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The Forest of Dean Brass Band based in Yorkley, Royal Forest of Dean are delighted to have secured the services of the well-known Trombone soloist and conductor Stephen Sykes.
The band has enjoyed two great years under the baton of Bryn James, and is now looking ahead to a great future under Stephen’s leadership. Stephen’s musicality, professionalism and experience will be a great asset to the band, along with his ability to move the band forward whilst still ensuring that enjoyment and great music-making is paramount.
Stephen is an accomplished trombone soloist becoming the first trombonist to win the BBC Radio 2 Brass soloist competition back in 2009. He has studied at the world famous Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music (Hons) Degree in 2013, again specialising in Trombone. He has played in and in front of a number of exceptional brass bands over his playing career including Black Dyke, Cory, Tredegar, and Fairey, as well as having and active freelance career that has included performances with the likes of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Sting, and can be heard on TV on such programmes as “Dr Who” and “Our Girl”.
Unfortunately in February 2016 Stephen was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. An unusual and aggressive form of cancer. Chemotherapy was not successful in treating the cancer and he was told his best hope of success once receiving a life-saving stem cell transplant was to treat him with a new drug called a PD1 blocker. Stephen needed the expensive drug so his body did not reject stem cell treatment and the appeal to raise funds spawned its own 'Acrobat Challenge', where participants performed JA Greenwood's ‘The Acrobat’ and nominate others to do the same. The target of raising £90,000 was surpassed and the challenge was then used to encourage people to register as potential blood stem cell donors and #swabforsykes was started with testing stations appearing at the Brass Band Area contests around the country. Stephen’s #SwabforSykes campaign inspired many people around the world to donate money for a specialist treatment for Stephen and to register as potential lifesavers. As of February 2019, four of those people have been identified as a match for someone else in need of a second chance at life and have donated potentially lifesaving blood stem cells. Stephen’s mother Joanne provided the stem cells despite being only a 50% match, with the rare transplant procedure taking place December 2017. In March2018, Stephen had a PET-CT scan which confirmed he was cancer-free.
Forest of Dean Brass will be Stephens’s first full time conductor appointment since he received the all clear from his illness. During his illness Stephen continued expressing his passion for Brass Bands by conducting Burnham and Highbridge Band and having the pleasure of opening Glastonbury in 2016 by conducting the band on the Pyramid stage. He has since guest conducted at Weston Brass and Midsomer Norton and Radstock Silver Band.
Stephen commented on joining the band “Forest of Dean are already a fine ensemble with a rich history in National Competition. Joining the band as its Musical Director is not only a huge milestone in my recovery from illness, but is also offers an exciting opportunity to improve on solid foundations on both the concert platform and the contest stage.”
Stephen’s philosophy is that band has to be enjoyable, especially when some of the members travel over an hour each way to band for every single rehearsal. He also believes it is very important that, while the band improves technically, audiences want to listen to them and enjoy the music they play. This is an important factor in his choice of programming.
Stephen’s outlook on the future with the band “My vision is that of a complete concert season for the band, both utilising local venues and those further afield, as well was growing the bands reputation through national competitions. I’m sure that we will begin with a solid showing at the Welsh Open Contest in February!”
The first outing of the new partnership will be the Christmas concert at Lydney Town hall on Sunday 8th December 2019. This concert will not just feature the band but will include the Forest of Dean Training band and Aylburton Church of England Primary school choir. The concert will start at 7:30pm. A Celebration of Christmas will be the follow up concert held in Yorkley on the 21st December at the bands own practice hall with minced pies, Christmas jumpers and seasonal brass band music.
Roger Stratford – Vice Chairman of Forest of Dean Brass welcomed the appointment of Stephen “ It is great to have someone of Stephens caliber and enthusiasm in the middle… with a mix of back to basics and fine detail the band can only improve. It will be an interesting year to come (which) I am looking forward to.”
Forest of Dean Brass are a 1st section band based in Yorkley, Forest of Dean. 2019 is the band's 25th year since the amalgamation of Yorkley Onward and Coleford Town Band in 1994 forming the Forest of Dean Brass as it is now. Bekki Berrow commented "combining the bands was a difficult decision to make, trying to understand all the ramifications the change would bring for the players. As always some were happy and some were not so happy, but realistically it was the only way forward. The new band has been successful over the last 25 years, but always mindful in the need to adapt to the changing pressures on brass bands but sticking by the core tasks set out during the amalgamation: enjoying our hobby of playing music with likeminded people, teaching others the skills required to be a bander and have a giggle along the way"
As a contesting band, Forest Of Dean Brass have had success over the past four years winning the Gloucestershire Brass Band Association own test piece and march competition with this years win under the expert baton of Gareth Ritter. The bands other most recent successes have included the 2019 West of England Bandsmen’s Festival (Bugle) where they were the placed 1st for both the test piece (Ad undas by Gareth Churcher) and march (Unconquered by Arthur W. Gullidge) again under the baton of Gareth. In recent times they have been top 3 at SEWBBA Cardiff test piece contest and in the top 5 at the Wychavon Entertainment Competition. Forest of Dean Brass are now among the top six 1st section bands in the West of England.
Forest of Dean Brass balance their time on contesting with a busy engagement schedule and can be seen out playing throughout the year at many different locations. They enjoy the classic Band in the park but revel in playing modern POP classics at cider festivals and Steam Rallys.
Since the appointment of Stephen Sykes the band have already secured the services of new players (announcements coming soon) as they start to build towards next year’s contest schedule, which will include the Welsh Open, Bugle(West of England Bandsmen’s Festival) and the Areas in Torquay amongst others. The band’s immediate challenge is to find a BBb Bass to sit alongside long serving stalwart Roger Stratford.
The future looks bright and exciting for forest of Dean Brass……..