Reviews - Literary Reviews

The Best of Brass - A Life’s Journey With Bands – Roy Newsome

The Best of Brass - Life's Journey with Bands - Roy Newsome

   This autobiography covers many years and from preface up to and including chapter 2 “paints the picture” so well about the physical, geographical and social environments at the time. (It would make a good prologue to a gritty novel!)

   Family is seen as being really important and a supportive part of these early days for a lad from a 1930’s working class background. He is honest about failures as well as successes and is as open about these later in the book. Roy pinpoints strategic events during this time and a first encounter with a professional symphony orchestra (The Halle) obviously made an early impression on him, though not quite as powerful as when in 1950 he and Muriel, his future wife, became as he described it – an item.

   His talent on the keyboard (both piano & organ) appears to have been better than his cornet playing. Training to become a piano tuner would have enhanced his already well developed ear, together with aural exercises from Shackleton Pollard - organist at Halifax Parish Church and a renowned teacher. A change to tenor horn seems to have helped his embouchure problems, and but for National service beckoning Roy would have become a player with Brighouse and Rastrick. The section devoted to his army days I full of interesting and varied experiences.

   The period covering Roy’s experience as a classroom music teacher shows him to have been a very good one and his communication skills became as important in his banding career. Unlike some present day conductors who opt to go straight to the top in banding terms Roy worked his way up through the sections and so enjoyed a career that was founded on his brass band roots. And so in 1966 he was appointed to the dream position as bandmaster of Black Dyke. Thus began his first period with this famous band at the young age of 36 and it was to last until 1970. The responsibilities as both conductor and secretary were quite demanding as were the personality clashes that occurred from time to time.

   However, it is testimony to Roy’s resilience that he emerges as a better man (and conductor) at the end of this tenure. The details of highs, lows, near misses at contests plus a wide spectrum of concerts and venues makes fascinating reading. The time before his reappointment at Black Dyke lasted only a couple of years .These proved fruitful however, with invitations to conduct other bands, becoming a published composer and accepting more adjudication duties( including one involving a near miss from an IRA bomb!)

   The situation at Black Dyke still meant that the resident conductor had to undertake the secretaries job as well and the then incumbent, a certain Wilfred Heaton, decided it was too much and so resigned, thus opening the door for Roy’s second period with the band. Drawing on his previous experiences he managed to get rid of the ‘all band committee’, not withstanding opposition from the players. A significant milestone in both Roy’s and the band’s future came in 1973 when the principal cornet Jim Shepherd resigned followed shortly by other members of his JS VB group. Roy had to undertake the rebuilding of the band and the results speak for themselves, playing at the Proms, recording with the Beatles and being conducted by the former Prime Minister Edward Heath, plus the contest successes.

   Unrest within the band eventually saw him resigning once more. This meant that once again Roy was free to accept a variety of work with other bands, adjudication at home and abroad (the section about trips abroad contains so much of interest that it warrants reading again) His responsibilities at Salford increased, he was invited to become Music Adviser to the newly founded ‘Brass in Concert’ and continued his work with the NYBB.

   As to be expected there is a chapter devoted to his three very successful years with the Fairey Band and again the difficulties that arose are dealt with honestly. There are also portions of the book recalling his time with Besses and Sun Life. His academic career continued to flourish culminating in a PHD. Dr Newsome now bestrewed the banding world!

   This is a book where the author, like any true Yorkshire man, says it as it is. There is warmth, humour, disappointment, exhilaration, humility and a genuine love of the greatest amateur music tradition in Britain. Thank you Dr Roy.

John Edward B.A. L.G.S.M. (performers) Cert. Ed

This book is available through the publishers Kirklees Music 609 Bradford Road, Bailiff Bridge, Brighouse HD6 4DN 00 (44) 1484 722855 E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The book is £14.99 + £2.50 p/p