As all of us closely involved with the movement know, charity events have been a cornerstone of brass band activity for many years, with concerts in aid of a variety diverse causes taking place on an almost weekly basis.
Yet the resounding success of Brass Band Aid has taken that charitable spirit to a whole new level.
Organised with admirable and indefatigable dedication by former Virtuosi GUS baritone player, arranger and composer Andrew Wainwright, this was the second time that the Brass Band Aid Celebrity Band has convened to raise funds for Salvation Army projects in Zambia.
The first concert in November 2009 raised over £3,000 to support schooling and hospital projects as well as the formation of a brass band at Livingstone Salvation Army Corps near Victoria Falls.
Consequently it was heartening to be part of a packed Salvation Army Hall in Kettering as the succession of brass band celebrities and ‘glitterazzi’ that had been assembled for the occasion took to the stage under the direction of Stephen Cobb.
With the likes Raf van Looveren, Tom Hutchinson, Helen and Glyn Williams, Owen Farr, Katrina Marzella, Chris Thomas, Chris Jeans, Steve Sykes and Phil Goodwin around the stands, this really was a band that read like a ‘Who’s Who’ with the largely light but varied programme giving ample scope for the players to shine both individually and collectively.
With trombones arched around the back of the band, it was John Williams’ ‘Olympic Fanfare and Theme’ that got proceedings off to a stirring conclusion, the mood then calmed by Andrew Wainwright’s arrangement of the ‘Agnus Dei’ from Karl Jenkins ‘The Armed Man’, played with emotion but a refreshing absence of cloying sentimentality.
A bracing romp through Glinka’s Overture to ‘Russlan and Ludmilla’ revealed the powerful yet controlled sound of the band in all its glory, although also highlighting the difficulties presented by the lively acoustic of the Hall, which was perhaps more beneficial to the slower numbers on the night.
Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s ‘Vitae Aeternum’ brought the epic first half to a rousing conclusion, with the sound from the middle of the band and David Thornton’s magnificently soaring euphonium line in the slow movement making a striking impression.
Guest vocal soloist Lucy Rhodes was BBC Choirgirl of the Year in 2002, although over the intervening eleven years has blossomed into a talented and on this occasion, magnificently bedecked artist with a multitude of TV credits to her name.
Of her four numbers, it was the two with band accompaniment, Ennio Morricone’s ‘Nella Fantasia’ and ‘Hope’, a setting of words by Nelson Mandela, that carried the greater musical presence, both being given touching renditions and benefiting from excellent arrangements by Andrew Wainwright.
To choose a highlight from the array of soloists would be an impossible task.
The technical dexterity of Chris Thomas in ‘The Bluebells of Scotland’, the dulcet tones of Helen Williams on flugel in ‘Share my Yolk’, the exquisite musicianship and warmth of sound displayed by Katrina Marzella in ‘Pequena Czarda’ and the quite staggering pyrotechnics of Glyn Williams and David Thornton in Peter Graham’s ‘Brillante’ were all hallmarks of performances out of the very top drawer, whilst Steve Sykes had the audience eating out of his hand (not to mention singing along) in his own witty arrangement of ‘El Cumbanchero’.
Owen Farr’s stunning playing of his own arrangement of the Finale from Haydn’s ‘Cello Concerto’ was quite remarkable, although it was a shame that the acoustic of the hall and the sound of the band conspired to mask some of the intricate detail.
Henry Goffin’s brilliantly uplifting ‘The Red Shield’ allowed Stephen Cobb and the band to give a model demonstration in the art of march playing to open the second half with the cornets then taking centre stage for some impressively accurate playing in ‘Hora Staccato’; not bad on the back of one brief rehearsal during the afternoon!
The mellifluous tones of John Rutter’s moving ‘Distant Land’, music that takes its inspiration from Nelson Mandela, were heightened by the images and words displayed on the large screen above the band with a one hundred meter dash through Kabalevsky’s ‘Galop’ from ‘The Comedians’ forming the precursor to the two blockbuster finishers of ‘Dundonnell’ from Philip Sparke’s ‘Hymn of the Highlands’ and Randy Edelman’s ‘Reunion and Finale from Gettysburg’.
With local lad Gary Fountain in superlative form in ‘Dundonell’ and proving once again that he is one of the very best soprano players in the country, it just left an encore of Widor’s majestic ‘Toccata’, flying by the seat of its pants at times, but all the more exciting for it.
At nearly three hours long, no one could complain that the ticket price of £10 wasn’t a bargain for entertainment of this quality let alone the worth of its cause, although less chat from compere Martyn Baker in between numbers might have been welcomed in some quarters.
Of the playing though there were no doubts.
These were star performers that can justifiably be described as ambassadors for the brass band movement.
The fact that they were giving up their time freely only added to the worthiness of the occasion on what proved to be a memorable evening.