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The catalyst for founding the NYBB was a massed band concert in Bradford on 25 October 1947. It was the brain-child of three local teachers, Elizabeth Lumb, Arthur Atkinson and Ralph Nellist. Instrumental teaching was in the ascendancy and the concert brought together the bands of the three teachers. Dr Denis Wright was the Guest Conductor. In November 1950, another concert, organised by the National Association of Brass Band Conductors, took place in Leeds. This, again with Dr Denis conducting, brought together about 100 youngsters, demonstrating what potential there was.
A meeting of the brass band movement and a number of Education Authorities was held in Manchester the following January, at which the decision was taken to form the NYBB. A strong administration was established, with representatives from all over Britain. Sir Malcolm Sargent became President and Dr Denis, Chairman. Leonard Davies became Secretary and Harry Mortimer, Herbert Bennett and Dr R Maldwyn Price became Vice-Presidents, representing England, Scotland and Wales. The first course took place at Thornton Grammar School, Bradford, in April 1952. Brass players up to the age of 18 were invited to apply and a band was formed, with 87 boys and four girls. The instrumental tutors were Willie Lang and Joe Wood of Black Dyke, Cliff Edmunds of Morris Motors, Tom Atkinson, George Kaye, Leonard Davies and Ken Aitken-Jones, all under the supervision of Harry Mortimer. The full band was conducted by Dr Denis - as Music Advisor. On the Thursday the BBC recorded items for a children’s programme - the first of many NYBB broadcasts. Maurice Murphy was Leader (a title coined by Dr Denis in preference to the usual brass band title of Solo Cornet). The final concert was widely acclaimed.
The NYBB’s second course took place in Reading. Harry Mortimer was the conductor, and the slightly enlarged tutorial staff included Norman Ashcroft of Fairey Aviation and New Zealander Ken Smith. Eric Ball directed the third course, and so the brass band’s Great Triumvirate of the mid-20th century, Wright, Mortimer and Ball, had each contributed to the solid foundation on which the NYBB was built. In 1958, the Easter course heralded the first of two appearances as guest conductor of Sir Adrian Boult and the band’s first TV appearance. Auditions were now introduced. Hitherto, a recommendation from a person of standing was all that was required but now a network of 23 centres was established. Though costly, the publicity arising from the 173 auditions justified the expense. However, from Easter 1960 auditions were held during courses.
The 10th anniversary was celebrated in 1962 with a TV programme introduced by the famous jazz trombonist George Chisolm and the second appearance of Sir Adrian. There was also support from Jimmy Edwards, famous for his humour and for his playing of the trombone and euphonium. He appeared in a number of massed band concerts organised on behalf of the NYBB, performing free of charge, and generally persuading the bands to do likewise. This brought both publicity and much-needed cash. Easter 1964 saw the band’s 25th course, celebrated with its first commercial recording - Youth Makes Music. New faces amongst the staff now included Derek Garside, James Shepherd and Denis Carr.
At the AGM of 1967 Dr Denis announced his retirement as Music Advisor. The reason given was that he needed the freedom to do other things, though it soon became obvious that his health was failing. He had already chosen his successor, a man with wide experience - both with brass bands and in the wider musical world. Like Dr Denis he had held a senior position in the BBC. His name - Geoffrey Brand. Dr Denis was quite ill during Geoffrey’s first course and within a matter of weeks the brass band movement was stunned by the news of his death, on 20 April 1967. By now the band was firmly established, although finance was still a problem. Membership was open to boys and girls of a suitable standard, subject to vacancies, within the age range of 12-18. The size of the band was generally about 100, but sometimes reached 120. There was also by now a full team of house staff.
Speaking of his time with the band, Geoffrey says:
"I came with enthusiasm and ideas, ready and keen to share them with the music staff, but no less keen to observe how they were already achieving such splendid results. I look back now on my eight years as Music Adviser as very happy and, I like to think, innovative times. As a means of developing aural awareness, I felt that a choir should be formed. Peter Room, then an Assistant Housemaster, was invited to train this - which took part in every concert, adding a change of colour and repertoire as well as being educationally beneficial to its members. Sadly, the choir faded after Peter became less involved with courses. Commissioned works from Paul Patterson and Wilfred Josephs were important additions to brass band repertoire during those days, and there was a never-to-be-forgotten visit to Denmark. Herbert Møller, the Danish co-ordinator of that visit, later returned as guest conductor to the NYBB in England."
1975 saw the appointment of the third Music Adviser, Arthur Butterworth. Like his predecessor, he had wide musical experience, having played trumpet with the Scottish National Orchestra and the Hallé, and gone on to conduct several leading orchestras. Arthur was also a highly respected composer, and had been involved in education at the highest levels. When asked to comment on his years with the NYBB he said:
"The decade from the mid 1970s marked some small but significant developments. The huge band of former days began to be slimmed down since the growing numbers of county youth bands meant that Local Education Authorities retrenched their support for pupils to attend NYBB courses. Musical policy led to slightly different directions and audition requirements became more demanding, reflecting the increased technical challenge of new music. Some of the older, traditional brass band music was laid aside in favour of more contemporary styles. On the other hand an awareness of brass music’s real heritage - the glories of the baroque age was purposely inaugurated, as a way of widening and refining the taste of the younger generation of players. New works were commissioned which stimulated a greater awareness among players and audiences of the rich variety of sounds capable of exploration by the brass band. One of these, a specially commissioned work by Richard Steinitz, brought about the NYBB’s first appearance at the prestigious Harrogate Festival."
In 1984 Roy Newsome was given the honour and responsibility of taking musical charge of the NYBB, but with the title ‘Music Director’. Though a pianist, organist and one-time choir-master, his musical background was very much in the sphere of brass bands. Bill England was now the Secretary, and the Chairman was Betty Anderson. Finance was still a huge problem and the band continued to survive on a shoe-string. With some help from the Arts Council and the Foundation for Sports and the Arts, plus one or two useful wind-falls and modest sponsorship from British Gas and Mobil, course fees remained at an affordable level, with bursaries offered in a few genuinely needy cases. Programmes were a combination of the modern and the traditional, and the policy of commissioning new works continued. Amongst these, two warrant a special mention. The first was a work for brass band and live electronic instruments. Composed by Philip Wilby, Dance Before the Lord received its world première in Gloucester Cathedral, where a unique acoustic helped create the atmosphere for the unprecedented sounds in this work. The other was a ballet, Dancing in the Park, by Peter Graham, first performed in the Royal Northern College of Music, with the full NYBB and dancers from the Northern Ballet School. Guest conductors were mainly from the brass band world, but we also welcomed Sir Charles Groves, Elgar Howarth and Bramwell Tovey, all distinguished conductors in the classical music field.
In 1987 the NYBB made its first appearance in the Royal Albert Hall, as guests of the National Youth Orchestra - celebrating its 40th anniversary. Four years later the band was in the famous hall in its own right, playing in a Henry Wood Promenade Concert under Sir Charles Groves. The band’s 40th anniversary was celebrated in 1992 with a concert in The Barbican, London. The band also appeared on television’s ‘Blue Peter’ and released its first CD, ‘40 Years Young’. This featured Maurice Murphy as soloist, and proved to be the last time the band was conducted by its old friend and the second President, Harry Mortimer. The centenary of the birth of Dr Denis Wright was marked in 1995, when one of three concerts given during the summer took place in the Royal Academy of Music, where he had served as a professor. Geoffrey Brand and Arthur Butterworth each conducted an item, and the programme included a performance of Dr Denis’s Trio Concerto, composed for his final course, in 1967.
Easter 1996 saw a return to the Barbican, as guests of the LSO. Members of the orchestra’s brass section visited the course giving masterclasses, and they also performed in the concert. This included a performance of Elgar Howarth’s Fireworks, with Lady Valerie Solti as narrator. The concert’s highlight, however, was the finale in which the band, augmented by LSO Brass, performed under the orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor, the charismatic Michael Tilson Thomas. In the same year the summer course was held in the USA the band’s only trans-Atlantic course, to date. Auditions still played a major role. In 1999 these were expanded. Instead of applicants coming to us it was decided that we should go to them. Six centres were set up in various parts of the country so that candidates did not have to travel excessive distances. The size of the band was generally about 75 - roughly a treble band. The proportion of girls has increased dramatically since the first course. At one point, almost half of the band members were female, but the ratio for Roy Newsome's final course (19 females and 55 males) was more typical. Several of the many romances which developed with the band over the years led to marriage, and there are now ex-NYBB members off-spring who have become second-generation NYBB members.
One of most exciting times was the year 2000, the final with Roy as Music Director. Following the Easter course, the band re-convened a week later to provide the first half of the gala concert of the European Brass Band Championships in the magnificent Symphony Hall, Birmingham. During the summer course the band took part in the BBC Proms Millennium Youth Day, held in the Royal Albert Hall. It was one of nine national youth music organisations, playing or singing individually and in combination with each other.
Following Roy Newsome's retirement at the end of 2000 Elgar Howarth took over the musical reins, as Artistic Director, with Dr Nicholas Childs and Garry Cutt acting as Associate Conductors. During this period, the NYBB became a Limited Company (from the beginning it had been a registered charity). The band’s 50th anniversary was celebrated in 2002, with a return to Bradford and a re-union of many former members who performed together in a ‘massed blow’ on the Friday evening, prior to a celebratory Gala Concert in St George’s Hall on the Saturday. In 2004 the National Children’s Brass Band of Great Britain was formed - one of the most significant developments in the entire history of the NYBB. Lynda Nicholson was Course Director on the first course, since when the band has been under the musical control of Dr Nicholas Childs. Elgar Howarth, who had also become the NYBB’s third President, was succeeded in 2006 as Artistic Director by the current incumbent, Bramwell Tovey. Bramwell is internationally recognised as a leading orchestral conductor and he has led the band to new heights of performing standards, as well as introducing new and exciting international soloists.
Many people have contributed to the success story of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. A few have been named in this brief history, however all are remembered with gratitude and affection.