The progress, under our inspirational Musical Director Paul Fisher, has been remarkable. When I first played with Amersham Band as a teenager in the late 1970’s, it was a sleepy little town band in the fourth section, with about 25 players. I returned to playing after a long break a few years back and soon found myself recruited by Paul to play, initially, bass trombone, then tenor trombone, then euph and now baritone. I’m the band equivalent of polyfilla — they put me wherever there’s a hole that needs filling!
But I love it. As a composer sitting on the baritone chair is a blessing — I’m right at the heart of the band and I get to observe how the best composers write and arrange.
The Amersham Band of today is very different from the band I first played in. Now it is a thriving hub of musical activity with seven — yes, count them! — seven bands in the organisation, including a youth band, a big band, a community band and a second contesting band. It has a brand new, state of the art band room at the heart of the town that has designated spaces for drums and percussion, a kitchen, practice rooms, a huge car park and two — yes two — toilets!
The Monday Band, as we call it, is the Championship Section band, and it was that band that took to the stage alongside the Welsh Champion Band, Tredegar, last Saturday. By a happy coincidence both bands wear the same colour burgundy jackets so there was even harmony in the colour scheme for the day!
I’m not going to comment on our performance, other than to say we played well, but not as well as we can. I personally was a bit miffed because I found it incredibly hot on stage and I’m not at my best with a sweaty lip! So I definitely didn’t perform to my best, but there we are, that’s banding.
That said, the venue — the theatre at Pipers Corner in Great Kingshill, Bucks, was very impressive. It’s a small theatre — about 300 seats — with a large stage, raked auditorium and balcony. So, it felt like the ‘real deal’.
I watched Tredegar Town band play their set with rapt attention. They were quite simply out of this world. The power, precision and passion with which they play is a lesson to every other brass band out there. Under their Musical Director Ian Porthouse, every nuance of the music was cherished, the phrases lovingly shaped, the dynamic contrasts simply off the scale, and the technical mastery clear for all to admire.
This, I thought to myself, is how a top brass band sounds!
Tredegar covered a huge musical range with their programme. From Berlioz to Jimmy Webb, via Rimsky-Korsakov and, notably, Eriks Esenvalds ‘Only In Sleep’ (beautifully arranged by my old friend Phillip Littlemore). The quality of their quiet playing, the sustained tone, the balance and the sheer beauty of the phrasing were breathtaking.
But for me the the highlight was ‘American Barndance’, where the band really let rip and showed us their fun side whilst simultaneously playing with perfect control and precision.
They offered a wide range of soloists, all of whom impressed. Ross Dunne, Ryan Richards and Will Norman gave excellent performances. There was a wonderful flugel horn duet, the Bette Midler classic, ’The Wind Beneath My Wings’ where Dewi Griffiths and Will Norman showed their impressive ability to play lyrically together. But even more outstanding were the solo offerings of Dewi Griffiths (cornet) in Peter Graham’s ‘Glorious Ventures’ and Yu Han Yang (euphonium) who gave an inspired rendition of Philip Sparke’s ‘Harlequin’.
But the twinkling starlets of the show were not to be found wearing the burgundy jackets of either Amersham or Tredegar. For those of us who care about the future of music in this country, and particularly in the brass band movement, the news in our neck of the woods is very good indeed, as proved by the performance of our youngest, and brightest, stars — Brass Roots.
These teeny, tiny players trouped on stage and, under the guidance of their brilliant conductor Ash Horton, proceeded to enthral the audience with their pop-based mini-set, featuring hits by the Proclaimers (I’m Gonna Be, better known as ‘I would walk 500 miles’), Abba (Super Trouper) and — in a massed band finale with Tredegar and Amersham crowding onto the stage — Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’.
One lovely touch was that our Soprano Cornet player, Rob Wallace, gave the world premiere of Andy Smith’s ‘Poppy Dance’ — originally written for trumpeter Mike Lovatt — in a new version by arranger Colin Skinner. Colin had previously arranged this piece for Mike for his exceptional collaboration with the Foden’s band — theCD ’56 Degrees North’. Well, as luck would have it, Mike — in his role as President of Amersham Band — was in the audience to hear Rob give this first performance of the new version.
In summing up, the word ‘trajectory’ springs to mind. Last Saturday Tredegar gave us an object lesson in what we need to aim for. Will we ever get there? Who knows. The band is working incredibly hard and we have inspirational leaders like Paul Fisher, Malcolm Peach (who plays tuba in the Monday Band and conducts one of our other bands), and Ash Horton, who conducts various bands including Brass Roots and the Big Band. Are we on the right trajectory? Yes, but there’s still a long way to go.