Virtual Venue

This is a theatre, or an opera house. Or whatever you want it to be actually, it’s your own personal concert space, an environment where you you can choose to hear any piece listed in the programme below. Some are genuine live performances, where the contributors details are gratefully acknowledged. Most, so far, are digital renditions, where the performers will generally be the House Band of some sort. But the House itself is up to you. To listen to a brass band, you might choose the Albert Hall, sitting in those famous plush red seats; to listen to an orchestra, transport yourself to the tiered Royal Festival Hall, the spacious Birmingham Symphony Hall, or the circular Sheldonian in Oxford, or any local concert venue of choice. It’s a Virtual Venue. You can suit the venue to the piece, and take a seat in a church, a recital venue, a bandstand in a park, a school hall, a well-loved theatre stage, sit back and enjoy the music in the surroundings. Drinks are on the house. Virtually all of these pieces – around 70 here, 120 in The Shop; I’ve been doing this a LONG time – are available to buy (some are free!), from me or from other publishers where shown. If anything isn’t immediately available I’ll try to make it so. This concert programme is a huge variety of musical styles and ensembles; a cornucopia of choices. Broadly speaking, the heavy stuff, pieces about a concentration camp, the death of beauty, the story of a WW1 soldier (I wonder how that works out for him?), Hiroshima, and climate change are down the right, the lighter side is the left. Somewhere on the right is a Big Band section, featuring The Oxymorons, playing in the VV foyer. At the bottom on the left there are all my brass band pieces, and on the right is the full trombone recital, Reaching for the Clouds. And below all of it is The Bandstand, some live performances on YouTube, by real people. Thanks to you all.

Waltz and Skedaddle

A couple of Virtual Trombonists, though for the real thing see The Bandstand below.
My best seller! Great fun to play, this is a jolly, unwieldy trombone duet. Written for Katy and Christian Jones, the piece is based on their initials, and therefore the song about the American railroad engineer Casey Jones.
House Very Mixed Ensemble. In a Caribbean nightclub.
Adrian Miotti asked me in April 2018 to write something for his new group, Neoteric. The ensemble is a brilliant idea as its six members – 2 winds, 2 trumpets and 2 low brass – can double up to around twenty instruments! In this tune, a chorale followed by a heady riff, the two wind players become five, and the Second Trumpet also plays the wood block.
House full orchestra.
This is the first of 2 pieces in the style of Steve Reich.  SRI is Sacro Romano Impero, the Holy Roman Empire, which of course was the First Reich.  Harbleedin’ har.  But I liked the title enough to keep it, because 3 stark capitals are a bit mechanical, as this sort of music is, and there’s also more than a nod towards Michael Nyman’s MGV (Musique a Grande Vitesse).  For full-blown orchestra, the piece almost lives up to Steve Reich’s proportions at 11 minutes long. There is also a reduced (in length, to 6 ½ minutes) version.
Here is a Hoedown, written in 2011 for the brass and percussion sections of ICO. ICO is an orchestra based in Warsaw, comprising of young musicians from seven eastern / ex-Soviet countries: Poland, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova.  For those eastern players, I wrote the most Western-like tune I could think of, a Hoedown.

House Cacophonium.
Here’s the same piece, this time for a 39-piece Concert/Symphonic Band. This riotous combo suits this piece very well. The title, without the ICO connection now, is written normally. There’s a third version of this happy tune, an arrangement for brass band, see below.
In February 2010, the brilliant trombone quartet Bones Apart commissioned me to write them a set of variations on the theme Spanish Ladies.  The initial idea was of a traditional Air Varie, where there are increasingly flashy versions of the tune, but I soon realised I could have much more fun than that.  Much more work too, but the piece would be better for it if I treated the melody like Enigma Variations, where Elgar takes snippets of his tune and uses them to create entirely different characters.  So the tune was chopped up, overturned, reversed etc, all common techniques, and we ended up with a series of 6 variations.  These are Polka, Habanera, Zortziko, Solonelle, a kind of sultry Danse Macabre which I’ve called Muerte Blues, and finally Rondo.  For those that don’t know -and I didn’t – a Zortziko is an authentic Spanish dance, mostly in the north, and is in 5/4 time, with the beats divided into 1 + 2 + 2. Published by

Dances in the Sun

A short piece written for a competition in Spain, hence its Spanish flavour. Each instrument has its own melody, its own dance. First they’re played on their own with interjections from the others, then after a very short burst of flamenco clapping, the dances start to come together until all are going at once, gathering momentum and becoming a whole dance itself. Boisturous stuff. (The piece didn’t win the competition, but my other entry, El Fregadero, did, and is published by Spanish Brass).
Air Moving. This is simply one of the most beautiful tunes I’ve ever heard, by Kathryn Tickell, the brilliant Northumbrian pipes player. She gave me permission to arrange it for trombone quartet so here it is. The original tune is published by Not Them Again/Purple Patch publications.
This was the second Steve Reich-inspired effort. SRI is driving, headlong music, this is more atmospheric, and tells a story. It would have been A Walk in the Woods but it’s in ¾ so the Waltz seemed appropriate. The woods were going to be tranquil English ones, but things take a decidedly spooky turn in the middle section. After a stream has appeared innocently then gathered pace and strength, we wander off into the trees, where twigs crackle, leaves rustle, owls hoot; we feel lost, it’s very Blair Witch, and the use of a haunting treble recorder doesn’t help. (Detracting from the spooky atmosphere in this audio file are a few unwanted interpretations by the Sibelius music programme. The gentle sweep of a violin bow down a cymbal comes out as a crashing gong, and it thinks a guiro is a doorbell buzzer). But we return to the path, to glorious progress – from ca. 10 minutes to 13.40ish is some of the most joyful music I’ve written – and the Walk ends dreamily.
Good title eh? Written in 1984, we played it on the NYO Summer Course that year. A better piece than the title.
Solo Piano.
A very early composition, mid 1980s. A very short suite of five movements, in 3/8, then 5/8, 7/4, 9/8 and 11/4. These movements are called Rushing Water, Gaudy Tune in A major, Tombs, On The Sea, and Ghosts and Chimes. The whole Suite is only about nine minutes long, and even that duration depends how long you take over the spooky ending of Ghosts and Chimes.
Full orchestral Woodwind section.
The same as above, but now arranged for woodwind, including four horns, and light percussion.
House School Guitar Group, after school on Wednesdays.
A happy little tune, for happy little guitarists (Grade I?), and their teacher playing the not-very-difficult chords.
A Christmas Carol. School group.
Probably written in 1983, a gentle song for children’s chorus, 2 ‘angel’ soloists, piano, solo violin and harp/celeste/glockenspiel, all three of which are interchangeable or even dispensable, though they’d all add to the festive feel. As this and Pete’s Tune (see above) were written at school that makes them two of the oldest pieces on the site. Only recently available, I’ve just listened to it and it’s lovely. So if anyone has a school choir, a violin etc and a couple of angels going spare, here’s a good use for them.
Staying in school, probably a Primary School this time.
Here’s a bright Xmas song, for  a treble clef choir of Years 3-7 or thereabout.  Also piano, bass guitar, 4 brass and 3 percussion. At the moment the brass are soprano cornet, 2 tenor horns and an Eb Bass, but these can all be adapted. The percs are Glock, Vibraphone and Tubular Bells, none of which most schools will have. They can be omitted, as can the bass guitar, but it’d be great if some of these could be there. They’re all on this audio file anyway. The fading light at the end of a school day in December is a magic moment.
House String Quartet.
Heloisa Pinto is the real Girl from Ipanema. The writers were sitting at a cafe when she walked past, and inspired one of the most famous tunes ever written.
Sticking with String Quartet, and yes, this is America from West Side Story, which means that I can’t charge anything for this arrangement (not till 2032 anyway) or the Bernstein estate will swallow me like a Shark. Nor, if anyone wishes to take ‘buy’ this arrangement should they use it for financial gain. Having got that out of the way, this is actually the 3rd movement of a short Suite of three from that amazing show. I Feel Pretty and Maria are the other two. Great tunes.
Written in a Munich circus tent in 1988.
For ten-piece brass, here’s a suite of three short pieces: Opposing Cannon, The Dove, and Crossfire. The first movement is a blown-up version of the first movement of Little Suite for Trumpet and Trombone, see above. Grade VIII-college standard, though a lot of it is easier than that. Written late 80s, I accuse myself of blatant pastiche in the 2nd movement, imitating both Black Sam, from the brilliant Brass Cats set by Chris Hazell, and the theme from Cinema Paradiso, some of the most beautiful music Morricone ever wrote.The result is a nice flugel solo movement.
A nice little number for piano and string orchestra that I started before leaving school, finished sometime at college, and added the strings about 20 years after that. The version for solo piano is followed by the same, but with the added strings, and there’s a bit of a blip in the solo page because of a Coda marking which Sibelius doesn’t like. So to hear the full, uninterrupted and orchestrated version, start at 2.30. On the recording, not in the morning. Though it is music written for the night. I’ve added a second audio file which is just the main section, the piano with strings, and tweaked the dynamics so the balance is better.
Most of this Virtual Venue programme is a complete hash of ensembles, styles and instruments, so here at least is one specific section. I started writing for band in 2018, but when I did so I realised that it’s been in my head all my life. Here are nineteen new pieces for brass band, in the order in which they were written; eighteen compositions and one arrangement. They’re in many styles, from mellow moments (Sea, Storm and Sunset) and minimalism (Polar Express, The Long and the Short) to blazes of glory (in Tor, Sketches and Dance Suite); from easy listening and traditional band music (British Summer, Fanfare) to savage contemporary (6845815), with bursts of beauty (Sarabande, Hoswick Bay, Agnus Dei) and lots of pictures painted (Sketches, Navarra). All liberally laced with memorable tunes, my thing I hope. Catchy music, and getting on for 3 hours of it so far. I hope you enjoy this collection.
Sketches of Shetland. Performed by Kidlington Concert Brass, conductor Duncan Wilson, at Exeter Hall, Kidlington, on 31/3/19. For this performance, see The Bandstand, below. The audio  file here is the 2020 version, which has a slightly extended ending. I always felt it ended too soon and it niggled. Now it’s right.
This is a five-movement, continuous twenty-minute piece depicting these beautiful islands. We first went there in 2008, and standing at the very top of Britain, at Hermaness, in freezing rain, watching the furious sea crashing on the rocks and the cliffs round the lighthouse, the gulls and terns whizzing around above the water, I knew this would be great for band. You could almost hear it. It took another ten years (see above) for me to get going on it, but that’s where it started. The five movements are 1. The View; 2. Boat Trip and Cave; 3. Mousa at Midnight; 4. Hoswick Bay, and 5. Hermaness.  Five very different impressions of these spectacular, then adventure-filled, mystical, heroic and stormy islands. You must go.
It would help to describe this piece if I gave one (!) of  its original titles, which was Fanfare, Theme, Ghosts and Hoedown. This is a melange of a piece, in those implied moods, written as a thankyou to Duncan Wilson and Kidlington Concert Brass for performing Sketches of Shetland, which they did brilliantly. When I couldn’t settle on a title for the melange, I wondered if, when KCB played it, we should have a sort of raffle, where members of the audience could suggest a title, based on what they’d just heard. It was quite an up-and-down summer that year. See The Bandstand for their live performance of this.
House brass band, in sombreros. Especially the soprano player.
This was written for the Cory Composition Competition in 2019, and though it didn’t get anywhere, it didn’t fade away either, and was premiered by the Birmingham Conservatoire Brass band in November that year. Obviously a Spanish piece, there’s a section that evokes a Spanish guitar, with 6 instruments representing one open string each. It starts as a fiesta, with some flamenco clapping, then the guitar introduces the beautiful middle section, with Navarran desert heatwaves, before a flourish towards the end. The odd section from 1.28, and the last chord, both sound like they do because Sibelius refused to get into the spirit of this piece; these are in fact clapping and stamping flamenco sounds.
There’s a glorious picture of Glastonbury Tor, and I’ve yet to find the photographer who took it. This piece is entirely based on this one incredible image, mostly bright orange, of the sunset mists across the fields, rooks rising from foreground trees, and the magnificent monument itself, just rising on its tor above the clouds.
I used to live in Walthamstow, and this is a short, light piece, the most traditionally brass band I’ve written, with a catchy theme and middle section. What makes it Walthamstow is the postcode bridge section, where during its brief four bars, 17 Es are heard on the flugel and xylophone.
House Brass Band.
A contemporary work about the Hiroshima bomb. The title is the date and time of the explosion. The first half of the piece is utterly innocent, not contemorary music at all, a busy early morning street scene that builds up three times, incorporating musical haikus and the traditional Japanese children’s song ‘Toryanse’. But the plane is heard overhead, and after that it’s pandemonium, musical Chaos. Not without form though, and I hope that the recurring sequence, on which layers of panic and destruction are mounted, serves to enable the listener to bear it. It’s devastating music, as it should be. In this digital version there’s a short gap in the middle, as Sibelius doesn’t recognise a wind machine. Then there is real space, silence, but we know what’s coming… There are two other versions of this work, see above. One is for orchestral brass section, plus timps and 2 percs. The other is a version friendlier to the players, an extended orchestral brass section + percs. This adds an extra trumpet, an extra horn and a euphonium to the ensemble. This helps.
A relaxing sailing trip hits a storm thrown at it by Steve Reich, before the boat sails off into the sunset with a warm flugel solo. This piece set sail after a single low flugel phrase on the telly reminded me what a gorgeous sound that is. While writing the flugel solo, I remembered that my gorgeous friend Amos Miller, force of nature at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and now at the Royal College of Music loves heavy jazz chords, so this piece is dedicated to him. It’s nice, this dedicating thing.

The last movement of Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices has one of the most beautiful endings I know. My only arrangement amongst all these original compositions. This is a wonderful performance by the Cambridge and Surrounding District (CSD) Band, in a concert on November 19th, 2023. Thanks to them and conductor Chris Lawrence.

The Long and the Short

House brass band, possibly standing behind marimbas, but they never play them.
April 2020. This is what would stereotypically be called a minimalist piece. It’s entirely based on a single cell, a 5-note phrase of only two pitches. The rhythm roughly resembles the words of the title, and that’s it. I’ve borrowed some effects from Steve Reich, for me the beguiling master of this sort of music: the off-setting of the cell at the beginning and end, repeated and overlapping chords, and big, wide chords underneath the cell. What Reich also does is multiple repetition, his pieces can easily last half an hour and some players will play the same or similar music throughout. This is obviously not physically possible for brass players, so I’ve divided things up a lot, and the entire piece is under seven minutes. After a passage where the overlaid chords are punctuated by more threatening ones, there’s what I’m calling a ‘stereo section’, where, in a normal brass band set-up, the music shifts quickly across the band, so it’s a visual as well as aural experience for the audience. Finally the cell falters, breaks up, and could have ended there but for a final shout to round it off.

Return of the Polar Express

Another minimalist piece for band, this time more John Adams than Steve Reich. Listeners will spot that the introductory figure is almost exactly the same as ‘Sea, Storm and Sunset’, there’s only a single semitone difference. However, what comes from it is of course entirely different, isn’t music amazing? And anyone else would take the same 4 notes and produce another new and completely different piece altogether. This time, instead of a bold, nautical opening, the intro is cold, desolate, frozen with icicles, and the following fast rhythm is scrunchy. The train is off, but through uncertain, jagged territory. It builds and strengthens, then changes track from C to Ab7, and darker voices are heard underneath. Back to the wilderness. This section ranges though keys, but builds again and swings back into C major. By now the train is flying headlong through much happier scenery, and the repeated riff is firmly rooted in the 4-note beginning. Another swing lands us in the home strait of G major, and the engine is now in its triumphant final rush to the end of the line. About the title. The piece is definitely a train journey. Initially I saw only rolling prairies and the wide-open spaces of America, and the ending definitely smacks of the Iron Horse. But it’s spooky to start, and the locomotive riff is only the second half of the piece. So then it became ‘The Transylvanian Express’ travelling initially through gnarled woods and creepy countryside. Then a friend suggested that the final riff and build-up reminded him of Sibelius, and I could see his point. Normally when people, always well-meaning, say ‘that’s great, it sounds like just like…’ that’s a bit of a body blow, as it’s so hard to create anything original, and a compliment like that can be very deflating. But in this case I didn’t mind, as I say, I agreed, and so the whole train shifted a long way north. Finland itself, for the Sibelius feel, was suggested. But by now I wanted a journey from dark to light, from cold to a triumphant blaze. Nothing to do with the wonderful Tom Hanks Xmas film of 2004, nothing to do with Santa Claus. If there is a connection, it’s in the word ‘Return’, in that my train is travelling in the opposite direction, not to the North Pole but away from it.


The jolly hoedown from earlier (see above), this time arranged for Brass Band.

Dance Suite

The idea came from Warlock’s Capriol Suite, but I wanted to do modern Dances, not just Elizabethan. So here is a lively Gigue, a Sarabande with a joyful second section, a dark Tango, a stately Pavane and a wild party Salsa.

Blue Forest

This is based on a series of photos I took on my phone when my wife and I visited my brother and his wife in the north of Scotland, and we went to a remote cabin in the woods. The work is in four sections, based on these pictures. ‘Blue Trees’ is the forest late at night, backlit by an amazing blue moonlight in the darkness. The branches sway gently. ‘In A Clearing’ suddenly becomes more industrial, there is choppy, workman-like music, and a wide area of just stumps and brush is left. In the woods wound a wide stream which led to a tarn near the cabin, the tarn actually being an outflow from a much bigger loch behind. Also in the woods was a wigwam made from old pine branches piled up together, and ‘River and Tarn’ certainly has a native American influence in the music, which then suddenly returns to a bleak and native Scottish feel after reaching the water behind the trees. ‘Forest’ is simply the name for the final uplifted burst of the initially-distorted opening theme, and we end peacefully, in the dark blue light. Musically the piece is crammed full of 7ths, mostly minor ones; and a single chord, in different formations, features and links some of the sections.    


In The Shop are three Books of one-minute tunes, called Tail-enders. That’s because these are tunes to end rehearsals in a cheery way! Here are three examples, one taken from each Book of five tunes. The first is called ‘Kijé Fell Off’. This is blatantly a take on the ‘Troika’ movement from Prokofiev’s ‘Lieutenant Kijé’, but the title comes from the occasional skids and bumps of my version.
The next is the openly comic ‘Cops and Robbers’ from the end of Book Two. The policeman isn’t as angry as I would have liked!
And from Book Three, here’s ‘The Gerbils’. As if on a spinning wheel, they scurry round and round frantically. The whole series of fifteen tunes ends with a tribute to John Williams, which after an imaginative and hilarious day on Facebook, and thanks to Dave Stowe, is called ‘Jurassic Parp.’ What else?!

Fairground Frolics

A mad and malevolent funfair! All the bright lights and attractions, seen through the delighted but also frightened eyes of a small child. Dodgem Cars, the Ghost Train, the Waltzer, and many, many more! Dazzling but demented.


Written in the first two months of 2023, there are lots of memorable tunes within these three marches. Playing along with them, I’d forgotten what huge fun brass band marches are, and many times had to stop myself just bursting out laughing. The three are Bravo! March, Viennese March and February March. Can be bought and laughed at in singles or doubles or all three of them.
Bravo! March. See product description in The Shop, two repeated notes are the ‘hook’ of this march, hence its title.
Viennese March. With an occasional Waltz-like rhythm in the accompaniment, this might be one to concentrate on the feet as much as the notes!
February March. Maybe more of a concert march, and slightly slower than the other two, there’s still the optional opportunity to pick up towards the end, when everything is pitched in and the bass drum and percs try, (and fail) to bring this march to its traditional end. Riotous and great fun!

Winter Walk

This is a warm walk on a cold day. There are certainly snowy flurries at the beginning. It’s not all woolly-jumper harmony, so there are wintery edges to help depict the scene. But ultimately it’s a piece of comfort. Written for the Cambridge and Surrounding District band in March/April 2023. PS The glock and especially vibraphone touches aren’t by any means nailed on, as many bands won’t have access to both of those.

The Scourged Back

Here’s a link.  This piece tells the story of this man, a slave who escaped from a Louisiana plantation in 1863. It’s a story that I had to tell, and I don’t think it has been musically represented before. I’ve often wondered that those who wrote music about such strong subjects were a little arrogant; why should they have earned the right to express such crucial events? But after writing about Hiroshima, a visit to a concentration camp, and the death of a young soldier in WW1, of course I realise that I’m one of those very people, and that if you feel that strongly about something, whoever you are, you have the right to show it. And hurray, at last a contest piece! 17 minutes long, and probably top two sections only. This is powerful stuff, but how could it possibly not be?

6/8, The Sequel

The Virtual Venue Brass Tentet, with percussion. This particular mp3 percussionist is quite keen.
Here’s a celebration of G&S-ness! The medley comprises of 12 of the catchiest tunes, and hidden within these are 14 additional excerpts. Also lurking, perhaps in plain sight, are 4 completely random, non-Sullivan inserts; 30 things to spot in all. Or just switch off and enjoy these amazing tunes. The title is from a well-known colleague, who whenever he was asked to do a D’Oyly Carte show, simply wrote 6/8 in his diary.

Princip to Poppies

Performed by the Royal Northern College of Music Trombone Choir, conductor Adrian Morris, at St. Ann’s Church, Manchester, on 20/5/15.
This is a sad story all about WW1; is there any other kind?  A Trombone Octet, published by Warwick Music,  it’s one of my more descriptive works in that musically, a story is told, with distinct events and a main character. The full story is here.
  Adrian Morris, Benny to all who knew him, conducted this piece in the latter stages of cancer. He was very weak, but even after this, he found the enormous strength to be an adjudicator at the British Open on the 5th September. He left us all on the 21st of that month. RIP Benny.
A set of four pieces not just for trombone but trombone player. Nowadays, the music profession has so contracted that we are all often required to double on other instruments. The alto trombone has been up the player’s sleeve for centuries, but more recently, euphonium and bass trumpet are common additions. To play this piece is to demonstrate proficiency and an employable standard on all the ‘other’ instruments. Each instrument (with piano accompaniment) takes a movement, and one of the classical Four Elements of Ancient Greece to portray: Earth, Air, Water and Fire.

The Gypsies

House Very Mixed Ensemble. Coming out of a field in the rain.
This really is a random ensemble, of piccolo, 2 flugels, tambourine and wood block, triangle, vibraphone, guitar and bass guitar, and tin whistle. The piece created the group. Thanks yet again to Nick Hitchens for creating this brilliant audio file. It’s a round and round on guitar, which I always fancied to support a flugel tune. 1 flugel became 2, as a duet appeared. Steve Reich has long been an influence, and I added a wood block or temple block as a constant, a sound I use a lot anyway. Another effect I love is that of a triangle used as a drum kit high hat, by which I mean it’s mostly damped, but open on occasional notes. Then I put another favourite in: the delayed bass entry. The bass guitar funks in before you expect it, but it’s delayed even so, and I love that. Chris Hazell does it in 2 of his brilliant Brass Cats; I guess I learnt it from there. Once I’d put these bases onto Sibelius, the music started to become a piece, with a direction and a feeling. Music always needs form, and so a 2nd section evolved, or rather a contrasting tune over the same guitar chords. This high woodwind tune, played on piccolo and tin whistle in a stretched tonality, gave the piece its character and title. This is minimalist stuff really, with the guitar chords playing from start to finish, but the layers make it more and more complex. The syncopated vibraphone layer gave it a lilt, as the gypsy convoy jolts by. With the scene in place, it seemed right to add a short cadenza for solo gypsy guitar, and the whole piece is another Jamie’s Patrol (see Riffem and Blues, on The Bandstand, below). The convoy pipes its way over the field, out of sight, and the piece ends like that, it just stops. Extended tonality, a constant riff and wood block, a delayed bass entry, the fact that it’s a bass guitar in the first place, the triangle high hat effect, 2 flugels, the ending without preamble; no wonder I like this one.
Published by Brass Works. My favourite Trombone Concerto has always been Edward Gregson’s, so of course that influenced me when I was writing this. It was written in 1987 for the Final Recital of a fellow student and good friend of mine, Ed Tarrant, so given the 2 Eds, the first movement motif is the notes E and D. The second movement is Shostakovitchian in places, and has a cadenza which introduces third movement material. 23 years later, Robb Tooley (2nd trombone of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) performed the concerto twice, with the St. Aldhelm’s Orchestra in Dorset, conducted by Kevin Smith. It is dedicated to Peter Gane, who did so much to help my career and life when I was at college. Published by BrassWorks.
House Orchestra. Possibly in a very large igloo. Players wrap up warm.
A Polar Journey. Pictures, events, storyline. Despite initial intentions, there soon appeared very definite pictures in my head to portray in this piece, so that in the end it’s practically a journey. Both the Arctic and Antarctic are represented under the heading of Polar, simply because the scenes shown don’t exist in both places (e.g. penguins and polar bears, the bears live north, the penguins south). We open on a bare frozen wasteland, sounds emerge from the scene only slowly, as the picture thaws. Various pre-borrowed motifs from the rest of the piece are heard, the ‘home’ key of F minor is hinted at. We come to a glacier, vast, stretching out below us.  Wide, sweeping music, majestic, started by the brass but mostly concerning the strings. An Arctic fox nips across the snow below. Suddenly we reach a busy sea, vibrant, with leopard seals twisting and zooming through the water and white whales and giant squid in the depths. The seascape becomes brighter, shafts of sunlight in the water reflect technicolour shoals of glittering fish – rather a more tropical scene than polar – and the sea swarms with marine life. Finally the waters calm and darken, and we see an ice floe on which stand a family of four polar bears. This is the most graphic section of the piece. As the ice floes are melting and shrinking, the family, represented by the horn section, swim to a smaller floe. Only three of them make it, and the water surrounding them becomes more dangerous, threatening both them and the floes. Only two survive the increasingly breathless paddle to the next patch of ice, the water is swirling and angry now, and finally only one bear is left on a solitary floe. The dark sea overtakes and consumes both with terrifying chords. The sea and climate have won, and settle to heaving, brooding waters. But we’re heading inland now, and creatures of the deep are heard below. The music lightens and more marine animals are heard nearer and nearer the surface. The tide crashes gloriously onto the rocky shore, and on land we see penguins shooting out of the water and waddling inland to their colonies. As they huddle together a southern storm is on its way, snow drifting down in heavier and thicker blankets. Soon the colony is engulfed by the ferocious blizzard. As it passes, the skies clear, yet we are still in a remote landscape, and return to the opening key, and to the desolate panorama. Snippets of earlier melodies return, forlorn bear calls are heard in the distance, the Arctic fox even makes a cheeky return, but the music is spreading out again, before a crevasse opens, and the white wilderness is all we are left with.
House Orchestra in the dark.
‘Back outside in the sun, we were led up the path past about thirty sheds, where prisoners were kept. We were shown into one, I think most of the rest aren’t used for anything now. Before we went in, the guide said ‘Now you’re going to see 58,000 shoes’. Inside were cages, ten feet tall, all down the middle of the shed, and knee-high ones round the sides. They were all crammed with old shoes, belonging to ex-prisoners, a stunning portrayal of the numbers involved. But more than that, not just the numbers, you felt their personalities. Walking down the sides, I instinctively reached down and started touching some of the shoes through the mesh, and looking up, I saw that other visitors were doing the same. I think I wanted to touch what the prisoners had touched, but then I suddenly stopped and drew back, I think because I couldn’t help them. There was one red shoe among the mostly flaky grey ones, and this implied character; a character; what sort of person wore this shoe?’
Orchestral Brass and Percussion.
This is an arrangement of a brass band work, see below, about the Hiroshima bomb. There is a further version where the normal orchestral brass section is enhanced by the addition of three extra players (trumpet, horn and euphonium), which helps everyone’s chops enormously!
House Choir, 8 parts.
This piece encapsulates both sides of its title. Mostly it celebrates beauty, especially represented in an innocent and ancient world by music. But along comes Man with his weapons and greed and lies, and the world and its beauty is crushed. A less lyrical title would be The World is Doomed by Rich, Fat, White Men. I wrote this for the Voces8 competition in 2023. It didn’t come anywhere but there were over 600 entries so I can’t feel too bad! As Sibelius music program can’t do actual words, the actual lyrics are posted in the shop.
Out in the foyer of the Virtual Venue is the House Big Band. They’re called The Oxymorons, because they’re actually a very small Big Band. Alto, Tenor and Bari saxes, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, piano, bass, drums and electric guitar. Of course any of these pieces can be transcribed for whatever forces are requested. Perhaps not string quartet.
These next four pieces are from The Oxymorons. The first three can be seen as a suite. The last one is just weird.
Mostly slow and sleazy, but you’d never believe it from the flying start. If this was ever played, the featured soloists would be the alto sax handing over to the baritone. With all these pieces, there are empty solo sections, improvised in performance. The piano ends on the lowest note it has, double pedal A.
Shimmering heatwaves, an effect I’ve attempted in a brass band piece and one of my songs. A dreamlike piece in Bb, with the double bass taking the second verse of the flugel tune. More standard big band writing in the middle section in E, and an almost hallucinogenic recapitulation. The piano uses it’s highest possible note during this piece, whilst drifting around the bass solo. Like ‘The Gypsies’ piece, above, this one just stops.
Unremittingly fast and furious this time, with another favourite musical effect, the push. That wouldn’t be a bad third title for this (see The Shop). The featured soloists are tenor sax and electric guitar, not on this file though, it’s all improvised, after all.
In 7/4, but with the kit sticking to simple time, this is a bit mind-bending. Almost abrasive chords against a simple riff similar to Low Down and Dirty (above), this Uh-oh is not cute or furry, it’s menacing.
Brass Quintet, featuring a solo cornet.
The beautiful melody from the Faure Requiem.
Also Brass Quintet, Manuel de Falla’s fiery and atmospheric highlight from his ballet The Three-Cornered Hat. Works a treat.
A Xmas carol now, still for Brass Quintet. The slowed-down version of the tune, in the middle is extremely modal (which suits Xmas of course) and builds into something resembling a mighty ‘Men of Harlech’! A bright yet very old arrangement. Published by Onyx Brass.
And finally in this mini-brass recital, and also published by Onyx, the traditional jolly tune Sailor’s Hornpipe. Is it sailor’s or sailors? How many sailors are we talking about? This also works well with a slower, minor version in the middle, blatantly an idea borrowed from John Iveson, who fortunately has given his kind permission to do this. Probably one for a children’s concert (how many children?) rather than a funeral.
A funky little number composed way back. Mostly driving rock, but the start and finish are both slushy, with what in 1985 I considered to be quite far-out, astral chords, hence the title. We played it at Guildhall a few times, though without drum kit, which I added later.
House Brass Quintet, it’s your turn.
You choose, I like both titles. If you fancy Short and Suite for Brass, the three movements are 1. A Train Journey 2. By The Stream, and 3. Dance of the Cannon Stoker. But the music seems to work just as well as Wild West Suite, where the movements are entitled 1. Union Pacific 2. Teepee Song, and 3. El Dorado. Just over 10 minutes the Suite, and accusations of me never having got over Mr. Jums for the 2nd movement are entirely justified.
House idiot and piano.
This famous virtuoso gypsy violin solo is totally unsuited to the cumbersome trombone. So here it is, for trombone (trombones actually, tenor then alto) and piano.
And here it is for three trombones and solo trombone, i.e. the last one to make it to the rehearsal.
Trombone and Piano.
At last, an Indian meal for trombone! Around Grade VIII standard, here’s a feast of four dishes – Lamb Bhuna, Bombay Aloo, Dall and Dosa, and Pickles and Pops, served in two outer movements called Silver Pots (Intro and Finale).
House Brass 9tet plus percussion plus trombonist wearing sunglasses.
I grew up with this piece so here it is as a trombone solo with the rest of a brass tentet and 1 percussion.
Performed by the House Trombone Quartet. Live in the Virtual Venue.
Again for Bones Apart, this was finished in November 2012 for the group’s ‘Legends’ programme. It’s a telling of the Robin Hood story, in a series of scenes like a film. Some of the characters differ from tradition: Robin Hood is a brigand, perhaps heroic but a hardened outlaw all the same; Maid Marion is an utterly alluring temptress, nothing like a damsel, and the Sheriff of Nottingham is a podgy adversary to Robin’s men. There is a showdown, with glissando arrows whizzing between the trees of Sherwood Forest, victory stays in the hands of Robin and tradition, and the film ends in the forests murky depths. Published here:
House Trombone Quartet at the Virtual Venue. Ten ways to say Goodbye. Got a pencil?
Loopy Louise is my wife Helen.  On a train journey to Manchester, she suggested I write something for just mouthpieces, so that’s what this is.  Or intended to be, anyway.  It works much better on the whole instrument, and is an encore piece, containing 10 ways to say Goodbye, in about 90 seconds.
A brisk trumpet and trombone duet, written for Philip Cobb and Helen Vollam. A bright opener to a recital.
If you like Lutoslawski’s brilliant Mini Overture, for brass quintet, here’s my take on it, as an exciting trumpet and trombone duet.
A made-up word for a bit of swashbuckle. The opening piece in the trombone recital, Reaching for the Clouds (see Home Page, Shop and Composing Categories).
(For more about the full recital, please read on here: and a few more words here: I wrote this series of pieces, a set of 8 new works for trombone and piano, in 2014, in what felt like a fortnight frenzy but was probably a six month compositional zone. I asked the majestic John Alley if he’d be interested in being the accompanist, and he agreed with enthusiasm. But from there the matter rested for several years, like The Ring lost in the river Anduin. Then a meeting with an old friend suddenly got the ball rolling, the possibilities were suddenly apparent, and things fell into place very quickly; the iron was hot; we recorded the whole lot a mere two months after that meeting. But why? Why on earth do this? At my age?! (51 at time of recording). Two reasons really. Firstly, after being an external examiner at the music colleges in London, I couldn’t help but notice that, although there have obviously been many additions to the trombone solo repertoire since my own college days, many students were still having to crowbar in the old favourites – the Serocki Sonatina, the Casterede, the David etc – in order to create a programme containing the correct contrasts. Recital programmes should obviously have contrasts, but these are often quite firmly stipulated, in the manner of box-ticking, and that was forcing these students into rather clunky musical selections. So I thought it would be good to create an entire recital, with the contrasts already built in. A programme where each piece has its natural place, instead of being a lumped-together series. The contrasts would certainly be there: many different styles and moods, some light music, some heavy, some descriptive, some unaccompanied; breath effects, use of mutes, quartertones (even sixth-tones), exploration of over 4 octaves; not only all that but the recital, the 7 pieces (the 8th is an encore) could be regarded as one whole event, even one piece, like a sort of symphony. It’s semi-cyclic, in that though the pieces are individually contained, in the middle and more obviously towards the end, motifs and material from earlier moments are referred to. A comparison to make would be with Progressive Rock albums of the 70s and 80s, particularly, as is the case here, where the beginning comes back at the end as a sort of reaffirming climax to the whole show. The second reason? Any psychologist would spot that as I spend much of my life playing 2nd trombone, I don’t get ‘the tune’ very much anymore. So this is a rather childlike (and childish, I admit it) desire to have a last dance in the spotlight, where we all grew up when learning to play the instrument in the first place! I hope you enjoy this concert. With love and so many thanks to: John Alley, pianist, accompanist and musician extraordinaire, and of insight and wisdom. I was extraordinarily flattered that he agreed to do this. And he really helped me regain the music of my own music; since I wrote it in 2014 the recital had become something either discarded, or simply a new set of dots to practice. John somehow saw a lot of the original feeling behind the pieces, and helped me to relax and play the music as it was meant to be. He can also do this: Dave Papp, who actually set this in motion when I’d all but resigned it to being a project well-formed but never to be realised. All the many friends who listened to me spouting about it and managed not to laugh. Especially Jeanette Murphy. Peter Gane, for a particular piece of inspiration 30 years ago! Lastly, and firstly, my amazing wife Helen, who encouraged and supported throughout, despite the worrying fact that we were supposed to be saving for our Scottish holiday. There’s more where this comes from. From everybody.
Solo trombonist, solo open piano. The Rocket explores the rather outer-space-like effect of playing a trombone into a piano.
Definitely Arvo Part-driven, this is a relentless piece set in D minor. Huge, lumbering trolls hurl boulders at each other in the mountains through a torrential downpour. The boulders and the rain are heavy, the rocks boom. The fight in the monsoon continues from start to finish, if anything becoming more and more thick and stormy right to the end. Melodically, it’s simply a descending whole tone scale on the trombone, played twice. There’s a slip into C# minor between the two scales. Harmonically, we flit through keys relating to the notes of the trombone scale, until its final two tones, F# and E, when the rain music distorts and threatens. The trombone is the giants and the boulders, the piano is the rain. But finally the E, not having reached its final D-estination first time round, resolves, though the rain pounds harder, and the giant conflict never does give in.
This piece follows straight on from the relentless Giants in the Rain, and is therefore a quiet, ethereal contrast. Giants started with a long piano introduction, Ghosts has the solo trombone softly laying out the theme, a recitative-like chant based on the most recurrent motif of the recital, a 5-note snippet going up or down towards the end.  The piano joins the second (now muted) version of this theme, flitting between airy wisps and lower, darker accompaniment.  The ghosts always have sinister beauty.
Pam-e-ent-see Kaz. I wanted to call this piece ‘A tribute to Serocki’, but it translates better into Polish to say Pamieci, which is closer to ‘in memory of’. Kaz is a flippant shortening of Serocki’s first name, Kazimierz. And the piece is less in memory of the composer himself than a tribute to his Sonatina for Trombone, written in 1954 and still one of the best pieces for the instrument. The first three audio files here are digital, the fourth is the entire piece live.
High (!) solo trombone.
This is a light tune. Light in style, floaty in feel, the trombone plays fairly high throughout, and is very much in the old-fashioned solo mode.
Or Bombasticity II, takes us back to the beginning of the recital. Genesis did an album in 1979 in which the opening returns at the end, and the way they did it always gripped me. This is a similar effort, to close this cyclic recital. So after drifting through the sky above the clouds, we sink right back to a sepulchral beat and a revisiting of the material of the opening piece (and Ghosts). This inexorably leads to the very first phrase, and a cadenza, over a hiatus in the piano part, which brings us to the final ending. It is my hope that this return ties the whole recital together like shoelaces, rounding off and finalising the performance so it becomes a single entity.
Encores are too long. This one is a minute and a half but there are a lot of notes. Mostly in 5, it’s a bombastic zoom up and down various arpeggios, always tongue-in-cheek (which makes it a lot harder to play). For use as the encore to the recital for which it was written (as is the case here), before the final manic flourish we are reminded of snippets from all of the previous pieces. This takes this piece up to a laborious 2 minutes.

On the Band-Stand

Riffem and Blues

Expanding forces further, to 12 trombones, this piece has made it to performance, by the students of Trinity College, the Royal College, and the trombones of RAF Northolt so far.  I’d had the riff for ages and knew roughly what I was going to do with it.  The piece starts with a musical “Hello” on mixed mutes, then the riff starts in the distance and builds up around it, then it skips a beat and falls into a big blues, in the manner of Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la Turk.  The riff returns and fades, finally ending with the opening reversed, now as a musical “Goodbye”.  There’s a piece for brass band called Jamie’s Patrol, about an American Civil War band, which starts with the bugles and drums over the hill, approaching until the full cavalry sweeps past, then  strides off into the distance again.  Very atmospheric, and obviously an influence on Riffem and Blues.   It is published by Roger Harvey at Brass Works.

It would help to describe this piece if I gave one (!) of its original titles, which was Fanfare, Theme, Ghosts and Hoedown. This is a melange of a piece, in those implied moods, written as a thankyou to Duncan Wilson and Kidlington Concert Brass for performing Sketches of Shetland, which they did brilliantly. When I couldn’t settle on a title for the melange, I wondered if, when KCB played it, we should have a sort of raffle, where members of the audience could suggest a title, based on what they’d just heard. It was quite an up-and-down summer that year.

Here is Fury, winner of the 2021 ‘Say it in 60 Seconds’ Composition Competition, set up by the Oxford Festival of the Arts. This is an amazing and heartfelt live recording and video, by the phenomenal Brendan Ball of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.

Written for a performance at the International Trombone Festival in 2006, by, and for Katy Price and Christian Jones, shortly before they got married.  Based on their initials, and the imminent wedding, the theme takes its cue from the song about Casey Jones, the American pioneer. Here are Christian and Ian Bousfield playing it at the end of a recital at the Arctic Trombone Festival in 2016.

Here’s the tremendous Christian Jones premiering my only piece of Serialism, in September 2017, in Peel Hall at the University of Salford. The piece was written for Christian, and attempts to make accessible music from a strict tone row of twelve notes. There are distinct sections of different moods, derived and developed from small parts of the tone row. A martial section, a mad waltz, hints of West Side Story and a reflective passage are inspired by the row, which is stated at the beginning and returns ate the end, joining up the various strands explored during the piece. Incidentally, this recording will never happen again, as I adjusted the piece after it, and the published Final Version (by Warwick Music) is shorter than this one. Thank you Christian for this magnificent performance, and therefore leading me to see me how the piece should finally go!

In November 2022 Helen Vollam (Principal Trombone BBCSO) treated everyone at the Royal Welsh College of Music to a recital, during which she gave a wonderful performance of this piece, accompanied by Liz Burley on the piano. It’s simply one of the most beautiful tunes I’ve ever heard, written by Kathryn Tickell for her renowned band of Northumbrian pipes, violin, accordian and guitar. Please do find this original on YouTube, as I have done many times, and enjoy the way it builds as the instruments join in. Two features especially draw you in, alongside the flowing lilt of the melody. One is the fact that the tune ends on the subdominant, which is a lovely touch that should happen more often (I think!) and also that the whole piece ends on the dominant chord of C, when the piece itself is in F. Oh, and the gorgeous rit at the end that winds things down beautifully. That’s three things.

Here is the live performance of Sketches of Shetland, by Kidlington Concert Brass on 31st March 2019. A red letter date for me as it was my first public performance of a brass band piece. See the details for and the story of the piece above, in the Virtual Venue. Five continuous sections: 1. The View 2. Boat Trip and Cave 3. Mousa at Midnight 4. Hoswick Bay, and 5. Hermaness. Thankyou Kidlington and conductor Duncan Wilson.

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