Powering Through

As I mentioned recently, the Menai Bridge Brass Band are celebrating our 120th anniversary this year and the highlight of our celebrations was a concert last Saturday night.

This turned out to be a memorable gig not just because everyone worked really hard and played very well, but because there was a power cut in the middle of the first half which spectacularly failed to stop us finishing the show.

Things started pretty well and, despite fairly horrible weather, we had a good turnout (I estimated that the hall – with a capacity of 400 people – was fairly well over three quarters full, although I’ve not heard an official figure for ticket sales).

The beginners’ band (with which I play trombone) went on stage first and performed three pieces, my favourite of which was an arrangement of the Andante from Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony (the surprise being that this movement is played very quietly throughout except for one fortissimo – i.e. very loud – chord about 30 bars in). Interspersed with these pieces, and with the intermediate band set that made up the rest of the first half, were several videos (mostly about the history of the band).

The intermediate band (with which I also play trombone) were up next, and had a programme of five pieces to play. The third of these was the hymn tune “Nearer, my God, to thee”, which we played to accompany a (silent) video tribute to the half dozen or so members of the band who died fighting in the First World War. After this, we paused for a video greeting from a former band member who now plays with a band in Norway.

Halfway through this video the power cut out. This brought an end to the video, of course, and plunged the hall into near-darkness, illuminated only by a handful of battery-powered emergency lights. Our chairman, Brian (who was the MC for the event), did a fine job of ad-libbing while the various members of our technical crew ran around trying to locate fuseboxes etc. It fairly soon became apparent that the problem was caused by a general power cut in the area rather than a blown fuse in the building.

The next piece on the programme was a trumpet solo with piano accompaniment from our guest soloist, Gwyn Owen (a former principal cornet player of our band). This went ahead with a battery powered music stand light to illuminate Gwyn’s music and a handful of band members with torches to provide light for the pianist.

At this point it was decided to go straight to the interval while we waited to see whether the power would come back on and to consider our options in case it didn’t. Members of the band who happened to have torches (on their phones or otherwise) were dispatched to provide as much light as possible for those in the audience who wanted to go out into the lobby for refreshments, although many people opted to remain in their seats.

After a shortish interval and still no sign of returning electricity it was decided to carry on with the concert by torchlight, with members of the senior band holding torches for the intermediate band to be able to see our music to play our penultimate piece and then a short break while the bands swapped over for a slightly abridged senior band programme with the intermediate band members (at least the ones not also in the senior band) and a few other volunteers holding lights for us.

We dropped the final piece from the intermediate band set and about 3 or 4 of the 10 or so pieces that the senior band were due to play. There was just enough time in the changeover for those of us who were playing with both junior and senior bands to change our uniforms (from the polo shirts of the juniors to the white shirts, black bow ties and blue jackets of the seniors – fortunately it was the same trousers etc. for both bands) and for me to swap instruments to the Bb bass (aka tuba) that I play in the senior band.

The bits of the senior band set that remained in the programme included the three pieces I mentioned in my last post (selections from Vivat Regina by William Mathias, Belinda – the only surviving composition by our band’s first conductor, George William Senogles, and Pont Menai – newly composed for us by local composer Owain Llwyd and receiving its world premiere concert performance), as well as three of the five movements from the Narnia Suite that we recently performed at the national finals and two more solos by Gwyn Owen (accompanied this time by the full band). We finished, quite appropriately I thought, with a march entitled Death or Glory, conducted by our former conductor Dennis Williams (who was instrumental in getting the band up and running again after a slump in the 1960s and 70s) and with several former members of the band joining in.

At the end of the concert, band members once again used our various torches to provide light for members of the audience to safely leave the auditorium. It was too dark to be able to pack away all the equipment, as the power still hadn’t returned, so most of it had to be left for those who were able to get back the following day to help clear up.

In the space of over 20 years of gigging (I’ve lost count of how many actual gigs that is, though it’s certainly in the hundreds), I think this was the fourth time I’ve had a power cut in the middle of a gig. Fortunately on the two occasions when I was playing with amplified bands the power came back on fairly quickly and on the other two occasions (including this one) we were all using acoustic instruments and were able to continue with non-mains-powered sources of illumination so I’ve never yet had the disappointment of a gig being cancelled because the lights went out.

At the end of the day, the power cut last Saturday night only served to ensure that our 120th Anniversary Concert is one that we will remember for a very long time.

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