Band is most definitely back in the UK following the British Youth Band (BYBA)’s “Band is Back!” event on September 12th 2021.
Six bands made the journey to Saffron Lane Athletics Stadium, Leicester, for a fine day enjoyed by all. BYBA had obviously booked the weather too, with the stadium basking in glorious sunlight for most of the day, only turning into downpours once the last spectator had left!
The day had the feel of a funfair or gala, with several stalls being set up alongside the performance arena. Without doubt, the highlights were the inflatable slides and bouncy castles in addition to the Fastest Drummer competition.
Syston Scout & Guide Band
Representing the traditional-style bands, Syston Scout & Guide Band, were the first to perform – and represent they did! The band formed up in an arc with two rows of drummers and bugles; setting off at a blistering pace, their crisp-sounding snare drums gave way to equally articulate bugle calls. The quality of their performance was such that it was hard to believe that Syston had 7 new members playing with them on the day.
As a percussionist, I must admit that I was transfixed by the bell players in Syston’s ranks. Some of the parts they were playing would be challenging for two mallets, yet they managed effortlessly holding the bells with one hand and playing with the other.
As BYBA’s champion band at the last finals (2019), I had high hopes for Phantom Knights’ performance. They did not disappoint!
We were first treated to an on-field warmup from each of their sections. After such a long time away from contests, it was good to be able to sit and hear some nice phat 8s being blasted out by a drumline, to hear the pit playing through their scales and to hear the brass play one of their ensemble pieces.
Once warmed up, the band arced up and treated us to an upbeat jaunt through George Michael’s Secret Love. The brass definitely shone through this piece and it was clear to see how much they all enjoyed performing this song.
There was then a short interlude as the corps packed away their music stands and moved backwards onto the field – what was going on?
It was obvious from the first few notes from the pit. Not only had Phantom Knights managed to keep rehearsing and keep members interested over the course of multiple lockdowns, they had also been able to teach them the music and the drill to the opener from their 2019 show, Michael Jackson’s Earth Song. A few of the younger brass players performed from the pit; however, this is testament to the challenges faced by so many bands rehearsing under Covid-19 restrictions, and great to see everyone being able to participate.
After a short break, we were treated to a performance of Any Way the Wind Blows, a Queen-inspired show that Beeches had intended to take to the Drum Corps International Championships in 2020. Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and shattered those dreams – there is still a travel ban in place between the UK and US today – so this was their moment to bring that performance to a live audience.
The show began with a tribute to Freddie Mercury’s iconic “EEEOOO” at Live Aid 1985, with a call and response between samples of Freddie’s vocals and the audience. The front ensemble then brought us in with Queen’s One Vision, overlayed with more samples from Freddie, before a terrific brass fanfare brought the rest of the corps in for a short snippet of Princes Of The Universe.
The brass then continued to take the lead, bringing us in with a nice ballad-like entry to Don’t Stop Me Now. It took a short while for Beeches to settle into this piece, but when they did it was magical. Features were traded between the drumline, guard, pit and brass, giving each of their sections a chance to show what they can really do. I was particularly impressed with the drumline – what they lacked in size (2 snares, 3 basses), they more than made up for in ability.
A gorgeous flugel solo from Daniel Rivett followed as Beeches began their ballad – Love of My Life. The silky-smooth playing here really brought a great contrast from the speed and excitement of Don’t Stop Me Now and made for a more reflective part of the show. The ballad cleverly switched to Who Wants To Live Forever? and showcased some great ensemble brass playing, which was reinforced with some tasteful swells on the suspended cymbals.
Beeches concluded their performance with Bohemian Rhapsody, which brought a perfect blend of the excitement of Don’t Stop Me Now and the controlled ensemble playing of Love of My Life. I must admit that I had goosebumps for the last 30 seconds or so of their show (and still get them watching back videos of their performance) because the writing, the playing, the ensemble sound, were just so nailed on. Bravo!
Beeches’ performance left me wondering “what if?” What if Covid had never struck and they had had a full season to work on that show? What if they had managed to get it on the move? What if they had taken it to DCI? Sadly, we will never know the answers to these questions, but if Sunday’s performance was anything to go by then the result would have been on another level.
Lanesfield BB/GB Band
Lanesfield BB/GB Band were the next band to take to the field. Although they were one of the younger bands to perform on the day, they gave a great account of themselves and more than held their own.
Similar to the Phantom Knights, Lanesfield treated us to some sectional performances to begin with. Their guard first showed off a routine that they had learned to BØRNS Electic Love. The routine involved a lot of dance work before then switching to some ensemble flag work.
The brass, drumline, and pit then joined together for a performance of The Greatest Show from the Greatest Showman. Lanesfield certainly have a mature sound for such a young corps and they used this to their full advantage in this piece, both in some full ensemble moments and also during the baritone solo sections.
Next, Lanesfield’s drumline (which was the second largest on the day with 3 snares, 4 basses and 2 tenors) paraded out in front of the brass to perform a cadence. We were first treated to a bass drum feature, which then grew and developed into a full-line groove. Each of the sections then took turns to come forwards for a feature, before dropping back to allow the next section to groove.
Lanesfield concluded their programme with a second ensemble item from the Greatest Showman, A Million Dreams. This was an aptly rousing performance that again played to Lanesfield’s strengths, with the build to the chorus sending chills down my spine. Well played Lanesfield!
Concord started their performance off with a bit of audience participation, getting the audience to clap their percussion and guard sections into a rendition of the Jackson Five’s Want You Back. The guard gave us some fabulous weapon work that complimented the playful vibes from the front ensemble perfectly, before ending with a great rippled visual.
The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights was next in another feature for pit and guard. The timbres of woods and metals in the pit blended perfectly to bring a great ensemble sound.
Concluding their performance, Concord brought their brass and drumline sections in for a rendition of Wellerman, a sea shanty that went viral on TikTok before being remixed and released in the charts. Concord’s performance was definitely inspired by the latter with their use of a drumkit bringing a more rocky feel to the song.
Last to the field (but by no means least), were Stafford Brigades. Like Syston, they performed without a recognised conductor/drum major/band leader stood at the front of the band to beat time, instead trusting in their ensemble timing.
Stafford treated us to a lively, pop-tastic set. Starting off with Walk the Moon’s Shut Up and Dance, their drumline then roared on with a cadence leading the band into their rendition of Wellerman (a different arrangement to Concord’s).
Stafford then gave us a measured perfomance of Be My Guest from Beauty and the Beast before another fabulous drum feature linked into I’ll Make A Man Out of You from Mulan.
The percussion section were the driving force behind the band, and a shout out has to go to their bass drummers for their metronomic precision and timekeeping, ensuring the band kept to the correct tempo.
The Magnificent Seven made it a movie hat-trick for Stafford, before yet another excellent drum cadence led to a song that encapsulated the feel-good emotion of the day, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. What a great choice it was too; the last song for the day had the spectators up on their feet singing along and dancing!
Fastest Drummer and Longest Note
Throughout the day, Concord had been hosting a competition to find the fastest drummer and the brass musician that could play the longest note. They had narrowed the search down to just 12 competitors. Both competitions were split into 2 age categories (under 18s/18 & over) and had 3 finalists.
First up was the fastest drummer, requiring each drummer to play as many notes as they could within 30 seconds, measured using Concord’s drumometer. After the last drummer had performed, all the scores were compared to see who had come out top. In the under 18s category, Lanesfield’s drumline were well-represented in the final round, making up 2 out of the 3 finalists, so it came as little surprise that first prize ultimately went to one of their drummers. In the 18 & over category, Syston made up 2 of the 3 finalists, leading to one of their drummers being crowned champion.
The longest note competition was run slightly differently. All 3 finalists started playing at the same time with the last man standing crowned the winner. In the under 18s category, all 3 finalists were buglers from Syston – a credit to the hard work put in by the band. Their longest bugler managed an eye-popping 49.76 seconds without a break or breath, which is no mean feat at all! The 18 & over category featured another Syston bugler competing against 2 that had not performed on the day. That competition ultimately saw Revolution’s Corps Director, Oliver Richardson, go for a whole minute! Congratulations to all who participated, and to Concord for hosting the competition.
All in all, the” Band is Back!” event saw banding return to what it should be – a day epitomised by camaraderie and friendly competition, an opportunity to showcase performances, yet ultimately supporting and encouraging the sustained growth of British banding. I for one hope that BYBA can build on the positives of the day to make future events a success!
All the performances were live streamed and the videos are available for general viewing on the BYBA Facebook page.
BYBA Communications Chair