THE tuning up is over and the first notes have been struck in the fifth, and so far biggest, Durham Brass Festival.

Durham Constabulary Band struck a chord with an appreciative audience in an open air performance in Millennium Place, outside the city's Gala Theatre, on Saturday lunch-time.

The 28-strong band, which rehearses twice weekly at force headquarters at Aykley Heads, performed a wide repertoire to mark the start of the month-long celebration of brass music.

Later the renowned Grimethorpe Colliery (UK Coal) Band, backed by soloist Sue Bickley, played to a sell-out audience at the theatre, the first of several headline concerts during the festival.

Other features are the Reg Vardy Brass Band, with special guest artists Mieko Kanno, on violin, and pianist Andy Nercessian, in concert this Sunday, and the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, on Saturday, June 25, both also at the Gala Theatre, each starting at 7.30pm.

Apart from the traditional bands the festival features a mix of other styles of brass-based music, including hot young US trumpeter Abram Wilson, who will be playing with his sextet at Durham University Music Department, on Palace Green, on Wednesday, July 6, at 7.30pm.

Wilson, dubbed The Jazz Warrior, will also be leading a number of workshops with brass players and percussionists during the course of the festival.

Other high spots are Karin Krog, Norway's leading jazz singer, appearing with Northern Brass, which is launching its new CD, at Elvet Methodist Church, Old Elvet, on Saturday, at 7.30pm, while the festival will be rounded off in style with latin diva Omara Portuondo, backed by a 13-strong Cuban band, re-creating the sounds of Havana's legendary Buena Vista Club, at the Gala Theatre, on Thursday, July 14, at 7.30pm.

Full details of the programme are available on, or on (0191) 301 8245, with tickets available from the Gala box office, on (0191) 332 4041.

* The Northern Regional Brass Band Trust is staging a training day for aspiring musicians at the Lamplight Arts Centre, in Front Street, Stanley, on Saturday, with a junior workshop, from 10am-noon, and a senior session, from 2pm-4pm. It will culminate in a 20-minute playing performance.

Further details are available from Len Old, of the Northern Regional Brass Band Trust, on (0191) 581 6552.

Tavistock Chester-le-Street Riverside Brass are in performance at the Lamplight Arts Centre, on Saturday, at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £6, £5 for the friends of the centre, £4 for concessions or £3 for friends' concessions, and includes admission to the earlier workshops.