As we approach Christmas, it seems appropriate to pause and take a look back at the year to see what the GUS Band has achieved over the past twelve months before we jingle bell our way head long into the festive season. An Advent carol proclaims, “Hark the glad sound!” and what sounds there have been emanating from the Northampton-based band this year.
GUS went into 2023 realising that this was the band’s ninetieth year. With a tag line “Still Mighty at Ninety”, much of the music and the concerts planned for 2023 were focused around this huge milestone. James Screaton, the band’s principal cornet and archivist, discovered that at the Band’s inaugural rehearsal back in 1933, as the Munn and Felton’s Works band, the march ‘Naworth Castle’ by James Ord Hume was played. The band’s library no longer had a copy but it was sourced from a band in Australia and GUS performed it again 90 years to the day the band was formed on January 20th. Shortly after this performance, a reporter and cameraman came along to a rehearsal to film and interview players, which was then shown during the local evening ITV television news.
One thing eagerly anticipated for 2023 was the settling in of the new conducting team. At the end of 2022, the band had been successful in securing the services of Christopher Bond and David Thornton as Resident and Professional Conductors, respectively, and the players were looking forward to working with them both. It didn’t take long for the fruits of this new team to ripen when GUS won a convincing victory in February at the Midland Area Brass Band Championships in Corby, playing ‘Red Priest’ by Philip Wilby.
In May, off an early draw at the British Open Grand Shield in Blackpool, the band managed gave a performance that exuded confidence and came away with a respectable 6th place playing “The World Rejoicing”, by Edward Gregson. A matter of weeks later, the band had great success when it took part in the Whit Friday March contests for the first time in many years. On a glorious evening, (very unusual for this contest) and despite limping around the Pennines villages in a coach with engine problems, GUS collected three 4ths, a 5th, and a 6th place, and even a ‘Best Euphonium’ prize at the infamous Delph village on the famous contest march by George Allen, ‘Knight Templar’, placing 7th overall. Not bad from a field of over 120 bands!
Not to be too disappointed at not qualifying for the British Open it was decided that the band should still work up the Open test piece ‘Sand and Stars’ and perform it at the Dr Martin Trust Contest in Yarm, in September. Described throughout the banding world as “exceptionally difficult”, the test piece by Thierry Deleruyelle really tested the band, but GUS rose to the challenge, led on this occasion by Christopher Bond, and put on an amazing performance. Together with a march and a fantastic solo from Rob Fleming, the band’s solo horn player, the band walked away with 1st place, a great contest win.
Then, the National Finals of Great Britain came round in October, where the test piece, to be performed at the famous Royal Albert Hall was “Of Men and Mountains”, by Edward Gregson. It is such an honour to represent the Midland area at this iconic venue and prestigious event and GUS achieved a highly commendable 8th place, a reflection on the hard work put in by both Christopher and David in preparing the test piece. As a result of these contest successes, the band has moved up to 11th place in the World Brass Band rankings, a fantastic achievement for this year.
It wasn’t just the conducting team that was new for 2023. Several new players have joined the GUS ranks over the past twelve months. On percussion, Marcus, a young and talented player joined the band, who is already making his mark with the team. Jake, the assistant principal cornet, who has begun his studies at the Royal College of Music, has moved onto the soprano cornet chair. Chelsea joined the ranks on 1st Horn and we said hello to James, who has joined the band on bass trombone.
Contests provide the band with goals to aim for throughout a year but a lot of the enjoyment comes from performing in concerts. 2023 has been a very busy year and the concert season kicked off in February in a romantic mood at Rothwell’s Holy Trinity church and a concert entitled ‘From Rothwell with Love’. In April, the band joined forces with the Corby Silver Band at St Peter and St Paul in Kettering and then performed at the Headmaster’s Day at Stowe School in May. The Party in the Park at Northampton University in July was an extremely wet picnic but at least the band was in the dry at St Mary’s, Titchmarsh for the joint concert with the Thrapston Town band later that month.
The culmination of the Band’s 90th celebrations came in form of a Reunion Concert in September at the Northampton High School. Following a superb reunion dinner the night before, the band were joined by many former players plus soloists James and Thomas Fountain, Jordan Ashman, and David Thornton who joined the band’s principal euphonium, George Bruce for a rousing duet of Stanley Boddington’s “Endearing Young Charms”. In total, five GUS conductors (John Berryman, Christopher Bond, Chris Jeans, David Thornton, and Melvin White) of past and present conducted the current GUS band and reunion bands through the concert. Other former players also joined the celebrations in the audience including the eminent euphonium player, Trevor Groom. What a fantastic day this was and a fitting way to celebrate the GUS Band’s 90th year.
October saw the band play at beautiful St Peter’s Church, Oundle in a film and musicals themed concert followed by a return to Holy Trinity in Rothwell in November to commemorate Armistice Day.
Well, having taken stock of our achievements this year, there’s little time to pause before the run up to Christmas and the end of this year includes the annual Christmas Spectacular at St Peter and St Paul, Kettering with the Belcanto and Masquerade Choirs. This is never a concert to miss and this will be proceeded the following week by two days of live performances of the film, ‘The Snowman’ in Barton Seagrave and Brackley.
And for the New Year; what is 2024 going to hold for the Band? A strong team now looks forward to competing to retain our title at the Midland championships in March and going North with the aim of conquering Blackpool and qualifying for the British Open in September, and the Band’s diary is already filling up with some exciting concerts planned for the year.
In looking back over the past year, the commitment of the band’s players has been amazing and the time put into rehearsals is immense, let alone the personal practice that is put in at home. The group of players who form the GUS committee also show incredible dedication to running and promoting the band, on top of their playing responsibilities. With that in mind, the band would like to say a huge thank you for the support of the family and friends of our players too. Also, there would be no concerts without our loyal following of fans and we want to thank our audiences for your the continued support, and wish you all a Happy Christmas. We look forward to seeing you all again in 2024.