Category: Awards Scheme 2018/19

A4 Brass – Day 5: Peebles

Skirling House has to be the finest accommodation we have had as a quartet. Bob and Isobel Hunter were our most welcoming hosts and we were treated to an incredible breakfast in the conservatory with a view of the grounds.

Today’s journey was the shortest of the whole tour, from Biggar to Peebles so we had all afternoon to relax before the final concert. We also had a hotel for the night instead of host’s houses, meaning we could check in our luggage and were in the centre of town, 2 minutes walk from the concert venue, the Eastgate Theatre.

We arrived and went for a walk around the town, stocking up on local treats as well as finding a lovely wine and spirit shop for Mother’s Day presents! Rehearsal at the theatre was a quick one but we were able to add lots of final touches as the stage had really good access on and off. Tuesday evening is the rehearsal night of the Peebles Borough Bands and we had organised a workshop with the youth band prior to our concert. Small in number but very enthusiastic, the band played through a couple of pieces whilst we all sat in followed by a training session led by Jonny where we talked about breathing, tongue and dynamics. We love working with youth bands and it’s great to see community banding as strong as it is in the Borders. Peebles Youth Band players were also given free tickets to our concert!

The final concert was probably our most enjoyable of the tour. The largest audience by far (120) was the result of fantastic advertising from the society Music in Peebles and really does make a difference to us musicians when performing. The theatre was a great chamber music venue and it was nice to see some familiar faces in the audience from many of the local brass bands. Definitely a fitting finale to our Scotland Tour, and a pleasure to end the Music in Peebles Concert Series for this season.

Our post-concert routine is super slick now due to all of these consecutive gigs! Jonny and Mike straight out to the merchandise stall whilst Jamie and I pack down and clear the stage. Jamie drove home after the performance for work on Wednesday morning leaving the three of us to enjoy our last night of the trip with some local beverages, Brewdog and Tennent’s!

This tour has been particularly special for me, seeing lots of old friends and my family as well as bringing our unique sound and music to my home nation. Travelling to some of the nicest towns and villages around the Borders & South West of Scotland and sampling plenty of local food, drink and culture, it has been incredible.

Huge thanks to Jonathan Tunnell and the Tunnell Trust for this opportunity, we hope to be back soon! 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Chris Robertson

A4 Brass – Day 4: Biggar

We woke in idyllic surroundings in Gatehouse of Fleet, in the middle of beautiful woodland. After a wonderful breakfast I was handed a bugle by the hosts that was built in 1915 and was used in the trenches of World War 1 with the seemingly easy challenge of playing it (which proved relatively difficult). After a brief attempt we picked up the other members and were on our way.

We had quite a lot of time before the concert so we decided to stop in Moffat. One thing that is always a struggle on tour is trying to keep healthy due to the amount of time in the car and the irregular meal times. Therefore we managed to fit in a quick game of football. Unfortunately our moment of healthy behaviour was cancelled out by the deep fried mars bar and Irn Bru fudge that we consumed after (both were wonderful, by the way!).

We arrived at the concert venue in Biggar to a wonderful chamber music venue! After setting up we headed for our last meal of the day and a local pub. The concert was well attended, including the chairman of Brass Bands England, Kenny Crookston and our Euphonium player Chris’ dad, who managed to watch the quartet in a more ‘local’ concert for the first time! We enjoyed the performance very much and gained lots of positive feedback after the concert, which is always nice to hear!

After the concert we went back to our accommodation, which was a stunning 17th century building entitled, ‘Skirling House’. The hosts bought it 25 years ago and used it a guest house until only 2 years ago, hence us all having our own double room with en suite! After talking about the history of the building, bonding with their pets and sampling some local beer it was time for bed.

Time for rest before the final day of our tour. On to Peebles!


Jamie Smith


A4 Brass – Day 3: Gatehouse of Fleet

Day 3 saw us travel south from Ayr to Gatehouse of Fleet, after a morning spent sampling the local delights of Pirate Pete’s mini-golf and the amusement arcade, in less than tropical weather conditions!

Having left plenty of time for the picturesque drive down, we decided to spend a couple of hours having lunch and looking around Kirkcudbright – a small harbour town just a few miles from Gatehouse of Fleet – which is renowned for it’s popularity amongst painters even to this day as an inspiration for many of their works of art.

Upon our arrival at Gatehouse Parish church, we received a very warm welcome from the hosts (complete with soup, sandwiches and quiche!) and put in the usual tweaks to our set to deal with the difference in staging which the platform posed us.

A compact yet responsive audience took their seats across the two-tiered hall as we embarked upon the first half – featuring the same programme as our first concert of the tour in Melrose on Friday evening, before our ‘Alone at the Opera’ set closed the concert in the second half. At both the interval and the end of the concert, it was great to talk to a number of members of the local Solway Symphony orchestra who had come to listen to the concert!

Jonny Bates


A4 Brass – Day 2: Ayr

After a lovely breakfast we said goodbye to our hosts and headed into Melrose town centre to have a look around. We discovered the very impressive Melrose Abbey and enjoyed walking around Harmony House and Gardens before setting off to Ayr.

Upon arrival in Ayr we were met by the president of Ayr Music Club, Isobel McIlwraith, who opened the church for us to set up. After a short rehearsal we were taken for a lovely meal at a local hotel, The Chestnuts, where it was great to get to know Isobel and learn more about Ayr Music Club.

A healthy audience of 70+ were in attendance at our concert including a few of Chris’ friends from Dalmellington Band which was great to see! At the interval and post-concert we received very positive feedback from the audience who thoroughly enjoyed our varied programme, especially the 2nd half ‘Alone at the Opera’ set!
Time to rest now before travelling to Gatehouse or Fleet tomorrow for concert no. 3!

Mike Cavanagh

A4 Brass – Day 1: Melrose

Day 1: Melrose
The tour started with the long drive from Manchester to Melrose on Friday 22nd March. This is only the second time we have been north of the border as a group and we were looking forward to performing five consecutive concerts around the Borders and South West of Scotland.

Melrose was the first stop and after arriving at 5.30pm we found the church hall in which we were to perform. Jonny Bates, our tenor horn player, has come up with a brand new concept for our concert’s second half, breaking away from our more traditional format. The “set” is a through composed quasi-operetta titled “Alone at the Opera”. It features music from classic opera as well as popular music and a touch of Argentina for good measure.

Upon arrival to the hall we found minor logistical challenges relating to the set! We had trialled the concept in our two previous concerts in Helensburgh and Abergavenny and whilst both venues were quite different, they had plenty of space and good access on and off stage, which we have incorporated into the half. In a church hall there is very little room to manoeuvre! Fortunately the hall had some big pinboards we could use as “wings” alongside our A4 banners to create an offstage section on each side of the performance area. After rehearsal, quiche and sandwiches, the hall was opened for the audience to take their seats.

With chamber music you never know how many you might get attending your concerts, especially in a brass group! This was the final concert in the Melrose Music Society’s series, and after extra chairs being found, the 82-strong audience packed into the Parish Church Hall.

We began with our signature opener Toccata and followed with the Scottish-inspired South Uist Variations by Oliver Waespi, both of which feature on our debut album that is available on our merchandise stand. The audience was very close to us throughout the concert and this created a really strong and positive link between performer and listener. This was also one of our most receptive and welcoming audiences, which bodes well for the rest of the tour! Jonny was our first half soloist, playing Concert Étude and we also featured choral music from Kentaro Sato, traditional Scottish music, and the Finale from Mendelssohn’s 4th Symphony.

The second half went down a treat despite the initial problems! Having the audience so near gave us lots of energy to feed off, and was encouraging that our comedy was well received! This concert was extra special for me as it was the first time my mum and two brothers had heard the quartet live, whereas the parents of the others have been present at many of our concerts. It was also fantastic to go to a local pub with the three of them and the rest of the quartet to relax after a day of travelling and playing. We were staying in host’s houses and were treated to a wide variety of local beers, lamb casserole and great company, before a breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled egg in the morning! We could get used to this!!

The biggest leg of the tour next, Melrose to Ayr.

Chris Robertson