If yesterday was a lesson in contingency, today was a lesson in complacency.
Still sore from 50 miles up, down and over the Pennines, I began to treat this as a rest day. 30 miles along the flat was nothing compared to yesterday’s ordeal, but it was still a 30 mile bike ride! I also still had a deadline to meet, and the sprint finish wasn’t quite what I had planned!
The day started in Shipley, where Rod Franks was born. It is a fairly typical West Yorkshire town, with some picturesque views along the canal and the river Aire. It is also home to Salt’s Mill, Saltaire, home to a permanent exhibition of local artist David Hockney, and is a listed world heritage site.
After a quick shopping trip for sun screen (in Yorkshire?!), and a quick stop in the Ellis Briggs cycle shop, I cycled along the Leeds-Liverpool canal in the morning sunshine. This was one of the cycling highlights of the trip so far and I took time to enjoy it knowing the worst was over.
Along the canal I was told was the former Hammonds Sauce works building, now apartments but once home to the factory and of course the band of the same name. Rod had played here briefly, as had I when it was called Yorkshire Building Society band. Now it is known as Hammonds Saltaire band, a name tying it back to its original roots although it is now based in Huddersfield.
I didn’t get to know Rod as well as I wished, but by the end of the morning I felt I’d got to know him a little better. It was news of his death which sparked me into doing this ride – booking another lesson with him was something I had also been intending to do when I got around to it. Appreciating the world in which he grew up was a lesson in itself.
With Black Dyke, Brighouse, Huddersfield, Manchester and Shipley covered, Bergen, Norway would have to be the next stop if I were to retrace his steps entirely. Beautiful though I hear it is, I won’t be cycling there any time soon!
So after a lunch stop in Leeds, I was back onto the Trans Pennine Trail headed for Grimethorpe at 7pm. I had around 22 miles left to go, and it was around 3pm. No hurry at all.
This is where complacency set in. I was feeling heroic after yesterday’s unexpected triumph, and was expecting to make today’s deadline comfortably. The terrain was flat, but it wasn’t a straight path. Scenic though it was becoming I was starting to get anxious over my lack of progress. I also hadn’t had enough water and was starting to feel a little dizzy and dehydrated. Time moving on quickly and not only did I have to increase the pace, I had to find some energy. Two boxes of raisins and a litre and a half of water perked me up enough to start the chase.
I raced through into South Yorkshire. The scenery was getting less interesting, apart from an overgrown derelict canal – yet another industrial relic that time has forgotten. I was in to mining territory now and there were plenty of ghostly reminders of turbulent times all to fresh in the memory for some. A coke processing plant at Royston was as close as I would get to seeing any of this in action. Of the 54 collieries which once populated the area, only two remain open. The landscape left behind is somewhat desolate, and some of the neighbourhoods I travelled through seemed a little desperate, to be kind.
A few crafty (and probably brave) shortcuts left me on track to make it into Shafton school, where Bob Childs overtook me on the way in as his brother had done 24 hours earlier! I arrived with 10 minutes to rehearsal, exhausted but well received by some familiar faces. Shaun Crowther was one of those, in good humour as ever claiming “I was going to do the same, but you beat me to it!”
Whilst watching the rehearsal, I was faced with a quotation on the wall which was to resonate with me for the rest of the journey (Belshezzar’s feast springs to mind – the writing’s on the wall!). Determination has certainly played a part, but it was another one of those odd moments this week where something has happened by coincidence when it was needed.
Bob told me how much James Watson had been an influence over him during his time at Black Dyke as principal Euphonium. Since then, Bob has been one of the most successful contesting conductors and it he tells me that is no coincidence. I was with Bob the night he heard the news about Jim – I’d been playing with Cory and we were on the way to the train station in the car. Kevin Crockford; another member of that band, had called with the news. Kevin is also now playing for Grimethorpe and so I was glad they could both be a part of my journey to raise money for Jim’s fund.
I can’t go through Grimethorpe without paying homage to another one of the brass playing community’s greats; Elgar Howarth. Unlike the other men I’ve been paying tribute to along the way he is very much alive and still inspiring the current generation of musicians. His work with Grimethorpe in the 70s/80s was daringly innovative, bringing brass bands in to the contemporary music scene and realising all sorts of potential. He also did much to celebrate the wealth of serious brass band music from years gone by, doing much to educate the community about their own great heritage. My mind was opened during his time at the National Youth Brass Band, which I attended as a teenager. We played some great music, great works I’d never get to play with my own band in modern contests where they’d be deemed unchallenging for the top section (not enough top E’s maybe?) or inappropriate because there wasn’t a tricky xylophone solo. We dusted off great classic original repertoire by Holst, Vaughan Williams, Howells, Goffin, Holloway, Ball, Heaton, Vinter, Simpson… a long list of composers whose work deserves to be heard! I was very pleased to learn Mr Howarth was joining the team at the Royal Academy, where I continued to benefit from his great wealth of knowledge, and where more students are also doing the same.
The current Grimethorpe band are another real force in the contesting arena. I heard this new piece for the last time on my journey with a fine performance at their open rehearsal. Vita Aeterna Variations is a fine work by Alexander Comitas which makes a welcome return to melodic themes and conventional harmony (post modern brass banding?! Did we even get to modern I wonder?!!). To my ear, there are moments of Robert Simpson, maybe even Mahler, with moments of excitement on a par with Philip Wilby. The audience is in for a treat, and with the form of the three bands I have visited they are in for a tremendous competition too.
I should add at this stage, I have been careful towards each band not to disclose any information about the others along my route. I would have loved to share recordings, but that also wouldn’t have been fair. Go and hear the bands in Birmingham on Saturday if you can. It will be their performances on the day which count, and the decision of the judges which matters. There’s nothing I might have been able to say which would help them there anyway!
I wish all three the best of luck, and look forward to hearing them again soon.