Grimethorpe Colliery (UK Coal) Band


Conductor: James Gourlay

Royal Northern Festival of Brass
RNCM, Manchester
Sunday 10th February 2002

Grimethorpe Colliery is always a band worth listening to in concert, and this outing under the baton of James Gourlay was no exception with this concert that took as it's theme (although at times a bit tenuously) the life and work of Sir William Walton.

2002 is the 100th anniversary if Sir William Walton's birth, and this very "English" of composers is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment with the Royal Festival Hall in London playing hosts to such ensembles as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the City of London Sinfonia and the famous Nash Ensemble in celebrating his music with performances of "Belshazzar's Feast", "Troilus and Cressida" and his violin and cello concerto's. Grimethorpe themselves will be at the Royal Festival Hall in March when much of the programme they performed hear will be on show again.

Grimethorpe were on very good form here and again confirmed that in the last year or so they have responded to the work of Garry Cutt and now James Gouraly in fine style. They displayed a lovely deep rounded tone throughout the demanding programme and never felt over extended in terms of technique or style, whilst they have a set of cornermen (not a lady in sight in this band) that any band manager would mortgage his house and possessions for.

"Spitfire Prelude and Fugue" was a cracking opener and James Gourlay choose tempos that allowed the music to run free without ever rushing. Thus the clarity of the semi quaver work was excellent and Nigel Fielding on sop really shone in the "Douglas Bader" role. Walton wrote scores for film music for the period 1935 1955 including "Henry V" in 1944, "Hamlet" 1948 and "Richard III" in 1955 and "Spitfire Prelude and Fugue" was used for the background music to "The First of the Few".

John Ireland's "A Downland Suite" was next on the agenda and in relation to the rest of the programme it sounded a work that has not aged particularly well. The playing of Richard Marshall on cornet and Mike Kilroy was top quality and made much of the composers intention to paint a picture of his Sussex Downs, but the work has limited scope, even though the famous middle movement still contains some sublime moments and again James Gourlay let the music speak for itself, rather than trying to manipulate something from it that for us isn't there.

Elgar Howarth's "Songs and Dances of Death" by Modest Mussorgsky was a revelatory piece of brass writing to accompany the fine plumy bass voice of Richard Wiegold. A dark and melancholic work it depicted in musical terms the sorrowness and sadness of death of a child, a peasant, a dying young girl and finally death in conflict. James Gourlay had complete understanding of the musical picture needed to be portrayed, and the band responded to maintain an understated accompaniment to the soloist. It was sparse and transparent writing and required the listener to concentrate throughout, but it is a piece superbly realised by Howarth.

Michael Dodd was the soloist in another of Howarth's works this time his "Stories of Saroyan", a work that takes it's title from ten short stories by the American author. Again, it is very descriptive, sparse and transparent in character and requires a soloist of high class to make it come off. Michael Dodd took hold of the music right from the beginning and gave a very impressive reading to a work that is certainly not run of the mill repertoire. It was a musically intelligent performance as well, as Dodd cleverly changed the timbre of his sound to accentuate the differing moods and colours that Howarth demanded. Real class stuff.

The "Suite from Richard III" provided the bands last offering to a concert of substantial works, and the arrangement by Christopher Palmer has captured much of the verve and brio of the original score Walton wrote in 1955. Again, James Gourlay let the music have a scope of breadth that others would have chosen to ignore in vain attempts to inject excitement and again he proved it as a correct choice. Its music to stir the old loins of every red blooded Englishman a 1950's equivalent of "Three Lions on Your Shirt" but it's still great stuff and the band responded in style. There can't be a more "English" band than Grimethorpe and they revelled in it. Nigel Fielding again was top class and Sandy Smith and Richard Marshall not too far behind in a superb performance.

Grimethorpe are a band for all seasons and on this form and with a conductor who had an appreciative and innate knowledge of the scores in front of him, they performed with immense style and musical substance. This we think was the highlight of the weekend for the audience and we ourselves left in a kind of bewildered daze of satisfaction that only comes every blue moon. Superb.