Festival Fringe Fun for Charnwood Symphonic Wind Orchestra

Last updated: Jun 4th, 2024

Charnwood Symphonic Wind Orchestra at Grassmarket - Robin Mair for Greater Grassmarket BID
Photo by Robin Mair for Greater Grassmarket BID

Every year, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe promises an enticing pick ‘n’ mix of festival activity: from big names in the world of entertainment to unknown artists looking to kick-start promising careers or to simply have a good jam, the festival’s diverse and all-encompassing line-up is open to anyone with a story to tell or a tune to play. Proof that the Fringe isn’t beyond the ambitions of local community bands, Charnwood Symphonic Wind Orchestra set off for Edinburgh on the 6th of August to take part in the annual Festival Fringe fun. We spoke to Music Director, Judy Nicol, after the event to get the low-down on their Edinburgh experience.

On the approach to the orchestra’s 20th Anniversary, Judy felt that the milestone ‘called for something special’. What began as a pipe dream for Judy, who had ’always wanted to do the Fringe but never imagined it would be possible’, soon materialised into forty return tickets to Edinburgh with the help of Rayburn Tours who, as Judy kindly remarked, ‘made it happen’. With the determination to make their 20th birthday party one to remember, forty orchestra members packed up their forty instruments and made their way ‘up North’ to join the Fringe action.

After a leisurely morning spent strolling through cobbled streets and soaking up the festival atmosphere, the orchestra set up station at The Grassmarket, the historic market place in the Old Town of Edinburgh, to delight audiences with their diverse repertoire. Although the orchestra members were a little sceptical about the disquieting combination of brass instruments and Scottish weather, luckily for them, and for the audience that gathered to watch, the Scottish showers held off and sunshine prevailed.

Attracting a great deal of interest from the market-place folk, passers-by stopped to enjoy familiar melodies, punchy rhythms and woodwind harmonies. From jazz classics to movie-theme favourites, there was something for everyone in Charnwood’s inventory. The orchestra’s toe-tapping playlist even sparked a little dancing participation (well, who can resist boogying to Glenn Miller when the moment calls for it?). The orchestra could not have performed in a more picturesque setting: with Edinburgh castle looking over in all its lofty splendour, the orchestra’s saxophone trills and pulsing percussion rang out amid the city’s stone houses, boutique shops and quaint cafes.


Robin Mair for Greater Grassmarket BID
Photo by Robin Mair for Greater Grassmarket BID


The following day, the musicians gathered at Canongate Kirk for their second performance at the festival. When close to two hundred people streamed into the church, the orchestra members were astonished: ‘with so many other big names performing, I was amazed people had come to see us’ said a very modest Judy. After playing an hour and a half set, the orchestra was ‘thrilled to receive a standing ovation from such a large and appreciative audience’. Humbled by the turnout and by the enthusiasm of the audience, Judy proudly stated: ‘they were with us all the way’. Suffice to say, they went out on a high note (pun intended!).

Nestled in the centre of Princes Street, right in the heart of Old Town Edinburgh, the group had festival activity brimming on their hotel doorstep. Fully absorbed in the festival spirit, they made sure to join in the buzz about town and catch a few Fringe performances, showing their support to other artists and ‘generally being part of the amazing atmosphere that is Edinburgh at festival time’. The orchestra also enjoyed a little taste of Scottish tradition as they made their way up to Edinburgh Castle to pay witness to the Military Tattoo.

Touring is no new thing for this Loughborough-based orchestra which hits the road every couple of years with trumpets in tow but, for Judy, the Fringe was the ‘big one’. Apt at organising the masses, Judy used to run a Big Band before becoming leader of Charnwood Concert Bands, which together comprise a Training Band and Concert Band as well as the Symphonic Wind Orchestra. We were pleased to hear that her ‘big’ ideas don’t stop at the Fringe, so with the Edinburgh Fringe ticked off the list, Judy hopes to take to the air next time and fly to Lake Garda with the orchestra. With forty members to please, the trip is no mean feat – we’d love to help you and your members plan another exciting tour!

Delighted that the tour was so successful, the Rayburn Concert team were left beaming after a glowing report from Judy: ‘the unforgettable experience was a triumph of excellent organisation, superb accommodation and fantastic music in a beautiful city’. For the group’s Tour Coordinator at Rayburn Tours, Emily Thorp, it was very rewarding to oversee the group’s participation in the 2015 Festival Fringe programme. With a personal thanks to Judy for taking the time to chat to us and with a big ‘pat on the back’ to the whole orchestra, we wish Charnwood Concert Bands all the best for the future and we hope to hear from you soon!


Robin Mair for Greater Grassmarket BID
Photo by Robin Mair for Greater Grassmarket BID