Welcome to Friary Diary issue 59 - a look back at 2019, another highly successful year for the Friary Brass Band.
2019 started with the now familiar trip North, with Friary again being invited to participate in the Butlin’s
Mineworkers Contest at Skegness. Friary’s performance of the chosen test piece Benvenuto Cellinimanaged only 6thplace, but as in previous years, the Band bounced back on Sunday with its ‘Friary Fairytale’, a story of Princess Isobel’s quest for love, penned by Nigel Stevens and Chris King. It was cheesy, cheeky, pure ‘end of the pier’ entertainment … and the audience absolutely loved it! It earned the Friary the Most Entertaining Band award for the third time in five years, an all time high of 2ndplace overall, Princess Isobel and suitor Rossolini and the Geoff Dove award for the best soloist for trombonist Isobel Daws.
January also saw the annual awards dinner, an excellent evening with Izzi Daws taking the Player of the Year; Most Improved Player - Will Rowling (percussion); Bandsman of the Year - David Wicks (cornet and Band Manager); Section of the Year; Best Attendance – brothers Richard and Chris Straker. But as was commented on, everyone in the Band was a winner: it’s a team effort. Mind-boggling after dinner entertainment was provided by magician Robert Bone.
Friary shared the stage with Farnham’s Taiko Club and the local Rock Choir for the Mayor of Farnham’s
charity concert in the marvellous Medici Hall at Weydon School. The Taiko drums provided the ideal accompaniment to Friary’s opener, We Will Rock You, and the programme also included music from the Band’s winning Butlin’s performance, as well as traditional last night of the Proms fare. February also saw the Band’s long-serving bass player, Philip German, honoured by Farnham Town Council for his services to scouting in the town.
March as usual was focused on the Regional Championships at Stevenage, where the test piece was Salvationist Ray Steadman-Allen’s Seascapes. Drawn to play ninth, Friary was crowned London & Southern Counties Champion for the fifth year running and with it, earned qualification for the National Finals for the seventh successive year. It’s a record which, for the period, now only six other bands in the UK can match - and the majority of those have pre-qualified due to their result at the previous year’s Finals. It was a clean sweep for Friary who also took the awards for the best trombone section (Chris Brewster, Ian Stewart and Adam Gregory), best cornet (Richard Straker), best tenor horn (Chris Pannell) and best euphonium (Chris Straker). Zone One Brass took the runner-up podium place, with Friary’s closest L&SC rivals Redbridge coming third.
April was a quiet month for the Band as far as engagements were concerned. We reported the sad news that David Ruel passed away unexpectedly but peacefully in his sleep on the morning of 22nd April, at the age of 68. David had a lengthy association with Friary, as well as with many other local bands, most recently as conductor of the Reading Spring Gardens Brass Band: he was a dedicated bandsman, both as a player and a conductor, and will be greatly missed. At the request of his son Matthew, Friary played the hymn tune Ellers in David’s memory at rehearsal that evening, and also played at the Service of Thanksgiving for David.
On a much happier note, we were delighted to announce the wedding of Rhian Linney (solo cornet) to Simon Harvey; the arrival of Charlie Straker to proud parents Richard and Lauren (flugel); and the successful completion of the London Marathon by percussionist Mike Jefferies. Congratulations to them all!
It turned out to be a disappointing trip to the Spring Festival at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool for the Grand Shield contest, the gateway to the British Open. The test piece was Thierry Deleruyelle’s Fraternity, but Friary only managed ninth place. Our quest for promotion to the British Open continues next year. It seems that we have alternating years of success and disappointment at Blackpool, so maybe 2020 will be the year! There was brighter news at the end of the month, with an invitation to compete at this year’s Brass in Concert contest at The Sage, Gateshead, held in November. A special recording of Friary playing Elgar’s Nimrod was included in an episode of the BBC TV’s six part drama Don’t Forget the Driver.
We returned to Boscombe at the end of the month for another joint charity concert together with the Boscombe Salvation Army Band, not forgetting their wonderful timbrels. Trombonist Izzi Daws wowed the audience with her beautiful solo, Ray Steadman-Allen’s The Eternal Quest, and the Band reprised its Friary Fairytale, with narration from compère Frank Renton. It was also a somewhat sad occasion, being Boscombe SA Band’s much loved and respected Bandmaster, Howard Evans’ final concert as their conductor.
Mid July saw a busy weekend: having practised marching skills at the Corpus Christi parade in Westerham in June, there was another opportunity for playing on the move as Friary once again led the parade for the Pyrford and Wisley Flower Show, before entertaining show-goers in the arena. The following day the Band returned to Godalming bandstand for an informal concert which was well-attended despite the attraction of various major sporting events (who can forget that thrilling end to the Cricket World Cup!). In MD Chris King’s absence, the Band was conducted by former bass player Ross Graham who made a return from his accounting studies and who proved to be an excellent stand-in.
We were also delighted to report the engagement of cornet players Hannah Mitchell and Ali Richards: congratulations!
August as usual was a quiet month but we returned to the College Garden, Westminster Abbey for a lunchtime concert in that wonderfully tranquil setting. Amongst the various soloists, it was percussionist William Rowling who dazzled the audience with his dexterity on the xylophone in the solo Robin Harry. Talented William is now studying at the Royal College of Music where he has been awarded a four year scholarship: congratulations! We subsequently received an order for a CD from a German tourist who happened to attend the concert!
A few Friary players were spotted on TV in the Sky Arts programme Battle of the Brass Bands, in the episode which covered the National Finals.
September too was quiet on the engagement front, but busy with rehearsing for our seventh successive appearance at the National Finals. As in 2018, we took the opportunity to run through the test piece as part of our programme for the scaba Autumn contest at Crawley. Friary once again took the majority of the honours for this event.
October was as usual a highlight of the Band’s contesting year, with our trip to the Royal Albert Hall for the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain – ‘The National Finals’. This year’s test piece was Hermann Pallhuber’s Titan’s Progress. Drawn to play 17th out of the 20 bands competing, Friary had almost as long a wait to play as in 2018. Nevertheless, 11th place, the same result as last year, was a good result. The currently unstoppable Cory Band took the title: few in the audience would have much cause to argue after their supreme performance.
We returned to St Mary’s Church, Worplesdon at the end of the month for a concert in aid of the British Heart Foundation and the Parish. There was a near capacity audience, and the Band was conducted by professional trombonist Paul Fisher, who quickly established an excellent rapport with the audience. The programme concluded with a wonderful performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, a big ‘blow’ at the end of the evening!
November’s engagements started with Remembrance Sunday, Friary leading the civic procession down the High Street and up to the Castle Grounds. As in recent years, a wreath was laid at the War Memorial on behalf of the Band. Simon Persin represented the Band on Armistice Day, playing The Last Postand Reveille on Guildford’s Guildhall balcony.
The following weekend saw Friary travel to Gateshead for the Brass in Concert contest, where the Band reprised the Friary Fairytale, with some enhancements, including a new arrangement by MD Chris King of Vivaldi’s Autumn. Izzi Daws once again delighted the audience with her Thoughts of Love solo, receiving the biggest ovation for a soloist and deservedly the Best Trombone award. The Band’s performance too received the biggest ovation of the day, and with it earned the Audience Entertainment award (voted by the audience – Friary took a massive 40% of the vote!). Due to an unfortunate miscalculation on the day Friary was incorrectly announced as being in 6th place overall, but later saw the Band moved to 7th. (Cory unsurprisingly took the title.) Nevertheless it was good result and a great opportunity to show Friary to a much broader audience. The ranking points gained from this prestigious contest propelled Friary up to 21stin the World Rankings, an all time high. Our final and only Christmas concert of the year was at the end of the month, another return engagement to St James Church, New Malden, where we shared the stage with the church choir.
So another banding year draws to a close: it’s been a good one. We have two carolling gigs for the month, at The Meadows, Sandhurst on Sunday 15th December from 11.00am – 3.00pm, and then on Christmas Eve at the Hog’s Back Brewery, Tongham from 11.00am until 1.00pm. There’s then time to relax for just a few days … but only until rehearsals re-commence. Friary is not going to Butlins, Skegness in January: with the contest taking place a week earlier than usual, and the addition of Brass in Concert to our calendar for 2019, we considered it was a contest too far for us on this occasion. We hope to return to Butlins again in 2021.
On behalf of the Friary Brass Band, thank you so much for your interest and support, and we send you our very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year. We hope to see you soon!
Please visit our calendar page here to view our forthcoming events