• Rob & Jess | Wonderbrass 25

  • View map
  • Use stars to collect & save items A vector image of star to represent action to save this item   Login to save this item


Wonderbrass are an internationally acclaimed 25 piece Soul, Funk, Ska, Latin, Jazz juggernaut -- a danceaholic wall of sound -- a kick-ass brass tidal wave -- unmissable!!!!!& Wonderbrass formed in 1992 as a community street band from Pontypridd South Wales. Today they are bigger, bolder and brassier (pun intended) than ever before. Under the expert leadership of instrumentalist and composer Rob Smith and drummer extraordinaire Mark O'Connor, Wonderbrass are constantly evolving and exploring new musical challenges.

Video transcript:

We did a parade on the Gurnos Estate in Merthyr.We aroused a lot of curiosity when we were marching around this estate.What are these people doing here and why?But we did it and then we went to some other places like thatwhere they don't get any art or anything.
Through doing that and feeling that you're a bit on your own,you build up an incredible sense of solidarity and bonding with the other people taking the same risk.
It went from purely a workshop band,which had a very, very limited potential life-span, and a very limited potential aim -which was to do a couple of festivals or carnivals for SWICA.
When we started doing better paid gigs and especially the gigs abroad and all the festivals, then it became slightly more problematic because on the one hand you've got to be a workshop band that allows anybody in and on the other hand you have to be professional.
That builds a certain amount of tension.
I'm making it sound negative, but in fact it's quite a creative tension. It made the band better.

To me, that process started somewhere in the early to mid '90s In 1995, we went to Barcelona and we played in their Fiesta.There's also a massive arts festival, so we played at the Olympic Village to about 7,000 people and thought, "This is amazing."
Just a little community band from Wales playing to 7,000 people in Barcelona. The parade seemed like everybody in the city was out on the streets.The weather was gorgeous.
It was just an amazing gig and a massive bonding experience. We all spent the weekend out every night. The pubs were open all night because it's the festival, so we were out all the time.
They were probably the least used beds that we've ever had in hotels.Getting home to the hotel at 1.00am and the hotel had basically closed and everybody was really hungry.
One of the sax players, Dave, used to be a cook so we raided the kitchen and basically stole all their food.That was great fun.
The Brecon Jazz Festival in 2006 where we worked with a band from Cape Town called Amampondo.They were flying out for the festival. We had no time to rehearse with them.
We sent them a tape of some of our material and they just came up with drum parts because they're mostly a percussion group.
So we had the usual Wonderbrass, all dressed up in white shirts and tuxes and dicky bows or little black dresses and in the middle of this, there are six guys from Cape Town, from the Xhosa tribe in Cape Town and they were dressed in tribal gear.
And just the contrast between the people in black and white and these guys with feathers and fur and costumes and African instruments in the middle, is an amazing image.
That went down really well. We played to a packed audience and then we repeated it the year after.
But the year after they were over for another project, so we got to write some material with them.

In Cork we all went to this bar.For no reason, just to have a drink one lunchtime. Somebody brought out their trumpet, I think it was Richard. Within an hour, we were playing an impromptu gig in this bar essentially for fun, for free beer.It was a great day, better than the gig in Cork itself, if I recall.

Festival Number 6.It's in Portmeirion which is the ornate village that features in the TV series, The Prisoner so it's beautiful, but it's also very small and compact. And doing a carnival in there is amazing because people are right in your face.
With the best will in the world, they can't keep a distance between the audience. You get some people who just want to join in and you get some people who are baffled by it,as they always are in this country by carnival.We finished on a stage with a samba band and co-ordinated a little set together.

Another big one is the London Olympics gig where we played on the South Bank as part of the Cultural Olympiad. We played with Jason Yarde again and that was broadcast on the BBC, broadcast on BBC Radio 3, released on CD.
Twenty arts projects in Britain got selected to take part in that. We were the only one from Wales.But also, we thought that they were all amateur groups,but half of them were professional groups - opera companies were involved in that.

The only thing is that you had to commission a composer.Ten professional companies and ten amateur companies, I think, got selected in the end.That made us even more take ourselves seriously, because we were able to bid forand get commissions like that - and we've had a few commissions since.
We used to rehearse every Tuesday and I think I went to 99% of them.Sometimes, I can remember doing three, four gigs at the weekend. You'd play somewhere on the street in Cardiff in the afternoon and play somewhere else in the evening.
It was relentless. It was ongoing all the time. It was tough for us - for me and Rob in particular because members would change.You could play with ten people on a Saturday afternoonand another ten or fifteen people on Saturday evening.
So the members had it slightly easier than we did.But my memory of it is it being quite relentless sometimes.It just went on and on and on, which was a good thing, not a bad thing.

That's another really memorable gig - the gig that kicked this current project off in The Gate in Roath as part of Made In Roath Festival. It was an amazing evening really,because we had friends who hadn't been in the band for ages coming back and coming to see us.People who hadn't seen us for years coming in and looking at what we were doing. It was a way of connecting the whole 25 year experience of the band for those who have been in it for the full 25 years.
It pulled all that experience together because we were seeing old friends. We had people on stage who hadn't played with us for ages.We were doing all the reminiscence and the looking back,but we were also playing brand new material and that's why it felt really special.
The standard they've got now is infinitely better than it was. Almost all due to Rob and his efforts from a musical point of view,but you can't forget the people who work behind the scenes.
In my day it was Denise who did stuff. Largely unpaid, a largely thankless task.And now it's the two Jennys who do stuff, as far as I know.And as far as I can tell, a largely unpaid and thankless taskwhich allows Rob to do his stuff.
Without them, nothing happens.
So key moments, there are memorable gigs in Cork, Santiago in Spain and Vienne in France, Stuttgart.
Those are the highlights for me, I think.

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to leave a comment