Tribute to Passchendaele
By Rebecca Quilliam
This year’s Air Force Band concert was the final one for RNZAF Music Director Flight Lieutenant (FLTLT) Simon Brew – and what a swan song it was. Filled with a fusion of traditional and modern pieces, there were also some surprising and hilarious moments for the audience.
Wellington’s St James theatre was nearly sold out for the afternoon performance that kicked off with a Spanish-style El Camino Real. It set the pace for a show packed with punchy tunes, sublime singing and moving tributes.
The first display of extraordinary musical talent was from Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Oscar Laven, who played pretty much every wind instrument invented and even threw in the kitchen sink. Literally. LAC Laven’s finale was played on a hose fitting attached to a sink.
Singers LAC Stephanie Paris and LAC Barbara Graham effortlessly sang classics including Lush Life and Glitter and be Gay as well as the popular theme tune from the latest Disney movie Moana, How Far I’ll Go. Soloist bagpiper Flight Sergeant Murray Mansfield also returned to the stage with his world class piping.
The most poignant moment of the show was at the end of the first half with a tribute to Passchendaele. A screen was lowered and the band played music to footage of veterans trying to recount the horror of the battle, as well as images of the hellish scene. There would hardly have been a dry eye as the emotional tribute finished with the graves of those who had fallen on the Belgian battlefield.
The second half was a homage to retro, with theme tunes to Thunderbirds and Get Smart, played by the band who at the same time showed off their marching skills. The performance was especially clever during Get Smart as FLTLT Brew guided a remote control sports car around the stage and through legs.
The drummers came into their own again with a commanding show featuring lightning bolts of light as they played. It was a visually remarkable piece of work.
The end of the show came back to tradition – sort of. The 1812 Overture took on a new feel as the audience were encouraged to blow up paper bags and burst them as the alternative to cannon fire. The kids (and grown-ups) had a brilliant time bursting their bags to FLTLT Brew’s instruction.
FLTLT Brew’s direction at the end of the show was hijacked from as Chief of Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies made a surprise appearance on the stage. He thanked the director for his work with the band and all the brilliant performances under his watch. He then presented FLTLT Brew with a Chief of Air Force Commendation and asked for what turned out to be a brilliant encore.
CAF would not have been disappointed as the singers, including FLTLT Brew, belted out One Day More, from Les Miserables. Their version left goosebumps. But it was the finale encore that had the audience on its feet – Michael Jackson’s Thriller, complete with a zombie band.
It was a superb show that catered for young and old, traditionalists and modernists. Thanks for the songs Simon, we will miss your style.