2003 All England Masters Championship
2003 Dedicated Service Award, Phillip McCann
Sunday 25th May
Starts at 12.00 noon
Phillip McCann is a complex man. Anyone who dedicates their lives
in the pursuit of singular goals usually are. Aiming for perfection
means that other facets of the human condition are sometimes less
developed and even ignored, and so those who strive for the apex
of their personal ambition can sometimes appear difficult or even
Sportsmen such as Geoffrey Boycott for instance, or Tiger Woods,
writers such as Dylan Thomas or Alexander Solzhenitsen or musicians
such as Maria Callas or Leonard Bernstein have all been tarred with
the being members of the “awkward squad”, such has been
their determination to succeed at their chosen calling in deference
to anything else. However, they wouldn’t be remembered as
being truly great at what they did if it weren’t for that
burning desire to be the best of the best. These people are truly
great because they have given 100% of themselves in pursuit of their
ambition. They are also people who have been misunderstood, at times
found to have been difficult to work with, and on occasions been
rather ostracised from the mainstream movement that they have graced
with their brilliance.
Phillip McCann deserves to belong in such company. It is difficult
to think of any other player in the last fifty or so years in the
banding movement who has been so dedicated to his craft. From his
youth in Scotland with the Kinneil Band right through to his appearance
here at the Masters conducting the band he formed at Huddersfield
Technical College and now proudly performs as the Sellers International
Band, Phillip McCann’s has had a singularly dedicated life.
He is a true "Great".
His talent has never been in question. As a young man he made his
mark as a player of rare brilliance at Yorkshire Imperial, who brought
him and his family south from Scotland, and then at The Fairey Band
and onto Black Dyke where he became possibly the most famous cornet
player in the World. The 16 years he spent at Queensbury coincided
with perhaps the greatest period of sustained success any one band
has ever had, and it was led by example by Phillip McCann.
The famous story of the Principal Cornet player locking himself
in the toilet of the Jumbo 747 for three hours so that he could
practice and keep his lip in top condition as the band flew out
to tour Japan, is by all accounts true enough, but so too are the
stories of strained relations within the band itself which finally
and irreparably came to an end with his departure from Dyke. One
of the reasons great teams become great teams in any walk of life
is that they contain great players, with ambitions and sometimes
egos to match, but it is that explosive mix which in fact becomes
their lifeblood. Dyke were a difficult band, striven by perfection,
carrying no passengers and containing more than a few members of
“the awkward squad”. The music they made though made
all of that very nearly irrelevant and the player who summed up
that all up was Phillip McCann.
To hear him on record and then CD was a joy – the inheritor
of the “perfect” cornet tone, the direct playing descendent
of his father figure Harry Mortimer and perhaps the one player in
the modern brass band world on any instrument with the most recognisable
sound. Rivals would snipe that adjudicators would know it was Dyke
on stage because of his playing, but that somewhat missed the point.
His playing was rarely anything less than perfect.
His innate musicality made the slow melody a vehicle that has possibly
never been bettered by any other cornet play. His CD collection
of the “Worlds Most Beautiful Melodies” sold like hot
cakes and not just to brass band aficionados either. His ability
to make a single line sound something special ensured that his talents
extended far beyond the claustrophobic boundaries of the brass band
world. His playing on the Hetty Wainthrope series for instance may
not have been the most artistically rewarding thing he had ever
done but it was certainly the most popular and a whole new audience
delighted in his playing. Everyone knows the tune, and more importantly
nearly everyone knows who played it.
He remains a great cornet player to this day. He practices to a
regime younger players would blanche at, performs numerous solo
jobs and is in demand as a recording artist for television and radio.
Unfortunately we rarely hear him on the contest stage and although
the story of his top C# on Contest Music is now the stuff of legend
there was for us lucky souls at Cambridge a couple of years ago
an equally memorable bit of playing from him when he performed with
Brighouse and Rastrick when they won on “Pageantry”.
McCann sat as bumper up and with his trademark white handkerchief
in place, performed a true gem of a solo in the middle movement
“Cortege” that made the hairs on the back of your neck
stand on end. It was the most simple and beautiful reminder of the
Bill Shankly maxim – “Form is temporary, class is permanent”.
In addition to his immensely successful playing career it is easy
to forget the contribution he has made to the development of young
players and also his own development as a conductor and latterly
as an adjudicator.
His conducting career took off when he formed the Huddersfield
College Band which later became Sellers International, whilst he
has also had periods at the helm at Fodens and also Whitburn. Although
he has not won the major titles as a conductor as he had as a player
he has proven to have been a Musical Director of the top strata.
His relationships with some of the bands he has been with have at
times been difficult – the first departure from Sellers was
a real low point, whilst the departure from Fodens was also strained,
but he left both in better shapes than when he arrived.
Sellers were placed 5th at the Open in 1991, came 3rd at the Nationals
in 1990, as well as five times coming in the top six at Cambridge
and coming runners up at the Yorkshire Area in 1995, whilst Fodens
were runners up at the North West Regional Championships in 1997
and 6th at Cambridge, 5th at the Open in 1996 and runners up at
Spennymoor in the same year. Close, but for this perfectionist not
close enough and so the tenures ended unfulfilled personally or
With the Whitburn Band he has won the Scottish Area Championships
in 1999 as well as take the band into 4th place (and come runners
up on the set work) at the 2000 European Championships and into
5th place at the British Open in 2001. He continues to work successfully
with them today and his return to Sellers for a second stint has
seen the band once more perform to a high level.
He has taught many of the best young players in the movement –
many of who speak in glowing terms of how he has taught them and
he has become a very well respected adjudicator. A couple of years
ago in Preston at the Lower Section National Finals he gave two
model adjudicator’s remarks from the stage that were detailed,
constructive and informed, whilst his written remarks were the same.
No band complained on the day with his decision.
The last remarks though should come from someone who has known
him perhaps better than most, and can possibly give some explanation
into the workings of this complex man. Peter Parkes, the man who’s
own career at the top of banding has had it fair share of special
moments with Phillip McCann says, “In February 1975, as the
newly appointed professional conductor of Black Dyke I paid my first
visit to Queensbury and that famous old band room. All my previous
experience as a conductor had been with wind bands and orchestras.
I really had very little idea of what to expect when I gave that
first memorable downbeat - the sheer power, precision and quality
of the sound produced took me completely by surprise and converted
me forever to brass bands. Every player was totally dedicated to
producing 'the sound' and at the very heart of that sound was the
superb comet playing of Phillip McCann.
Phillip's total aim in life seemed to me to be concentrated, both
as a player and as a leader, on making sure that the band produced
only music of the highest possible quality. He would accept only
the very best, winning the National meant very little if the band
had not played to the highest standard possible. The Chandos recordings
of The World's Most Beautiful Melodies gave Phillip the opportunity
to show his great talent to a wider audience to the benefit of the
whole brass band movement. The sales of these discs broke all previous
records, and the quality of Phillip's playing will remain as a lodestar
to guide the players yet to come!
So many good memories of Phillip as the supreme comet player of
his generation. Ijust need to close my eyes to hear again the comet
solo from Journey into Freedom, at the European Championships or
Rusalka 's Song to the Moon in Sydney Opera House. But perhaps finest
of all Contest Music, at the Yorkshire Area Championships, with
Phillip producing the longest and most perfect top C sharp that
anyone ever played, followed by a glorious slur of a twelfth down
to the F sharp. Thank you Phillip for all the joy which your playing
has given, and continues to give, to me and to so many others, and
congratulations on receiving this award, no-one deserves it more!”
Congratulations then to Phillip McCann on receiving the All England
Masters Dedicated Service Award. The title sums up the man to a
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