I grew up in Yorkshire, brought up on a diet of brass bands and church choirs. My experience of playing in the National Youth Brass Band was completely transformative, not just in projecting my technique to the next level, but also in how it exposed me to such bold artistic collaborations. These ranged from working with electro-acoustic musicians in our performance of Philip Wilby’s ‘Dance before the Lord’ to collaborating with dancers from the Northern Ballet School, playing transcriptions of the great ballet scores. Part of those experiences reside with me in my professional life, as I continually look for ways to bring together art forms and challenge prejudices.
I owe a lot to Bramwell Tovey too, who was the conductor on my first course at Harrogate Ladies College in 1993. A fellow bass player, he seemed to be a perfect role model for musical leadership – always kind, interesting, projecting control without fear. His Coventry Variations, which we played on that course, is still one of my favourite pieces of music of all time.
Although I carried on playing Eb for a time, joining Wingates Band alongside my fellow NYBB buddy Dave Thornton, I turned my attention to conducting in the following years, taking up directorships at the Bournemouth Symphony and various national youth choirs across Great Britain and Ireland. These days I also direct the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland, a peace initiative which, when there isn’t a global pandemic, sees me working with over 35,000 children every year. Alongside the conducting, I present every now and then on Radio 3 and BBC TV.
But even though the tuba is up in the attic, and my embouchure weakened through inactivity, I still consider my membership of NYBB as one of my proudest achievements. Long may generations of young players benefit from its brilliance.