Interview with Richard Evans
It is always a pleasure being in the company of Richard Evans.
One of the most colourful and talented musicians to grace the banding
world since the Second World War is perpetually on good form and
is man who seems to have the happy knack of making you feel better
– be it in rehearsal, contest stage, concert or pub.
It’s no coincidence that the War played a major part in his upbringing
either, as Richard himself explained to us when he recently talked
to 4BarsRest. “I was born in Aldershot – a military town in 1934,
where my father was a soldier in the King’s Liverpool Regiment.
As my dad was a career soldier, we were shipped out to India when
I was just 18 months old, but by all accounts the climate was not
to my liken as a baby and my mother, sister and I were shipped back
to live in Plymouth during the War.”
“Plymouth was bombed and every night we had to go into the shelter
for safety – it was terrifying. One morning we came out of the shelter
to find our house and been blown up!” After a move to Dartmoor the
Evans family finally found themselves back in Formby near Preston
where Richard’s father, who he hadn’t seen for seven years returned
to become a groundsman at the local Leyland Golf Club.
“We had a little house off the course and my dad became involved
at the local British Legion as an ex soldier. After a while he said
to me that I could join him there, and before long I was having
lessons with Harold Moss, the “King of Trombones” as he was known
and a lovely chap called William Haydock for a shilling a week.”
In 1952 Richard Evans became a founder member of the National
Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and took his seat on a front row
of cornets that read Maurice Murphy, Fred Burns and John Clough.
Lifelong friendships were forged.
“Murphy was an amazing talent even at that age and he played the
cornet solo Zelda in such a way it made the hairs on the back of
your neck stand on end. We became great friends and the courses
were special times for me.”
It was at this time that Harry Mortimer became an influential
figure in Richard’s life and even though they had their ups and
downs over the following years, he remained a father figure to him.
“The great man always gave me sound advice, even though sometimes
I didn’t take it! It was he who made the first moves to get me to
conduct, when I took the NYBB on “County Pallatine” by Maurice Johnstone
– I was terrible!”
By the late 1960’s though, Richard Evans was conducting more regularly,
even though he had to keep a night time job printing newspapers
and was doing some semi professional trumpet work that saw him play
with considerable success with the BBC Northern Orchestra, the Halle
Orchestra and being part of the start with the world famous Sid
Lawrence Orchestra. However, it wasn’t that well paid, so he decided
to get a Diploma from the Royal Northern College of Music and forge
ahead with a career in banding.
“I lived on 13 quid a week for two years and gave up a job when
I was bringing home 45 quid – plus I had a wife and kids! It was
madness, but the best thing I ever did. I also got involved with
bands like Mossley where I really learnt my trade and did some choral
conducting with the Wigan Choral Society which was bloody hard work
but tremendously beneficial for developing a good ear.”
It was that link that led to his first major break into banding
and success at the highest level – a level he has since never left.
“We did a concert with Wingates Band, and afterwards they asked
me to audition to take them to the 1975 British Open. It was Elgar
Howarth’s “Fireworks” and it was the hardest piece I had ever come
across. We worked our socks off and deservedly won the Open, beating
Fairey’s into second place.”
Following a third place at the 1976 Nationals, Harry Mortimer advised
him to audition for the job at Fairey’s, which Richard accepted,
although overall it was not the success he hoped. “There was a need
for the band to change, but somehow we never really gelled and even
though I enjoyed my time there it didn’t quite work out and the
best we got was a third at the Open in 1977.”
It was then that he Leyland story began. “It was 1978 and they
were a third section band at the time, when a chap called Desmond
Pitcher – now Sir Desmond, met me and told me he wanted a band that
that could get into the top three prizes at the British Open in
three years! I thought he was having me on a bit so I told him what
I wanted to do the job and he didn’t bat an eyelid! In fact, we
beat our target when we came second at the Open in 1981 on “Variations
on a Ninth”.
Leyland then grew into one of the UK’s top bands with their distinctive
white dinner jackets their trademark. “I had gone to Japan where
I worked with bands who were immaculately dressed in tuxedos. It
looked brilliant and so I thought that’s what we need and so I got
the band to wear them – it caused a fantastic stir, but the success
soon shut up the doubters”
Leyland were now a contender at every major contest and they came
third at the Nationals in 1984 and at the 1989 Nationals, won the
North West Area title in 1990, 91, 93 and 94 and were All England
Masters Champions in 1989 and 1992. This was some band. The crowning
glory was in 1994 when finally after a series that read 2nd, 3rd,
2nd and 5th, they became British Open Champions playing John McCabes
“This was a great time for the band. We had secured an amazing
sponsorship deal with British Nuclear Fuels after 14 great years
with Leyland Vehicles, that saw us tour Japan, Korea and the USA.
I admit I ran the band as a benign dictator, but it worked. If things
went right it was great for us all, but if it went wrong it was
me who got it in the neck. However, the company was privatised and
the deal came to an abrupt end and I was very fortunate to meet
up with an old friend in Dave Whelan of JJB Sports and we managed
to out a deal together that was only short term but very beneficial
to the band.”
Although his full time association with the band he created over
20 years ago has now come to an end, Richard still is closely linked
to them and recently took control of the baton to steer the band
into second place at the Brass in Concert contest in Spennymoor.
“I’ve always liked the entertainment contests where bands can really
show off and give the audience a show to remember.”
So what does the future hold? “I’ll never really retire, although
my wife would like me to! I’m enjoying the freelance life again
and have taken Flowers Band in Gloucestshire and Tredegar in Wales
over the past year as well as having a lovely time up in Scotland
with Dallmellington and teaching two days a week at Kirkham Grammer
School where I’m developing a little concert band with the pupils.
They may not be as good as Leyland, but it gives me so much pleasure.”
So a quiet life then? “No. I’m going to be taking Fodens to the
All England Masters on Pageantry, so I’m really looking forward
to that and I’m still busy with my son running our little 9 hole
golf course and driving range and will be taking the National Youth
Band of Scotland on it’s course at St Andrews in July!” Nowhere
near quiet then.
Richard Evans has been one of the movement’s great characters of
the past thirty years or more and there is still more to come. Catch
him if you can – you will certainly enjoy the experience.