The GUS Band’s 90th Anniversary: Concert Review

Brassing Around’s Elise Hale remarked “months of build up, ticket sales, advertising, all long awaited to this afternoon- and well wasn’t it worth the wait!” and she was not wrong. An organising committee of four current GUS players as well as their Musical Director Christopher Bond toiled for months to bring The GUS Band, a reunion band of over 50 former GUS players, four guest soloists and three former conductors together in a sparkling display of musical virtuosity that placed the heritage and history of the band right at the heart of the day, and reassured everyone present that the future of this famous band is in good hands.
The current GUS band opened their set with Edward Gregson’s “Fanfare for GUS” and followed this up with a classy performance of a staple of the GUS repertoire in Jubilee Overture by Philip Sparke, written for the band for its 50th Anniversary.
More recently, the Fountain name has become synonymous with the GUS Band, with Gary Fountain a former soprano cornet player with the band, and brothers Thomas and James both having both occupied the principal cornet seat as recently as 2022. Expectations were understandably high when James Fountain took to the stage to give his account of Charivari by John Iveson, and the audience were not disappointed. The Principal Trumpet of the London Symphony Orchestra performed with such virtuosity and searing technique that it is easy to understand how he has reached the pinnacle of professional trumpet playing. His brother Thomas, recently announced as the new Principal Trumpet of the BBC Philharmonic gave a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Christopher Bond’s Song of the Night Sky. The quality on display left you in no doubt that between them the brass band world, and GUS, has nurtured two greats. Amazingly, they are both still in their 20s! What an exciting future these men have.
The whimsical Celebration by Gordon Langford (another piece written for the band’s 50th Anniversary) was followed by the band’s professional conductor Dr David Thornton taking to the stage with current Principal Euphonium George Bruce. Reset as a duet, both players gave a remarkable show of lyrical and technical authority in Endearing Young Charms. Fittingly, GUS and Euphonium Legend Trevor Groom was sat a few rows back in the audience, taking it all in.
BBC Young Musician of the Year Jordan Ashman was next up, and Jordan later remarked to Brassing Around that he “loved being back with GUS; playing with the band that started my musical life off!”. And what a life it’s been so far, with Jordan showcasing “Strawberry Therapy” on the vibraphone. Arranged for brass band by his dad Darren (another GUS alumni), he gave an “effortless performance” played with “confidence and style”. It went down very well with those watching in the audience.
Christopher Bond’s aptly titled “Journey to the Past” gave way to the return of Thomas and James to perform Martin Cordner’s Synergy. A nod to their salvationist background, they both gave an “electric” performance that gripped the audience from start to finish.
GUS closed the first half with the finale from Sand and Stars, fresh from their recent win at the Dr Martin’s Contest in early September. Set in the same decade as the band’s inception, it left nobody in any doubt of the band’s ambitions for the future- a return to the pinnacle of elite banding, the British Open.
A short interval gave the audience chance to explore the exhibition of GUS history that had been curated by current Principal Cornet player James Screaton. It featured an array of pictures, trophies (including the Open shield and Nationals trophy kindly loaned to the band by Foden’s), banners and other memorabilia that contributed to the sense that everyone present was experiencing something special.
The second half, expertly compered by Dr David Thornton, saw the 50-plus reunion band take to the stage. Boasting seven basses, five trombones, three soprano cornets as well as an army of cornets and horns, baritones and euphoniums, it was immediately obvious that the audience were in for a treat. Earlier in the day, it was remarked upon that the top three cornet players on the front row (James Fountain, Thomas Fountain, and Ben Godfrey) were all fighting over who sat on the end chair as none of them wanted to!
Melvin White (conductor of the band in the late 90s) led the band through Strike up the Band and Little Lisa (written by Stanley Boddington for his daughter, Lisa), and was followed by Chris Jeans (conductor of the band 2018-2022), who began his set with Here’s That Rainy Day, a Mark Freeh arrangement from the band’s iconic album Freeh-way. Following this, the band’s Chairperson David Elliott-Smith presented Chris with a gift in recognition of his years of service to the band, both as a player and conductor. Chris closed his short set with another Mark Freeh arrangement of Surrey with the Fringe on Top, featuring the current and reunion band’s Euphoniums and Baritones. Chris Jeans gave way to the inimitable John Berryman (former principal cornet and conductor) who took the band through Gilbert Vinter’s Lisbon Carnival. The playing of the reunion band was unsurprisingly of the highest order, and there was an
 air of anticipation following John’s final piece March to the Scaffold as the current band lined up in the wings to join the reunion band for a massed-band finale.
The massed band opened with the march Emaneff (a play on the band’s name at the time, Munn and Felton; M and F), and this was conducted by Christopher Bond. David Thornton returned to the stage once again to take the band through Bramwell Tovey’s Remembering Jutland, a poignant piece written in memory of Tovey’s grandfather who took part in the first world war Battle of Jutland. Bramwell Tovey was the inspiration behind the band’s famous win at the 1988 British Open on Contest Music. Remembering Jutland provoked a moment of reflection for Bramwell Tovey and for all those associated with GUS no longer with us.
The culmination of the day came when John Berryman returned to the stage to conduct Pines of Rome. According to Elise, “The climax of the piece was fantastic, and there were goosebumps everywhere. Boasting an insanely loud sound, the band had ability to make it sound so classy with an intense sound from the trombones. It was absolutely immense. What a performance”.
Breathless from the Pines of Rome, John Berryman gave no introduction to the encore Malaguena, but led an energetic and spritely performance of Mark Freeh’s well known arrangement. By the end of it, the audience were on their feet cheering for more.
There are few brass bands with such a rich history surrounding it, and the three guest soloists in James and Thomas Fountain, and Jordan Ashman, exemplify everything great about GUS; its nurturing of youth to create soloists of international renown and its relentless focus on the securing the future of the band for generations to come. Even those former players not featured as guest soloists have all individually contributed to so much to the brass band movement, and each of them will tell you the special place that GUS has in their heart. All in all, it was a great way to celebrate 90 years of GUS.
This review features elements of Elise Hale’s review of the concert for Brassing Around, and extracts are included with Elise’s kind permission.
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