Creating the West End of the banding world - PolySteel Band


Tabby Clegg takes a look at the ever increasing success of the PolySteel Band and finds a streak of iron replacing their formery flowery soul.

PolySteel BandIn the last few weeks the PolySteel Band (formerly the Flowers Band) has scooped the most lucrative first prize in the brass band movement by winning the Butlins Mineworkers Open Brass Band National Festival and banking the staggering £6000 prize money whilst in addition they took the runners up spot at Yeovil to bag themselves a further £1000.

The first-class outfit under its Musical Director Philip Harper put on dazzling performances to impress the judges and on this occasion, luck was on the band's side. It hasn't always been this way though; despite some innovative, exciting and musically superior performances over the last few years, the band has not always reaped the rewards of its hard work.

However, despite many disappointments, Philip Harper is deeply philosophical and commented: "As a Musical Director there are two strands to concentrate on; the contest and concert aspects. For the contest side the band can just do all it can in terms of putting on a good performance and playing as well as possible and the band just has to be happy with whatever luck comes its way in terms of results."

Philip HarperPhilip continued: "With the concert aspect this is where, as an MD, I can do the most interesting work and put on what I feel is an entertaining programme and I am very lucky that the band is very open to ideas."
There is no doubting that Philip‘s unique artistic vision and talent has inspired his players at PolySteel and his own arrangements and compositions have brought the brass band movement some new and exciting works, using musical genres and inspirations from all around the globe.

This world music has undertaken a pivotal role within the repertoire of the PolySteel Band and Philip's fresh outlook at the concept of concert programming, fusing styles of music from around the world creates amazing stage shows which are drawing in audiences locally.

Said Philip: "I see the future in youth and this means bringing in younger audiences who I hope will then go on to learn brass instruments. At PolySteel we make an effort to entice new people into our audiences and we are managing this at a local level."

PolySteel Band
Chris Howley - PolySteel's Principal Cornet

The reason the band is being successful in enticing younger audiences has to be its fresh outlook on programming with exciting music and well rehearsed choreography to match. "The band is never dubious about an idea I put to them; it just gets on and does it as the players know the final product will be worth working towards. Now, we try and make our concerts like small scale West End Shows. We have a series of concerts in the Bacon Theatre in Cheltenham, the next one being on 18 February, and we really make use of the theatre, hiring in a technical team which provides sound and lighting and whatever effects the show requires."

Whilst heritage in bands and their music always plays a part, with so many bands on the brink of extinction, surely this fresh ‘musical fusion' idea is the way forward if it brings in the crowds that so many bands crave to play for? Well, it must be if the audiences are paying to be entertained and leaving the performances feeling inspired and impressed.

PolySteel Band
No sweat! - PolySteel's horns section reveal themselves as nice and dry

However, whilst PolySteel are gaining major support from the ‘real' people who pay the money to attend the concerts, the contesting scene is seemingly not quite ready for some of Philip's more inventive ideas.
Whilst the band's performance was well received at Butlins, this programme was a little more mainstream than the integrated show displayed by the band at the 2005 Brass in Concert. On that occasion, Philip's impressive work Beyond the Tamar failed to impress the judges, despite containing every ingredient you would have thought was required to fair well at an entertainment contest.

PolySteel's entertainment recipe reaps the rewards in 2006

Revealing his thoughts on the performance Philip said: "My game plan at Brass in Concert was to gain full marks for entertainment. I knew PolySteel was not the best band on the platform but I knew it could match any band on entertainment. However, it all went pear shaped and now I am at a bit of a cross roads. So much effort went into that performance and when the band came off stage every player was really happy so it was very disappointing to not gain the reaction from the judges we had hoped for. All these compositions and arrangements take time so I am thinking about entertainment contests in 2006 and 2007 now. Whilst the reaction of the judges was disappointing last year, I am coming to realise I can't give up at the first hurdle and I still like the idea of an integrated programme."

The motivation of the band and MD will continue to drive it on with its passion to move the brass band genre into the mainstream music market and maybe, in time, sceptics may appreciate the work of PolySteel and Philip Harper as being vitally important to the survival of bands.

In the meantime, it's back to the bandroom for PolySteel with rehearsals for a series of high profile concerts, Yeovil contest, the Regional Championships, the Grand Shield, the All-England International Masters and the English Championships and whilst the contesting fortune of the band lies in the hands of the judges, the success of the band will continue to spiral as Philip and the band push the musical boundaries surrounding them.

Tabby Clegg


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