Black Dyke Massed Bands Gala Concert


Conductor: Dr Nicholas Childs
Soloists: Richard Marshall, Joseph Cook & James Shepherd
Featuring: Nine massed bands
Leeds Town Hall
Sunday 13th June

DykeIf John Henry Iles were alive today he would have thoroughly approved of Sunday’s massed band event at Leeds Town Hall.

High morales

Amid the high morale Victorian aphorisms on the auditorium walls (‘Honesty is the Best Policy’ and ‘In Union is Strength’ amongst others) the 21st century brass band entrepreneur that is Dr Nicholas Childs led an afternoon concert that saw the hall bursting at its seams with paying customers.

And they all got their money’s worth too; with no less than nine bands packed as high as the ornate pipe work on the fantastic Gray & Davidson organ – from Black Dyke and the combined forces of the Yorkshire, Sellers and Lions Youth bands, to Delph, Diggle, Hebden Bridge, Newstead Brass and the Kirton Band from Norfolk.

And by the time they started to pump out ‘March Slav’ and ‘Praise My Soul’ to close the highly entertaining music making, the roof of the old pile was starting to creak under the acoustic strain. John Henry would have loved it.

No lollipop

This was no ‘lollipop’ outing though, as the opportunity was also taken to premiere three new works – two of which came from female composers.

With the hall staff still trying to find room for late comers even as Dyke delivered a robust ‘Queensbury’ opener (which featured a deliberate emergency brake on the tempo to rack up the excitement before the final stanza) and a thumping run through ‘Poet and Peasant’, Dr Nicholas Childs took the opportunity to introduce the first treat for those already packed like sardines in their seats.

Famous red, black and gold

Back once more in the famous red, black and gold uniform for the first half at least was the great James Shepherd, sat unobtrusively on third cornet. 

Up he stepped to perform a delightful ‘Mac & Mort’ duet with Richard Marshall, which brought memories flooding back to those who remembered his decade long tenure of distinction as principal cornet with the band.  

He still looks and sounds just as impressive as he did when he appeared on the cover, cornet in hand, of that ‘High Peak’ LP.

First premiere

The first premiere of the afternoon came with ‘Aurora’ from the band’s percussionist Andrea Price – a short atmospheric three-movement work that drew inspiration from the mystery, science and glory of the Aurora Borealis.  

Textured and detailed with a thumping close it was a work of rich potential and interest.

Black Dyke then dusted off ‘Within Blue Empires’, which courtesy of the MDs example led introduction, made for an enjoyable climax to the first half’s entertainment.


With everyone in place (both on and off stage), the second half started with the Yorkshire Youth Band producing a well managed account of ‘Laudate Dominum’, whilst there were enjoyable performances of the up beat Osterling-like premiere of Philip Wilby’s ‘Kirton 140’ (the number referring to the 140th anniversary of the band) and Joseph Cook providing the obligatory tuba treat with ‘Czardas’.

Musical substance

The real musical substance though came with the premiere by Black Dyke of ‘Obsidian’ by Emily Howard, a remarkable work of just under 6 minutes, inspired by the volcanic qualities of the mineral glass.

Darkly textured with subtle nuance to the internal timbres of the lower spectrum of band dynamics, it evoked deep atmospheric mystery. Occasional sharper edges related to the felsic qualities that can utilised for use as a weapon or cutting tool, or the buffed, highly polished traits that make it such an attractive medium in jewellery.

And although the composer added a touch of mordent subtitle of wit, by calling it,  ‘A Volcanic Ash Lullaby’, this was in fact a very serious work from a very serious and original thinking compositional voice.

Eagerly anticipated

Future collaborations with Black Dyke are in the pipeline and on this evidence they are eagerly anticipated.

With the massed band finales to raise the musical temperature to close, the audience left to make their way back home in the torrential rain well satisfied by a very modern concert based on the entrepreneurial skills of the past.

Iwan Fox