Slaithwaite Band CD ‘Evolution’: A Review (by A. Cook)

Slaithwaite band are a band on the up. Anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to thecontesting calendar over the last few years knows that. They’re also a band with a long and proudhistory, having been founded back in 1892 and making them officially as old as both the sport of Basketball, and the Diesel engine. It is therefore fitting that – under the baton of a musician both as experienced and forward-looking as you could wish for in Rob Westacott – the band have chosen to explore both their history and their growing momentum in their choices of repertoire for their most recent album ‘Evolution.’

We start back in the aforementioned proud history with the march ‘Merridale’, one from their own archives and written especially for the band by Haydn Wood, back in 1948. The march is a fine one, and appropriately for its date is given the proper degree of both dash and restraint, before we proceed to more familiar traditional repertoire with the Priere a Notre Dame and Tocatta from Eric Ball’s classic arrangement of Leon Boellmann’s Suite Gothique. It takes courage for a band I hope I don’t offend by describing as an ambitious lower-section team to take on the genuine classics of the repertoire, but they pull both off with aplomb – the Priere particularly is a lovely rendition, with a touching simplicity and space about the playing and the interpretation from the MD. And it’s much the same story with the other well-known works they’ve chosen. William Himes arrangement of Wagner’s famous Procession to the Cathedral is admirably controlled, with a bold, round sound where required and well-shaped solo lines, Philip Sparke’s version of John Miles’ Music is never overdone, and the Victory from Cry of the Celts is lively and bright, containing an especially fine contribution from John Mitchell on Soprano.

Indeed, John is in top form throughout, and is just one of a number of excellent soloists the band exhibit across the CD. His featured solo Bilitis demonstrates a tone as clear as glass and a subtle delivery that many a higher-section outfit would envy in a soprano. Neil Hardy on Tenor Horn demonstrates great range and as rich a tenor horn sound as you’ll ever hear, playing Johnny Bates’ arrangement of Mama, and principal cornet Joanne Griffith draws a further file from the archive with a sweet, bright performance of another Haydn Wood piece, this time a setting of his A Brown Bird Singing. Not content with simply featuring the end-chairs, we are also treated to Swing Low With Grace, Rob Westacott’s own interweaving of two well-loved classics, which features fully five more soloists, with none of those already mentioned being called to their feet a second time.

Leading us neatly onto the more recent choices, the band are equally at home. Another work from the pen of Johnny Bates Around the World in Four Minutes is given a stylish and lively Latin feel, Robert Redhead’s 2005 Reflections in Nature is given a warm and sympathetic treatment and my own setting of the hymn tune Diadem, Ye Morning Stars of Light is bold, brash and full of brio – exactly as I intended. For the last three tracks on the CD we are treated to a lovely Philip Harper arrangement of In Love For Me which has a light touch and an elegant shape throughout, Chris Wormald’s transcription of the finale from Mahler’s Symphony No.2, the Resurrection and a good old fashioned romp through the screamer march They’re Off. The Wormald/Mahler combination is certainly the biggest ask for the band as it requires every bit of the control and power of say, the finish of Resurgam or Journey into Freedom to truly bring together – and though Slaithwaite really give it all they have, it’s no lie to say their lung capacity must have been tested to the limit.

Releases from bands further down the world rankings do not often attract much fanfare, but it is prudent to remember that Slaithwaite band have been there and mixed in with the best of them more than once in their long history. And while they will take the stage for the next Yorkshire Area Championship as competitors in section 2, as a statement of intent for where the band want to be, one need look no further than this CD. It is ambitious, precise, and with a firm musical intent – and so are they.

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Slaithwaite Band – Yorkshire 3rd Section Champions 2015

3rdSectionChampions

March is always an exciting time in the brass banding calendar as the regional contests get underway to determine who will be making the journey to the National Finals in September and who will move up and down the grading tables.

The North-West regional having taken place the previous week, on Saturday 8th March it was Yorkshire’s turn to see who would be joining Boarshurst Silver, Old Hall Brass and Blackpool Brass in Cheltenham.

This year’s 3rd section test piece was ‘Evolution, 5 States of Change’ by Philip Sparke. Upon initial play-through it quickly became apparent that there were none of the usual solo lines that you would expect to rear their heads at this time of year. Hurray! thought all the top chairs. That was until some more plays through when the nature of the task ahead became clear. This year was all about the ensemble. No-one could hide in this piece. Every player from top to bottom, brass and percussion alike, had to contribute equally and work together as a whole to make the piece a success.

Everyone knows that the acoustic of St George’s Hall can make it tricky to hear what the rest of the band is doing, so getting everyone comfortable with their parts and working confidently together in the bandroom was going to be an important part of making it all work on stage.

Thankfully we had our MD Rob Westacott on hand to shape and guide us over the preceding months. With his unique interpretation of the score and an enthusiasm and determination that is hard to knock, this rubbed off on the band as we enjoyed working on the piece right up until the contest.

Drawn number 4 of 11, it was a long morning of practice, the main event and then some free time to see some of the other bands on stage. Results are always a nervous time. Sometimes more-so than the performance itself. As the results count down from 6 to 3 and you haven’t heard your band called, your immediate thoughts are ‘we’ve either done really well, or not well at all’. Which will it be? No matter how well you think you’ve played, when it gets down to that last spot you never quite believe it will be your band that is called.

Rob has worked hard with the band since he took over the baton in late 2013. It takes a split second to sink in, but when the first place result is called, it shows that this weekend, that hard work has paid off.

As the next morning dawns, many are bleary-eyed from the celebrations and thinking it’s all over for another year. Then you remember that it’s only a matter of time before the piece for the Nationals is announced and it all starts again.

Holme Valley Contest 2014 Section Winners

After a great result at the 2014 Areas in March, April brought our first own-choice contest of the year.

For Holme Valley contest each band selects a hymn tune and test piece, and our choices were St Clements and Suite Gothique.

Everyone in the band really enjoyed working on the pieces, so to be declared winners for both the hymn tune and test pieces individually was a fantastic result. As well as being overall winners, we received prizes for the best trombone section, best percussion sections and a prize for Rob as outstanding conductor. We’re now working on future concerts and contests, with lots of hard work and enjoyment ahead this year.

Slaithwaite Band – winners of the 2013 Pogson Bray Entertainment Contest

On Sunday 20th October 2013 the band took part in the Pogson Bray Entertainment Contest at Berties Banqueting Rooms in Elland. This was our first contest outing with recently appointed Musical Director Rob Westacott for whom it was also the first contest as an MD rather than a player.
Much to the band and Rob’s delight the hard work everyone had put in paid off and we were awarded first place from a field of 14 bands. Rob chose a varied and entertaining programme that the audience enjoyed and the band enjoyed playing. The pieces played were:

Around the World in 4 Minutes (World Premier performance of the Jonny Bates composition)
Imperial Echoes
Capriccio Brillante – Horn Soloist Neil Hardy
Irish Blessing – Quartet Soloists Daniel Booth, Pete Brier, Graham Chadwick, Phil Hudson
“Victory” from Lord of the Dance

Rob Westacott Appointed as New Musical Director

Slaithwaite Band are delighted to announce the appointment of Rob Westacott as their new Musical Director.

Rob is well known in the Brass Banding world as a top class cornet player, but this is his first official position as a conductor.

During his career, Rob has held principal positions with some of the top bands including Brighouse & Rastrick, Grimethorpe and laterly as assistant principal at Black Dyke.

He was also a cornet tutor for the National Children’s Band of Great Britian, YHBBA and Yorkshire Youth Band and has assisted regular MD’s of several other bands in contest preparation and sectionals.

The band are thrilled to welcome Rob into the fold and we are looking forward to developing under his baton.

See the 4barsrest press release here