Top ten BBb Bass Players of all time: 4BR come
up with ten of the best growlers...
The lamppost geezers at the back of the band (named after the monotonous
way in which composers usually just wrote notes on the first of
every bar) are a rare breed indeed, as BBb players are often labeled
as the thick end of the band! It’s a tag that suits our fellow Reubensian
shaped bellow players if this instrument is in the wrong hands.
However, this certainly isn’t the case with the ten chaps listed
below, who were, and are good examples of the BBb being in the right
hands – for these blokes are experts! Our top ten chaps of the bombardon
could really make the floorboards rattle and give an experience
every bit as good as the best Organs in the land. (Oops! – starting
to sound like Sid James in a Carry On film here!)
You can’t just sit behind a BBb Bass and expect it to do what you
want (a bit like another instrument we could mention), but these
10 guys have worked out a method by spending countless hours learning
how to drive this unwieldy beast of an instrument.
4BarsRest would therefore like to pay homage to the truly great
Pedal merchants who make brass bands what they are today. However
it hasn’t always been that way. Back in pre 1960s they had to rely
on the tools they had i.e. 3 Valve non-compensating BBb’s. This
is when a lot of the range we have today was missing and an intelligent
player got round this by the production of huge fog like sounds.
You also don’t often see soloists on this large bombardon, as they
prefer to give the great soloists of today the perfect cushion on
which to display their talents. However as you will see there are
a few exceptions!
Below with the help of lots of people we have compiled a list of
great BBb players. You may agree or disagree with our selection,
but we feel it is a pretty good guide to some of the best BBb players
of this or any other generation. As always we give a list in no
particular order of merit – they are all great players.
Albert started playing as a bass Trombone player in the Salvation
Army band in Barrow in Furness. He was a joiner by trade and became
a member of Black Dyke in the late 1940s. Speaking to people in
the “know” about Albert, all commented that he had a sound like
a 64ft organ stop and an amazing technique to go with it.
We are told that Albert was a bit of an awkward bugger - if this
was the case he set in place a mould for lots of BBb players who
Dyke went on to be famous for the band sound that revolved round
the Bass Section. It would seem Albert had the lot as a BBb player
of his vintage.
“Pedal Joe” as he became to be known, is the man responsible for
the first Pedal notes plundered on a contest stage.
Fred Mortimer got hold of a 4 valve non compensating BBb and asked
Joe to learn how to start adding lower unwritten notes on this new
BBb. Because it was non-compensating he had the added complication
of pulling slides, but Joe found he could now play F and F sharp.
Joe, who was an engraver of nameplates on coffins in his time, produced
his wonderful sound with the mighty Fodens and CWS Manchester.
Derek was and is the man who developed BBb Bass playing into a true
art form. Now armed with a four valve compensating BBb he took on
board the work started by “Pedal Joe” Pool and he proceeded to make
his mark on British Banding.
Born in Poulton Le Flyde, he started by slipping the odd Pedal
F to see how the rest of the Dyke chaps reacted, then went on to
an E then D and so on.
Derek has had lots of jobs in his time ranging from, Private Detective
to washing machine salesman, on to his present occupation which
is supplying what seems like the banding world with household carpets.
Derek still has the most direct production anyone has ever produced
below the stave. This ability was honed by hours of practice in
the Dyke band room where he was to be found in any of his spare
time. He was not limited to lower octave work however; as he had
one of the biggest sounds with no edge we have ever had the pleasure
to listen to. It is often said he treats his BBb with the same affection
as the women in his life.
Derek had a unique way of practicing his art in the Dyke bandroom,
as he would blow a bottom C and would only leave that note once
the picture frame 4th on the left rattled. Then he would go to a
D and make the George Wilcox picture rattle and so on. Each frame
in the bandroom at the time, had a rattle on a certain note of Derek’s.
Derek is by far the most decorated BBb Player by way of contest
wins, in a banding life that took him to Black Dyke Mills Juniors
in 1961 moving up to the seniors in 1964. Then to Williams Fairey
in 1992 until his semi retirement nine years later. The other day
it was rumored someone into his Carpet shop only to find him with
his beloved BBb working on Les Preludes for the British Open where
he is helping out Grimethorpe.
What many people regard as Fodens finest ever BBb player joined
the band in 1953 - this was after an indirect poaching job from
Fred Mortimer (he didn’t believe in directly poaching players).
Fred put the word out that Jack was just the sort of player he was
looking for to become the foundation of the mighty Fodens Band and
so it came to pass that Jack was signed up.
He was a Blacksmith by trade and due to an accident at work lost
four front teeth! At this time Jack was a member of ICI Alkali Band,
a stint that was broken by his stint for King and Country in the
A one time euphonium and horn player Jack developed into a BBb
player of immense power and awesome quality, who could really make
the floorboards rattle. Commenting to 4BarsRest he said, “There
are too many players who are content to just shovel in notes” Brought
up under the Mortimer tutelage, Jacks only overriding goal was “Quality
Jacks final performance with Fodens was at the 1982 British Open
at Free Trade Hall, bringing to a close thirty years service to
Fodens Band. These days Jack still attends the occasional rehearsal,
especially just before a contest when, no doubt, he will have a
keen ear listening to the music, but especially “That Sound”
Les Beevers went to Brighouse & Rastrick from Elland Band and followed
in his father Walters’s footsteps playing for the boys from West
Riding in the famous Purple and Gold.
In his time with the band, Brighouse & Rastrick had this big brooding
sound for which Les was the quality deep-seated backbone.
Les was also a quality musician, which reflected in his playing.
This musicianship led Les to become the Resident Musical Director
of B&R, for whom he also served as Chairman in the Floral Dance
Les along with Derek Jackson formed a real golden period for the
BBb and they were together in the famous Virtuoso Bands put together
for recordings in the 70s. That must have been some section!
Roy Batty was a product of Grimethorpe Junior band. He is an undemonstrative
player who is happy not to hog the limelight.
He produces a great warm sound of real quality. Although he is
now the elder statesman of Grimey he leads by example, and someone
told 4Bars Rest the other day that Roy had now bought himself another
BBb so he can practice at home. Anyone who knows Roy will be shocked
at that as he is not one for spending his own money. Practice and
spending money are not one of Roy’s favorite pastimes.
He has a great silky bottom register but is very happy to play
the upper parts, which he does better than most, and this gives
whoever plays the lower parts one of the strongest backbones of
sound in banding today.
John Gillam is the true “Giant” among BBb Bass players. John first
joined Brighouse & Rastrick sitting next to Les Beevers, and when
Les retired from the band John took over his seat and made it his
own. John had a lovely soft production and produced a velvet warm
tone. As a young Eb Bass player Johns demonstrated time and time
again his complete artistry of the instrument and the great emphasis
he placed on “Team” play.
He moved on to Black Dyke in 1992 and went on to win lots of pots
under James Watson.
To John’s own admittance he didn’t much care for the pedal merchant
way of playing, preferring to find the exact musical moment to go
down an octave. Anyone who knows John will testify that he is one
of the nicest people around. He is Chairman and Bass tutor of the
National Youth Brass Band and we know this will ensure a productive
and enjoyable time for the NYBBGB as John never does things by half.
Dean Morley is a larger than life character who works for Railtrack
as a Project Manager and started his top-line banding career with
the Desford Colliery Dowty Band under Howard Snell in the late 1980s.
Graduating from the National Youth Band as principle BBb he joined
Desford in 1987 and was always keen to pick up tips from anyone
who was willing to part with them. Dean has gone on to win the National
Championships on numerous occasions winning many fans along the
way for his style of play.
Dean is very large in stature, a feature that also describes his
huge sound. This is produced with great directness backed up by
strong airstreams of power. He is also a very nimble player with
a super lower register of pure creamy quality.
The Fodens of today are built on the rock, which Dean provides.
You never know you might one day find Dean on his feet, as he has
been known to play the odd solo or three.
Simon Gresswell is a product of the Queensbury Music Centre under
the legendary James Shepherd, and was a member of the NYBBGB - being
the only person to have held the principle position on both Eb and
Appointed principle Eb with Brighouse at 17, it was at Desford
that he moved onto BBb Bass, and aged 23 he joined Black Dyke Mills
coming under the influence of the godfather of BBb Bass players
Derek Jackson. Under Derek’s tutelage he developed into a superb
player, producing a creamy sound like the finest draught Guinness
one could imagine. Like his idol, he never over blows and one feels
their presence rather than hear them, especially when they pedal.
Just like Jackson, Simon Gresswell can make the hair on the back
of your head stand on end and the toes curl to listen to them play.
After Dyke he joined Faireys, and then moved to YBS under David
King. At present he’s playing with Brighouse and Rastrick.
Tony Nash is a West Country boy who came to prominence with the
great Sun Life Stanshaw Band. Tony was principle BBb of the National
Youth Band and actually won the Pye award for best soloist! Tony
had an amazing technique and we have been told he was something
of a “Paganini” of the BBb Bass.
Tony went on to have a short spell with Fodens in the 70s before
returning to Sun life where he remained in stints, until the bands
Tony is one of the nicest people in banding, but perhaps by his
own admission a little more single mindedness would have propelled
him to even greater heights. He is now to be found playing for local
bands around his West Country home.
So that’s our top ten BBb players of all time. Not a bad selection
of players and all of them more than capable of playing the usual
fare that sees the run of the mill BBb baulk at the sight of a run
Every one of the chaps named would always tell you it would not
be possible without great partners. Bass playing is a team game
and one that is very technical by bay of balance, shape, sound,
dynamics, phrasing and the obvious physical aspects of playing.
Therefore many of these players achieved their greatness by having
a great team of players around them.
They may be the shy and retiring members of any band (except for
the few exceptions that every band has!) but they are just as indispensable
as any fancy soprano or solo corner player. As one great BBb player
once informed a rather drunken upstart cornet player who didn’t
think much of their efforts after a certain contest. “ You can keep
all the fancy decorations coming out of the end of your bell until
the cows come home, but you can’t build a bloody good house unless
you’ve got solid foundations!” Never a truer word has ever been