2007 4BR Awards - 4BR Special Award Peter Roberts


The 2007 4BR Special Award goes to Peter Roberts, the greatest soprano cornet player in the history of the brass band movement.

PETERAnd so there will be no more gasps of astonishment, wry smiles of disbelief or the collective shaking of heads from amazed audiences at brass band contest and concert halls around the world.  Peter Roberts is to retire. 

The news that the greatest soprano player ever to put instrument to lips is to call it a day comes as a major surprise, given that he is still performing at a level of consistent brilliance that is hard to imagine let alone attain. How we are going to miss him.

The reasoning from the man himself is that he felt, at the age of 57, that its best to finish at the very top at a time when he knew he was still playing as well as ever. But 57?

Perhaps he is right though. As a player he has nothing left to prove; no more awards or contests to win that haven’t been won numerous times before, no test pieces or solos that he hasn’t mastered, no need in fact, to put his glorious reputation on the line just to be able to once again jump through the pyrotechnical hoops modern composers now feel is de-rigeur on a contest stage.  57 and still at his peak it is then. 

He will take his final bow with Black Dyke later this year as the finest soprano player of all time: Better than all the rest. Better than the true greats of the instrument such as his modern contemporaries Alan Wycherley and Kevin Crockford; better than the greats that preceded him such as Emlyn Bryant, David Jones, Brian Evans and even Charlie Cook. Better than any soprano player to come in the future too perhaps.  

And don’t just take my word for it either. Roger Webster called him “…an inspiration to me and thousands more. The Godfather of the sopranos”; James Scott “…a truly great brass player”; David King, “…a living legend,”; Elgar Howarth “…a great player and a great bandsman.” 

It has been a reputation that once earned has never ever been in danger of being lost for the Yorkshireman. Being brought up through the hardest of all hard schools under the tutelage of the great George Thompson at Grimethorpe provided him with the foundations to his playing life that have remained in place ever since.

As a result there has been a single minded determination about him to ensure that he made the most of the opportunity playing a brass instrument has given him. He has seen the world, played at some of the greatest concert halls that have ever been built and has gained a legion of fans many opera stars would be envious of. 

It has also given him a voracious appetite for self improvement, not just as a player but as a musician too. The former miner with limited educational opportunities is now the proud holder of a BA honours degree and LRSM. He has also become a respected teacher and perceptive adjudicator, a new branch to his talents that will surely grow in the coming years.  

His lasting legacy though will be that he totally changed the perception of the soprano cornet as a solo voice within the brass band. In fact, he has totally changed the perception of the soprano cornet as a brass instrument full stop. The way in which composers now write for the instrument both as a solo voice and as part of the ensemble is down to him. 

He has set the bar higher than anyone could have imagined when he started playing the instrument in 1963. The soprano players union owe him a huge debt of gratitude, even if the expectations of what mere mortal players are now expected to perform is perhaps beyond only a handful of its members currently plying their trades at the very highest level.   

That pursuit of excellence has meant that he has had the odd ‘run in’ now and again with some bands he has played in, and many stories of him have reached the status of urban myth.  However, it has been his performances that have at times reached legendary proportions. He has won major contests for bands, at times through his efforts alone.

In particular the European brass band audiences loved him - the air of anticipation when he took to the stage with YBS and Black Dyke in recent years at the contest (and memorable Gala Concerts performances) has been electric, the results invariably just as thrilling. 

Perhaps the final word of appreciation should come from one of his great friends and playing rivals Alan Wycherley who said that Peter remains one of his great idols. “I have nothing but ultimate respect for the man. What he has achieved has been phenomenal – not just at the major competitions, but week in week out, year in year out, every rehearsal and job with every band he has ever played with. He has never been anything other than brilliant. That is what has made him stand out from the rest. That’s why he’s been the best.”   There’s nothing more to add really.

Iwan Fox

This tribute first appeared in British Bandsman newspaper on November 23rd 2007


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