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Review: Pemberton Band Gala Concert with Glyn and Helen Williams

An Evening with Cory Legends and Wigan’s Regional Qualifiers

Well, as a proud ‘Wiganer’ I’ve had a lovely weekend witnessing the talents of my hometown. Having watched the mighty Wigan Warriors rugby league team thrash their opponents on Friday night, on Saturday I was treated to an evening of fantastic music from the fantastic Pemberton A Band and their guest soloists from the Cory Band, Glyn and Helen Williams.

Directed by their charismatic and endlessly energetic guest conductor, John Doyle (who set the band an incredibly challenging, yet well-executed programme) the Pemberton Band put on a brilliant gala concert following their inaugural solo contest. 

First Half: From Cossacks to Nightingales

The band’s guest conductor for the evening, John Doyle, announced at the beginning of the concert that this was to be a programme of two halves with the first being more traditional works and the second being filled with more (in his words) “fun” repertoire. From my seat in the audience, this programme was a brilliant balance between classic brass band repertoire and contemporary pieces, with a sprinkling of brilliant solo offerings, superbly led and compèred by John. 

The Cossack by William Rimmer

The band opened the show with the classic brass band march, The Cossack by William Rimmer. A regular favourite at the Whit Friday marches, this was a rousing opener with a great sound from all players around the stand. 

The Corsair by Berlioz arr. By Geoffrey Brand

In traditional brass band form, the band followed with an overture, which was The Corsair by Berlioz. It was a fiendishly difficult piece that showed off both the technical and musical skills of the band. There was a beautiful duet moment from the band’s Flugel, Joanne Johnson and new Principal Cornet, Megan Newbery, as well as fantastic offerings from the trombone section (who definitely had eaten their Weetibix today - more on that later) and backrow cornets, whose efforts towards the end of the piece did not go unnoticed! This whirlwind of a piece had all the drama you would expect from Berlioz and was a great taster of what was to come. 

The Nightingale by Harold Moss

We were then treated to a fantastic rendition of Harold Moss’ ‘The Nightingale’ from the band’s Principal Cornet, Megan Newbery. This characterful polka for cornet was brilliantly executed with a great balance of jaunty style and melodious sound from Megan, sympathetically accompanied by the band. It’s a piece that sounds simple only with the application of great technique and musicality, which Megan provided in abundance.

Now, it was this next piece that made me question if John Doyle had hacked into my Spotify account, as (from this point) many pieces chosen are some of my absolute favourites!

Amazing Grace arranged by William Himes

Amazing Grace is a piece that has been covered and arranged by many artists and ensembles, but I’m willing to argue that William Himes’ arrangement for brass band is the setting this piece was meant for - no other arrangement moves me more. Having played this piece many times in my banding career, tuning, long-notes and balance are always tricky elements to achieve within this piece, but Pemberton managed it effortlessly. Special mention to the back row cornets who started this piece off wonderfully. As the band’s sound grew, it was a real demonstration of the musical form we’re best known for - the humble hymn tune - but elevated to a beautiful performance full of heart (and well-balanced dynamics). 

Blue Rondo a la Turk by Dave Brubeck 

From the serene tones of ‘Amazing Grace’ we were then treated to the lively jazz standard, Blue Rondo à la Turk by Dave Brubeck. Another one of my absolute favourites. This piece isn’t easy thanks to its irregular time signatures and jazzy solo offerings. The band was led by the driving force that was Adam Roby on kit. When we hit the jazz section of the piece, Megan’s performance on cornet was suave and effortlessly smooth and Joanne’s on flugel was classy with a punch of character. However, it was the trombones who stole the spotlight in this piece for me. Their offering had all the style and charisma of Gene Kelly - rhythmic, with bags of personality with a laid-back air that was just oh-so-cool.

A Little Star Went Out by Philip Harper

It was time for the first guest soloist of the evening, Helen Williams, to take to the stage. Helen chose to perform ‘A Little Star Went Out’ from the pen of Philip Harper for the Cory Band’s 2016 Roald Dahl-themed Brass in Concert set. A beautiful, yet melancholic piece that was used in the original set to illustrate the sadness caused by the loss of the author’s daughter Olivia - it’s on my bucket list of pieces to play, so it was a fantastic experience listening to one of banding’s finest and most-respected flugel players perform it. 

Helen’s incredible musicality and stunning tone was displayed in full-effect during this performance and was a fine demonstration of why she is a world-renowned player performing in one of Britain’s finest brass bands. It was a fantastic performance with subtle, yet fantastically executed dynamic changes between both band and soloist with the tenderness that reflected the subject matter so emotively. 

Resurgam by Eric Ball

As if I wasn’t sweaty-eyed enough after Helen’s performance, I was then blessed with a live performance of one of my all-time favourite pieces, Eric Ball’s ‘Resurgam’. This was one of the pieces in the programme that made me stop writing and just close my eyes (sipping on a cheeky glass of wine from the bandroom’s bar - lovely!) and enjoy this fantastic work for brass band (it doesn’t get better than that for a brass band geek). 

The programme had already been taxing for the band before this point, but to turn out a test piece at the end of the first half of a concert - I can only applaud the players around the stand. It was brilliantly performed without a hint of fatigue. Shout-out to Principal Cornet Megan Newbery and Nick Giles on Solo euphonium for stunning solo efforts that made me glad I put on waterproof mascara. 

It’s always a treat to hear this work live and I was so grateful it was on the programme.

Second Half: Dances and Meditations

Equilibrium by Jonathan Bates

Following the interval, it was time for a world premiere from the pen of Jonathan Bates. Written for Pemberton Band in 2020, the piece is based on the notion of two contrasting forces operating against each other, such as: loud vs quiet, short vs long and tonal vs atonal, before gradually cancelling each other out to create a musical equilibrium. Listening to this piece reminded me of works by Michael Giacchino - atmospheric, yet rhythmic and lively. Again, a challenging piece that the band negotiated well, creating a powerhouse of sound in the ensemble moments, where the lower end of the band really gave it some gusto. 

A Time for Peace by Peter Graham

Taken from his test piece, ‘The Essence of Time’, ‘A Time for Piece’ is an adapted version of the main theme for Solo Horn. It is, heart-warming, hymn-like piece that was performed beautifully by the band’s solo horn, Sam Watts (who was celebrating a win at the Solo Contest held during the day). It was a brief moment of calm before we were thrown back into the lively offerings of the evening’s programme. 

Valero by Sandy Smith

Originally written by James Swearingen and arranged by Sandy Smith, this fiery latin number is an absolute cracker of a concert item (and another one of my favourites). With a brilliant flugel interlude (such good fun to play!) and executed with sass by Joanne Johnson, this was the first piece where you could see the band let their hair down after the traditional repertoire in this programme with lively percussion that made you feel like you were sipping a mojito on a beach in Havana. 

Nightingale Dances by Matthew Hall

The fantastic tunes kept coming with Matthew Hall’s cinematic ‘Nightingale Dances’. It’s a brilliant work that features the tune ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ in various dance styles including a lively quickstep and a flirtatious paso-doblé. The full flair of the band was displayed with the energy of a broadway soundtrack.

Grandfather’s Clock arranged by George Doughty

A classic euphonium solo performed by one of the best euphonium soloists in the world. This performance highlighted Glyn’s technical as well as melodic playing with virtuosic panache. The speed in which he took the last variation was beyond awe-inspiring -  my jaw was on the floor. The band’s accompaniment was subtle - complimentary without overshadowing. Absolutely incredible playing. 

Meditation from Triumph of Time by Peter Graham

Another adaptation from a major work by Peter Graham, this time from ‘The Triumph of Time’ written for the Black Dyke Band in 2014 and chosen as the test piece for the 2016 British Open. 

This is a stunning, romantic duet, originally written for flugel and baritone, but in this performance, Glyn Williams performed the baritone part on euphonium. The piece opens with a beautiful melody taken from the test piece, which Helen performed with beautiful emotive lyricism, before it was reciprocated by Glyn with equal melodic empathy. It was a lovely performance with two high-calibre musicians joining together to create a stunning musical synergy that seemed autonomous, instinctive, even - just another level. 

I have to say bravo to the band during this piece, as there were moments where the dynamics were so quiet, I could hear the additional percussion of rustling crisp packets around me (really, people - you couldn’t wait until a louder moment?!) and with tuning and balance controlled incredibly well. 

Music by John Miles arr. Philip Sparke

I mentioned this piece in my Philip Sparke appreciation post this week and, again, it’s a piece that I absolutely love, so I’m so glad that it was included in the programme. The band dedicated this performance to a friend of the band, Barbara Littler, as it was one of her favourite pieces of music and despite this programme putting the band through their paces, this piece was delivered with an unwavering energy. A fantastic end to a fantastic concert…or was it?

Caravan by Duke Ellington, arranged by Steve Sykes

To be fair to the band, they had given the audience more than what they paid for this evening and could have called it a night after Music, but they had one more piece up their purple and black sleeves for us. For their encore they could have picked an easy bit of cheese, but instead they opted for the big band classic, Caravan. It was a fun and funky way to end the night, which sent the audience out the door with a boogie in their step. 

All in all, it was another fantastic night of music at the Pemberton Bandroom, which I thoroughly enjoyed and I wish the band all the best in their preparations for the National Finals in October. 

Although the trip to London means a lot for every band who has achieved qualification, it’s not cheap. From coach travel to accommodation, it’s becoming an increasingly expensive excursion for bands. If you would like to help the band in their journey to represent the North West at the 2024 National Finals, you can send a donation via their Go Fund Me page  - click here to visit.

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