Black Dyke Diaries - by Alex Kerwin

Discussion in 'Articles and Interviews' started by Kerwintootle, Mar 3, 2006.

  1. Kerwintootle

    Kerwintootle Member

    ‘So this is really it, I’m going to play for Dyke’, I thought to myself as I headed into the skies over Auckland...

    At long last I was going to play with the band I have idolised since taking up the cornet at age seven. I was excited but terrified. Normal fears, but childish even, ‘will they like me? Or will I be good enough? The flight was fine, I’ve done long haul flights with two young children, so on my own was a doddle! The flight attendants just kept bringing food and drink and you get to watch the latest movies. I chose ‘Shrek 2’ to start with, as I’m basically a child at heart! I landed in Manchester at 5am and unfortunately, my suitcase was severely damaged so in a very tired state I had to fill out a damage report when all I wanted to do was to crawl into bed. I didn’t get much time to rest as I had my first rehearsal with Dyke in Manchester that same evening.

    I walked into rehearsal and straight past Nicholas Childs, I didn’t recognise him after his tremendous weight loss, the last time I saw him was in June. As I took my seat, it dawned on me that my section leader was Roger Webster! The band are blessed with so much individual and collective talent, that is was very daunting. We rehersed ‘Montage’ that evening and I must admit that I was extremely nervous and didn’t play to the best of my ability. The next evening we had a concert in Saddleworth church. I had to sight-read the whole programme including a stand up cornet feature, ‘Hora Staccato’ from memory. There was lots of music whizzing before my eyes, well that’s what it seemed like! The band were astonishingly good, world-class soloists, including my good friend, Lesley Howie, who gave a tremendous performance of the Finale of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.

    My fears about the band not liking me were thankfully completely unfounded. The members of Black Dyke helped me settle in straight away and they are the most wonderful bunch of musicians and friends. Luckily, there were a few familiar faces. I was at college with Lesley Howie and Morvern Gilchrist (assistant principal cornet) and I spent a few years at Sellers Band with Claire Allen, those I didn’t know I soon did as they made me feel part of the team. And what a team they are, friendly banter, everyone gets on with each other, which of course helps when you have over sixty engagements a year! The first time I went to rehearsal in Queensbury (we had previously been rehearsing in Manchester ), I was awestruck. The band room is decked in photos from yesteryear, previous glory noted in banners and certificates. On one rehearsal before the Open, Geoff Whitham came down for a listen; he said that the band room is like a shrine. It certainly is. All the music stands have been present in the band room for decades. Names of previous incumbents have been scratched onto the wood of the stand. I glanced at Roger Webster’s stand and on it was a who’s who of great cornet players, Roger himself of course, Ian Porthouse, Matt Baker, Phillip McCann, James Shepherd, Maurice Murphy, etc. etc.

    I’m happy to say that I stopped feeling so daunted after a few days and started to play more confidently, although there was definitely a niggle of panic at the thought of actually going on stage with Dyke at the Open. Silly irrational fears, but I managed to banish these thoughts. I packed my bags for the Open with care and even bought a new suit cover to protect the wonder that is the Dyke uniform! I was to meet the band bus on the way to the band room at a lay-by in Huddersfield.

    I crossed the busy carriageway and got to the bus. ‘You’ve dropped something, love’ said the bus driver. I turned round puzzled and to my horror, I saw my band shoes and the Black Dyke Soprano Music folder lying in the middle of the road! My lovely new suit carrier had burst open. It got worse though; a car then ran over the shoes and the music folder, the music folder then exploded sending all the music skyward, now this music contains original manuscript that can’t be replaced. I think at this moment, I screamed a bit. Miraculously my dad and the bus driver managed to retrieve the offending items without being run over themselves. My heart was thumping, but thankfully the music was fine apart from a couple of tyre marks over my part to Montage! I was also grateful that the only people who witnessed my nightmare were my dad, the courageous bus driver and myself.

    I was to wonder whether this event was an omen!

    We rehersed in a church in Birmingham the night before the Open and we were in top form. The sound of the band is so moving and the soloists have tones that are so warm and rich. The next day, the day of the contest, I had a few butterflies flying around my stomach; however, I was soon calmed by the morning rehearsal. When the draw came through, we had wished for a later number but never mind, we were determined to give a great performance. When we walked out on stage I noticed the calmness and quiet confidence the band exuded and when Dr Childs took to the platform, he was greeted with gasps and a few wolf whistles at his new svelte figure! The audience were expectant, and it was soon apparent that this would be a special performance. Indeed it was, Roger Webster and David Thornton performed sublimely and the band played together like one almighty unit of sound. At the climax of the performance, Nick’s beaming face said it all. It was the best contest performance I have ever been involved in and the audience seemed to be spellbound.

    As we left the dressing rooms after the performance we were greeted by many people Dyke supporters and other audience members who were all complimentary about the performance, so we were delighted. As the results were being announced, we were crowded around one of the TV monitors, as we were not allowed into hall. We were sixth. Not exactly what we were hoping for, but we were delighted for our friends at Fodens at their tremendous achievement. There was no recriminations or whingeing in the Black Dyke camp; we simply put our glad rags on and partied the night away. The next day we played our part in a great concert again in the Symphony Hall. All in all, bar the result it had been a wonderful couple of weeks and I was delighted to be part of such a memorable performance. Next for me though was the long journey home to New Zealand to see my husband and children. It was fantastic to see them again, I never been away for that long without children.

    Just under two weeks later I was making my way back to England. I had practised my part to ‘…………..all the flowers of the mountain.’ But didn’t know what the piece would sound like with the band. The cornet parts are very demanding and the addition of star trumpet player, Jamie Prophet was a welcome addition. I enjoyed the piece and thought there were wonderful motifs and glorious textures. The run up to the Nationals was similar to that of the Open and we also found time to have a night out in Manchester with a few of the players. I can’t stress enough at how great the players were with me and how much fun I had with them.

    Happily I avoided any catastrophe with my music and shoes on the way to meet the bus on the way to the Nationals! We arrived in Queensbury early on the Friday morning the day before the contest. As we were loading the coach, I wondered what it was like in years gone by, preparing for the Nationals. Were the streets lined with locals wishing their famous local band well for the contest, wives and children waving at their husbands and dads in the band? We had a small concert at the Besson factory in Watford where some Italian visitors were listening. Two of the visitors were given the opportunity to conduct the band in two marches.

    Then to London! Once again, in the final rehearsals the band were sounding brilliant. Dyke perform at a phenomenal level consistently in rehearsal, concert and contest. We were pretty pleased at the draw (11) and we were all eager to once again deliver a great performance. I love the Albert Hall; it is a wondrous place to play in and to play in there with Black Dyke, awesome! Unfortunately, I had another scary mishap with my music. Just as we were about to walk out on stage, I realised that part of my test piece was missing. It dawned on me that it was still in my gig-bag in the dressing room. I raced down and retrieved it and was so thankful that the band hadn’t yet taken their place onstage. Not exactly the contest preparation I needed! The band as I had witnessed at the Open were calm and ready for the task ahead. The band were wonderfully controlled and the basses were so deeply sonorous, it was a moving performance. Granted, there were a couple of clips but an impressive reading all the same.

    Now, the waiting game began and there was no liquid refreshment for us as we had the gala concert to perform in. I visited the trade stands and caught a glimpse of my debut CD ‘The Kerwin Sound’, which was a special moment and I caught up with lots of old friends. We were due to rehearse at six o’clock directly after the results so as the last band had finished we made our way back to the dressing room. The results were being relayed via a television monitor in the dressing room; the few of us that were there couldn’t bare to here them so we duly switched the set off. Not long after this, there was a commotion and lots of screaming backstage. I peered round the door and saw lots of Dyke players hugging each other. I deduced that we had won! I roared through the corridors like some mad blonde woman. The scene onstage at the Royal Albert Hall was absolutely chaotic. Shiny, smiley faces, some crying and most grinning and back slapping. It was a wonderful moment and for a while it seemed surreal. There the photographers vying for attention and flashbulbs and all the while there were bemused Royal Marine bandsmen desperately trying to set the stage out for the evening concert. We had to quickly compose ourselves as the gala concert was rapidly approaching and there was no time for any rehearsal!

    The concert was superb and for me the highlight was the performance of ‘The Age of Kings’ by Edward Gregson. The concert ended with the massed bands of the Royal Marines Band and Black Dyke Band performing ‘Gaelforce’. With the audience happy we trouped off stage and to the dressing room. As I was packing my instrument away, I had a sudden pang of sadness, so that was that. My short tenure with Black Dyke was over, services no longer required and I knew that I would miss it immensely. Anyway sentiment over, we partied until the wee small hours at our hotel and photos were taken of members of the band and the famous trophy. I waved the band bus off the next day and soon after I was on my way back to New Zealand filled with happy memories and a wee bit of sadness that it was all over.

    I feel privileged to have been part of Black Dyke even for a very short time and I sincerely hope that the bands success continues and I’m sure with the addition of Peter Roberts on soprano it will. Alexandra Kerwin October 2004.

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