History, tradition and magic: Lancashire’s world-class Leyland Band on Covid, musical passion and what makes marching bands special

Music director Tom Wyss leads Leyland Band (credit: Goldy Solutions)

Leyland Band was founded in 1946 in the heart of industrial Lancashire as the Leyland Motors Band, taking its name from the world-renowned motoring company, and has for the past 80 years established itself as one of the finest marching bands from the country. Today an independent group of 30 musicians, their maxim remains the same: quality.

Having performed around the world as well as in world-class venues closer to home including the Royal Albert Hall, Waterfront Hall in Belfast and Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Leyland Band has also been a competition resume with victories at the British Open Championships, national championships. of Great Britain and the All England Masters Championships to name but a few.

The group’s current musical director, Tom Wyss, was born in Switzerland. He studied music at the Conservatory of Bern and Friborg and was named Swiss Tuba Champion six times before coming to England in 1986 to study at the University of Huddersfield. He eventually went on to perform in many local brass bands before leading many others.

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Leyland Band (credit: Goldy Solutions)

“My family was quite musical, so I started playing brass when I was around nine – I started on trumpet and ended up on tuba,” says Tom, 57. “I fell in love with it immediately and have always been addicted to brass. British banding has always been the standard that everyone in Europe admired, which is why I came here.

“Music started to become a career option, I met my wife and have been around ever since,” he adds. “The marching bands are unique, the sound is just amazing. As a conductor you also get the full sound. It’s quite emotional because it hits you like a wave. Once I tasted that , I couldn’t live without it, always looking for that feeling.

“When the opportunity to be Music Director at Leyland came up, I was just thrilled to be working with such a top group at such a high level,” says Tom, who has been Music Director at Leyland for six year. “And it’s been great – we treat small gigs and big competitions with the same respect because we always want to show our best.”

With a rich history, the Leyland Band specializes in premieres. In 1980, they became the first Western marching band to set foot on Japanese soil, performing a groundbreaking sold-out tour; in 2011, they became the first brass band to be inducted into the Classic FM Hall of Fame; and in 2015 they were the first English marching band to perform at the Innsbruck Promenade concert series in Austria.

Leyland Band was founded in 1946

Safe to say that the group’s prestige tends to make an impression.

Chairman and E-flat tuba player Chris Doran has been with the Leyland Band for 20 years. “My uncle played in marching bands and my dad brought home a cornet one day when I was about seven,” he says. “I was playing on it and thought I’d like to try it properly. I joined the Hesketh Bank Band Juniors and it just stuck.

“The brass clicked with me right away – the social aspect was also important,” adds Chris, 39. I saw a place coming up at Leyland so I jumped on it, I always wanted to play for them because I had seen them live and they had really impressed me.

“Hearing a group of this level made me want to be part of it,” he continues, president since 2014. “And here I am, 20 years later. It’s great to be part of something so prestigious, especially There’s something special about marching bands: it’s a very unique sound, so it’s something moving to hear.

Among some of the Leyland Band’s honors is the British Open Championship (credit: Goldy Solutions)

“I always have this buzz of hearing marching bands and being part of them, especially when it comes to certain pieces of music. When it’s happening on stage, it’s so exciting. It’s magical. “

Flugelhorn Player and ‘Player of the Year’ with the band Ryan Broad is one of the youngest members of the band at 26, but he nonetheless embodies the love of brass bands that continues this most British tradition.

“I was inspired to join a band by a music teacher called John Doyle that I had at Lostock Hall Academy,” Ryan explains. “Around 12 I caught the bug and was gripped from the start. What makes marching bands special is the seamless sound they create, people working towards the same thing with similar instruments give off that energy in the room.

“Because of the nature of the instruments, it’s hard to get it right every time, so it almost becomes a sport, especially when you’re competing,” he adds, after being with Leyland Band for 10 years. “And the social side of things is also brilliant – there’s a real sense of camaraderie. When you nail a track and nail it as a group, there’s nothing like it. It’s euphoric.

Leyland Band musicians in action (credit: Goldy Solutions)

“After a good performance, you appreciate how all the hard work pays off,” continues Ryan, who also leads the Lostock Hall Band while also working as a freelance musician and teacher. “Commitment is a big ask, but it’s a passion. I like that we’re loyal and that we make the region proud – many players had offers to go elsewhere, but stayed.

“We are here to show what Preston and Leyland have to offer.”

The Leyland Band’s repertoire is varied and legendary, incorporating everything from classical transcriptions, show music and grand marches to film themes, popular songs and stunning solos. But Covid did something to the group that it had never experienced in its entire history: it prevented them from rehearsing.

In response, the group went online, producing a series of videos in which each member of the group recorded themselves performing their role from home before each contribution was assembled to create a virtual performance. Member submissions came from as far away as America and Australia.

“Covid was tough because I don’t think I’ve ever had so much time without playing,” says Chris. “It was weird and it was difficult for us as individual players because you can train all you want at home, but it’s just not the same. And having nothing to aim for was difficult. .To come back and see people you haven’t seen in 18 months, it was wonderful.”

Ryan, who orchestrated the virtual lockdown performance, agrees. “Covid was really weird,” he admits. “For the first few weeks it was a nice break, but then you started to wonder if it would ever be the same. It was really nice to come back and play with Leyland without having seen each other for so long.”

The group has been able to rehearse again since last September (credit: Goldy Solutions)

Having been able to rehearse again since September last year, the band have since performed at Chorley Town Hall and are currently gearing up for a competition performance at Blackpool Winter Gardens which could earn them a return to the Royal Albert Hall later this year – a venue they last played almost three years ago.

“We are working to improve after a few years off which have been difficult for everyone,” says Tom. “It’s a case of regrouping; it’s like in football when a player is fit but not match fit. Playing at home is completely different in terms of stamina and physical exertion, so we’ve rebuilt that.

“Covid was tough, so it was great to be back. On our first comeback gig, we did The Royal Tiger, which was our signature musical march, and it was quite an emotional performance. I could feel through the group.At the end, the applause of the public… It was quite moving.

“I think the audience missed us, which was overwhelming.”