Leyland Band and Brisbane Excelsior Band


Conductors: Russell Gray and Howard Taylor
Manchester Chorale,
Conductor: Lesley Kavanagh
Manchester Cathedral
Saturday 3rd June

LeylandThis was one of those concerts for whom those in attendance won't forget in a hurry. For the players of Leyland and Brisbane Excelsior bands will remember the night when the National Champions of Great Britain and Australia joined forces, giving the audience a night that was extremely enjoyable and entertaining and worthy of their respective titles.

You only had to look at the faces of the players from 'Down Under' as they were sat amongst the National Champions; they felt proud and privileged to be in such company. A tour to the UK with an opportunity to perform at a major contest is one thing - to play with a band such as Leyland and look at the National Trophy, is another. 

Both bands were in very good form and really enjoyed the acoustic of the Cathedral. With the audience sat very close, it occasionally felt like the bands were in your living room, none more so than in the massed band items at the end, but that made for a much more intimate atmosphere - not something that usually occurs in the vast spaces of such a building.

The hosts kicked off the evening's music (after the National Anthem) with Rodney Newton's 'Gaudette' followed by the operatic aria, 'On with the Motley', delivered in an impressive manner by soprano, Ian Twiss. One of Leyland's recent CD recordings is of hymn tunes, the title track being an arrangement by Goff Richards entitled 'Hymns of Praise', performed here in the presence of the composer.

Joining the band on the CD was Manchester Chorale and this concert was an ideal opportunity for the two ensembles to reunite with the chorale ensemble having their own spot during the concert. 

Three hymns were performed: 'O for a Thousand Tongues', 'Great is Thy Faithfulness' and 'Eternal Father, Strong to Save' – the latter featuring the cornets from Brisbane performing the familiar fanfare to the Naval hymn.

Music from the pen of Leroy Anderson entitled 'Fiddle Faddle' was polished in no time at all and the band rounded off their contribution with an arrangement by the band's Dave Timmins of 'Dance of the Buffoons'.  Prior to this, Principal Euphonium, Brenden Wheeler produced arguably the finest bit of playing of the whole night in an arrangement by Frode Rydland entitled 'Michaelangelo'.  Brenden revelled in playing in front of his former band from his homeland and produced a delightful lyrical sound that was so well controlled within the acoustic of the cathedral.

BrisbaneThe bright sound of the Brisbane Excelsior Band was in evidence as they opened their segment of the concert with Paul Drury's 'Jubilee' before remaining in an up-tempo mood with Sandy Smith's arrangement of 'Valero'.

Barrie Gott is of course well known to brass bands for his arrangements and compositions and XCLR featured Julie Woods and Brad Hosking as vocalists in music entitled 'Australians in Song'; popular songs from their homeland with the whole piece commencing courtesy of a didgeridoo.

Finally, three euphoniums and an Eb Bass combined to perform a delightful arrangement of 'All The Things You Are'; very different to see these combinations perform together, but the balance of the quartet was excellent. Leyland's bass section then gave an impromptu rendition of the 'Radetzky March' whilst the additional chairs were added so that the two ensembles could perform together.

The eclectic set of repertoire commenced with the 'Irish Blessing', the obligatory march, 'The Champions', and a stirring performance of Eric Ball's 'The Kingdom Triumphant', after which, everybody joined in with Parry's 'Jerusalem', before the bands encored with the 'Radetzky March'.

Brisbane's conductor, Howard Taylor not only commented during the concert that he hopes the band can come back to the UK very soon, but that the bands can combine once again.

It wouldn't be a surprise if the bands join together soon as friendships were made on the night that won't be forgotten.  The amount of work behind the scenes in preparation for the concert by Mareika and Russell Gray certainly paid off and it was a great night for friendship through music to come together. Well done to everyone for a great night of music making.

Malcolm Wood

Brisbane Excelsior, almost 100 years old, 2005 and 2006 National Champions of Australia have travelled to England for an historical tour. 

Some of us find it hard to understand what motives a musical organisation to attain such heights. Brisbane Excelsior has been fund raising for over 12 long months to achieve one of their most challenging targets, to contest in the All England International Masters and to perform concerts in Great Britain. The final concert being with National Champions, The Leyland Band, in Manchester Cathedral.

To raise the $140,000 is considered by many an almost unachievable goal -Brisbane Excelsior literally flogged themselves, seeking high profile and high paying jobs, making cd's, selling cd's, even selling the good old Australian sausages at a ‘sausage sizzle" and for most, going to bed each night wondering what their target had reached – all to "be in England".   During this fundraiser they still managed to retain their Australian National Title for 2006 and then it was off to England.

Mareika Gray, wife of Leyland conductor, Russell Gray, and former member of the band fully realises what is involved both with contesting and fund raising to take a band to a contest in Australia.  When she was a member of the band their biggest target was to fund raise and take the band from Brisbane to Melbourne for the Australian National, (something that no Queensland band had done in nearly 40 years!) and in those days funds could not stretch to afford jackets to ward off the winter chills of Melbourne. When asked by a superbly attired competing New Zealand Band member why they didn't have a full uniform, her response was; "We don't really need them – we are from Queensland".  Geographically we are talking 1,000km north to south, but we all have our pride. 

Funding and lack of sponsorship affects all musical organisations, no matter how hard they work.  Hard work is what it is........we all just keep on trying, don't we?

The Leyland Band in recent years had suffered lack of sponsorship and had been pondering seriously on their direction for the future, even considering the drastic thought of calling it a day. The future did not look bright.  However, Russell Gray was appointed Musical Director and a combined effort has set them on the path to recovery.  Russell's relationship with the band is not a recent one, having been principle cornet of the band for around 10 years.  The band is now growing stronger by the day, and have successfully regained a stronger concert schedule, and gained back local support. Leyland Band is currently celebrating their 60th year, and the future now looks bright.  In 2005, the Leyland band won the title of British National champions; a title they do not take for granted and makes them stronger from within. 

Bands all over the world suffer hardships, celebrate victories and ward off the seed of doubt over their existence.  But no matter where a bandsman travels to in the world, you can rock up to the local bandroom and feel welcome.  Long lasting friendship are made in countries where language and culture are different, but music bridges the gap. 

Great Britain has warmly welcomed visiting bands over the years, and Brisbane Excelsior is no exception.  They received smiles and praise for their efforts in travelling all this way to meet the bandsman of Great Britain, and of course show that the Aussie banding movement is strong down under.  

Marieka Gray