Brass in Concert Gala Concert


Grimethorpe Colliery
Conductor: Phillip McCann
Conductor: Reid Gilje
Compere: Frank Renton

Saturday evening’s Gala Concert was anticipated to be a great feast of entertainment from the first note to the last, and with a packed out hall it was the chance for two of the main contenders to lay down their credentials for the contest the next day. 

Instead, we got a mismatch of almost epic proportions, as Eikanger swept Grimethorpe away with a display that at times was almost cruel in comparison. Remember that famous piece of football commentary when the Norwegians beat England in an important football game and their equivalent of John Motson lost the plot – “Mrs Thatcher – your lads took one hell of a beating…!”  Well Phillip McCann’s lads did here too.  

When the reigning English and National Champion, Grimethorpe, really turn it on, they’re absolutely captivating listening. When they don’t – and this was certainly an occasion when they didn’t, they can sound almost disinterested and distinctly average. 

Perhaps everyone was expecting too much of them on the night and whilst appreciating that Sunday was the priority, a quick glance at their programme before they had played a note may have given you an idea of where their minds lay.  

GrimethorpeThe concert opened with the march, Kelly’s ‘Arnhem’, (and always heard around Remembrance weekend) which was taken at a steady tempo, whilst Gordon Langford’s dated ‘Carmen Fantasy’ featuring a number of Bizet’s finest tunes made you wonder if the girl had been rolling Woodbines rather than top notch cigars on her dusky thighs – it wheezed along like a 60 a day pensioner.

Soprano Kevin Crockford and flugel, Andrew Holmes did however deliver a fine performance of  ‘Pie Jesu’ however, although again, this was Grimethorpe very much in second gear. Peter Graham’s popular ‘Gaelforce’ was performed in full of which the highlight was the enchanting ‘Minstrel Boy’, whilst Sandy Smith’s choreographed arrangement of Puccini’s ‘Humming Chorus’ was classy and showed that for a moment at least Grimey was back on top notch form.

Principal Trombone Richard Brown was fairly laid back in ‘Georgia on my Mind’ whilst last year’s solo award winner from the contest, Michael Dodd once again demonstrated his class paying homage to the locals with the unofficial Geordie’s anthem, ‘Blaydon Races’.

Jamie Cooper and Joe Murray, two of the band’s back row cornets, stepped forward to play, ‘The Water is Wide’  arranged by Andrew Duncan.

To close, the final section of Dean Jones’ ‘Glorifico Aeternum’ - music that has featured at the Brass in Concert weekend over the past two years and as an encore, Grimethorpe concluded the first half with Martin Armstrong, Bob Blackburn, Michael Dodd and Andrew Holmes leading the way in ‘The Irish Blessing’.

It was a mixed bag from Grimethorpe – with the band never extending itself beyond just what it needed to do – and that was all. There was genuine disappointment from members of the audience at the interval.  

With the sound of grumbles still in the air the audience settled back awaiting with interest, the performance of the Eikanger-Bjorsvik.

EikangerIt was back in January that Eikanger performed at the RNCM Festival of Brass in Manchester and delivered what was arguably the concert of the weekend - leaving the audience thrilled.  Ten months on, they did it again.

This was classy stuff, so well presented and with one or two exceptions, it was entertainment Norwegian style.

Peter Kitson’s arrangement of ‘Festive Overture’ was delivered with authority (and speed) and the band’s sound just filled the hall in a majestic manner with such precision and clarity of purpose and execution under the baton of Reid Gilje. 

Percussionists are well used to being featured in a concert but few get the opportunity to give a solo performance without any accompaniment.  That’s exactly what Oyvind Osknes did.  The piece was called 'Rebonds' and the work is for bongos, tom-toms, conga, bass drums and wooden blocks.

Here was a real showman. Oyvind was in total control and he had the ability to communicate to his audience through the complex rhythms of the work in a very engaging way. Along with the solo bass playing that was still to come, this way this reviewers highlight of the night.

Ferdinand ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton’s ‘Black Bottom Stomp’ was stunning in its execution as was the virtuoso playing of bass player Magnus Brandseth and the authentic Bix Beiderbecke rep player! 

In the programme the following item, ‘Absolut Magnus’ was dubbed as a ‘surprising musical treat’ and the end result was phenomenal bass playing with the soloist leaving the audience dumbstruck with his technique.  This treat should prove to be one of the highlights of the DVD from the weekend.

The bands final three numbers were featured recently as the band retained its SIDDIS title.  ‘Champagne Charlie’, a delightfully cheeky little number arranged by Svein Herik Giske - 'Chiquillin de Bachin', a song about a homeless boy who used to walk around a restaurant in Buenos Aries, cleverly arranged by Reid Gilje, and finally, some exquisite Spanish music in ‘El Camino Real’ - music from the pen of Alfred Reed arranged by the band’s soprano player, Frode Rydland.

For the encore (and the band could have played more than one to be honest such was the audience’s reception) the band performed a cracking work which in English translates to ‘Angel of Death’. On this occasion it was most apt as they had killed off Grimethorpe.

Frank Renton was on great form building a friendly, warm rapport with the audience (especially once he’d started giving out the football updates from Israel for those interested) and so were the Eikanger-Bjorsvik.  It was a pleasure to hear them on this type of form.

The Norwegians may not have taken the title the following day but they made many friends during the night and will no doubt be welcomed back with open arms to the North East by anyone who heard them both during this concert and the following day. As for Grimethorpe – this was a bit of a wake up call.

Malcolm Wood