All brass as Birmingham Conservatoire and The Shirley Band team-up - The Leamington Observer

All brass as Birmingham Conservatoire and The Shirley Band team-up

Brass Explosion, Royal Spa Centre

Like proverbial buses you can wait a while for one brass band to arrive and suddenly two come at once. This evening combining the forces of Birmingham Conservatoire and The Shirley Band offered as much brass as even the most diehard fanatic could want.

A strident, boisterous fanfare from film composer supreme John Williams set the tone, and the volume, for a night that certainly blew away the cobwebs. The young players, and the young conductors guiding them, clearly arrived with a desire to impress and they set out their case with gusto.

The music of Robert Simpson, who lived in Leamington well within the sound of a decent blast from the trombones, has been a welcome theme throughout this year’s concerts.

Tonight his work for the world of brass was represented by a rarely-performed piece Volcano. It’s a tough one to play, as the chief conductor of the evening is keen to point out. And it’s a tough listen too.

Clashing figures, underlying rumblings and some huge outpourings of sound – well it IS a volcano after all – contained within a highly complex structure. It is a fabulous challenge and one which the massed players did well to climb. There’s so much here to stretch the players and, while the volume is certainly there, it’s debatable whether the slightly mushy acoustic of the Spa Centre allows enough of the detail and clarity to shine.

As with many of Simpson’s pieces, it’s an almost impossible task to form a complete picture on just one hearing. If the outcome of programming music such as this is that more people are tempted to delve deeper into Simpson’s work then a great service will have been performed.

In the slightly more familiar territory of Malcolm Arnold – a landscape of rolling hills rather than spurting magma – the brass sound is in happier tone altogether. Given a melody, rich harmonies and a steady pulse, there’s nothing more British than a brass band. Nice to hear them outside their comfort zone though.

For details of a fine range of concerts and musical events right through the festive season, visit

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