Review of Foden’s Band visit to Armagh – 3rd February 2018

Posted by Mark Wilkinson on 22 February 2018


For the 18th consecutive year Foden’s Band visited the city of Armagh in Northern Ireland. The long established ‘special relationship’ between the Sandbach based ensemble, Armagh Old Boys Silver Band and Ivor Stevenson MBE has meant that Foden’s have travelled to perform to audiences and work with young musicians in Armagh every February since 2000.

The two main musical highlights of the weekend are always the Young Soloists workshop and the Gala Concert and this year was no exception.

Once again the depth of talent amongst the young brass and percussion musicians (and the quality of teaching) in Northern Ireland was clearly evident at the four hour long Soloists’ Workshop, held at the Armagh Old Boys Music Centre.  Twenty talented performers, aged between eight and twenty, brought their choice of solos to rehearse and perform with Foden’s. What really made this year’s event stand out was that each soloist was given extensive constructive feedback on their performance from the Foden’s Principal player on their respective instrument and Musical Director, Michael Fowles, and then given time to put this advice into practise.

Saturday evening’s Gala Concert saw Foden’s take to the stage in the wonderful acoustic of the First Presbyterian Church in Armagh. The band was in fine form all evening in a programme which catered for everyone’s taste. Traditional fare, such as the exciting classical transcriptions of Shostakovich’s ‘Festive Overture’ and Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Capriccio Espaniol’ were performed with virtuosic abandon. It was also really something to hear Arthur Bliss’s rarely performed masterwork from the 1930s, ‘Kenilworth’, sounding as fresh as ever.  Those amongst the audience who were searching for something new were certainly not disappointed as the band and it’s forward looking MD introduced them to a whole host of new repertoire including beautiful arrangements by Jacob Vilhelm Larsen of ‘Glow’ (Eric Whitacre), ‘Not to be Forgotten (Pat Metheny), the thrilling ‘Youngblood’ (Daniel Hall) and ‘Pasmo’ (Van Der Woude).

The band’s stable of soloists were in equally fine form: Richard Poole (soprano) delivered a flamboyant performance of Paul Sharman’s ‘Flourish’, Mark Wilkinson (cornet) was movingly reflective in Robin Dewhurst’s touching tribute to Eilir Williams ‘Song for Eilir’, Sarah Lenton (baritone) gave a tremendously sonorous reading of Richard Phillips’ ‘In Christ Alone’, whilst Gary Curtin (euphonium) brought the house down with his incredibly virtuosic performance of Bazzini’s pot boiling  violin encore, ‘Dance of the Goblins’. John Barber (trombone) gave a stylish performance of his own arrangement of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ and Melanie Whyle’s understated lyricism was just perfect in Sandy Smith’s magical arrangement of ‘Hushabye Mountain’ (from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) which also featured subtle, but significant tuned percussion contributions from Mark Landon and Anthony Mann.

The finale of Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’ brought about the almost inevitable encore of ‘Radetzky March’ which allowed just enough time for Foden’s to showcase their vocal talents in an a cappella version of the trio.

For most, you would have to travel a long way and/or wait a long while to hear a band of Foden’s class perform such an entertaining programme. Luckily for the people of Armagh, they only have to wait another year until it happens again!

John Tierney 




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