Another sultry night in Westminster Music Library and this time we were playing host to the Victory Wind Quintet, a group of professional musicians who have been working together for over ten years, primarily within the Guards Bands. The players have busy careers combining solo work, chamber music and freelancing. Lucky for us they had time to pay us a visit, and even luckier that what they had in mind for repertoire chimed beautifully with our First World War music and composers project – Behind the Lines – although this concert was set to embrace music from both World Wars (I can feel another project coming on…).
Tuning up complete, our audience settled and suitably refreshed with a cooling drink, The “Victory” marched off with renditions of some First World War music, some of which was already familiar to us in Westminster Music Library, including George Butterworth’s The banks of green willow. Described by its composer as an “Idyll”, and written in 1913, he based The Banks of Green Willow on two folk song melodies. Butterworth was a lieutenant in the Durham Light infantry and was killed on 5 August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme.
Our First World War selection ended with a wonderful arrangement of It’s a long way to Tipperary by John Whitfield, but then it was fast forward to World War Two and an arrangement of the famous song A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square. Written in 1939 by Manning Sherwin in the then small French fishing village of Le lavandou shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, it became one of the best selling and most popular songs of the era.
No recital of war-inspired music would be complete without some marching songs and we were treated to a rousing medley, but not wishing to monopolise the show with the army (our musicians variously play with The Coldstream Guards Band, the Band of the Irish Guards, the Band of the Welsh and Scots Guards), we turned our attention to the air with Aces High, a march written by Ron Goodwin for the 1969 film “The Battle of Britain”, and a grand finale comprising a selection of sea songs. According to Nick (our horn player) the Navy hasn’t written much in the way of songs since the eighteenth century, but that hasn’t stopped them re-working some old favourites with often slightly more risqué lyrics… however our quintet had plenty of mariner-themed tunes up their talented sleeves and with a sailor’s hornpipe taken at a dazzling tempo, all too soon it was time for anchors away as The “Victory” set sail.
All five musicians gave a faultless and captivating performance, and I hope they’ll hold good to their promise and march our way again soon.