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A Musical Tribute to Eccles Borough Band's Shining Stars

Brass banding is a unique community. Now I know you may be thinking it is similar to being in a choir or an orchestra, but I would strongly argue that it isn’t. We can get caught up in contests and results and all that (and I say this with respect) crap. But that isn’t what brass banding should be about. It is about music, yes. But again, this (in my opinion) is not the main purpose of brass banding. Instead, it is what is born out of this music-making, which is so much more. 

The band room is an environment where music is made, but, more importantly it is where friendships are formed and grow. The Eccles Borough Band room has been the greenhouse where I have been lucky enough to plant and grow many friendships - and this is a fact that I will be forever grateful. It is a special place that I had the privilege to share with so many wonderful people, who I still have so much love for. 

Over the last few weeks, Eccles Borough Band lost two shining stars in its musical firmament - Simon Scholes and Dr Andrew Wright. You can search the length and the breadth of the brass banding world and you will struggle to find two banders who embody exactly what brass bands should be about as much as these two wonderful people. I’m not a talented enough wordsmith to be able to sum up just how brilliant both Simon and Andy were, both as people and musicians; to be honest,I’m not sure the right words exist in the English language to successfully illustrate what it was like to have known them. All I can say is that it was a privilege to have been able to call them both friends and I - alongside so many others, of that I am sure - are sad and angry that they were taken from us far, far too soon. 

On Saturday 20th January 2024, Eccles Borough Band held their New Year concert with many items paying tribute to the lives of both Simon and Andy. To Mareika Gray and the band, you have my utmost admiration, respect and love. As a former member of Eccles Borough Band, I am no stranger to programmes curated Marieka, so it is no surprise that she created a one for such a special concert that could not have been more perfect - it provided opportunities to both reflect with tears and remember with smiles the memories we shared of Andy and Simon. The accompanying presentation that was displayed on a screen, created by the band’s soprano cornet and all-round tech whizz, Graham Ebbrell, included exquisitely-timed photos of Simon and Andy with the band throughout the concert, which was incredibly moving and triggered so many fantastic memories. 

The entire concert from start to finish was incredible, but there were a few key moments from this special event that I really want to share with you.

Over the Rainbow - Sammy Latus

Sammy Latus the band’s solo horn player performed a thoughtful rendition of Over the Rainbow, which provided a moment of teary reflection for myself and, I’m certain, many others sitting in Eccles Town Hall on Saturday afternoon. Sammy’s gorgeous tone and emotive musicality in the beautiful acoustics of Eccles Town Hall, alongside the poignancy of the concert’s theme, made this performance incredibly moving. 

Threnody and Faith - Debbie Giles

Debbie Giles had the task of performing not one, but two solos during the event - Ben Hollings’ ‘Threnody’ and Philip Harper’s arrangement of the George Michael hit, ‘Faith’. Debbie’s rendition of ‘Threnody’ was simply stunning and was a beautifully moving moment. 

However, it was her performance of ‘Faith’ that was the showstopper. During the days of Covid, Eccles Borough Band created one of the ‘socially distanced’ videos that many brass bands created when we couldn't perform together. Eccles’ Musical Director, Mareika Gray, had the idea of playing this video on a screen in the background with the band performing the track, in sync, live. An ambitious feat, but if there is a group of people that could pull this off it is the Eccles Borough Band. It was a wonderful moment with both virtual and live bands and soloists perfectly in sync, including Simon performing on stage in video form. 

For those of you who haven’t seen the original video - you must, so here it is:

MacArthur Park

The arrangement of MacArthur Park made famous by Grimethorpe Colliery Band at the 2008 Brass in Concert competition is loved by people across the banding world and it has been one of my top ten pieces of all time since I first heard it. Now, this piece will hold an even bigger part of my heart after watching Eccles’ performance at the weekend. 

Anyone who has played this arrangement will know how difficult it is and there is no other word to describe the band’s performance of this piece on Saturday other than - EPIC. Graham when you hit that note at the end - my jaw was on the floor - bloody brilliant!

As the band played this piece, alongside the memories of Andy and Simon, I had a thought… 

As banders, we have something special, even in the saddest of times. 

To not just have the ability to express grief or pay tribute to the lives of friends in words, but through music is something truly remarkable and I can only imagine how members of the band must have felt playing pieces that were so emotive or triggered wonderful memories of Simon and Andy. Even as a listener on Saturday, alongside a large number of other banders who were also sitting in the audience, Eccles Band’s music brought tears, smiles and even laughter triggered by happy memories of the musicians this concert paid tribute to. 

Music holds the power to encapsulate what cannot be conveyed in words and is capable of keeping the spirit and memory of those we love alive forever. 

Whether it was the vivid energy within the band’s performance of MacArthur Park or the emotion of the occasion or a bit of both, I don’t know, but as the band played and the music swelled towards the ending I (in my minds eye) could see both Andy and Simon, as clear as day, in their respective places on the stage playing with the band. Such is the power of music. 

Whenever I hear or play this piece of music and any others I am lucky enough to be able to associate with memories of Simon and Andy, there they will be. 

The concert may be over, but that doesn’t mean that the loss felt by Eccles Borough Band has diminished. I’m not great at articulating my feelings verbally, but I hope I can succeed through writing. 

Here goes. 

To every member of Eccles Borough Band who happens to read this, I hope your outstanding performance at the weekend has brought an element of catharsis during this sad time and I send all of my love with you as you try to heal from your loss. Nothing and no one will replace the two shining stars you have lost, but your music, your memories and your stories of Simon and Andy and every wonderful thing that makes Eccles Borough Band such a special place will allow them to live on and no matter which stage you are on, they will always be there with you.

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