Derwent Brass prepare for festive concerts

_STF6693Even though it was dark and I was unsure where I was heading there was no way I wouldn’t have been able to locate the Derwent Brass rehearsal studio.

I just had to listen out for the majestic oompah of the tubas and the mellow tooting of the cornets as the musicians warmed up.

Inside was a hive of activity – a multitude of instruments were being unpacked from their cases, chairs were being positioned and a new member was being briefed – while all the time the cachophony of sound grew louder and louder.

Then musicial director Keith Leonard arrived; with greetings out of the way he strode to the front, faced the band and with a flourish they launched into the music. Suddenly the formless swirl of sound became a work of art.

Everyone, even the newcomer, knew their part, and to the untrained ear which is mine it sounded glorious.

For Keith however it wasn’t perfect enough and as is the point of a rehearsal night the musicians were put through their paces – again and again.

It is this hard work which has led to the high standard of performance for which Derwent Brass is known.

The trophies, shields, and certificates on the shelves in the Belper headquarters are testament to the amazing success the band has had since it was founded.

Last month they were crowned the Bolsover Festival of Brass Champions 2014.

It is the UK’s largest entertaiment contest and they were up against some of the very toughest competition in the Midlands.

As they took to the stage the band woke up any sleepy heads in the audience with a committed rendition of Los Hermanos (De Bop), replete with lip trills, intricate percussion work and a jazzy cornet solo.

It is triumphs like this which have put Derwent Brass on the map in the 22 years since they were formed.

The chairman of the band Neville Eden pointed out that on this dank autumn evening people had travelled from as far away as Loughborough to be part of the team.

“The higher the standard you achieve the further people will come to play,” he said.

Among the key soloists are long-time principal cornet Dave Neville; Pam Davis, who started playing the bugle aged seven and was with the Riddings Band for 30 years; Graham Johnson, solo horn, who is the son of the late Eric Johnson who was president of Derwent Brass; Adam Rutter, solo euphonium and the assistant musical director of the band, who is also a brass music teacher and Martyn Johnson, solo trombone, who has been playing his instrument since he was just ten years old.

Their director Keith has been involved with several bands in the area, as a player, music arranger and conductor.

He was born into a banding Salvation Army family and was greatly influenced by being surrounded by quality brass band music.

He took up the cornet at a very early age, playing in both junior and senior bands of Peterborough Citadel where his father was the bandmaster for several years.

Over the years, playing cornet and trumpet, he has been involved playing in brass bands, orchestras, wind bands and pit-orchestras for live stage shows, but will readily admit that his true allegiance lies with brass bands.

He joined Derwent Brass just one year after they were formed  and his relaxed style and demands for the highest standards, coupled with the enthusiasm of the members has proved to be a winning formula.

He is even keeping it in the family with his son Chris now an active member of the band as a solo cornet and marketing whiz.

The band has a wide-reaching repertoire from overture to big band, hymns to Broadway hits, and of course quality original brass music.

They are constantly in demand to perform at various venues throughout the region.

When it comes to performances in small churches, special occasions such as receptions, informal events like village fetes etc, sometimes a full blown brass band is just too much so they have also formed the Derwent Brass 10 piece ensemble.

This month the band are performing at St Peter’s Church, Belper on November 8 for A Night To Remember and at Derby Cathedral for a concert with the Derby Hospitals Choir on November 28. On December 3 and 10 you can catch the Ensemble playing carols at the Hollybush Inn, Makeney and on December 12 they will be back at the Cathedral for a Christmas concert with the Derby Central Salvation Army Band.

Their Christmas concert with the Dalesmen Male Voice Choir is at St Peter’s Church, Belper on December 20. Go to for more details about the band.

This feature appears in the November issue of artsbeat which is out now.