A major annual event that attracts visitors to the Ironbridge Gorge from all over the country was hailed a success for the twelfth year this weekend, despite the inclement weather.
Around 5,000 people flocked to the free 2-day long Ironbridge Gorge Brass Band Festival, with record numbers also attending the Saturday evening Gala Concert in aid of Severn Hospice which was hosted by Radio Shropshire presenter, Eric Smith.
21 brass bands provided a tightly packed programme of brass music in the grounds of the Museum of Iron in Coalbrookdale throughout the weekend, ranging from classical pieces to show scores, pop, jazz and oompah sets.
Music for the Gala Concert was provided by the Gorge based Jackfield Elcock Reisen Band and the Jaguar Land Rover Band, who joined forces for a magnificent finale that included an arrangement of Amazing Grace by William Hines and Edward Gregson’s Variations on Laudate Dominum.
This year’s event was, however, tinged with some sadness following the sudden death earlier in the year of valued committee member, Eric Peagam. Eric was instrumental in starting up a series of Youth Brass Workshops in the run-up to the Festival after gaining sponsorship from the Gorge Parish Council. Over the last few years the workshops have provided an opportunity for dozens of young people in the area to play a brass instrument for the first time.
As a tribute to Eric, the annual competition for young brass composers which he also initiated with support from local estate agents, Nock Deighton, has been renamed the Nock Deighton Eric Peagam Memorial Trophy. This winner of this year’s trophy was 18-year old Daniel Hall from St Austell, whose winning piece – a March entitled ‘Tredegar’ – was performed at the Gala Concert by the Jaguar Land Rover Band.
The staging of the Gorge Brass Band Festival relies entirely on sponsorship and donations but even in the current financial climate it has managed to grow year on year thanks to its rising reputation in the brass world. Now a major event in the brass band calendar, organisers started getting enquiries for next year before they had put away this year’s bunting.
Festival Chairman, Neil Fury, said:
“The popularity of the Ironbridge Gorge Brass Band Festival has increased among both the players and the public every year since its inception. More and more bands are asking to come and play in the relaxed atmosphere of the Museum of Iron, which has kindly hosted the event for us.
“The core philosophy of the Festival is based around showcasing a traditional music genre in a non-competitive environment to entertain the public for free. Bands are not paid to be here but come to enjoy the opportunity to play on a big stage, with a large audience and without the pressures of formality and competition.
“But none of this would be possible if we didn’t have the support, enthusiasm and benefit of the hard work put in by the organisers and volunteers, and especially the businesses and organisations that support us financially. So my heartfelt thanks go to all who make this wonderful event possible, and of course to the public who keep increasing our attendance numbers. So please put the 9th and 10th July in your diaries now, for our 2016 Festival.”
Jenny Clarke from Rutland visited the Festival with her daughter, Heather, after seeing a flyer for it in the Ironbridge B&B where they were staying. She said:
“My father was from Jackfield. He and my grandfather worked at Maws. So for us visiting the Gorge was delving into our history, and coming across the Brass Band Festival was an unexpected bonus we won’t forget. We have had a wonderful day, real food for the soul. The atmosphere was fantastic and everyone has been so friendly. We were particularly impressed that bands had travelled from so far away.”
One out of district band, playing for the third time, was Crewe Brass. Musical Director, Jamie Meredith, said:
“In the three years we have been coming to the Gorge Brass Festival we have seen a massive growth in the event. It is obvious how much the free event has been enjoyed by everyone who came and this has provided a great atmosphere for us as performers. The Festival is a great credit to the town and we are looking forward to performing here again next year.”