From medieval belfries and old-world castles to contemporary museums and stylish cafes, Belgium mixes the historic with the modern. Whilst its quaint, cobbled streets, winding canals and traditional boutiques give the region its endearing ‘fairytale-esque’ charm, its collection of contemporary architecture and urban gems give the Belgian cities an energetic buzz. With an eclectic mix of stunning architecture, making for quirky outdoor venues, beautiful bandstands and historical performance settings, Belgium is the perfect destination for a band tour – as Durham University Brass Band discovered this June!
With stops scheduled in Belgium’s vibrant cities of Bruges, Ghent, Ostend and Kortrijk, the band enjoyed a true taste of Belgium over the course of their 4-day tour (literally, if the Belgian beer, chocolate and waffles are taken into consideration!). The band packed up their instruments and set off for Dover where they hopped aboard the ferry to Calais. The tour began as every brass band tour should begin, with a screening of the 90’s classic ‘Brassed Off’! From Calais, the group journeyed on to their accommodation in Kortrijk with plenty of rehearsal time to fine tune those toe-tapping numbers before their concert the following day.
‘A great week of music, socialising and exploring new places.’
-Abi Groocock, Durham University Brass Band, Belgium, 2016
Graced with glorious sunshine, the group spent their first morning in Belgium exploring the beautiful city of Ghent, otherwise known as ‘Belgium’s best kept secret’. With paths untrodden by the tourists that flock the country’s more well-known cities, Ghent offers something special, away from the hustle and bustle of its neighbours. After discovering the city by foot, the group took to the waters for a canal cruise – an absolute must-do for visitors of Ghent!
From Ghent to Ostend, the band set up station at Wapenplein Bandstand in the heart of the city where they delighted locals and café-goers with their diverse repertoire. Attracting a great deal of interest, passers-by stopped to enjoy familiar melodies, punchy rhythms and bright brass sounds. From brass band classics to movie-theme favourites, there was something for everyone in Durham Uni’s brass band inventory! The playlist even sparked a little dancing participation as the band’s trumpet trills and pulsing percussion rang out amid the city’s bustling main square.
Next stop – Bruges. Following a leisurely morning spent strolling through the city’s picturesque streets, admiring its old-world charm and medieval character, the group enjoyed a chocolate making demonstration, complete with tasting (when in Belgium…). With a pocket-full of the Belgian cocoa treat, it was on to the next performance of the tour in the coastal town of De Panne.
The band’s second concert was a particular highlight for party leader, Abi Groocock, owing to a fantastic reception from the audience. Whilst the sun brought plenty of people to the beach, the band played out to the crowds of locals who gathered on the seaside promenade to listen to brass band favourites, from ‘Amazing Grace’ to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. After a hugely successful final concert, the band were offered a free celebratory drink at a local bar – a token of the locals’ generosity! The group then joined the beach-enthused masses for an afternoon of sunbathing and swimming before satisfying ice-cream cravings.
The final morning of the tour was spent hunting for Belgian waffles in the centre of Kortrijk and squeezing in last-minute souvenir shopping before beginning the journey home. Stopping off en route at the Tyne Cot Cemetery to show their respects for the lives lost in the Ypres Salient during the First World War, the group concluded their time in Belgium on a thoughtful note.
Delighted with the success of the tour, Durham University Brass Band Leader, Abi Groocock, commented: ‘As a student led group, the most important things for us are the safety of our members, the ability to enjoy the tour and a smooth organisation process – we were not disappointed.’
Rayburn Concert Tour team member, Alison Fox, accompanied Durham University Brass Band on their tour as a courier and was thrilled that the group had such a great time on tour: ‘I had a thoroughly enjoyable time on tour with Durham University Brass Band because each and every one of the band were so enthusiastic and passionate about their music. Great performances in glorious sunshine topped with a canal cruise and a visit to the Chocostory = awesome tour!’
We were pleased to hear that Durham Uni band’s big tour plans don’t stop here, so with Belgium ticked off the list, the band are considering their next tour to Barcelona or Germany. We look forward to working with Durham Uni on another exciting tour!