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SADLY MISSED - Richard Evans laid to rest

BIDDING FAREWELL - Stephen Allen says goodbye to Lancaster British Brass Band

Concert review: Champions of Brass

Monday 20 December, 2021

Champions of Brass | Conductor: Garry Cutt | Compere: David Hoyle | St James Parish Church, Slaithwaite | December 12, 2021

This was a concert I was very much looking forward to once it was announced in the band press earlier in the year. The excited audience contained several dignitaries interested in listening and experiencing this inaugural concert by the newly formed Champions of Brass, the brainchild of Sandy Smith and Simon Gresswell, well known individuals in the band movement.

The line-up was a star-studded cast of the great and the good from brass banding (the bass section alone had 72 major brass band titles between them). In the autumn, the first rehearsal had been taken by Derek Broadbent before one other rehearsal that took place the weekend before the concert. With this line-up , it was going to be a terrific night of music making, led by the very experienced Garry Cutt, well known for fronting scratch band charity concerts.

Proceedings began with the snare drum on old favourite Strike up the Band, arranged by Philip Sparke. Looking around the band, it was great to see the old Faireys bass section, a band I joined myself, in the early 1990s; it comprised Shaun Crowther, Geoff Harrop, Simon Gresswell and, on this occasion, David Nesbit (the well-respected Derek Jackson played in the section when I joined Faireys many years ago). It was like stepping back in time to my formative years, hearing this formidable section. I was in awe of these players in the early 1990s and many old memories came flooding back about my time with the band. Other Faireys colleagues of old who played in the concert included Peter Christian on baritone, Lee Rigg on repiano cornet and Phillip Chalk on bumper-up cornet.

The second piece of the programme was Weber’s Ruler of the Spirits, arranged by William Halliwell. This under-performed overture allowed me to enjoy the trombone section of Nick Hudson, Andrew Hirst and Geraint Griffiths, with a fine contribution from the legendary Kevin Crockford on soprano. Kevin was the first soloist of the evening and he played a piece from 1990 arranged by Mark Freeh: Emmanuel, by Michelle Colombier. I had never heard this piece live so it was a rare treat. It gave me a chance to observe Morgan Griffiths on solo euphonium and Michael Dodd on second euph. Mick Walsh was playing second baritone in the section with Peter Christian. I was also pleased to see in this band of “oldies” (their word, not mine) some younger ladies in Lucy Cutt on flugelhorn, and Alex Kenyon and Claire Chalk on front row.

Chris Hazel’s Three More Cats was the next piece, a world premiere of this arrangement by Sandy Smith. Kevin Crockford shone in the first movement and the middle of the band also rose to the fore, a glittering horn section of David Altham, Paul Bennett and Sandy Smith. Meanwhile, David Pogson was on third cornet and Adie Smith featured on percussion.

Then came the turn of principal cornet Alan Morrison, who played his signature piece Sugar Blues, his own arrangement of music by Clarence Williams. Phil the Fluter’s Ball, composed by Percy French and arranged by Gordon Langford, is a piece I had not heard for about 30 years; it showed off the bass section magnificently.

Flugel soloist Lucy Cutt took centre stage in Peter Graham’s Away in a Manger and shone with her mellow, lyrical approach. The trombone section, in particular, was sympathetic throughout.

MacArthur Park, made famous by Richard Harris in 1968, brough the curtain down on the first half, the arrangement by Alan Catherall popularised by Grimethorpe Colliery Band in the 1990s. It was an electric ending to the first portion of the concert.

After the interval, the ensemble opened in spirited fashion with Shining Star, a medley of Christmas carols by Peter Graham, before a delightful arrangement of Fly Me to the Moon, arranged by John Barber and played by trombone soloist, Nick Hudson. This laid-back adaptation transfixed the audience. On a personal level, it was really brilliant to hear my all-time favourite brass band trombone player rolling back the years.

Elgar Howarth’s skilful arrangement of the Bonnie Briar Bush, the origins of which go back more than 200 years, opened with flugel and featured tasteful moments for front row cornets and euphonium.

Carl Bohm’s Moto Perpetuo, arranged by Sandy Smith, came next. It was great to hear Morgan Griffiths and Michael Dodd playing together; they sounded phenomenal. Christmas Castation, arranged by Darrol Barry, needed a good band to play it – and Champions of Brass was more than up to the task, featuring a small ensemble for the second section of the piece.

Compere David Hoyle was interrupted, mid-flow, by Shaun Crowther, who stated he wished to play Bass in the Ballroom, by Roy Newsome. It was classic Shaun, and brought the house down.

The finale from Champions of Brass was an arrangement by Morgan Griffiths of the finale from Dvorak’s Symphony Number Nine, From the New World. This is a tough piece to pull off and although there were some signs of fatigue, the band did a fine performance of a splendid arrangement. I especially enjoyed the interplay of Lee Rigg on rep and Kevin Crockford on soprano.

The concert closed with the aptly-titled The Champions, by George Willcocks. A wonderful evening was had, with quality music, performed by a group which can be fully justified in calling itself Champions of Brass.

Brett Baker

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Issue 6121 digital December 16, 2021