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A visit to a banding great — 4BR talks to Dr Roy Newsome

4BR Editor pays a visit to one of the great men of brass — Dr Roy Newsome — and his magical maiden, Muriel...

Roy Newsome
Helping future generations - and spot the famous faces too...

Strangely, I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s comment about the old Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee.

‘A modest man with much to be modest about’, he was supposedly heard to tell his adoring cronies in the House of Commons.

Roy NewsomeSo modest


Indeed he was – in between setting up the Welfare State, the National Health Service, safeguarding the great industries of post war Britain and freeing the outposts of Empire to embrace democracy that is….

So modest, the only display of his own importance was the setting up of a ticker tape machine in the office of 10 Downing Street so that he could be updated with the county championship cricket scores in between affairs of state.

Churchill’s misplaced observation comes to me as I look around Roy Newsome’s compact office tucked away in his home in Bury; a warm and welcoming bungalow he has shared throughout his remarkable life with Muriel – his ‘magical maiden’ as he calls her.

Unassuming trophy


There, on top of a shelf packed with neatly categorised CDs from bands from all over the world sits a very modest, unassuming trophy:

About six inches high, a bit battered and bruised, and polished with so much loving care the inscription is barely visible.

You can just about make out what it says: Elland Silver – National Fourth Section Champions 1958.

This, the only real display of personal achievement from perhaps the greatest brass band polymath of our time: Conductor, composer, arranger, musical director, band resident, broadcaster, author, adjudicator, teacher, lecturer, contest organiser, brass band visionary.

All that and much, much more – (five British Opens and a National to start with) - and it is all summed up in that little cup.

It’s a show of personal modesty; of integrity, which without doubt makes him one of the greatest men ever produced by the brass band world.

Gravely ill

My visit comes at a time when Roy Newsome is gravely ill – yet still he wishes to share his passion with those in a banding world he states, “…I’ve been so lucky to have been a small part of.”

Ian Brownbill and David King, as well as Adrienne, Lady Stewart, who has flown over from Australia to meet once more, someone she refers to as, ‘…a quite remarkable man of quite remarkable achievements’, are welcome visitors on the day too.


Newsome
The perfect team: Roy and Muriel meet Gordon Higginbottom

Mrs Newsome opens the front door and ushers us in to the front room, where ‘Get Well’ cards fight for space with each other.

Chuckles

She chuckles as she tells us that they must be the only people in Bury who have a postman who ‘…is like a dog with two tails’ as he unloads his heavy sack of post each morning at the door – his welcome burden lightened by the delivery of cards and letters from friends from all over the banding globe.

”He’s a trombone player with a local band. When he found out he was delivering to Roy he said it put a spring in his step.”

Those cards and flowers, almost hide the Newsome’s most recent show of personal pride – a few delicate snapshots of their first great – granddaughter.

Contrast

In an almost perfect contrast, on the opposite wall there is a black and white canvas print of a young man resplendent in band uniform; cornet clasped in hand, a perky smile beaming from beneath a band cap worn at a jaunty angle.

It’s of Roy Newsome, aged around 12, standing with undisguised pride in his Slaithwaite contest stage apparel.

It was a present to him on his recent 80th birthday from his beloved grandchildren. “He was tickled pink by it,” Muriel says.

Share


The remaining walls of 17 Belmont Drive are covered with banding memorabilia – yet few if any show off Roy Newsome’s immense personal achievements to the many hundreds of visitors who are welcomed to their home each year.

Instead they speak of a man wishing to share his love of brass bands.

Family pictures are intermingled with historic items recalling the great Besses o’ th’ Barn and Black Dyke bands.

Presentation plates from every corner of the globe jostle for room with mementoes - from a rare Black Dyke jug from the 1880s to beautiful Japanese porcelain figures, presented to him on one of his many pioneering visits to the country.

Newsome
The man at the helm - conducting Black Dyke at Whit Friday...

Paul McCartney


Tucked out of the eye line is a framed letter signed by none other than Paul McCartney, whilst in his study, the pictures of some of the great bands he conducted to success peer out from behind research files and books.

His piano keyboard is smothered in books and magazines, letters of thanks and requests for his help and expertise.

It is yet another reminder of just how many people he has helped over the years, as David King recalled.

“He once received a work from a young composer he didn’t know, who just sent it to Roy at Salford to see if he could have a look at.

“Being Roy he spent time on it, writing back with a full analysis of what he thought and some ideas of perhaps improving it, as well as a thank you for taking the time to send it to him!”

Black Dyke
Spot the Beatle...

The future

In the end I manage to spend some time listening to Dr Newsome both reminisce as well as give his opinions on what the future holds for his beloved brass band movement.

“I’ve been so lucky. It’s been a privilege to have been able to work with so many wonderful people and bands,” he says.

I sit back and listen, his razor sharp mind picking me up when I get a date wrong, thinking Elland won the Fourth Section title in 1957.

“It was 1958,” he quickly corrects me with a smile. “Wonderful people – we were treated like heroes when we returned home.”

Helping him

We cover his years with Black Dyke – “The best band I ever conducted” as well as his role in setting up the ground breaking university course at Salford and his time helping bands both great and small in every part of the banding world.

On each occasion he modestly refers to others as helping him – not the other way around.

Roy NewsopmePersonal pride

Both Muriel and Roy reserve their greatest show of personal pride for their joint association with the National Youth Band of Great Britain.

Roy was Musical Director for 14 years – following the footsteps of a personal hero in Dr Denis Wright, on whom he wrote a quite outstanding biography. 

“Even today we get adults coming up to us to then reveal who they were as children on those courses – and telling us just how much they enjoyed themselves,” Muriel says.

“They just want to thank Roy for what he did for them and how he enriched their lives through his love of music.”

Perplexed

Later, Roy reminds me however that there have been things that have worried and even perplexed him.

Among them are the relaxing of rules to allow professional musicians to play in amateur bands, and the way in which he believes bands need to return to high quality music making in entertainment contests rather than to continue to provide low quality visual spectacles.

”I think the decision to allow professionals in has opened the door that has led to the problems we have with bands hiring players to win contests today,” he says. “We need to encourage excellence from within the movement, not rely on buying it in.”

”Bands also need to get back to doing what they do best – playing good quality music at contests. Too many think of what they look like rather than what they sound like.”

Final thought

Time and topics fly by. He is exceptionally tired – but he calls me back to give me a final thought to leave with.

“I couldn’t have done any of the things I’ve done without Muriel. She’s been my magical maiden. That’s how lucky I’ve been.”

On the way home I’m reminded of Attlee again - a humble, modest man of great achievements – and so is Roy Newsome.

We may never see the like of him again.

Iwan Fox



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Phil Lawrence

ARCM PGRNCM MFTCL ARCM B.Mus.
Composer and conductor