CHRIS JEANS is an ex-principal trombone of Black Dyke, a renowned soloist, a conductor, an inspirational teacher to the next generation of brass players and a lord to boot! As he re-enters bandings stratosphere as Yorkshire Building Society's principal trombone, British Bandsman's TABBY CLEGG catches up with the `man with the golden trombone, to find out where it all started.

AS A young schoolboy, Chris Jeans never wanted to be a top trombone player; instead, he longed to be a cornet player! However, like so many great players, the instrument on which he has made a name for himself in brass bands was the only one left in the cupboard at school! Revealing his early days as a budding brass player, Chris commented: "I started playing the trombone at the age of 13, when I was at school. I always wanted to be a cornet player but there was only a trombone and a tuba left in the cupboard at school and I really didn't fancy carrying a tuba around, so I opted for the trombone. I'm now glad that I did and I'm also glad I didn't play cornet, as there are far too many notes and I think I would have given the cornet up if I had started on that."'

It was as a keen 13-year-old that Chris joined his local band, Yeovil Town. After learning his trade with the band for two years and also playing with a dance band in the local area, he moved on to pastures new and joined Stanshawe Bristol Band under the direction of Walter Hargreaves. "It used to take over an hour to get to rehearsals but my Dad used to drive me every week," said Chris. In 1978, Chris moved to the Midlands after an invitation to play with the then Ibstock Building Products Band. Said Chris: "I was given help to find a job and accommodation. Whilst I was
playing at Ibstock, I had a `phone call from Howard Snell who, at the time, was Musical Director at Desford Colliery. He wanted a solo trombone player and came round to my house to listen to me. Consequently, I joined Desford in 1981."

Continuing his story, he said: "The band was great for me as it was only two miles down the road, which fitted in well with my teaching as a peripatetic teacher in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. It was also a great time to be with Desford as it coincided with the start of Howard arranging and composing for band. He used to bring them down on bits of manuscript and, when I was with the band, it won loads of contests, including Granada Band of the Year and Best of Brass. I had been at Desford for 13 years when I was asked to play for Grimethorpe. For eight months, I did all Grimethorpe's jobs, but it didn't work out on the work front, so I returned to Desford for two years before joining Rigid Containers."
Whilst he was playing for Desford, Chris started conducting with the Davis Derby Band (now Derwent Brass). However, it was whilst he was with Rigid Containers that his work with the baton became more prominent. Combining his experience in teaching with his knowledge of brass bands and their repertoire, he took over the baton of Rigid Containers Youth Brass 2000, now known as Youth Brass 2000. Said Chris: "The band was formed by Edward Payne and Robert Watson was the original Musical Director, but I was appointed MD after the band had been running for just two weeks, back in 1990. Because I worked as a full-time teacher, conducting the Youth Band felt like the right thing to do at the time."
Since 1990, the success of Youth Brass 2000 has been phenomenal and can be predominantly attributed to Chris' hard work and inspiration of its players. Explaining the secret of his success, Chris said: "Youth Brass 2000 has experienced great success over the past decade, especially in the entertainment contest arena. The band has won numerous contests and became the 2000 BBC Radio 2 Youth Band of the Year and, last weekend (June 2003), successfully went for a hat-trick at the French Open Contest. There is no secret formula to this success, it's just a combination of finding music that the band enjoys playing and having a relationship with its players that clicks."
Now settled as conductor of Youth Brass 2000, Chris moved his own playing career from the Midlands to Yorkshire and, in 1993, became principal trombone with Black Dyke. He recalled: "My time at Black Dyke was fantastic and I won two `Opens', two Nationals and went to the European Championships. It was a great playing experience but, for five years, I was travelling a 276-mile round trip and it became too much. Banding is like a train and you either get off, or you are pushed off. I decided to get off because, after five years, I was totally burnt out. At that time, I knew it was time to hang my trombone up for a while. Also, when I was in Sierra Leone with Black Dyke, I contracted a bad ear infection that was consequently diagnosed as Bell's Palsy and all the muscles on the right-hand-side of my face collapsed. My doctor told me I would never play again but, after seeing a specialist and taking a course of steroids, I was back to full health after six weeks. I was very lucky because Bell's Palsy has ended the career of many players."

Whilst taking a break from brass bands, Chris concentrated on his solo career, still performing under the Courtois product name. Explaining how he became a Courtois endorsee, he said: "I have played under the company's banner for 20 years now. My relationship with the company began after I wrote a cheeky letter saying that I played one of their trombones, liked it and was demonstrating it in schools. I told Courtois that my trombone was getting worn out because all the students were playing it'. I heard nothing for months and then, one day, a parcel arrived on my doorstep and it was a crate full of trombones with a message saying `thanks' for your help! Since then, I have developed a great relationship with Courtois and have helped the company, which this year celebrated its 200th anniversary, to develop one of the best trombones in the world."
As a soloist Chris, is very sought after both home and abroad and has proved even more popular in France since he acquired his new title of `lord'. Said Chris: "My title of lord came about two years ago and my official title is either Lord Chris Jeans or Lord Blaston of Leicestershire! I don't really go under the title, it came about as more of a PR and marketing stunt for my work in France where no one had never come across a top soloist who was a lord, or had any other such title. Not many people know about the title, with the exception of everyone at Ransome, but it is quite fun!"
It was about three years ago, whilst concentrating on his solo career and conducting the Ancient Order of Forresters Band, that Chris was persuaded back to the lifestyle of full-time band playing by The Ransome Band. There, he assumed the twin positions of Resident Conductor and principal trombonist at a time that coincided with the band developing a hunger for top-flight banding. That hunger must have proved contagious for Chris has just been signed as principal trombone for Yorkshire Building Society Band and he commented: "My new appointment is great. My few years at Ransome were good and developed a hunger for winning contests. I want to win the `Open' and Masters again and there is no better band to do that with than the best band in Europe. I am very much looking forward to working Professor David King. He has so much energy and has the magic touch."

Chris is now approaching one of the busiest periods in his career. As well as playing with YBS, conducting Youth Brass 2000 and teaching over 350 kids a week, he recently launched Acorn Recordings with his wife, Lorraine. "I have always been into recording and Acorn will undertake recordings, as well as music publishing and instrument retail. Recordings currently in the pipeline include a solo horn CD with George Thackray and The Ransome Band, a recorded catalogue of music from the publishing side of Acorn and a CD with Derwent Brass. Acorn has been going six months and it's very exciting," said Chris.

He concluded: "I am very lucky; I love music and bands and I am able to make an income from them. There are not many people who can say that!"

Lord Christopher Jeans