Having been working on core sound recently with a number of students, I have been trying to reference where my idea of sound has been developed from. These examples are my ideals and inspiration for the perfect modern British cornet sound. These players have been some of my personal heroes from day one, and some of the great talents of the British Brass Band scene.

1. Brian Taylor – As principal cornet with Williams Fairey Band, c.1993.  Effortlessly beautiful playing and perfectly unvirtuosic – absolutely nothing more than it needs to be. Brian’s level of control gives the listener no concept of how difficult this is. His selflessness and dedication to this music are a perfect measure of a man who has been one of my idols since I began to play.

2. Ben Godfrey – as principal cornet, Yorkshire Building Society band, 2000. Tallis Variations – live performance from European Brass Band Championships, Birmingham.

Ben makes Symphony Hall’s acoustic sparkle here with the most stunningly centered cornet sound you could wish for. What I also love about it is that the vibrato is used to colour a select number of notes within the phrase, adding a little tension and warmth equally where required. This is a fairly simple solo, but executed here with great composure under the pressure of a contest performance which would elevate this band to be one of the all time greats in terms of contest successes. Listening to this, you’d think it was a CD recording made on a wet Sunday afternoon in Dewsbury.


3. David Daws – one of the all time great cornet players from the Salvation Army. Aside from having an astonishingly good technique, he could also deliver the most beautiful phrase as you will hear here. Search through many of the other videos on Youtube and you will hear that even the most complex technical challenges do not present an obstacle to his commitment to playing melody. Everything David does is with absolute total commitment, and it is rare to see him performing a solo with sheet music. This is performed not just ‘off by heart’, but from the heart. Having mastered the cornet, he is currently playing Principal Euphonium with GUS band.

4. Martin Winter – as principal cornet with Desford Colliery band. A young version of Martin here captured delighting Harry Mortimer with a performance of Percy Code’s ‘Zelda’. ‘HM’ is considered to be brass band royalty in Britain, having dedicated his life to performing, conducting and broadcasting. He is himself a legendary cornettist from a previous generation, not included here because he is probably one of the greatest exponents of the old style of playing, rather than the modern one. Martin however is very much still at the forefront of brass banding. Having been principal trumpet of the Bergen Philharmonic for some years, he is now also engaged as a very creative composer and conductor in the Norwegian brass band scene.


5. Philip McCann – A legendary sound. Forget the opinion-dividing warbling vibrato. Beyond this is the most wonderful core of cornet sound there might ever have been. He also has the most supernatural phrasing ability. His many volumes of ‘The worlds greatest melodies’ are all wonderful examples of this extraordinary talent.


6. Maurice Murphy – as guest soloist with Yorkshire Imperial band, 1982. Maurice has probably done more to give credibility to British Cornet players than most after a long and successful career as Principal Trumpet with the London Symphony. Before that, he was principal cornet of Black Dyke, and the first ever leader of the National Youth Brass Band of GB. Tomlinson’s is one of my favourite concertos, written for and premiered by Maurice. It brought cornet playing into a new age, and has only relatively recently been rerecorded anybody else – both Martin Winter and Roger Webster have recorded their own great versions more than 20 years on. There may be other reasons for this, but my guess is that it has taken a generation for us to catch up with what was a very forward-thinking piece of writing for the instrument at the time.


7. James Fountain – One of the new leading lights of the British Brass Band scene, and the latest to be appointed to a principal position in a London orchestra – he became the Royal Philharmonic’s new principal Trumpet player just a few weeks ago and it is easy to see why here. I first heard him when he was only 14 (also not that long ago!) as principal of the NYBBGB, where he filled the RNCM concert hall with a sound that surrounded you like a warm blanket.

8. Philip Cobb – like James, another London principal from a Salvation Army background inspired by David Daws. Philip was appointed by the London Symphony a few years ago now and is busy as a soloist all over the world. Here he is playing in a Christmas concert in Copenhagen last year! He plays a lovely tune like this very well, but also spends much time dazzling audiences with great technique and showmanship.

9. Richard Marshall – with Black Dyke Band, 2011. Another routine and classy display of wonderful technique, fluid lines and effortless delivery. Richard is a very down-to-earth and unassuming chap who is currently very much at home in probably the most prestigious of end-chairs in brass banding, where on this evidence he belongs for a good while longer.

10. Mark Wilkinson – with Fodens Band, 2014. You don’t hold the end seat at a band like Fodens without having something special. Mark has been known as ‘Mr Reliable’ for some time, and has just released his first solo album celebrating 21 years as Fodens’ principal cornet. Another great guy and a top bandsman. Also not afraid to shy away from the traditional repertoire as this disc shows, with some interesting new work on show.

11. Roger Webster – I couldn’t not mention Roger’s name on this list, having done so much for original cornet repertoire in the past few decades. My favourite freely available recording of his is an arrangement of Caccini’s ‘Ave Maria’ – I hope you can still hear it on his website http://www.rogerwebster.co.uk/, it comes up in the player upon launch. Yet another great example of sound, controlled phrasing, articulation and perfectly centered intonation. A great way of getting people back to your website again and again and again… But do go and listen to some of the concerto recordings on disc – he has covered pretty much the entire modern repertoire over his long and successful career and it’s all worth hearing.

2 thoughts on “The British Cornet Sound

  1. Thanks for digging this up! This was written some time ago now but it’s refreshing to revisit and remember some of the reasons I started playing the cornet!

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