Brighouse & Rastrick - Wem - Concert Review

Roger Thorne

Active Member
Brighouse & Rastrick Band, Stanier Hall, Wem
14th February, 2004

For many years the Wem Jubilee band has wanted to bring a top class Brass Band to Wem, and they don’t come any better than the Brighouse & Rastrick Band, being winners of World, European, National and British Open Champoinships plus numerous other awards.

The concert was scheduled for a 7.00 p.m. start (this allows more time afterwards for the ‘well earned shandy’) so the band arrived at about 5.30 p.m. It was an education to note how the band are organised. (I think all bands could learn a thing or two here, especially my lot!)
Within 15 minutes of the coach pulling up the stage was set. Everyone had their job to do and if there was a case for ‘many hands make light work’ - this was it. Everything sorted, programmes in order and the boys had headed off to the local chip shop for their tea.
As usual, the Wem audience had started to arrive far too early, some bringing cushions for the long evening ahead, and one even bringing a ‘packed’ lunch (I kid you not!).
6.55 p.m. and I’m up on stage to start off the proceedings and introduce the band. Formalities out of the way, and we’re off.

As with all B&R concerts they started with their signature tune ‘West Riding’ written in 1943 by Sam B. Wood, whose opening bars, based on the well known Yorkshire Anthem ‘Ilkla’ Moor Bah’t’, quickly conveys to the audience exactly where the band originates. And spot on cue David Hirst, the conductor for the evening, arrives in splendid purple jacket and bow tie to close the final bars.

After a brief introduction from David, the band launched into their opening number ‘Liberty Fanfare’ by John Williams. The band sounded in good form, well balanced cornets and trombones throughout and a good sense of the acoustic was well observed for the whole performance. The band had now settled in and seemed well relaxed (perhaps they’d been to the pub instead of the chip shop!) David again took the microphone and gave us a very detailed introduction to the next item. ‘The Corsair’ by Hector Berlioz.

The beginning of this wasn’t quite tight enough for this listeners liking with the running semi-quavers not always together, but the overall performance was excellent. The tempo was just right. A lot of the top bands always seem to play this too fast, probably just to show that they can! But it can sometimes detract from the music. It was now evident in this overture of the quality of the individual sections of the band. Basses in particular were what I would describe as ‘awesome’ and it’s worth mentioning that Alan Hobbin’s (Soprano) is on top form!

Next up is the first of four soloists for the evening, and Principal cornet John Lewis stepped into the spotlight to perform ‘Slavische Fantasy’. John who hails from New Zealand displayed a lovely sound, great technique and remained in total control throughout this difficult piece. It was also interesting to listen to the ensemble playing. The band never overpowered John in the solo passages (in fact you could hardly hear the ensemble) and it showed that the band certainly knows how to accompany a soloist.

The next item ‘Southern Gospel Suite’ was announced as a ‘new’ arrangement from the pen of Alan Fernie. This is a collection of well known Gospel songs including: Kumbaya, Deep River and Down by the Riverside. I would certainly recommend this arrangement. I’ve not heard it before, but would say that it is accessible by all grades of bands and I will certainly be ordering a copy very soon. It was certainly a refreshing piece to listen to and the popular songs also went down well with the audience.

The second soloist was Steve Rogers on Flugel Horn. Steve had chosen to play Cole Porter’s classic hit ‘I’ve got you under my skin’ made famous by the late Frank Sinatra, and taken from a trilogy called 'Frankly Speaking' arranged by Mark Freeh. Steve has got a lovely warm sound and played with such warmth and style and again was in total control throughout the performance. In fact it’s worth mentioning that Steve was featured quite a lot in this programme and in my opinion played a ‘blinder’. Well done Steve, and well done to the band, who again, showed us the correct way to accompany a soloist.

To close the first half, B&R had chosen to play two movements from ‘Hymn of the Highlands’ by Philip Sparke - Ardross Castle and Dundonnell. David and the band gave us a fantastic rendition of this music, with all sections now in full flight. I just sat back and enjoyed it – brilliant stuff.

Ray Farr’s arrangement of the ‘Agincourt Song’ opened up the second half. A slight ‘blip’ in the opening bars from percussion slightly detracted, but this might have had something to do with the cornets standing around the stage restricting his view. They soon settled down and gave a stirring performance of a piece that I think should be played more often.

The band formation remained the same for the next item ‘Hora Staccato’ by Dinicu. A stunning piece of music which displays the technical abilities of all the cornet players. They certainly didn’t struggle with any of the notes, but some of the links and semi-quaver runs did seem a bit lost and untidy. Again this may have been due to the fact that the cornets were ‘split’ across the stage. Nonetheless a good start to the second half and a nice top ‘C’ to finish from Mr. Hobbins too!

Having had the programme schedule for a couple of weeks I was really looking forward to the next item. The Eric Crees arrangement of ‘West Side Story’. I think this arrangement is a stunner, but alas we didn’t get to hear it. Although the band did play a piece from ‘West Side Story’ they had changed it to Adrian Drover’s arrangement of ‘Tonight’. Adrian has certainly done his homework with this arrangement, with some lovely harmonies and subtle scoring, but what about the tempo! At about a crotchet = 80, I’m afraid, for me it didn’t work. Although it certainly didn’t stop the band from producing some of the nicest sounds of the evening, excellent balance and intonation throughout and David’s direction showed that he and the band were in total control. Congratulations to the arranger and the band.

The next item displayed the talents of the third soloist, David Hebb (Eb Bass) in Steve Sykes’s arrangement of Monti’s ‘Czardas’. As usual this number was the comedy element of the concert, but to be honest, it’s starting to wear a bit thin. If we’re going to feature the Tuba in a comedy role, please let’s change the music! No disrespect to David though. I’ve admired this young player for some time and there’s no doubt in my mind he can play the tuba – In any octave you care to mention! From the audience point of view, it was terrific, they loved it, and with both Davids’ (Hebb & Hirst) joining in the fun, along with the band members, this piece certainly went down well.

The next piece on the menu was announced as another ‘new’ arrangement, this time from the pen of Goff Richards. ‘Armenian Fire Dance’ is based on Armenian folk tunes and dances and is centered on ideas from the composer Aram Khachaturian. It’s a lively piece of music and I enjoyed it. It sounded quite difficult in places, lots of percussion etc but it’s a piece I would certainly recommend, although the lower sections could well struggle with the intricacies of the music.

I don’t know what it is with the B&R band, but every time I hear them in concert they seem to play a piece of music that hits the ‘tear’ button. I attended the 25th Floral Dance Anniversary concert a couple of years ago and they played Peter Graham’s arrangement of ‘Crimond’. I reported on that occasion that I shed a tear, the playing was perfect! And low and behold they did it again last night. This time with William Himes’s arrangement of ‘Amazing Grace’. Again, in my opinion and with the exception of one ‘blip’ from the solo cornet bench they gave the perfect rendition. Outstanding quality, balance and intonation with excellent control throughout. The best performance of this piece I’ve ever heard. Congratulations!

To finish the solo ‘showcase’ they featured the talents of their principal euphonium player Steven Miles. Steven had chosen to play Herman Bellstedt’s ‘Napoli’ and showed us all why he holds the principal euphonium seat with B&R. What a fantastic player! Steven thoroughly enjoyed this performance, teasing the audience with some fine lyrical playing, and displaying the range of the euphonium to the full. This solo certainly had the ‘Wow’ factor and had the audience shouting for more! And more they got. Steven followed this with a beautiful piece entitled ‘Hope’. It had been written especially for him by the bands baritone player Leigh Baker. It’s a gorgeous solo, which gave Steve the opportunity to show what beautiful sounds can be produced from this wonderful instrument. I don’t know if this piece is commercially available, I hope it is. Because I think it’s a ‘must’ for every euphonium player’s repertoire. Again, it very nearly hit the ‘tear’ button.

To finish the concert B&R had chosen music from Ottorino Respighi, in the shape of Howard Snell’s arrangement of ‘The Pines of Rome’. Again David Hirst gave the audience a full account of the ‘descriptive’ element of this piece. From the opening bars you knew this was going to be some finisher. The band displayed great control with the dynamics throughout and towards the final bars the band played to their full capacity. I shut my eyes for a while during this performance and I was convinced the Roman army had entered the auditorium! It was a stunning performance and although the ending is ‘loud’ to say the least, it was never overblown. The direction from the conductor and the control from the players was just a joy to behold. The audience liked this one too, and this performance brought the audience to its feet for a well deserved standing ovation.

As usual the band performed an encore. Hmmm, I wonder what this piece would be? You’ve guessed it ‘The Floral Dance’. The band seemed a bit tired now, whether it was something to do with the final piece ‘Pines of Rome’ or the fact that they have played the same encore for the last 27 years, I don’t know! But they played it, the audience appreciated it, and everyone went home happy.

Overall the concert was a great success, the band definitely on top form, David Hirst was, as usual, the expert compere, linking everything together with his humous style, (even if he did plug the CD sales a little too much!) The soloists were brilliant, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
The punters then left for home, the players cleared the stage in record time. (again, many hands make light work!) they packed their equipment on the coach and headed off to the buffet that we had organised for them.

To sum up I was very impressed with the concert. The band are in good form and now looking forward to working on the area test piece. I wish them luck on the 7th March. On their present form, I think they’ll be taking home some silverware come the area qualifiers.

Player of the Match: Alan Hobbins (soprano cornet)



Supporting Member
well that just about sums it up!

Bloody brilliant concert.

and as for player of the match, spot on, and his stand work for the soloists was absolutely outstanding :wink:

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