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On 24 January 1901, just two days after the death of Queen Victoria, the newly formed Upper Norwood Temperance Band received a full set of Besson Class A instruments and a week later held its first rehearsal. On Saturday 27 October 2001, at the Ravensbourne School in Bromley, the Crystal Palace Band (renamed in 1924) celebrated its 100th anniversary to a near-capacity audience.

The concert began with lights dimmed and the plaintive voice of an unannounced cornet somewhere offstage. 2001: A Space Odyssey – a very effective curtain raiser -had got the evening underway.

The band continued with two tributes to the film Brassed Off - the rousing Death or Glory followed by the haunting En Aranjuez con tu amor, flugel and tenor horns combining effectively in the main theme. Two up-tempo numbers followed: Singing in the Rain, arranged by the excellent Alan Fernie bringing out the warm sounds of the euphoniums and baritones; and Bolivar, featuring the assured trombone playing of Duncan Wilson, the evening’s first guest soloist. A second Fernie number, Be A Clown (featuring 11 year-old David Maher on specialist percussion) was preceded by the beautiful hymn Précy St Martin, written by David Swales, a former cornet player with the band whose untimely death in 2000, and the events in New York, this moving rendition commemorated.

The first half was topped off by Vaughan Williams’s Henry V. This was a terrific performance. We imagined the raising of the battlements (the opening fanfares, with William Spencer on terrific form on piccolo trumpet); the unnatural calm between battles (James Lynch’s lyrical soprano); the battle’s recommencement (horns and euphonium taking the main theme, with a rhythmic and sustained base accompaniment); and, finally, a stately pavane heralding the new dawn.

The second half opened with a rousing performance of William Walton’s prelude, The Spitfire. Then came the evening’s piéce de resistance: Rhapsody in Blue, scored for brass band and featuring on piano, Karl Lutchmayer, an occasional back-row cornet player with the band, but much better known as an international concert pianist. Throughout, Karl’s technical proficiency was breathtaking, but always allied to an assured control over dynamics and an instinctive feel for the sheer romanticism of the music.

The effervescence of Jerry Herman’s Mack and Mabel was followed by Duncan Wilson’s beguiling trombone sound in Can’t Take my Eyes Off You. Then, in an extra item to commemorate Dr Denis Wright’s conductership of the band beginning in the 1930s, Duncan played the beautiful trombone solo Elaine, the second movement of Dr Wright’s suite, Tintagel.

As we came towards the close, the celebratory nature of the occasion began to shine though. Clog Dance completed the trio of works from Brassed Off and Meet the Band, written by Mike Gray, showcased, in turn, the cornets (in particular, the virtuosity of the band’s principal cornet, Stuart Jenkins); the horns, baritones and euphoniums; the splendid trombones (all six of ‘em!) and basses; and, not least the three percussionists. At this point, presentations were made to Mike Gray, in recognition of his 14 years as MD; to St Christopher’s Hospice (a cheque for £1,000 and a retiring collection, which added up to a grand total of £1,700); and embroidered band pennants to the guest soloists, who then joined the band for their final items.

On with the music now and Palatians, the band's signature march, penned by Steve Walkley (ex-CPB trombonist) featuring "Maybe its because I’m a Londoner" and some dazzling cornet work by Stuart Jenkins and James Lynch. That was (supposed to be) that, according to the programme. But the audience wanted more and the old favourite, Hootenanny, was wheeled out in response. They loved it and got a second encore, Ticket to Ride. All in all, a terrific concert, professionally MC’d by Christopher Town and conducted with great aplomb by Mike Gray.

Phil Alker

October 2001