For brass band fanatics of a certain age, Belle Vue means The Showground of the World. It conjures up images of the zoological gardens, its fairground, and the King’s Hall. Which, thanks to John Henry Iles, set the foundation for the National Brass Band Contests.
Sadly, the Belle Vue we know and love today lacks the zoo and amusement park, not least the legendary King’s Hall. Flying the flag for brass banding in East Manchester is Belle Vue Brass Band whose second visit in the last 12 months was well received.
The present-day Belle Vue Brass Band started in 2005. Its ancestors include the Reddish Prize Band (formed in 1996), Reddish Band (1991 – 96) and Gorton Silver Band (1856 – 1991). They rehearse on Monday nights between 8pm and 10pm at the Reddish Conservative Club (close to Houldsworth Square, a 203 bus away from Stockport and Manchester). Many of its players hail from Stockport, Tameside and East Manchester. Their Musical director, Peter Brannigan, has been with the band since its formation in 2005. They have also appeared in a Bisto advert, after being spotted by a film maker outside Gorton Indoor Market. As stated before the concert began, they were described as a band that clearly “enjoyed making their music.” By 10.12pm, they did.
Their concert also saw a change of conductor in the second half, with both the first and second conductor ably assisted by flugelhorn player, Amanda Greaves. Throughout their 100 minutes, they had three conductors in all (more on that story later), and they played seventeen pieces. Dedication was apparent, with First Trombonist, Matthew Brannigan making his way to Boarshurst Band Club from Nottingham.
March: Slaidburn (William Rimmer);
Overture: The Dawn of Spring (Egon Wellesz);
Modern Classical: Choral and Rock Out (Ted Huggens);
Hymn: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind (John Greenleaf Whittier);
March: The Chieftain (John A. Greenwood);
Film Music: Theme from 1492: Conquest of Paradise (Vangelis)
Film Music Medley: The Greatest War Themes (arr. Darrol Barry):
Introduction (Darrol Barry);
Colonel Bogey (as used in The Bridge on the River Kwai) (Kenneth J. Alford);
Theme from The Longest Day (Maurice Jarre);
The Dam Busters March (Eric Coates);
(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover (Walter Kent/Nat Burton);
Theme from A Bridge Too Far (John Addison).
Hymn: Gresford (Robert Saint).
Euphonium Solo (performed by Alan Ryan): Benedictus (Sir Karl Jenkins);
Medley: 1914 (various composers, arranged by G. McKenzie):
It’s a Long Way to Tipperary (Jack Judge);
Hello! Hello! Who’s Your Lady Friend? (Harry Fragson);
Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty (Arthur J. Mills/Fred Godfrey/Bennett Scott).
Film Music: Hymn to the Fallen (from Saving Private Ryan) (John Williams);
Popular Music: Someone Like You (Adele Adkins);
March: Kenilworth (Edwin Firth);
Classical piece: Stahl Himmel (Alan Fernie);
Film Music: Theme from Backdraft (Hans Zimmer);
Hymn: The Irish Blessing (Joyce Eilers-Bacak, arr. Stephen Bradnum).
March: The Pathfinder (John A. Greenwood).
As is traditional with any brass band concert, the band opened with a march. This time, William Rimmer’s Slaidburn. One that could also be classified as Film Music, being as Stocksbridge Band played the piece just after the start of The Full Monty.
Their second piece was used as a test piece and – appropriately for Sunday’s concert – played on the first day of spring. Credited to either E. le Duc or Egon Wellesz (depending on your sources), The Dawn of Spring was written in 1912 for orchestral arrangement. On the 27 May 1922, it was used as a test piece for the Salisbury (Section B) Contest.
For their third piece, we saw a change of direction. This time with a woodwind piece by Ted Huggens, arranged for brass band. Entitled Choral and Rock Out, the latter part implied that the rock band was optional. The light piece was written in 1973, and composed for a concert band. As we found on Sunday, it transferred well to brass bands.
The fourth piece saw us return to familiar territory with a hymn. This time, John Greenleaf Whittier’s Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. As well as being one of Britain’s favourite hymns, it is a popular piece at hymn and march contests (like the Brighouse contest on the first Sunday in July). It is popular with higher section brass bands as well as Section 3 and 4 bands.
For their fifth piece came the band’s first change of conductor. Taking over from Peter for the John Greenwood march, The Chieftain, was this reprobate. Yes, yours truly, the creator of this review and reviewer of Boarshurst Band Club concerts over the last two months. With their stand-in conductor – in spite of a false start (me getting the count wrong at the first attempt) – they did themselves proud.
For the next two pieces (or should that be seven with the second piece being a six-piece medley?), we returned to the big screen. Firstly with the brooding theme from 1492: Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis. Which, we learned from our compere Amanda Greaves, is used as the run-out music for Wigan Warriors’ fixtures. (Yours truly had the joy of listening to it as Barnet’s run-out music prior to an F.A. Cup First Round tie with his beloved Stalybridge Celtic).
After their sterling effort with the Vangelis piece, we moved from 1492 to 1942. This time, courtesy of Darrol Barry’s medley, The Greatest War Themes. In an Hooked on Classics style, came a pleasing fast-paced collection of war themes, including one by the father of another synth giant (The Longest Day theme by Maurice Jarre – Jean-Michel Jarre’s dad).
After the intro, the band began with Colonel Bogey, then the aforementioned theme by J.M.J.’s dad. This was followed by The Dam Busters March (Eric Coates – also played in full by St. John’s Mossley Band a fortnight earlier), then (There Will Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover – popularised by Dame Vera Lynn. This was rounded off by the theme from A Bridge Too Far by John Addison.
After finishing the penultimate piece, with the theme music from the then Loudest Motion Picture in history, the first half was closed with a hymn. This time, Gresford, otherwise known as The Miners’ Hymn, owing to a pit disaster in the said colliery on the outskirts of Wrexham. It was also chosen as a Desert Island Disc by the late Tony Benn. A fitting choice given that Belle Vue Brass Band’s president is Sir Gerald Kaufman, the Manchester Gorton Labour MP.
Throughout the first half, musical director Peter Brannigan formed a very good double act with flugelhorn player Amanda Greaves. Their humorous delivery and wealth of facts added interest to the concert. In the second half, Mr. Brannigan was substituted by 2nd Euphonium player Keith Reeves. He kept a tight ship and worked just as well with his accomplice, Amanda.
The second half began with first and only soloist of the night. On Principal Euphonium, Alan Ryan played the Sir Karl Jenkins piece, Benedictus. This was also performed by Paul Sanders for Marple Band, at Boarshurst Band Club’s first Sunday Brass concert of 2016. Alan Ryan’s performance of the piece was a solid one.
The second piece of the second half was our second medley of the night. This time, the G. McKenzie arrangement of three traditional pieces, under the banner of 1914. With three pieces of patriotic fervour and singalong qualities, one-third of it was A Product of Stalybridge – Jack Judge’s It’s A Long Way to Tipperary. The second part was Hello! Hello! Who’s Your Lady Friend? which neatly took us to Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty. The third part of the medley has slight Mancunian connections. It opened The Smiths’ title track of their 1986 album, The Queen is Dead. Before hearing Messrs Marr, Morrissey and Co., the song begins with Cicely Courteneidge’s vocals of the said song. During Manchester city centre’s Whit Walks, 1914 is a favoured street marching piece. Of late, it has been performed by St. John’s Castle Droylsden Band (for St. Ann’s Church) and Middleton Band.
This was followed by the first film piece of the second half. Anything written by John Williams tends to work well as brass band pieces. The more solemn Hymn to the Fallen (which featured in Saving Private Ryan) was no exception, and Belle Vue Brass took the piece in their stride.
Before taking us to the raffle came the band’s only concession to chart music. This time, an arrangement of Someone Like You by Adele. The single on its initial release was a UK Number One, and stayed there for five weeks. Amanda also pointed out that she was the only UK female vocalist to have two Billboard Hot 100 albums.
After the raffle, came another well loved contest march. This time, Edwin Firth’s Kenilworth. On Whit Friday contests, it is a popular choice among lower section and youth brass bands. A very good all-round effort.
For our sixth piece of the second half was an original piece by Alan Fernie. Entitled Stahl Himmel, the piece translates from German to English as Iron Sky. This quietened the mood before our last trip to the cinema with the Hans Zimmer penned Theme from Backdraft. Some good work from the band as well.
Hans Zimmer’s theme was also played by St. John’s Mossley Band a fortnight earlier. Hans Zimmer’s other works include the music for Inception and Interstellar). This was also true of our last piece of the night – The Irish Blessing (arranged by Stephen Bradnum). A good finish to a pleasing concert.
At the other end of the volume scale was the encore piece, our second march by John A. Greenwood. This time, The Pathfinder, popular as a lower section contest march and a street march. The piece also has some historical significance to Belle Vue Brass Band’s ancestry. On the 27 June 1947, it was performed by the Gorton and Openshaw Band (a previous name of the Gorton Silver band). Their performance resulted in a fourth place finish.
The venue of the said contest? Belle Vue Zoological Gardens and Amusement Park. As participants of the Belle Vue Marching Contest (Class “B”), adjudicated by Charles A. Cooper.
Our fellows from Belle Vue put on a good show with an entertaining programme. The selection of pieces, good though not too taxing. Amanda’s patter with conductors Peter and Keith was a joy to behold, with the Boarshurst audience eased into the concert.
Review written by Stuart Vallantine