Foden's celebrate 20 years in Armagh

Posted by Mark Wilkinson on 10 February 2020

Tags:

Foden’s Band’s annual visit to the city of Armagh on the weekend of 1st-2nd February was a very special event this year as it marked the 20th successive occasion that the Sandbach ensemble has travelled to Northern Ireland. The long established ‘special relationship’ between Foden’s, Armagh Old Boys Silver Band and Ivor Stevenson MBE has meant that the 2018 British National Champion band has performed to audiences and worked with young musicians in Armagh every February since 2001.

The two main musical highlights of the weekend are always the Young Soloists workshop and the Gala Concert and this year was no exception. To mark the 20th anniversary celebrations the band was also invited to perform at a special Sunday morning service at the First Presbyterian Church in Armagh, the venue for all of the 2020 events.

Once again the depth of talent amongst the young brass musicians (and the quality of teaching) in Northern Ireland was clearly evident at the five hour long Soloists’ Workshop. Twenty five talented performers, aged between six and sixteen, brought their choice of solos to rehearse and perform with Foden’s. What really makes this event stand out is that each soloist is given extensive constructive and positive feedback on their performance from a Foden’s player on their respective instrument and Musical Director, Michael Fowles, and then given time to put this advice into practise. It is a joy to behold.

Saturday evening’s Gala Concert saw Foden’s take to the stage in the wonderful acoustic of the First Presbyterian Church. The band, under the baton of Michael Fowles, was in very fine form all evening in a programme which catered for virtually everyone’s taste.

armagh 2020

On Sunday Foden's returned to the First Presbyterian Church to lead the large congregation on service. It must have been quite an experience, especially for those who’d perhaps never heard the sound of a top brass band before. In addition to accompanying the congregation during hymns, the band once again exploited the expansive acoustic with another explosive Paganini performance (the theme of the service was ‘talent’) and in the more traditional fare of ‘Entry of the Gladiators’ and ‘All Through the Night’. This was almost certainly a religious service like no other!

There have been many well known partnerships in brass banding history, but it’s hard to think of a more genuinely and totally positive one than that between Foden’s Band and Armagh Old Boys Silver Band. Its worth remembering, however, that none of the band’s February visits or the equally well established and highly regarded Armagh Old Boys Brass Band Summer School (which also celebrates its 20th anniversary this August), which has always used a tutor team made of Foden’s players, would have never happened without the drive, energy and passion of Ivor Stevenson and his family. Here’s to another 20 years!

Mark Bousie

For any conductor and every audience, Foden’s Band is a musical Magic Carpet. It continually takes the listener to places that few other ensembles rarely even approach Howard Snell