One of the best things about playing in a musical group, apart from all the great banter, fabulous company, and wonderful music, is having the opportunity to play in public. I think this is even more the case for brass bands, as we get to play in all sorts of gigs: VE Day celebrations, marching along in parades and, of course, knocking out Christmas carols every day of December in every location imaginable (although nothing beats playing in our tuba player’s pub – the Famous Royal Oak!). However, one place that you will always find a brass band playing is on bandstands, and London City Brass is no different in this respect; we have a very busy summer calendar and I’ve already had to turn down a few weekend invitations for 2020!
One of the most memorable moments I have had with the band was our first bandstand performance at Amboise a couple of years ago. I was still fairly new at the time, and I didn’t have much experience of what playing on a bandstand was like, but what an introduction! Amboise is a stunning little village in the Loire valley which, once a year, is overrun with brass band enthusiasts for a weekend of music. All the bands get to play on one of the two bandstands, and we were lucky enough to be given a slot performing in the village’s main square. It was mid-afternoon, I’d had a very tasty lunch, the sun was up and we were playing in the shade to a crowd of fellow musicians and appreciative French locals. Our repertoire had been carefully chosen by our MD to entertain and that’s exactly what we did, as we finished the set with a raucous rendition of Hootenanny that left our audience breathless and wanting to hear more. They weren’t the only ones – I remember feeling a bit dazed at the end, but exhilarated by how much fun it had all been.
Playing on a bandstand can also be challenging though. I remember my first performance at Regent’s Park, where I turned up dressed for summer only to be let down by our infamous British weather. It was cold, the vaguely grey sky turned black within 20 minutes of playing our first note, and there was a biting wind that sent our music whirling every couple of minutes. It didn’t help matters that I had come unprepared (and hungover) – any brass bander will tell you that you have to turn up with pegs if you’re playing outside. I was disappointingly pegless and a little clueless for that first outing in the park, but it didn’t discourage me or the band. Despite the elements, we defiantly blasted out our set and put a smile on the faces of our audience and passers-by.
Our second outing to Amboise last summer was also a “little” stormy. Minutes before we were due to go on stage the heavens opened and, although we waited for it to stop before performing, we were all rather wet for the start of our set. As we settled into our places, bravely battling the wind and holding onto our music, we wondered whether the weather would hold and if the rain would stay away. We started by playing Verdi’s “Nabucco” and the music felt very fitting: the dark, somber notes of the basses mimicked the black clouds above us and by the time we reached the bright airy refrain, the clouds had started to part and the sun poked its head out. I remember looking up at the top of the chateau’s walls to see people who were listening intently and waving at us in approval. The rain stayed away and sun shone on us for the rest of our set. By the time we left the stage, we felt like we had beaten the elements again and thoroughly entertained everyone in the process.
I’m hoping for sunshine on our trip to Amboise this summer, but either way we’ll enjoy our set and make people smile. I can’t wait.