The sass of Unibrass

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Opened by the Band of the King’s Division playing a rousing rendition of the national anthem, the second annual University Brass Band competition got off to a flying start. The first band onstage was Bangor University, whose well played set was eclectic, and showed off the wide variety of pieces that was to become the standard for the day.

Next up was Southampton University’s Brass Band who started with an up-tempo piece commissioned for the 1984 LA Olympics, followed immediately by a hymn arranged for solo cornet. A very intimate version of the Song “When She Loved Me” (the one from Toy Story 2)

The third band of the day was Keele who played a stirring set which even included a singer (or two) for a number called “showstopper”, the first vocalists of the day.


After Keele had finished, there was an impromptu break in proceedings as one of the players from Cardiff University had… left their music in Wales and there was a bit of a race against time to attempt to copy it out again. Eventually, after what was the largest source of jeopardy of the day, Cardiff University managed to get their parts written out and onstage in time. They then played an uplifting program which included a mixture of more traditional pieces and arrangements of more modern songs, including a version of the Beach Boy’s “Good Vibrations”- fully resplendent in flower garlands, hula shirts and dancing mascots. Followed by the ever popular, oh-so- clichéd and wonderfully camp “Singin’ in the Rain”, aided by the cringe-worthy attempts at the iconic dance by a band member.

Oxford University began with a rendition of “The Dambusters March”, followed up by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Changes Everything” and a piece called “Zelda”, before finishing an overly cheesy set with “Breezin’ Down Broadway”- a medley of American show-tunes.

Image by Chris Osborn

The sixth band to grace the stage was York Uni. As the biggest rivals to Lancaster in the competition, the competition, at times, felt like a musical version of Roses. The band’s unique set involved interesting choreography and an entertaining conductor. However there seemed to be little to make their program or their playing stand out from the rest, save for an attempt at being light-hearted; an obviously awkward pair of Tango dancers closing their set with “Libertango”, showing a different and entertaining approach to the competition.

Ending the morning’s proceedings was Birmingham Uni, whose set had a very British theme, playing pieces from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Their playing provided a more serious contrast to the previous act, and the standard of playing in this band was some of the best of the morning, ending with a well played version of “Cry of the Celts” everyone seemed to enjoy their selections.

After lunch it was time to cheer for the home team. Lancaster University Brass Band opened up with a very good version of “Joy, Peace and Happiness”, the quality of which was very high (bias aside), and the piece choices were varied and well performed by all involved. This included ending with a surprise piece at the end: A High energy version of “Hawaii 5-0”

The next band was last year’s second place, Huddersfield, who opened with a New Orleans-style funeral march/Dixie style Jazz piece. This then morphed into a largely sung version of “Oh When the Saints”. The rest of their set was, as with the rest of the days proceedings, full of marches and generic brass-band sounding pieces, ending with an Irish style piece.

Celebrations! (Image by Chris Osborn)

Up next were last years winners, Brass United, from The Royal Northern College of Music and Manchester University. Their opening set proved that they were out to protect their crown, and seemed to blow a fair few audience members away. The solos were well performed, with some very flashy horn lines. However Brass United showed that they aren’t all merely pomp and flurry, with an arrangement of a choral work.

The penultimate band of the day was that of Cambridge University. Complete with owl mascot, they opened with the exciting “Blaze Away” followed by “One Day I’ll Fly Away”, played to a backing video telling the story and adventures of a “Little horn dreaming of a big city and stardom…”. The flugal solo in “don’t you make my brown eyes blue” was, for want of a better word… average at best and not what you’d expect from a top university band. The intonation of the band left something to be desired, with an interesting take on the concept of “being in tune”.

The final band was Hull. They managed to perform a polished set with some good piece choices, despite being the newest band in the competition, having only formed a few months beforehand, and suffering a few last-minute problems.

In between the end of the competition and the results, we were treated to a world premier of a piece which had been composed as part of a competition for UniBrass. The winning piece was a stirring march performed by last year’s winners, Brass United. Overall, Brass United swept the board with the prizes, picking up “Best feature” and best band. Lancaster came a very respectable third place. It was a phenomenal day and seemed to be greatly enjoyed by all. Lancaster is also set to host the 3rd Unibrass competition in 2013, so definitely make space in your diary – it’s not an event to be missed.

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