Northern Star group works to shape activity in the U.K.

This article originally appeared in the July 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number4).

The Northern Star Group was formed around its prime activity, one of the U.K.’s most successful junior drum and bugle corps’, which started in 1993 from the Boys Brigade, a national uniformed youth group. Subsequently, the organization shifted to being independent.

Since then, the D&BC has gone from strength to strength, winning four consecutive national titles through 2007 in the British Youth Band Association, the U.K.’s premier marching arts association. Also, in recent years it has been nipping at the heels of units in mainland Europe in both Drum Corps Netherlands (DCN) and Drum Corps Europe championships.

In fact, Northern Star was the first U.K. unit to make a significant impact on the European scene, which has encouraged mainland units to raise their game in recent years, taking note of the subsequent invasion of British units demonstrating innovation and creativity underpinned by fast-moving drill, the latter being mostly absent from Europe routines until 2007.

NSG’s newly appointed strategic development director, Paul Cartwright (former percussionist) said, “Over the fall and winter of 07-08, management at the Northern Star Group has    significantly changed moving the organisation into new environments and challenging existing staff and members with new performance opportunities. This can only be a good thing for Northern Star and the U.K. activity as a whole.”

Lee Brogan remains as Chair, with Mark Pickles (Crossmen 1994, Spirit of Atlanta 1996) at his right hand, now as executive director, and the powerhouse behind the recent transformation in performance at Star.

The Brogan/Pickles combo is now supported by Mark Nicholson as vice chair and design coordinator. Nicholson comes to NSG with 25 years experience in the marching arts movement as a corps director, guard director, designer and judge. He is also a member of BYBA’s National Council.

Paul Cartwright brings over 30 years of professional and voluntary youth music experience to the team. He is the former chair and joint corps director for Magic D&BC (U.K.), a judge for BYBA, DCE and the London New Year’s Day Parade, and he is also a member of BYBA’s Council.

Deborah Haw assumes the role of finance director and remains a marching member on mellophone, whilst Maria Bolton, a former marching member in the horn line, takes up the new role of logistics director, which oversees all the support functions from camps to catering, plus some administration, welfare and wardrobe management.

NSG knows that recruitment –which hasn’t been a real priority — must be tackled in a serious manner and not left to chance. To develop recruitment of performing members into all NSG ensembles and develop partnerships with similar arts organisations and the education sector, Rick Cartwright, a design graduate from Huddersfield University, percussion coordinator and tenor player, has been appointed marketing manager. This will be a critical role in the rebranding and representing NSG locally and regionally, with experience being drawn from his professional life with one of the U.K.’s leading architects and interior design practices, careyjones architects, based in Leeds and London.

Northern Star takes centre stage

The Northern Star Group is pleased to announce that in recent months, a new portfolio of ensembles has been created, each with a separate focus, some dedicated new members and their own respective director. Pickles said, “I’ve had the vision for a number of years that Northern Star would develop into something more than a competitive drum and bugle corps and 2008 sees the start of our expansion plans into these new areas. I’m really excited about the opportunities and proud of our talented performers and staff.”

The management executive is pleased to announce three appointments; Pickles continues as summer corps director and junior corps director; Andy Cartwright (Carolina Crown 2001 soprano section leader) has been appointed big band musical director; whilst Star’s own frontline member, Phillip Hargreaves, is director for the “Off the Beat” stage show.

The summer corps is further boosted by the appointment of Mark Bolton as brass coordinator, with over 20 years experience working with units across the north and midlands, and Ian Kirk (Madison guard 1989) has been appointed visual designer and guard coordinator.
‘High School Drum Corps’ part one.

Late February saw the NSG truck roll into Rodillian High School, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, for what was to be the first of series of recruitment events within a campaign to broaden the appeal of drum corps in Great Britain.

Around 80 young people experienced Northern Star hands-on and at the end of the day, the enthusiasm in the ‘show and tell’ was tremendous.

Rick Cartwright said, “The success of the pilot Workshop gives us a template for future road shows and we already have a number of music teachers in the West Yorkshire schools excited about bringing the Northern Star experience to their school!”

‘Off the Beat’ hits the right note!

Aside from bread and butter activities like drum corps, the Northern Star Group’s very first theatre product hit the right note when it teamed up with Leeds University for “Off the Beat”, an innovative percussion, dance and guard two-night production right in the heart of Leeds city centre.

Written and directed by frontline member Phill Hargreaves, the 18-strong energetic cast was put through their paces, following 10 months of planning. Hargreaves is studying at the University of Leeds, School of Performance and Cultural Industries, for a degree in Managing Performance.

The project, which will repeated this fall with additions to the cast, was funded by “Stage@leeds Unmasked Festive” and saw parts of the ensemble initially rehearse separately, then coming together to form the full cast. Hargreaves’ hard work not only delivered some great creative and artistic scenes of music, dance and comedy, he said he had to “. . . put together a crew of stage managers and assistants, whilst finding a set and lighting designer, stage hands and a choreographer, all of which was a challenge”.

The cast was a collaboration of six percussionists and six colour guard from Northern Star, plus six dancers from Leeds University, all of whom auditioned. This was a true partnership.

A very enthusiastic audience on both nights was treated to a tremendously entertaining show which flowed from start to finish. Two levels of scaffold scenery formed the backdrop, complete with lighting, back-projected imagery and audio backing tracks, all adding to the professional production values and setting the scene for the exceptional performances which were delivered with energy and excitement.

Aside from a small selection of floor tom drums, most of the instrumentation was far from standard. Anything from wheelie bins to a biffa bin (played from inside), plastic storage drums to school desks, cooking pans, brushes and basket balls were maximised.

Each of the nine acts moved seamlessly, featuring individuals, small ensembles through to the full cast bringing the whole production to a resounding climax, which almost brought the house down on the final night, as the cast engaged with the audience on leaving the stage.

Executive Director Mark Pickles, who attended both nights, said, “I was extremely proud of their achievements. I knew it would be good, but it was much better than I could have ever imagined.”

Paul Cartwright went on to say, “For NSG, this is just the beginning of a long and exciting journey in adding structure to the management of the group, whilst broadening the performance opportunities and ensuring the organisation is sustainable long into the future.”

For more information on any of the Northern Star ensembles, visit their Web site at: