- Colston Falls
2020 5' available from composer
As I was preparing to start work on this piece in early June 2020, the world was being rocked by Black Lives Matter protests, sparked by the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of the police, but then spreading worldwide. I studied at Bristol University in the early 1990s, and have been a regular visitor to the city since leaving there in 1997. So I watched with some amazement on 7 June as news reports came through of Colston’s statue being torn down and dumped in the harbour.
Edward Colston (1636-1721) was strongly involved in the slave trade in Bristol, and used some of his slave-created wealth to benefit the city. His name has lived on in Bristol’s Colston Hall – though the Hall is soon to announce a new name – and in various other institutions. There have been campaigns seeking the removal of his statue, but where these did not succeed, a crowd of protesters with ropes did. The statue was pulled down to cheers. A protestor knelt on its neck in a symbolic gesture echoing the killing of George Floyd. The statue was then rolled down the road to the Floating Harbour, where it was unceremoniously thrown in. Such symbolism, for the statue of a slave-owner to end up in the very waters where the wealth created by those slaves arrived in Britain.
The statue remained in the river until 11 June, when it was recovered by Bristol City Council and put into storage; it went on display, complete with ropes and graffiti, in Bristol’s M Shed in 2021.
Colston Falls is a musical reaction to this event. It opens with a surging crowd, and percussion beating out the date of the protest in Morse code. The crowd roars, a chant of “Bring it down, bring it down” is heard through the cacophony. There’s wild, unbridled, fear-tinged jubilation and frenzy as the statue itself is toppled, then a new grating, halting rhythm starts up, led by percussion, as the statue is half-dragged, half-rolled along the road. This reaches its culmination as the statue reaches the harbour-side and is cast into the water. Bells peal out, in the Bristol Surprise Major change-ringing method.
And then, calm. Out of this calm an 18th-century Welsh ballad tune, ‘Gwêl yr Adeilad’ (‘See the Building’), is heard, initially on flugelhorn and then building up to full band. This was the tune to which an early anti-slavery ballad in Welsh was intended to be sung – the verses were written in the early 1790s by Edward Barnes, a Methodist from Wrexham. Thanks to Professor E. Wyn James of Cardiff University for his research (‘Welsh Ballads and American Slavery’, 2007), which led me to this tune, and with his kind help in sending me Barnes’ verses:
Pob Cymro a synio sy union, sef
gwneuthur i bob dynion, yr un daioni;
Neu ’r lles, a iawn ’wyllysien’, gan eraill
gael eu hunain yn ’r un goleuni,
’Mhob bron, mae’r gyfraith hirfaith hon,
yn rheol eglur, ’n ol goleu nattur;
Heblaw ’r yscrythyr, yn pwyntio’r llwybr
I’w droedio rhag tro hudol a phwys
A wnei di, sy’n adrodd wrthym ni, na
ladd neb allan, droi i ladd dy hunan,
Gan wneud cam llwyrlan i frawd o
Fel brad y dynion duon echryslon
Darllenwch yr holl hanes, cewch weled
gwaedlyd lechres a bair ddychryn,
Ym mhob cydwybod effro, a fytho heb
ei serio â haiarn twymyn;
Pwy yn awr, a fedd na gwedd na
gwawr, o ddynol deimlad,
At gyd-greaduriaid, tan fath gaethiwed,
na chlyw resyned sawr
Sy’n codi oddiwrth eu triniad, â’r fath
Trwy nerth, Duw gwyn fydd oreu
gwerth, ymrown o ddifri, i ymddidoli,
Oddi wrth gefnogi, hyn sy’n ddrygioni
Gadawn eu Rum a’u Siwgwr, sy[’]n
peri’r cynnwr certh.
I’m grateful to Professor James for providing me with a summary of the contents of these verses in English. The first verse “reminds Welsh people of the clear rule of the Bible and of natural morality that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us, including our poor black brethren, who are in such a wretched state and are being treated so very cruelly.”
The second verse “says that, unless someone’s conscience has been seared with a red-hot iron, there is surely no-one with a morsel of human feeling who, after reading the horrifying list of cruel and evil treatments meted out to their enslaved fellow creatures, will not be left with a stench in the nostrils at such shameful treatment; and therefore, by God’s strength, we should earnestly undertake to refuse to support rum and sugar produced by their slave labour.”
There’s a final surge of energy at the end, with a reiteration of the date of the protest, and a final coded message, one of a number that appear throughout the piece.
Colston Falls was commissioned by National Youth Arts Wales for the National Youth Brass Band of Wales. I was asked by its conductor Philip Harper (who also conducts the world-famous Cory Band), to write this piece for NYBBW’s summer course in 2020. Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic led to the course’s cancellation, and the cancellation of the next course in 2021, so the premiere is delayed until 2022.preview score Publisher details & further information
- Hummingbird (brass band version)
2020 4' 30" Composers Edition
The original version of Hummingbird was commissioned by Finchley Children’s Music Group in summer 2020, for humming choir and body percussion. It was written during the Covid-19 pandemic at a time when choirs were allowed to meet, but not for open-mouthed singing, hence the humming. I was struck by how well the piece might work in brass band from, and made this version in November 2020. The extra volume and variety of sound offered by the brass instruments, and the translation of body percussion into a percussion section, gives this piece a wider dynamic and emotional range than the original, while preserving its mesmeric repetition and its sinuous themes that hint at the eastern Mediterranean.preview score Publisher details & further information
- Tunnel Vision: Suite for Brass Band
2018 14' Composers Edition
Tunnel Vision is a 14-minute suite drawn from the large-scale piece I wrote in 2016 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Tunnel Vision was commissioned by the Brass Band Heritage Trust for the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, for performance at the RNCM Brass Band Festival on 28 January 2018.
The original piece, a mammoth 85-minute multi-movement work, is titled Super Slow Way: A Rhapsody to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. In it I set a series of original poems exploring the history, stories and current life of the canal by Ian McMillan. As well as Brighouse and Rastrick, the massed performing forces were made up of three narrators (Lisa Parry, Farmeen Akhtar and Ian McMillan himself), 3 soloists (soprano Amanda Roocroft, cellist Jonathan Aasgaard, and tabla player Kuljit Bhamra), and 3 choirs (Blackburn People’s Choir, Children’s Voices of Blackburn, and a specially-formed Super Slow Way Chamber Choir). It was commissioned by the Canal and River Trust, and performed on 16 October 2016 in King George’s Hall, Blackburn, under the baton of Clark Rundell. Special thanks to Ian Brownbill for his help and support in its creation.
In Tunnel Vision I have rescored to integrate choral, solo vocal and cello lines into the brass band texture. Each section is linked without pause to the next.
The Suite opens with Fantasy on Canal Ballads, which draws on tunes introduced to me by the Manchester ballad-singer Jennifer Reid. Then Narrative No.1: Plan, whichtells of the ideas behind the canal, leads into Sunset Over the Canal, a meditation on what the canal means to the people who live along its banks. Canal Dream, with its mock-Handelian language, explores the mind of an 18th-century capitalist, and his dreams of the huge wealth to be made from canals. Then the work begins, in Narrative No.2: Dig. In The Week Held in Water we explore the life of working people on the canals, and the final Rhapsody on Boat Names grows from the whimsical names of the boats themselves.
Premiered by the Brighouse and Rastrick Band on 28 January 2018 at the Royal Northern College of Music Brass Band Festival, Manchester, conducted by David Thornton.preview score
Ian Stephens’ ‘Tunnel Vision’ - a condensed 12 minute suite originated from his 85 minute multi-movement work ‘Super Slow Way’: A Rhapsody to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal’ was a fascinating delight. A thoughtful, meandering journey of a long lost social history, it lost none of its engrossing texture in its compact form, the pacing beautifully realised all the way to a languid, tranquil ending.Malcolm Wood , 4barsrest.com