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Fellowship of Brass - Barrow Shipyard Band
SOUSA El Capitan
Howard SHORE arr. A DUNCAN Fellowship of the Ring
TRAD arr. DURRANT La Virgen de la Macarena
arr. DUNCAN Cartoon Classics;
Arr. CORRIE The Golden Ear - Sa Miguel
Peter KNEALE Blue John
JAMES arr. GELDARD Trumpet Blues and Cantabile
arr. DURRANT Guantanamera;
Quincy JONES arr. DUNCAN Soul Bossa Nova;
John HALTON Blue Ice
LECUONA arr. FREEH Malaguena
John WILLIAMS arr. SYKES Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Barrow Shipyard Band/John Durrant; Kevin Donaldson
Rec. Buccleuch Hall, Lindal-in-Furness, Cumbria (no date given)
With sponsorship from Cedar Finance
AMADEUS AMS CD 063 [56.42]

Chairman of the Band, Jack Quayle, tells us that this "is the fifth recording", (made by the band) and that "each is succeeding the previous one in (presumably, improved) quality, playing and programme content". He adds that the Band has appeared on TV, concert and contest stages and that "they have won this historic name in banding many ardent fans". We learn also that the Barrow Band has been together for 111 years so they have quite a history to maintain.

Many brass bands were set up in working towns like Barrow in the Victorian period. The purpose was to provide working class folk, especially miners and others in harsh jobs, (and remember Barrow has been a major centre of ship building) with what one might call ‘cultural refinement’. Many composers arranged music from the classics and religious music for bands as well as composing marches and hymn tunes. For many, this might be their first encounter with a composer such as Mendelssohn whose 'Elijah' and symphonies were arranged for brass. They might also have had had in their repertoire, quadrilles, dance music and selections from light opera. In other words the covered a vast variety of music to suit all palettes and to stretch the bandsmen themselves both technically and intellectually. It is from this background that the venerable Barrow shipyard band emerges.

The booklet gives us the names of the players and a detailed description of each of the fourteen pieces recorded. We also have a brief biography of the soloists and conductors.

I have not heard the previous four recordings and am not a brass band aficionado, but I have to say immediately how impressed I have been by the superb standard of the band and especially of the soloists. I should mention the brilliant cornet pyrotechnics of one of the conductors John Durrant in 'La Virgen de la Macarena' (which is also his arrangement). There is also the gloriously rich tone of David Scoles on the euphonium in 'Guantanamera' and the sleazy trombone solo work by Tim Lyons in 'Blue John'. Add to this a terrific quartet of soloists in a forthright arrangement of Trumpet Blues.

Both technically and musically these are fine performances and the whole thing is complemented by a bright but utterly natural recording made in a village hall. The whole ensemble, musicality and balance is a delight and shows intelligence and careful practice. I could now stop the review or comment on some of the individual items that are attractive, fun and undemanding.

However something needs to be added. If I am reviewing this CD on the same basis as any other found on this website then a particular criticism is necessary: the programming. I am not a bandsman but it seems to me that the CD lacks a strong central focal point, a main work as one would find on other recordings - something for the listeners, and especially the players, to get their teeth into. What we are served up here is musical trivia, like 'Cartoon Classics' played and recorded to the highest possible standard, but in the context of a programme when one slight piece is followed by another. The longest work on offer is a selection from 'The Fellowship of the Ring lasting just seven minutes. Indeed the idea seems to be that the audience will not be able to maintain concentration for longer than three minutes unless we ply them with tunes they have heard many times already. The result: a string of mostly inconsequential works that does not challenge the players or the more discerning listener in any way. Yes, these pieces have many technical challenges, all negotiated superbly, but where is there at least one more significant piece by let’s say Eric Hall, Gilbert Vinter or Arthur Butterworth, or indeed an arrangement by a 'respected' band composer of an orchestral work, some Elgar, or a Rossini Overture? You may say that if these pieces were on the CD then it might not sell; all I am asking is one major focal, significant work. On a CD that is a little short-weight it is surely not asking too much and would give the disc a definite balance and make it of more than local importance. Apart from this cavil if you like the modern brass band repertoire, then snap this up by going to www.barrowshipyardband.co.uk and enjoy.

Gary Higginson

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