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A postcard Stamp to Grimethorpe
Jack Stamp and his love for British brass bands

A slow burning catalyst appreciation of the sound of British brass bands has linked American composer and conductor Jack Stamp with Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

Composer Dr Liz Lane talks to Dr Jack Stamp (above), Grimethorpe Band International Composer-in-Association to find out more about the North American conductor, composer and lecturer’s long awaited new work ‘Handsel Overture’,  as well as his plans for an upcoming CD, massed band camaraderie, and playing the triangle with the Lake Wobegon Band (USA) on a miniature train in Yorkshire…


Jack Stamp’s appreciation of British brass bands goes back to a visit to the UK in 1996.  

However, it was a catalyst that took a little time to flourish as his academic work took him in different directions. It wasn’t until he retired in 2015 that he was able to reignite an interest that has since become a passion. 

British music and musical culture, and in particular the brass band medium has long inspired his own composition. 

British sound

Revealing what he thought was ‘British sounding’ he replied; “I’m not talking about necessarily a timbre, but an approach which is modal, folk-based. 

In some ways the counterpoint is somewhat choral-like, and I tend to think that there’s a wholesomeness in the British sounding piece; that nationalism - a characteristic sound that we as Americans tried to emulate but with an ‘American’ kind of approach.” 

I tend to think that there’s a wholesomeness in the British sounding piece; that nationalism - a characteristic sound that we as Americans tried to emulate but with an ‘American’ kind of approach.

He adds: “And we did that quite well, but I think it was because there were no famous British composers from the Romantic period, like Elgar (below) and Vaughan Williams who looked inwards.

That’s why there was such a resurgence of folk music, nationalism and that type of thing to create their own concert music - but that’s the music I love.”

Manipulation of sound

So what is it about the brass band timbre that appeals?

“There’s a certain type of manipulation of sound. The challenge of writing for brass band is trying to change the timbres, using mutes, the grouping of instruments and then the use of percussion.

I try to use that colour combined with certain textures to kind of create another timbre." 

You’ve got the depth and you’ve got the meat if you wanted to really go, but the challenge for me is to not just create textural differences as far as the combination of instruments, but also timbral differences

He adds: "The bottom line is that you don’t have any highs except the soprano cornet, and that’s not that high.

You’ve got the depth and you’ve got the meat if you wanted to really go, but the challenge for me is to not just create textural differences as far as the combination of instruments, but also timbral differences.”

Percussion roots

Jack recently returned to his roots as a percussionist by joining the Lake Wobegon Brass Band, whose mission statement is to promote British brass band music throughout the Midwest of the United States. 

He has certainly enjoyed the experience, especially on their UK tour of Cornwall and Yorkshire in 2022. That started at the famous Bugle ‘Bandsmans’ Contest’ and included many of his arrangements and compositions, including ‘Psalm 150 for organ and brass band’  with Philip Wilby at the organ played at a concert with Black Dyke Band at Ripon Cathedral. 

Notoriety

However, at a concert at Newby Hall Gardens he achieved what he called the “unbelievable notoriety” of being viewed over half a million times on social media, due to a publicity stunt involving a performance of R.B. Hall’s ‘New Colonial’  march on its miniature train.

“I thought the rain was going chug along,” he recalled, “but it was really fast.” 

He continued: “They wanted everyone from the band on the train so I’m riding backwards, facing a tenor horn player playing the triangle (he had written a special part). Suddenly, I see her eyes get huge and she leans her head forward and I realise there’s a tunnel coming!”

Suddenly, I see her eyes get huge and she leans her head forward and I realise there’s a tunnel coming!

Luckily, he also ducked, and the result was worldwide social media fame. “The echo in the tunnel was unbelievable –and then we went around again. I thought it sounded amazingly good and as a publicity stunt it was perfect!” 
  

Camaraderie

The final tour concert was a massed band event with Grimethorpe Colliery Band at Pontefract Town Hall, featuring the premiere of his ‘Handsel Overture’,  which had been postponed due to the Covid-19 hiatus.

It was a memorable occasion for Jack – one that reinforced his love for British banding even more. 

“There was an immediate connection and respect between the two bands with the Grimethorpe players helping us carry our equipment upstairs to the stage. That said a great deal on what was a busy weekend for them. It was a wonderful show of camaraderie.”

That said a great deal on what was a busy weekend for them. It was a wonderful show of camaraderie.

Grimethorpe Band Manager Richard Windle later said that the band was delighted to have welcomed their American visitors.

“They were a great bunch of people – so friendly. They were also so well prepared and determined to put on a great show with us - which they did. Jack’s ‘Handsel Overture’  was a real highlight – and took some playing!  The audience response told us all just how much they enjoyed it too.”

Mutual respect

For Jack, that meant such a great deal.

“That mutual respect was something special. We felt like equal partners and the concert had a synergy we perhaps didn’t expect. There was no competitiveness because we know we can suck as bad as anybody, but Grimethorpe’s response to us as friends and as a band was incredible.

They made us feel as if they were just having a good time making music with us.”


Making friends

That was something picked up on by Grimethorpe’s star flugel player Mark Walters.

“We all got on straightaway – there was no bravado or showing off. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was enthralled listening to a band playing new stuff so well. It was a concert about making friends and making great music – and Jack and his colleagues were that and more.”

RNCM Brass Band Festival

Despite retirement, Jack Stamp maintains a busy worldwide musical schedule. After the UK tour he was studio producing in the USA before returning for the delayed premiere of his ‘Unseen Wings: A Churchill Portrait’  with the Eynsford Concert Band, a dramatic work with narration about the life and times of Sir Winston Churchill. He then led the Mississippi River Brass Band on tour in Germany. 

He has since returned again to conduct Grimethorpe in concert and has stayed to hear the band perform his work, ‘Vociferation’  at the RNCM Brass Band Festival this weekend in Manchester.

He has since returned again to conduct Grimethorpe in concert and has stayed to hear the band perform his work, ‘Vociferation’  at the RNCM Brass Band Festival this weekend in Manchester.

Postcard to Grimethorpe

He will then lead their major CD project entitled, ‘Postcard to Grimethorpe’, featuring music written for the band over its history - including amongst others, works by Robert Bernat, Ben Gaunt, David Hackbridge Johnson and Edward Gregson (which will also be heard at the RNCM on the weekend).

It will also feature the first digital recording of Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Grimethorpe Aria’  with a release expected later in the year.

As a young conductor of brass bands in the 1980’s, I never thought I would have the opportunity to link with British bands in this way and in particularly with Grimethorpe.

The project further reinforces Jack Stamp’s love of the British brass band tradition and his desire to help the next generation of young composers.

“I feel a responsibility if they come to me and want to talk to me about composing – to give them the time because that’s what composers gave to me.”

No time to waste

He does however have a very specific ethos: “My wind band work allows me sometimes to talk to student. I do say though that I’ll take you and I won’t charge you anything unless you waste my time. And if you waste my time then we’re done.”

There is no time to waste though with Grimethorpe Colliery Band, with the 30th anniversary of the Colliery closure seeing their creative team planning an exciting collaborative project, entitled, ‘Song of Coal’  to ‘reflect, remember, preserve history and look to the future’. 

It resonates with Jack’s love of the brass band medium.

“As a young conductor of brass bands in the 1980’s, I never thought I would have the opportunity to link with British bands in this way and in particularly with Grimethorpe.

It's a dream come true. I am so honoured to have this opportunity to make a meaningful contribution.”

Dr Liz Lane



Dr Liz Lane is  Composer in Association with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band and Composer in Residence with Lydbrook Band in the Forest of Dean.

Her music has been performed throughout the UK and abroad, including Europe, USA and Japan, and in venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Fairfield Halls Croydon, Barcelona Cathedral and even under the wings of Concorde at Aerospace Bristol.

Her composition 'Beyond the Light' will be performed by Grimethorpe Colliery Band at the 2023 RNCM Brass Band Festival alongside Jack Stamp's 'Vociferation'. 

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