There are a very select band of composers that can lay claim to having provided all five sectional test pieces for a major competition.
That honour this weekend falls to Darrol Barry (who joins Eric Ball), when his nap hand of compositions is performed at the Butlins Mineworkers Contest in Skegness.
Now a resident in Oman, over the decades he has produced a substantial flow of melodic, accessible, popular music that has made him one of the most regularly heard composers for brass band on both contest and concert platforms.
With his music also having been selected to test the elite bands at the forthcoming All England International Masters in May, 2011 promises to be quite a year for the former Salford man.
4BR’s Chris Thomas spoke with Darrol from his home in Oman before the composer made the journey to a somewhat less glamorous and arid Skegness.
Chris Thomas: Before we talk about your music, could I take you back to your early roots?
In my youth I remember you as a trombonist in Rochdale Wilsons Band, but when and how did you begin to compose and arrange?
Darrol Barry: I joined the school band on Eb bass when I was 14 (I went for a cornet but ended up on bass, something I regretted when getting on a crowded bus going to rehearsal!)
I later moved over to euphonium via the baritone (one of my favourite instruments along with the flugel horn). I was about 16 when I started to dabble in simple arrangements and wrote my first piece, a march, ‘Skyline’ which was later performed and recorded by Geoff Whitham and Hammonds.
On leaving school I became an apprentice joiner and music became my hobby. I played for several bands including East Lancs Paper Group and Rochdale Wilsons, where I came under the influence of James Scott.
Chris Thomas: You were one of the early students on the Band Musicianship course at Salford in 1978. Looking back, how important was your period of study in Salford to your development, and of your tutors at the time, who was the most influential and why?
Darrol Barry: After completing my apprenticeship I decided to study music. I had heard of the Band Musicianship course at Salford (it was where I lived) and had helped the college band out on euphonium.
Up to that point I had been self taught but realized it would be more beneficial to be tutored by the likes of Roy Newsome, Goff Richards and Geoff Whitham.
And what a great time I had! Studying, playing, playing and studying....it was fantastic!
Roy and Goff were a great inspiration and encouraged me at every step. I won my first prize while I was there in a competition run by the West Glamorgan Local Authority.
My piece was ‘Divertimento for Brass’ and the judge was Edward Gregson, another of my heroes. It was later selected as the Third Section regional test piece.
I also had euphonium lessons with Geoff Whitham and when I mentioned that I wrote and arranged he seemed very interested. In fact on my next lesson when I walked into his room he asked, “What have you got?”
I told him the pieces I had to play and he roared, “Nay ya bugger, what’ve you written?”
I gave him a couple of pieces including ‘Skyline’ and within a couple of weeks he performed it on the radio and recorded it with Polyphonic, which also introduced me to someone else who would prove to be a big influence on me, Stan Kitchen.
Chris Thomas: You then went onto study with Joseph Horovitz at the Royal College of Music. What are your memories of those lessons with him?
Darrol Barry: It was when both Roy and Geoff were adjudicating with Joseph Horovitz that Roy mentioned me and asked if we could send some music for him to look at.
The next thing you know, I‘m having one to one composition lessons at the Royal College of Music, London with the great man. Thank you again Roy!
Those three years of music were the best of my life. Jo was a great teacher, very friendly but also a hard taskmaster.
I had to produce something every week, then we would sit at the piano and Jo would play and ask questions about the piece, probing and pulling to pieces and offering advice on how to get the best out of the music.
He also liked my northern humour!
Chris Thomas: Although you are perhaps best known for your brass and wind band music, you have also written for orchestra, including two symphonies. Is it important to you that you are as diverse as possible in terms of the ensembles you write for?
Darrol Barry: I noticed that my music was changing in 2000 just before I came to Oman. I wasn’t content to keep on as I was.
I felt a need for more expansion and development. I’ve composed two symphonies, 'No 1 for Symphony Orchestra' (dedicated to David James and his lovely wife Rita) and 'No 2', which I intend to score for wind orchestra and is dedicated to the memory of Malcolm Arnold, a composer whose work I greatly admire.
The first brass band piece that was different was ‘Flamborough Seascapes’.
It wasn’t what people were expecting and seemed to ruffle a few feathers. Someone actually called it ‘poo’ online!
Chris Thomas: Looking at the music that will test the bands in Skegness, we start in the Fourth Section with ‘Contrasts’, a suite that was originally written for a young wind band?
Darrol Barry: Yes, the piece was originally a wind band piece I quite liked, but I realized I would have to make some changes. I composed a new finale and added a new scherzo, so there is more to it than simply tacking on a new bit.
Bandsmen would be very surprised at what goes into composing. It doesn’t just fall onto the score (unless you’re called Mozart!) and the changes, both big and small that happen before we get the finished article may not be apparent to the conductor and performer. Berlioz springs to mind.
Chris Thomas: The Third Section piece, ‘Hungerford Town’, is influenced by the history and character of the town, and you presumably wished to convey this as far as possible in the music?
Darrol Barry: Yes, the piece was commissioned by Tim Crouter and the Hungerford Town Band and Tim sent me much information about Hungerford which really fired my inspiration.
The piece is in four movements. The first, ‘The Black Prince’, opens with a short motif on which most of the following music is based.
The music settles down into a mysterious mood that builds to the first transformation of the opening theme. The music is solid and rugged.
The second movement is called ‘The Coach Road’ as Hungerford was always a popular resting place for horse drawn coaches on their way to London.
The music is light and cheerful and features the soprano cornet and solo horn as postillions.
In ‘Saint Lawrence's Church’ the previous motif from the first baritone becomes the main theme, which gives plenty of scope for warm and expressive playing.
Music from the start of the suite is heard before it moves into a celebratory march, ‘The Bear’. This is a local inn frequented by travellers. The opening theme is heard again and brings the work to a triumphant close.
Chris Thomas: The evocatively titled Second Section piece, ‘Rise of the Phoenix’, was written for Clifton & Lightcliffe Band and charts the progress of a once successful band rebuilding after falling on times?
Darrol Barry: The piece was commissioned by my good friend John Clay and it was John who suggested the programme of a band in its glory days falling on hard times and struggling back to the top.
As the title suggests, the Phoenix was a fabulous mythical bird, which every morning at dawn sang a song so enchanting that even the sun god Apollo would stop and listen. The bird would live for hundreds of years and at the end of its life would build a pyre, set it on fire and be consumed by the flames.
After three days the Phoenix would be reborn from the ashes to sing once more.
In much the same way since 1838, the Clifton & Lightcliffe Band has had many difficulties but has been reborn to make music once more.
This has only been accomplished by the dedication of its players, officials and friends.
Over the years all the Musical Directors have played a pivotal role in the band’s history and this piece of music is dedicated to each and every one of them.
Chris Thomas: The First Section piece ‘Granite Variations’, looks like providing a stiff challenge for the First Section bands at Butlins and is perhaps the most harmonically advanced of the works being played?
Darrol Barry: Back when I was resident composer to Granite City Brass I wrote them several pieces, 'Granite Variations' being the largest and most ambitious.
Whilst not really a theme, the opening section contains all the material on which the piece is based. Two of the slow variations feature the solo horn and principal cornet and the melodies are based on the ciphers of the Granite City player’s names, Moira Ross and Calum Booth respectively.
The piece is dedicated to my good friend and mentor David James and the Granite City Brass.
Chris Thomas: And so to the Championship Section test piece, ‘Requiems’. This is a substantial piece and a personal response to the lives of several people that have mattered to you over the years?
Darrol Barry: 'Requiems' is in six movements and is dedicated to the friends or people who have made an impact on my life.
Some people may assume the piece will be a gloomy, sad affair but it’s actually very much a celebration of their lives.
‘Tuba Mirum’ is dedicated to the memory of John Taberner, a fine cornet player who died tragically young. As the title suggests this movement uses only the cornet section.
The second movement, ‘De Profundus’, is dedicated to Derek Davies, an Eb bass player with the legendary CWS Manchester Band in the 1960’s.
When I became the MD of the Walkden Band, Derek was on Eb bass and was a good friend with a passion for music making. The basses start this movement in full flight.
The musical world lost a singular talent when Don Lusher passed away; he was one of nature’s gentlemen. Hence the third movement, ‘Sanctus’, highlights the trombone section.
‘Gloria’ is in remembrance of Geoff Whitham. I had the honour and privilege of studying the euphonium with Geoff in the early days of Salford.
As I mentioned earlier, he was one of the first to perform, record and broadcast my music with the Hammonds Sauce Works Band.
His larger than life character is reflected in the music which also hints at the euphonium solo from 'Le Roi D’ys' which will never be forgotten. Thanks Geoff.
‘In Paradisum’ is dedicated to the late Barbara Cotter, wife of the well known banding personality Mike Cotter and is a reflective movement, although not without its nobler moments.
And finally, ‘Dies Irae’.
When I lived in Tyldesley, Fred Dibnah was a regular visitor to my local pub, often to be found with a huge crowd around him hanging on his every word.
Some afternoons you would feel a distant vibration through the ground getting closer by the minute.
Eventually Fred would appear driving one of his huge traction engines, smiling and waving as he led his frustrated parade of cars through the one way system.
I have tried to capture his spirit and love of all things industrial in this movement.
Chris Thomas: Although your catalogue of concert and lower section pieces is vast, Championship Section test pieces are something of a new arena for you. Has it been a conscious decision to devote much of your energy to music for lower section bands?
Darrol Barry: I have been writing for brass bands for quite a few years now.
Lots of arrangements and compositions including quite a few test pieces have been composed but I get a bit frustrated that my top section music isn’t well known, or indeed known at all.
I have composed what I consider to be five top section test pieces over the last ten years or so with ‘Gemini’ being the latest, but despite sending them to various bands, conductors and contest panels there has been little or no interest.
In fact, that Butlins is happening at all is down to my wife, Rachael.
She took my good friend Stan Lippeatt to task for him not using any of my music for his contest. A few months later Stan phoned me to say that he intended to use my music for all the sections in a future contest.
I am eternally grateful to you Stan. Many, many thanks!
Chris Thomas: Could you tell us a little about ‘Gemini’, your piece that will be heard at the Masters in Kettering this coming May?
Darrol Barry: I should thank both Stan Kitchen and Martin Ellerby for their efforts in making it happen.
The piece is a symphonic study and most of the music is based on a simple timpani solo heard in the slow opening.
This is developed in the fast sections and even makes an appearance in the slower sections.
The central episode is a personal tribute to the late Maurice Murphy, a great player and someone I greatly admired. ‘Gemini’ is dedicated to Roy Newsome, a good friend and mentor.
Chris Thomas: And finally, how are you enjoying life in Oman?
Darrol Barry: Life in Oman is wonderful and has been since day one.
We’ve just celebrated Equestrian Day on the 1st January and there were almost 2000 musicians in the stadium playing my music; not something I will forget!
Chris Thomas: Thanks for talking to us and we look forward to seeing you in Skegness!