Visions was commissioned by the Briton Ferry Silver Band as part of its centenary year celebrations in 2010. 

Visions paints a historical musical portrait of the small town of Briton Ferry (Llansawel), located at the mouth of the River Neath in south Wales. Once a rural area, it was heavily developed during the industrial revolution, serving as an important centre for the production of steel and tin plate. Devised as a test-piece, the work is continuous but has four sections:

Briton Ferry

 The work opens with a three note ‘motif’ on solo baritone which becomes the basis material for the majority of the work. After a tentative and reflective opening, the Briton Ferry theme emerges on solo euphonium. This is lush, romantic almost melancholic music depicting a view of Briton Ferry from the mountain side. The mixture of natural ‘rugged’ beauty in juxtapose with heavy industrialism, all nestled around the snake-like River Neath. At letter D, the second theme is introduced on flugel horn which is playfully moved around the other solo voices in the band. This is a musical representation of the river which runs through the heart of the town. Its accompaniment swells and falls like the tide as it makes its way slowly out towards Swansea Bay and into the sea.

Brunel’s Vision

 Figure F sees a change in mood and direction. A musical change to represent the momentous historical change brought about by engineers Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his father Sir Marc Brunel. The building of the Briton Ferry floating Docks in the 1850’s by Marc Brunel and the development of the railway infrastructure by his son enabled Briton Ferry to become a key part of industrial production for iron, steel and tinplate right through until the 1970s.This industrialism should be brought through the music via percussive rhythmic playing and a depth of sound. Throughout this section, the band should endeavour to evoke images of hammers on metal and mechanical sounds. Brunel’s theme derives from the opening motif and is introduced by the baritones and euphoniums. The river shows its importance to the development of the town again at letter H (tenor horns) while the flugel horn tries to hold on to rural roots. Four bars before J there is a glimpse of the South Wales Mineral Railway.

Giant’s Grave

 After the close of World War II, Briton Ferry Docks were used for the breaking up of de-commissioned warships. The area became known, and is still known as ‘Giant’s Grave.There is a return to the opening polychordal writing and sparseness of sound. The music has an intentional sense of abandonment that signifies the area as it is today: the docks are no longer there in their full splendour and only the echoes and memories of what has passed are left to mix with the sounds of wildlife. Six bars after figure O the music evokes the memories of the warships slowly passing up the river on their journey to their final destination. The river theme again is quoted at letter Q (this time on trombones) which then flows into a reprise of the Briton Ferry theme at figure R and a reminder of the rural roots of this area.

Hen Gastell

 Prior to the industrial age, Briton Ferry always had an important role as a river crossing point. It was the first river crossing along the Roman road that followed the coastline through south Wales. While the river crossing wasusually made by ferry boat, it is also possible on foot via a ford close to the ferry route using stepping stones at extreme low tide. With this crossing being geographically important, it was thought that it would have been fortified at some point in history and in the 1970s a small steep sided hill on the west of the river near Briton Ferry was identified as being the possible location of Hen Gastell (Old Castle) built by Morgan ap Caradog ab Iestyn, the Welsh Lord of Afan in the second half of the 12th Century. Although the top of the hill had been removed by quarrying in the 1930s and 40s, sufficient evidence was found to confirm the 12th Century site and a previous settlement in the 6th Century.The music for this final section is full of military fanfare and gusto and has a distinctly medieval flare about it in an attempt to portray some kind of fortification in the town, (the bass section solo giving a foreboding view of the castle perched high on the hill). As the River Neath has always been present through historical and geographical development of Briton Ferry, so too has it become important in the development of the music and the ‘river theme’ (rather than it swelling accompaniment motif as it has appearing in sections two and three) now appears at figure W as a chorale, interlocking all four sections together. As the movement ends, the River is heard passing the Old Castle and finally out into Swansea Bay.


Difficulty: Intermediate - Difficult

Duration: 00:12:00

Available from: Prima Vista Musikk Ltd