Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Brass in Brum

Yesterday we travelled to Birmingham to watch Brass in Concert, the brain child of young Harrison who has been with the show since its very first production back in 2014. Harrison approached me about a year ago with a mad-cap idea: namely that he wanted to conduct a concert version of Brass for his final year project at the Birmingham Conservatoire. I made encouraging noises, but didn't think for a moment it would actually happen. That said, Harry has always had an air of steely confidence, and I've learned over the years that it's dangerous to dismiss any of his whims!

He pulled off the impossible. He fundraised, studied the score in depth, took conducting masterclasses, organised rehearsals, dealt with a veritable revolving door of people dropping out and being high-maintenance, booked a professional theatre and crew, rehearsed musicians and performers, cajoled, twisted arms, went to hell and back, and emerged last night like a glorious butterfly. I was immensely proud.

The band sounded wonderful. But for a couple of exposed moments when the nerves kicked in a little, you'd have thought they were a professional orchestra. Harrison had brought Zak, Josef and Jonny in from the original productions. Zak is a trumpet/ cornet/ flugelhorn whizz-kid whose enthusiasm for brass music and Brass has very-much helped to shape the show's music. In the process of performing the piece, he's developed a virtuosic, stamina-busting track for himself which I wonder if anyone else could actually play!

Brass has generated something of a family. A fabulous dysfunctional family which even includes all the parents of the cast members who I see at all the events. Once a Brasser, always a Brasser. We were able to welcome Emma Fraser back into the fold last night, who played the role of Grimsby in the original production.

The revelation of the evening was Lucy Carter, who was in the ensemble for the show at the Hackney Empire but stepped up to play the role of Peggy when Ruby pulled out. I'd managed to convince myself that Ruby was fairly irreplaceable, but Lucy's interpretation of the role was remarkable. Comedy dripped from her, and the singing was so convincing that she managed to make the coloratura soprano sequences sound like they weren't actually that stratospherically high! I was hugely impressed.

The cast looked amazing. The boys wore DJs and the girls wore black dresses. There had been technical issues during the day, which meant the cast were unable to see Harrison on a monitor and, more worryingly, had been forced to ditch their head mics: hastily re-staging the show to involve everyone, as much as they could, delivering all their lines into three stand mics at the front of the stage. A few more hours of rehearsal, and a couple of extra mics would have nailed the problem, but some of the singing, and a few of the sequences of underscored dialogue did her a little lost during the performance. It was a very small thing, however.

The cast gave it everything. Oscar, playing Tom, seemed to have fire in his belly and made brave choices. Laura as Eliza was luminous. Ben, playing Alf was self-assured and probably sang Brass better than I've ever heard him singing the song before. Everywhere I looked on the stage, someone else was giving it large. Even the newbies from the conservatoire that Harry had brought in to replace some of the original cast members were going hell for leather. Boy Robin played his third role in the show. He was our original Morrie (the 15 year-old lad who gets shot for desertion - spoiler, I know) but was too old to play the role at Hackney, so became the recruiting Sergeant Major, and last night stepped into the shoes of Bickerdyke, singing Bickerdyke's Speech possibly better than I've ever heard it sung before.

The audience were on their feet almost before the lights went down at the end of the show, but the largest cheer was rightly reserved for Harrison, who cried when he saw his standing ovation.

I was thrilled to see so many good friends and family members in the audience. Fiona's parents were there. My parents. Edward and Sascha and Silvia. My cousin Bridget and her crew. Ruth Wootton (who ate with us beforehand). Nathan's Mum and sister came with an enormous crowd. I was particularly touched to see Rachel Hazlewood there with her two kids, one of whom is only about two years younger than Rachel was when I met her at university. What's happened to time? Surely it's only a few months since Rachel and I were the age of the kids on stage last night, performing Jesus Christ Superstar at York University's Central Hall?

We went to the pub with some of the cast afterwards. A few of them were waylaid on route when they came across a homeless person who was having an epileptic fit on the street. It was, apparently, deeply traumatising.

We stayed the night in the Premier Inn, woke up, had breakfast with the parents, and here we are, hurtling down the M40 in the direction of London. A great day.


  1. It was indeed a fantastic show. Emotionally charged from start to finish. Harrison, band, cast and crew gave performances worthy of any West End stage. It was a privilege to be part of the audience for such a stunning show. Well done all.

  2. Absolutely amazing! Fabulous write up which truly reflects the performance.. I too cried my eyes out and was immensely proud of everyone's achievements, particularly Harry's. Good to see you again too Benjamin.

    Jules (Calais!)