In another part of my life, in a land far, far away (British Columbia) I was a music graduate; my main instruments were voice and percussion – tympani being my favourite.
For several years, I had the pleasure of playing in the mischievous back row of a community concert band, so I was delighted to find out that one of my assigned sound files was the complete first CD by the Tredegar Town Band (TTB), recorded in 1992 after they placed third at the 1991 European Championships.
This band has an illustrious history, which is partially outlined (thanks to Heritage Lottery funding) on their website when they celebrated 140 years in 2017. Although there isn’t much modern information, the band has been alive and well, and very successful in various championships right up until COVID forced them into a hiatus.
They now post most of their information on their Twitter and YouTube accounts, and it looks like rehearsals have started up again under their current director, Ian Porthouse.
The band’s very first ‘gig’ was reported in the Monmouthshire Merlin in 1849; the TTB played the opening of a “splendid new mill” at Samuel Homfray’s ironworks in Tredegar. This was a very special occasion – all the town shops were closed for the day, bunting everywhere, and the procession involved 1600 people with thousands more spectators. The band played “a sprightly tune” after Mr Homfray’s speech, and later that night, gave a full performance at the celebratory dinner held in the Town Hall contributing “to the gratification of the assembly” and ending with ‘God Save the Queen’.
From this time forward, the band had some challenges but increasingly many successes. They were called to play at many processions, community gatherings and important openings. The first official concert, to raised funds for the band, appears to have taken place in 1873, the next year a ‘new brass band’ led by Mr Joseph Gwyer won first prize of £1 10 shillings at the Tredegar Eisteddfod; TTB went on to win first prize and the gold medal at the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham in 1876 and this laid the foundation for future successes both in the Eisteddfod tradition but also the international circuit. By 1883, the band’s patron was Lord Tredegar, and the prize money had increased to £5.
The Right Hon. Lord Tredegar, painted by George F Harris, from LLGC catalogue, available at https://viewer.library.wales/5227589#?c=&m=&s=&cv=&manifest=https%3A%2F%2Fdamsssl.llgc.org.uk%2Fiiif%2F2.0%2F5227589%2Fmanifest.json&xywh=-1292%2C-125%2C4046%2C2490]
Lord Tredegar presided over the first National Eisteddfod to be held in London (1909) and presumably took his ‘band’ with him to compete – however, the band’s website timeline has not been updated past 1904.
The CD is a source of delight to many I’m sure and is still available on iTunes! The band has its own YouTube channel as well; a live version of this programme can also be found on the Tredegar Wales YouTube channel — performed at the Garden Festival Wales in Ebbw Vale in 1992 under the baton of Nigel Weeks.
Playing for Wales! is a fun compilation of classical standards and music popular in the early 1990s. It begins with James Curnow’s ‘Blenheim Flourishes’ which, during the 1991 competition would have set the tone for their whole performance.
I have been unable to find out the name of the principal cornet player at that time, but their solo in the band’s arrangement of Marvin Hamlisch’s ‘The Way We Were’ is truly stunning, as is the cadenza work throughout. The CD continues with an overture by Carl G Reissiger, a trumpet showcase by Harold Walters, the more popular ‘Pasadena’ by Harry Warren, and Richard Wagner’s ‘Procession to the Minster’.
This is followed with the Honest Toil March (William Rimmer), which I would assume went down very well in the mining community of Tredegar. There are two romances – ‘Je crois entendre encore’ by Georges Bizet, and Gilbert Vintner’s ‘Salute to Youth, which are placed either side of my favourite tune on the album – a concert band arrangement of Jerry Herman’s ‘Mack and Mabel.
The CD concludes with the theme from the film E.T. which was celebrating its tenth anniversary, of course composed by the iconic John Williams, who has probably contributed more music for concert band than any other composer of the 20th century.
Wearing their resplendent red coats, the members of the band are pictured during their contest performance, on the recording’s cover, at the De Doelen Hall in Rotterdam. The recording is testament not only to their conductor, Nigel Weeks, but to the players themselves – precise articulation and rhythmic control, superb attention to dynamics and some very talented solo players. The repertoire was well chosen reflecting the preferences of the time with a selection of exciting marches, romantic ballads, showcase tunes, a jazzy carnival waltz and movie music. Sadly, there was no Welsh content but two of the three percussionists were women, which puts me in good company.
As I’ve said earlier, the band is still an impressive band with consistent successes. In more recent times, TTB have won the British Open title in 2010 and 2013; they provided a major part of the score (as well as an on-screen cameo) for the movie ‘Pride’ which won a BAFTA in 2014; the next year they performed at the Old Vic Theatre, London for Tim Minchin, and in 2016 became the Band Cymru title, becoming Champion Band of Wales for the 11th time. Last year, they played on Britain’s Got Talent – the only performance during the pandemic until recently when competitions were allowed again.
Although TTB celebrated 140 years in 2016, the band really has been an exceptional part of Welsh musical history for 172 years – thirty-two years before incorporation in 1876. I’m personally very glad that I discovered the band because of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project and the files assigned to me. The National Library holds several electronic resources showcasing the band in its catalogue, much of it in the BBC Radio Wales collection or from S4C/HTV Wales. There is even one score available of ‘Fanfares & Scherzo for Brass Band’ commissioned by the band from Wyndham Thomas. I heartily recommend listening to the Tredegar Town Band in whatever format you fancy.
Tredegar Town Band logo, available in various places online