Having taken on a new drum corps first for me earlier this season by compering at the SoundSport/IMG Glasgow event, and really enjoying it, I thought I’d do another one by writing a review for the first show of the season.
In doing this review, I’m in no way suggesting I know everything about all aspects of marching band/drum corps, especially when it comes to colourguard and battery, so the observations expressed below are just that … observations … on how I viewed each performance, and how they came across to me. I don’t see the point in being negative about performances early season, everyone needs encouragement, and so I’ve tried my best to give that.
For those groups competing in both shows (BYBA and DCUK) I’ve gone on the BYBA performance, as they are the debut performances of their 2016 shows.
The weather conditions were pretty much perfect from a UK show – a little over cast, not too cold, not to hot – and the rain stayed away right up till the very last group (sorry Kidsgrove Scouts)
Halifax Boys Brigade & Girls Brigade:
The first group of the day certainly proved that although you may have limited numbers, it’s still worth the effort to get out there and do it!
Their show was entitled ‘Cheesy Pop’, and seemed to get the audience toe tapping along right from the start. Pharrel Williams ‘Happy’ was probably the highlight for me, as it seemed to be something the band enjoyed playing. There was no hiding for the members of Halifax, everyone contributed, and I thought the guy on the marimba at the front really helped put across a feeling of fun with his enthusiastic performance.
They finished strongly with Lady Gaga’s ‘Edge of Glory’, getting the day off to a good start.
Featuring the music of the longstanding Broadway hit, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, this very young group got off the line confidently with the Phantom main theme, and pretty much covered all the recognisable songs from the musical.
I thought their interpretation of ‘Music of the Night’ worked well, featuring a horn duet, with the rest of the brass and colourguard pairing up to waltz through the song. The snare section made good use of the marching cymbals through this too, adding some nice musical colour to the piece.
They had a small frontline, but the players in there gave a confident performance and definitely added to the overall sound. It was a good performance for a very young group.
10th South Shields Boys Brigade:
Having started my ‘banding’ many years ago in the 16th Paisley Boys Brigade, it was an absolute pleasure to see 10th South Shields appear on the back field, and even before the judging started, they caught everyone’s attention by entering the field performing a rousing march tune.
These guys had everything that epitomized the traditional boys brigade marching band of yesteryear – snare drums on slings, upright bellyres, tenor drums (with players twirling beaters) the big bass drum, and tambourines with ribbons …. All turned out smartly in the traditional BB/GB uniforms, and led at the front by the BB Captain, complete with traditional mace.
Their all trumpet brass section were very strong and confident, and although most of the music was unison parts, when they did use harmonics, they sounded equally as good. Symmetrical drill, including figure of 8’s, block pass throughs, and parade ground drills, were performed with ease, and although this was a traditional drill performance, they done a pretty good job of covering most of the arena. Every section of the band played well, and had a great understanding for the moods of the many march tunes they played, none more so when they gave a very sympathetic rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ to the traditional BB slow march. Classic!
‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ was my favourite tune, and when the whole band filled the music gaps with “Hoorah, Hoorah” at the right time, it raised great applause from the appreciative audience.
You could clearly see that the members really enjoy what they do, as there were a lot of smiles between each other as they performed the pass throughs and other drill movement.
A rousing finale of ‘Will You Anchor Hold’ was a great finish to a performance that I really enjoyed, and brought back so many great memories for me.
We were treated to ‘A Night at the Theatre’ by the first of our two groups from Staffordshire today, and the first hit of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Mis set the scene well for the rest of the production.
‘Food Glorious Food’ was my favourite piece from these guys, most probably because of the young member, who couldn’t have been anymore that 6 years old, who marched out from the pit, bowl in hand, and during a 4 count ensemble rest, shouted at the top of his voice “please Sir, can I have some more” which brought raptures of laughter and applause from the crowd … absolutely brilliant!
When they moved onto the music of ‘Wicked’ the brass changed their horns for broomsticks, which I thought helped with the story telling, and ‘One Day More’, was set well visually with some challenging double time marching for the very young members of the corps.
A strong rendition of ‘Cant Stop The Beat’ from Hairspray finished off what I thought was a good performance from these guys.
Nexus are a corps that have had their fair share of tough times over the years, and I know that they were on the verge of folding at the end of last season, but John Dimmick, a Corps Director who doesn’t know the meaning of ‘giving up’, has managed to put
another great little unit together for this season.
Their show ‘Carpe Diem’ asked a lot of the small group of members, but what they lack in size, they make up for in bucket loads of enthusiasm and performance.
As I said in my disclaimer, I don’t confess to know a great deal about battery, but want I do know is that Nexus’ single field battery member (on snare) knew his stuff, and was determined to make sure he contributed to the ensemble with some very good playing.
The colourguard worked hard on trying to fill the field, as well as telling the story of the production, and the frontline certainly played a big part in the overall confident sound. I also thought the new uniform (strong back and red lines) helped the group look bigger than they actually were.
It was good to see them out again, and I think it’s worth a personal shout out to John for continuing to pull this group of performers together.
There aren’t many of the BIG name’s of early UK drum corps left in the country these days, but Concord is one of them, and that’s mainly down to the drive and ‘keep going no matter what’ attitude by the man at the helm, Roger Steele. This group was one of the highlights of DCUK Finals for me last year, especially the reception they got when they took on the big boys of The Company in a Drum Battle, it was great fun to watch, and there was only ever going to be one winner of that battle!
Anyway, the AllStars’ 2016 show is “Viva Las Vegas (AllStars Hit the Strip)” and it’s absolutely clear they have a great deal of fun when they’re performing, this was no more evident than in their rendition of ‘It’s a Kinda Magic’ complete with larger than life playing cards, and a magician, which brought loads of smiles from the audience. They finished off their show strongly with Sinatra’s ‘Luck Be a Lady Tonight’ doing a good job of filling the field and creating a big final picture.
This is another group who have managed to keep going in some form or another through some very tough times, and like John Dimmick and Roger Steele, Carl Harris has always had a ‘never say die’ attitude.
‘Phobias’ were the theme of the show (fear of space, being closed in, masks, and death) and with well placed staging screens, they managed to make the corps look full on the field, and give the guard a good opportunity to portray the different feelings.
My favourite parts were ‘Beetlejuice’ and ‘Carmina Burana’ both played well by the ensemble, and complimented by the frontline who all gave a confident performance.
Beeches are one of the groups that impressed me greatly last season, so I was looking forward to seeing what they had to offer this year, and they did the same again at Barnsley.
The first thing that stood out about Beeches was the new uniform – aqua blue highlights on an all white background, and it certainly enhanced their 2016 production ‘Aqua’.
This show tells the story of the first drop of water and its journey through streams, lakes, and oceans before ending back in the atmosphere, for the cycle to start again – and although the development of the theme is in it’s early stages, you can see the different elements coming together, and the music selection certainly helped that.
‘Swan Lake’ was probably my highlight of the show, starting with a well played mellophone solo, and building nicely to the hit. They made good use of the frontline electronics, and over all they gave a very confident and strong performance.
It was great to see the addition of a colourguard to their set up this year (the absence of one put them at a disadvantage to other competitors last season) and by the looks of it, they’ve had a productive winter season integrating it into the ensemble, with the guard doing a good job of telling the story of the show.
They have a great little horn section, well balanced with their battery, who also looked and played well, all brought together well through a very readable visual book.
I sense another very successful season for these guys who are definitely going from strength to strength.
Next were the chameleons of European drum corps, and first of the two big boys on show today. This group continually push the envelope of drum corps in Europe, and it’s always exciting to see what theme they have gone for when a new season comes around.
First impressions was the clean cut, two tone uniform that made the corps look very professional and classy, and they have certainly grown a few in numbers since last season.
‘Inspire Me’ is a journey through your moods and feelings, brought together through a presentation that speaks in ever changing colours, visually and musically, and although there’s still of lot of the colour elements to be added to the visual production, the colourguard gave a small taste of what’s to come through the use of different solid coloured silks.
Their repertoire is a collection of original music, and selections from Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sunday in the Park with George” and I thought the whole thing worked really well together. All sections of the corps were strong for early season, and I thought the horns in particular did a great job, with some great ensemble work, lovely solos, and very difficult passages in the written book that will start to come together with more clarity as the season progresses.
One of the big things that stood out for me with Co at this show was the age of the ensemble, it looked a lot younger than previous years (especially in the guard) which was encouraging to see, but equally as impressive was the evidence that the new kids (noticeably in the battery line) seemed to be meeting the standard that everyone has come to expect from The Company.
Their frontline always adds greatly to the ensemble, and this year is no different, with them giving a very confident performance.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this production is going to unfold, it’s got lots of potential, and if the written book is pulled off, musically and visually, it’s certainly going to be another ground breaking production from Co.
I really enjoyed Revolution last season, I thought they had a really strong programme come Finals, so like Beeches, I was looking forward to seeing what they had done through the winter, and they didn’t disappoint.
The first thing I noticed about ‘Revo’ was their numbers, they seemed to be really healthy in size, and with what looked like a good mix of young and ‘older’ (I use that word lightly) members.
‘Under The Canopy’ is the title of their 2016 show, and again, their choice of repertoire helps to bring that theme together well. Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’ is one of my favourite modern drum corps pieces, and these guys do a pretty good job of it, putting across a mature sound for such a young group.
‘Appalachian Morning’, another DC favourite, presents meter challenges for the group, and the seemed to handle them well for something that’s a step up in complexity for Revolution.
‘On Earth As It Is In Heaven’ was nicely played for this time of the season, the lower brass had a good full sound, and the closer, ‘Puma’ tested the corps stamina and concentration right to the end. A good use of backfield screens helped keep their visual picture strong throughout, helping to stage the corps well.
This show has a long way to go, but it’s definitely got all the elements of a great production, musically and visually, that will challenge their young members right to the end of the year.
East Coast Elite:
I’ve always thought that ECE had a lot more potential than they offered in past season, and I was pleased to see that they’ve used the success of last year to move forward again in 2016.
‘We Are Gathered Here Today’ has an obvious strong theme, and this is reflected in the choice of music, and the use of church benches, crosses, and gold wedding bands. The horn section gave a confident and controlled performance, some good solos and balanced ensemble work throughout, but the highlight for me was their guard, they were very confident and did a great job of selling the theme of the show.
It was good to see them introduce a little humour into the production too when the colourguard members gathered behind the bride, at the end of ‘The Wedding March’ in the hope that they’d be the lucky one to catch the bouquet … and there was some disappointed and comical role play faces when the tallest member bagged the sign of the next husband to be.
A lot of thought has gone into the theme of this show, and I’m certain it’s going to mature as the season goes on, but today’s performance was a very sound base to build from.
‘It does exactly what it says on the tin’ … and there’s no mistaking who these guys are when they appear on the backfield. With another very healthy sized corps this season, you know you’re in for a powerhouse of sound when the Scouts open up, and this year is no different.
I’m sure good old Ludwig was looking down thinking … ‘so, THAT’S how my 5th symphony sounds with drum corps brass!’ … and I’m certain he also enjoyed the latin twist, and screaming solos of the opener! The new System Blue horns helped greatly towards that big sound, and with them swapping baritones for a full euphonium line, the depth and power of the brass ensemble was there for everyone to hear from the first impact.
Kidsgrove’s colourguard always add massively to their visual element, and it’s evident, even at the first show, that they’ll doing the same again this year, with a very confident performance. The other noticeable improvement for me in the Scouts this year was their drumline, I thought they did a pretty good job on the day.
I enjoyed their rendition of Trilogy (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and Pat Metheny’s ‘Heat of the Day’, which are already becoming a solid part of the production. The horns have a great ensemble sound, which I thought was more controlled than in previous seasons. ‘Liturgical Dances’ (David Holsinger) the complexity of which certainly meets last years Medea, is going to take some really hard work to get it clean, but when it is, it’ll be another top class closer from the Scouts.
I think there’s still a way to go with this production, still a bit of joining up of the visual and music books to pull the ‘Symmetricity’ theme together, but there’s no doubt that the Scouts are once again going to be challenging for top UK and European honours with another BIG production.
It would be easy to sit and pick the bones out of first show performances, or start going into detail, but that’s not what first shows are all about, so I’ve tried to approach it in the same way the judges would judge a ‘first look’ performance – an overall summary of what each production is all about, and what they could potentially offer going through the season.
There’s obviously a long way to go till the end of the season, and everyone’s programme concept and quality will no doubt strengthen and become more evident as the year progresses, but what is clear is that we’re in for another great season of innovation and quality from the UK’s drum corps’ and marching bands.
Well done everyone!
Just a wee foot note on the event itself: I think the combined BYBA/DCUK shows work well, it gives a full day of performances for the paying punters, and a great deal of variety in the groups taking part – more bang for your buck is always good … It’s also a great opportunity for those competing in both circuits to get two ‘competition condition’ performances under their belt on the same day.
The facilities in and around the stadium were really good, good parking, plenty choice for refreshments etc, the only little downside for me was the stand itself, it didn’t offer great elevation for the audience or groups, but all in all, a really great event put on by the guys from Revolution, well done!