Derwent brass band tune up for silver anniversary year

Belper band Derwent Brass are celebrating their 25th year of playing in 2017 with a series of concerts and two specially commissioned new works.
Belper band Derwent Brass are celebrating their 25th year of playing in 2017 with a series of concerts and two specially commissioned new works.

Belper’s best-loved brass band celebrates a quarter of a century on the road this year, and has commissioned two new works to mark the occasion.

Derwent Brass was formed in 1992, and has turned out to be a major success story in the region’s already proud heritage of concert bands.

Musical director Keith Leonard has led the band to huge success since 1993.

Musical director Keith Leonard has led the band to huge success since 1993.

The ensemble rose from the embers of several Derbyshire Railway Works bands, and quickly established itself as a popular attraction before rising up the ranks of competitive playing.

Third cornet player Rachel Beckett said: “Today we are a championship-section brass band - the banding equivalent of a premiership football club - and in our most recent ranking we were just outside the top 50 bands in the world.”

While the traditional workplace cultures which gave rise to the original brass bands may have changed, their place in the heart of the town’s life is not so different.

Rachel, a teacher at a Sandiacre secondary school, said: “I’ve only played with the band for just over two years but they are a remarkable group of people. Brass bands sometimes have an old fashioned reputation but we are far from any stereotype.

“The band is made up of musicians from the local community from all walks of life, including teachers, doctors, nurses, business owners and everything in between.

“We all come together simply because we want to make great music,” she added.

They also regularly play charity gigs for local causes such as the Derby Hospitals Choir. Just this month they boosted Mayor of Belper Gary Spendlove’s 100-mile walk to promote organ donation.

Tuba player Rob Stew said: “Derwent has a rich heritage in raising funds for charities which started many years ago led by one of our patrons Roy Poole.

“Roy was the chairman of the Friends of the Nightingale Macmillan Unit in Derby Hospital, which the band helped raise more than £28,000 for.”

Roy continues to play a key role in organising events to raise money for the band’s nominated charity of the year.

In 2016 that charity was the Alzheimer’s Society and for 2017 he band is excited to be supporting Brass for Africa, a music education charity working with disadvantaged children.

With a wide reaching repertoire, the band has earned such a strong reputation that it is constantly in demand to perform at venues throughout the Midlands, across the UK and even overseas.

Over recent years the band performed in the Derby Assembly Rooms and Cathedral, Harrogate International Centre, Wembley Conference Centre, Chatsworth House, London Royal Parks, and town halls up and down the country.

In 2015, they were also invited to help Derby Theatre celebrate its 40th anniversary by playing a starring role in a stage adaptation of the famous film Brassed Off.

The production left an indelible impression on Derby Theatre chief executive Sarah Brigham, who said: “I was really impressed. Their involvement, skills and expertise was a huge asset.

“We all look forward to working alongside them and welcoming them to Derby Theatre in years to come as I know how incredibly popular they are, with audiences of all ages.”

The band has also performed alongside the Treorchy Male Choir, winner of Channel 4’s Opera-tunity Denise Leigh, the Grammy award-winning SwingleSingers, and experimental indie rock band British Sea Power.

Derwent has always been keen to introduce new music to its audiences, and will maintain that ambition with a pair of new pieces composed to mark their special year.

The first is a short, fiery piece entitled Pulse, written by 20-year-old Mathew Eden from Derby.

Mathew is no stranger to the band, being the son of president and founding member Neville Eden, but has amassed a considerable body of his own compositions since achieving his first competition success in 2014.

Musical director Keith Leonard said: “We’re very much looking forward to seeing Matt in the band room in a couple of week to present the work and give it its first performance in upcoming concerts.”

The second anniversary commission is a concert work from Paul Lovatt-Cooper.

As one of the most sought after composing talents of his generation, Paul’s musical works have been performed to sellout audiences at the Royal Albert Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House. In addition to being awarded commissions from an array of international soloists, his music has been featured on television and radio shows worldwide.

Anniversary celebrations will begin this weekend, with an invitation-only concert for the Friends of Derwent Brass. The first competition of the year comes with the Midlands Regional Championships in Bedworth on March 12.

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