A truly stunning night of brass band music from one of Britain’s finest brass bands
This year, there has been a number of great Sunday Brass Nights at the Boarshurst Band Club. We have had some memorable solo performances, and a few more full houses than this time last year. These have been due to a mouthwatering programme that has featured Leyland, Carlton Main Frickley and Hammonds bands.
On the eve of the Autumn Solstice, there was another addition to this year’s illustrious list: The Fairey Band. Over two glorious hours, The Fairey Band gave us all a a traditional yet captivating programme. Yours truly saw them at Glossop Old Bandroom earlier this month, and they were brilliant then. At Boarshurst Band Club’s humble abode, they raised the bar a lot higher, and the results were truly spectacular.
Unless you have been on Mars for the last few years, The Fairey Band is one of the UK’s most successful bands. Their record of sixteen British Open title wins is the envy of many across the UK. They have won every domestic honour under the sun and, in 1993, became the first British band to win the treble. A treble of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, the British Open, and the European Championships.
Behind the podium, Professional Conductor Garry Cutt is the public face of The Fairey Band. He is supported by Musical Director Jonathan Beatty, who conducted last night’s concert. Jonathan cut his conducting teeth with Dinnington Colliery Band, the subject of A Band for Britain (BBC, 2010). He has also appeared in Brassed Off.
Jonathan’s delivery was effortless, knowledgeable and humorous. Last night’s concert was truly unmissable.
March: Spirit of Pageantry (Percy Fletcher, arr. Sydney Herbert);
Cornet Solo (performed by Stephanie Wilkins): Pacific Melody (Christopher Bond);
Light Concert Music: Cornet Carillon (Ronald Binge);
Light Concert Music: The Westminster Waltz (Robert Farnon, arr. Geoffrey Brand);
Tenor Horn Solo (performed by Rachel Neil): The Rowan Tree (Sandy Smith);
Soprano Cornet Solo (performed by Martin Irwin): Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney, arr. Ray Farr);
Test Piece: Resurgem (Eric Ball).
Overture: The Corsair (Hector Berlioz, arr. Geoffrey Brand);
Flugelhorn Solo (performed by Lucy Cutt): Magh Seola (Gerard Fahy, arr. Sandy Smith);
Film Music Medley: Disney Fantasy (various, arr. Goff Richards);
Euphonium Solo (performed by Mick Morris): Bluebells of Scotland (Dora Jordan, arr. Derek Broadbent);
Trombone Trio: Temptresses for Trombones (various, arr, Roger Harvey);
Classical Piece: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Tchaikovsky, arr. Bill Gordon).
March: Midwest March (J.J Richards, arr. Derek Broadbent).
A Spirit of Resurgam
In traditional fashion, we opened our concert with a march. This time, Percy Fletcher’s Spirit of Pageantry. This lively march, with a bit of English stiff upper lip, was written in 1910. This was three years before he wrote Labour and Love – the first ever bespoke test piece for a national contest. He has written pieces for brass and woodwind bands and worked as a musical director for some London theatres. The Fairey Band were on to a flyer with this number.
Next up was our first soloist of the night. This time, on Principal Cornet, Stephanie Wilkins. She performed Christopher Bond‘s Pacific Melody, written by a young composer who Stephanie grew up with in Cornwall. Last night’s solo was only the second ever public performance of this piece, which is a lovely, contemplative slow melody. Christopher is the composer in residence at The Cory Band which, in brass band circles, is like being Director of Football for Real Madrid. As for Stephanie’s performance, sumptuous and pure in tone. Superb work.
This was followed by Cornet Carillon, an excursion in brown (yes, brown rather than yellow) music. A piece that is so old, that it could have been carved in stone tablets by Rex Mortimer’s thirty-six times great-grandad. Instead, it was written by the delightfully-named Ronald Binge in the 20th century. Mr Binge has also arranged music for Mantovani and his most famous works include Charmaine (in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) and Sailing By (Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast). During this piece, Fairey Band’s cornet section moved to the front of the stage. A stunning performance, no less.
Where does one go from there? How about a nice waltz, like Robert Farnon’s Westminster Waltz. Written in 1955, this is a popular light concert music item at some venues. At their Glossop concert, this was performed near the end of the second half. Canadian-born composer Robert Farnon is noted for his light music compositions, and other credits include the theme music for Colditz and Secret Army. In 1975, he composed the National Championships of Great Britain Championship Section Final test piece Un Vie De Matelot. Fantastic stuff.
From Westminster, a trip to Glasgow Central requires a tube train to Euston (change at Embankment from District to Northern Line), then a Pendolino along the West Coast Main Line. Our next soloist on Tenor Horn, Rachel Neil, travels to Stockport from Glasgow for rehearsals. Her piece was The Rowan Tree arranged by Sandy Smith. It is based on a traditional Scottish air and, for many soloists, a test of their skills in the slow melody department. As for Rachel’s performance, a faultless one.
Instead of the M6, M74 or the West Coast Main Line, I suppose you could get from Glasgow to Stockport by powerboat. Strictly speaking, you could on one condition: that you moor your watercraft in Castlefield, then get a tram to Piccadilly Gardens and a 192 to Heaton Chapel (alight outside KFC and walk along Crossley Road). To be honest, that is too challenging for Jimmy Bond to contemplate.
Making light work of ‘Everyone’s Favourite Powerboat Themed James Bond film theme’ was our next soloist, Martin Irwin. On soprano cornet, he performed Ray Farr’s arrangement of Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die. Martin’s performance well and truly captured the spirit of the movie with great intonation and volume. A performance that was cooler than Roger Moore wearing a beard, whilst supping a bottled craft beer.
To close the first half was a real treat, a test piece which yours truly can listen to time and time again. Enter Eric Ball’s Resurgam, first used in the 1950 British Open at King’s Hall, Belle Vue. Winning the contest that year was Fairey Aviation, which is why Eric Ball’s piece holds a special place in the Fairey Band’s heart. This was evident in last night’s performance: the finest twelve minutes you could ever spend with a brass band. Totally faultless.
The little Russian corsair
After closing the first half with Eric Ball’s magnificent test piece, they opened the second half with Hector Berlioz’s The Corsair. This epic seven minute overture was first performed in 1844 as La Tour de Nice, whilst Berlioz was on holiday. In 1969, it was transcribed for brass band by Geoffrey Brand and never fails to lift/wake up/or entrance the audience. Breathtaking. So much so that last night’s band were thankful of a rest during an earlier raffle draw.
The raffle also gave the first soloist of the second half a nice break. Taking her position on flugelhorn was Lucy Cutt (Garry Cutt’s spouse). Her flugelhorn solo piece was Gerard Fahy’s Magh Seola. Arranged by Sandy Smith, it is also known as The Level Plain. The plain itself is in County Galway, the scene of an ancient battle fought in 649 AD (or 652 AD in other sources). Smith’s arrangement was written for the then Grimethorpe Colliery Band flugelhorn player Ian Shires, who now owns a bed and breakfast in Scotland near Dingwall. As for Lucy’s performance, superb.
From County Galway, we moved to the US of A, to Walt Disney World. Well, with a slight detour via Cornwall thanks to Goff Richards’ Disney Fantasy. This medley includes Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and The Bare Necessities. This gave The Fairey Band a chance to let their hair down. A fantastic diversion.
On the other side of Goff Richards’ medley was another soloist. This time, Mick Morris on euphonium with Bluebells of Scotland. Written by Dora Jordan, Derek Broadbent’s arrangement is based on a Scottish folk song. A piano arrangement was written by Haydn, with the song covered by several artistes. For us, the euphonium work of Mick Morris was exceptional and an absolute joy to watch.
This was followed by a medley of light concert music. Courtesy of The Fairey Band’s trombone section, the audience were treated to Temptresses for Trombones. Arranged by Roger Harvey, the suite has three fun size renditions of Georgia, The Girl from Ipanema and Lulu’s Back in Town. With Rebecca Lundberg and Josh Cargill, a sublime performance was expected. Fairey Band’s trombone section delivered, with a clinical, tight performance of a jolly piece.
To finish, we had a cracking finale: Bill Gordon’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 in C Minor. In four movements (Andante, Andantino, Scherzo and Finale), it is also known as ‘Little Russia’ – a name once given to Ukraine. Composed in 1872, it is inspired by Russian folk songs and comes across as a jaunty little number. The Fairey Band’s performance reflected this air of jauntiness to perfection.
As for the encore, some a little more straightforward yet rousing. A classic piece of Americana in the form of J.J. Richards’ The Midwest March. The piece was also written for woodwind, and its jovial nature makes it a suitable circus march. A real cobweb blower, whether as part of an opening piece or an encore.
* * *
What more could we say about The Fairey Band’s concert that we haven’t said elsewhere? Unmissable? Check. Entertaining? Check. Well thought out programme? Check.
Within the premise of last night’s traditional concert programme, The Fairey Band gave us a truly stunning night of brass band music. I have seen the band in concert in Heaton Chapel, New Mills, Glossop, and Mossley as well as in Boarshurst Band Club. Each night (or soggy Saturday in a park with the New Mills gig of 2012), highly memorable. Plus you can never have enough of Eric Ball’s Resurgam.
A brand new and uplifting four-part docuseries has been announced by Sky Arts that will follow Britain’s biggest and most celebrated Brass Bands and their larger-than-life members as they prepare to compete in some of Britain’s most prestigious Brass Band competitions.
Battle of the Brass Bands is made by award-winning production company Twofour on behalf of Sky Arts and will showcase the extraordinary talents of some of the most skilled Brass Band players across the country. Each episode will document the highs and the lows of the featured Brass Bands as they go head-to-head against each other and their competitors.
Will it be Brighouse & Rastrick or the Fairey Band that triumph at the Whit Friday contest? Can Rhondda Valley’s Cory defend its title at the oldest musical contest in the world; The British Open? Who will reign victorious at the National Championships of Great Britain at The Royal Albert Hall? And how will the UK’s top Brass Bands fair against the US’s number one The Fountain City Brass Band at the The Brass in Concert competition in Gateshead?
This extraordinary new series will air from 20 August 2019 on Sky Arts, the UK’s only TV channel dedicated to arts, music and culture, and will also be available for streaming on NOW TV.
Speaking about this new, uplifting series, Phil Edgar-Jones Director of Sky Arts said: “We are delighted to be presenting Battle of the Brass Bands on Sky Arts in August, Brass Bands are one of the longest running music traditions in British history and we are looking forward to celebrating and highlighting the role that Brass Bands play in our cultural landscape, and to display the high level of skill and dedication that these musicians give to their art”
Speaking about the new series, Twofour Neil Edwards, Head of Specialist Factual Programming at Twofour Broadcast and Series Director said “Making these films was a total privilege and an absolute revelation. If you think the world of Brass Bands is all flat caps and whippets, think again. These are amateur musicians playing to an Olympic standard. The competition pieces feature some of the finest and technically challenging music I’ve ever heard, presented in some of Britain’s most prestigious and iconic venues. I challenge anyone to experience the thrill of these competitions and not be converted into a brass fan for the rest of their lives. I’m delighted that Sky Arts have chosen to highlight this talented, fiercely competitive, frighteningly committed and completely unique community of British musicians.”
Battle of the Brass Bands is commissioned for Sky Arts by Shirley Jones, and produced by Twofour, with David Clews as Executive Producer, Gill Hennessy as Series Producer and Neil Edwards as Series Director.
The Fairey Band took part in the inaugural Brass Pass Band of the Year Contest on Saturday 22nd of June at Stoller Hall, Manchester.
The band played a diverse programme full of great music from the likes of Berlioz, Peter Graham, Howard Snell, and one of the most iconic works ever written for the brass band movement, Eric Ball’s masterpiece, Resurgam. The Fairey Band were placed 4th on the day, against the very best bands in the UK. You can see our performance, and all the other bands here ……. https://brasspass.tv/