Carnoustie and District
Youth Brass Band

Press and News Articles


The following article is copyright British Bandsman.


May 2011


One man's band


Paul Hindmarsh celebrates the achievements of the Carnoustie and District Youth Band - the current National and Scottish Premier Youth Champion - and its conductor, Michael Robertson.


Four years ago, Carnoustie and District Youth Brass Band did not exist. Earlier this month, the band cantered to victory in the Premier Section of the National Youth Championships with a display of technique and musicality that many a high achieving adult band would be proud to have given. This accolade crowned an exceptional period for this outstanding group that has also included two Scottish crowns and a win in the Advanced Section of the National Championships in 2010.

By their very nature, youth bands follow peaks and troughs in playing standard. One victory might be considered lucky; but the rapid emergence, the swift rise and then consistency of Carnoustie and District's efforts would suggest that a great deal of dedicated effort had been expended over a sustained period. I was intrigued to find out how the classy performances that I heard in Perth (November) and Manchester (April) had been achieved. It didn't take many phone calls and emails for the reason to emerge - the man wielding the stick, Michael Robertson.


Watching Michael in front of the band, one is aware of a quiet control and a mutual confidence and trust - which is not surprising since he has taught all but one member of the band. A former trombonist (who went down from his Alloa home to the Royal College of Music in London to study with John Iveson and the late, great Arthur Wilson), Michael has been employed as a peripatetic brass tutor for Angus Council since 1995. His catchment area embraces the neighbouring small towns of Carnoustie and Monifieth, where he works with beginners at primary school to advanced students at secondary level. All of them are encouraged to play in groups and it is out of the grounding in group activity that the youth band was born as Michael explains: "I have always given primary school age pupils the opportunity to play in groups by forming small bands within the cluster area. These primary pupils also have the opportunity to play with the secondary school band just prior to transition. The idea to form the youth band arose four years ago when the local authority agreed to hold a brass weekend for advanced players in the area. Richard Evans, Musical Director of the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland, was invited to come and conduct this specially formed band. The weekend was very
successful and Richard was so impressed by the standard of the players that he suggested that this group of enthusiastic and committed players enter both the Scottish and British Youth Band Championships."


All very matter-of-fact from Michael, but as Bryan Knight, Chair of the band's organising committee, observes, the way the young people played was due to the skill and dedication of the teaching they all received: "A group of parents realised that Mike was producing some fabulous young players. His soloists and quartet/quintets were achieving a lot of success. A lot of the players have progressed through the Arbroath Instrumental Band, which Mike also directs and which has provided a fabulous opportunity to perform at a high level. It was clear to us that when he pulled together the High School brass band it was streets ahead of the other disciplines such as woodwind and strings."


Carnoustie is a close community and it wasn't long before a group of parents got together with Mike Robertson and Ann Ness (who conducts Arbroath Instrumental Youth Band) to help realise the musical potential that Richard Evans witnessed. A seven-person organising committee was formed to assist Mike in raising funds and organising the bands. "That way Mike and Ann could concentrate on the musical side." observes Bryan Knight, "while there was a group of extremely capable and willing volunteers
behind them raising the money and sorting out the logistics:

'Angus Council has not supported the band to the same extent as West Lothian, for example, but 'going it alone' does not seem to be an issue, as Bryan Knight continued: "As the band has grown in stature and talent, players are now queuing up to get in. Mike produces a conveyor belt of fabulous players through his day job and success breeds success. But the band's overall success is very much a team effort, with Mike's musical magic, the community spirit and support, business and parental support and a fabulous set of hungry and well disciplined young people."


The objective of the Carnoustie and District Youth Band is clear - to be the most successful youth brass band in the country. Holding the two top competitive prizes is indicative of ambitions fulfilled. The regime of rehearsals is geared towards that end, as Michael explained: "We rehearse for an hour-and-a-half a week in the six weeks before both the Scottish and British Championships, as most of the players are members of the Arbroath Instrumental Band (1st Section) and also attend rehearsals for the regional and schools' bands. I aim to make our rehearsals very intensive but hopefully good fun too. There is a great feeling of camaraderie amongst the players. It is also a tribute to their enthusiasm that for the last four years they have given up six days of their Easter holidays to rehearse and travel to Manchester:'


During the rehearsal period, the band has benefitted from the Input of Dr. Nicholas Childs, who has paid tribute to the players and especially to their teacher and conductor: "Michael is very special. His enthusiasm and dedication reminds me of my young days in Tredegar Town Youth Band, under the direction of my late father.'

The Carnoustie and District Band, under Michael's inspired teaching has fostered some fine young talents, a number of whom have already begun to study music at conservatoire level in the hope of entering the profession. Principal cornet, Eion Tonner (19), is in his second year studying conducting and trumpet at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in Glasgow. Eion comes from a banding family in Monifieth - his parents are both cornet players and his younger brother and sister are also members of the band. Although his father started him off on the cornet, Eion was taught by Michael Robertson from the age of eight to 13, when he started lessons at the RSAMD Junior School on Saturday mornings.  "Mike was a huge influence on my playing; Eion reflects. "He Is the driving force behind the band and an incredibly talented teacher with an enormous passion for developing young brass players and a huge amount of patience! He insists on high standards and ensures all players are playing with the correct techniques. We knew when the band was established that it was going to be of a high standard. The progress has been staggering and we could never have imagined being where we are now when it started. We have given many memorable performances, but this year's 'National' outshone them all. It's not often in a band of any standard do you get such a great buzz on the platform.'


It is that 'buzz' and the dedication to high standards that keeps Ross Knight (principal tuba) travelling up to the band from London, where he is studying with Patrick Harrild at the Royal Academy of Music, London as he explains: "I got involved with the band because I recognised the potential in the young brass players Carnoustie has to offer and really wanted to be a part of it. That's one of the reasons I keep travelling up from London to play with it. Also I love working with Mr. Robertson. He's such an inspiration. In terms of technique, every single player is so well trained, which is down to Mr. Robertson's teaching and the hours of practise each player puts in.'


Josiah Walters is the bass trombone player and also a budding composer, who attributes much of his passion for his instrument and for music in general to the influence of the band and its inspirational conductor: "I have played in brass bands since I started playing trombone ten years ago, through Mr. Robertson, who asked me first to join Arbroath Instrumental Junior Band, under Ann Ness. I moved on to join the Arbroath Instrumental Band and my enthusiasm for brass band music has grown ever since. Carnoustie and District Youth Brass Band was my first experience playing bass trombone. I enjoyed it so much that I started to play bass trombone as my first Instrument. This change really brought on my playing, and was one of the main reasons I decided to go to the RSAMD to study:' Joe has also drawn inspiration for his own compositions from the music which the band has played, as he went on to explain: "Playing in the band has also introduced me to more and more of the brass band repertoire and that has given me great inspiration for composing music (my first published piece was written with the Camoustie Band in mind). Philip Sparke's Dundonnel is a great piece to play, and to listen to, and that was probably the highlight of the Manchester win for me. I wasn't so convinced by the set work, Fanfares and Love Songs (Gavin Higgins), on the first listening, but as it became more familiar, it got better and better, and I now love the work and could happily listen to it over and over again! It also helps that the bass trombone part is enormous fun to play.'


So there you have it, a champion youth brass band, formed from and supported by a close-knit banding community, strong on enthusiasm and commitment and brim full of talent, which has been nurtured with great skill and patience by one modest but determined man - Michael Robertson. He is already looking to challenges ahead with his Arbroath and Carnoustie bands. I wondered what kept him motivated. His reply was typical of the man - modest and focussed entirely on the young people he works with. "I was fortunate to have a teacher who gave me fantastic opportunities. I have always wanted to give my pupils the same opportunities. It is so satisfying to watch them grow as musicians and individuals, make lasting friendships and contribute to the life of the band and the community. I am so proud of them and I am lucky to have such a committed and enthusiastic group of young people to work with."


British Champions 2011

(Premier Section)
© Carnoustie and District Youth Brass Band 2010 - 2014