lovely playing. Very nicely done, but as a small point, I would have preferred it done without music stands to add to the romance!

Clans Collide

A new composition from Phil Harper. The battle between the Montagues and Capulets take shape led by Steve Stewart and Chris Thomas as heads of the warring factions. It’s intriguing music, so tightly played. A brooding centre section so rhythmically exact. Great playing and wonderful composition from Phil Harper.


The deaths of Romeo and Juliet brings Cory’s programme to a sombre moment. Tom Hutchinson shines and the contributions of Glyn and Helen Williams make for the most sublime trio.


Wagner’s epic love theme brings Cory’s programme to a finale. The quiet playing is the best of the day, just divine. The full band sounds so full and balanced. Terrific playing. Atmospheric light show works so well with the mood. Westside Story and Somewhere make an appearance through the gloom with lovely playing from Chris Thomas, stunning finale and what a band sound.


A themed programme from the top drawer by Phil Harper – inventive, thoughtful, provoking and so well executed. Great playing and already a tough call for the judges.


2 – Brighouse and Rastrick Band, conductor David Thornton

Our Hidden Language (Suite for Brass, percussion and Soloists) Jacob Vilhelm Larsen

Brighouse take to the stage, illustrious in their famous purple and gold. Brighouse go for a brand new programme written by the Danish. genius Jacob Vilhelm Larsen. All based on dance genres.

1 – Introduction

An atmospheric opening, with great use of lighting. This isn’t a traditional whizzbang opener but great playing none the less.

2 – Cassini’s Last Dance

The band opens up with majestic chord sequences, this is wonderful playing, so crisp and sharp. Cassini refers to the dying Jupiter space probe cascading out of orbit, and the writing is so descriptive. What a bass section!! Just incredible. The music really takes you in, brilliant stuff.

3 – Ballerina ( soloist Kyle Lawson)

The hall plunges into darkness as Kyle Lawson has the audience in his palm with beautifully styled playing. Band dynamics always under the soloist, well done! The gracefulness of the writing is sublime. Congratulations Jacob and well played Kyle.

4 – Norwegian Dance

Chris Robertson gets to his feet and picks up where Kyle left off, stunning! This is virtuosic playing at its best, every semi quaver is clearly heard and rhythmically perfect. Well played young man. Terrific band accompaniments too. Brighouse on great form today.

5 – Washboard Watkins (trom solo Ryan Watkins)

Neat bit of KFC inspired slapstick gives a welcome change of mood. Great playing by Ryan, but noticeably percussion are behind the beat! Crowd love it though, and whilst all the humour doesn’t quite come off, it was pretty good. Well played Ryan!

6 – Berceuse

We return to thought inspiring writing in Berceuse. Very atmospheric

7 – Firebird Invention and Finale

Stravinsky inspired terrific finale, motors along with such intensity. This is stunning playing and writing. What an ending to a brilliant programme!!


The bar has been set! A great concept, brilliantly written, played even better, with fantastic solo contributions, some welcome slapstick that the crowd appreciated and superbly conducted by David Thornton. He is rightly developing a reputation as one of the outstanding conductors of our time. The leader by some way for us!


1 – Fodens

Kings and Queens

Fodens take to the stage in their famous red jackets, looking resplendant. Mike Fowles conducting

The Crowning (Jonathan BATES)

The opening gallery fanfare from cornets wakes up the crowd. Difficult to get everything totally together from such distance. Terrific middle band sounds, but not all is crystal clear in execution. Now all the band is on stage, we hear the real Fodens, wonderful stuff.

Eternal Source of Light (Jonathan Bates – euph solo Gary Curtin)

Gary Curtin, without music, makes the euphonium sing like few others in the world can. real virtuosity and style, with a range that defies gravity. Band accompaniments a little on the loud side at times,  Terrific percussion accompaniments from one of the best teams in the business. Great start to the soloist competition, will take some beating today!

King of Swing (John Barber)

A tribute to Benny Goodman coming up from the pen of John Barber. Brass bands fins swing the most difficult of disciplines, but ably let on kit by Anthony Mann, they give it one heck of a good go!! Even Mike Fowles with nifty footwork and some big bang pannaz gets in on the act! Wonderful sop work from Richard Poole. A good number that the crowd react well to!

 Seaside Rendezvous (Freddy Mercury arr Ian McKnight)

A cheeky tribute to one of Freddie Mercury's lesser known nunbers, complete with bazookas and washboard. Stripy full length bathing suits come to life in this clever arrangement, evoking times if innocent pleasures on Brighton Beach! A nice interlude.

Send In The Clowns (Stephen Sondheim arr John Barber)

Dick Evans makes a surprise appearance on stage talking about the virtues of love. The man himself then takes to the stage and we hear the singing voice of Maestro Evans! And he can sing for the most part! We are so used to seeing Dick in his jovial manner, this is another side of him seldom seen. Its a bold and risky move from Fodens, but the crowd lap it up like seconds of treacle sponge and custard.

Thy Tribute Bring (John Barber)

 Praise My Soul The King of Heaven is the main theme to Fodens finale. Lovely solo cornet work from the ever dependable Mark Wilkinson. This is great writing from John Barber - bravo. What a sound from the finale! This is Fodens at their very best.


A good opening programme from the National Champions, with programme choices that were very audience friendly. Great solo contributions, and a nice quirk with Dick Evans appearance. A very solid marker and gets the contest off to a wonderful start!