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John Challis

May 22nd, 2019 | 2 min read

By admin

John was born in Coventry in October 1962, and began learning the trombone at the age of 11. Taught by Ted Drayton, he later had lessons with Reg Reid and Bill Richardson, before moving to Manchester in 1982 to study at the Royal Northern College of music with the legendary Terry Nagle. Having been brought up in brass bands, John was delighted to find a vacancy for the Solo Trombone position with the Leyland Vehicles Band soon after moving to the area, and spent two happy years with them - it was a great way to get out of college wind-band concerts! He has subsequently guested with many of the UK's top bands, as well as touring in Europe and the USA with The Young Ambassadors' Band. On graduating from the RNCM in 1986, John worked as a freelance trombonist for a year, playing regularly with the Halle and BBC Philharmonic, before giving up his season ticket at Old Trafford to go on a two-year holiday to the Canary Islands, where he spent two seasons as Principal Trombone with the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, and formed a brass quintet called Canarian Brass!

Having spent four years trying to perfect his art at college, he enjoyed the experience of working with some of the world's dodgiest conductors, but eventually tiring of the endless sun, jet-skiing, cerveza and topless beaches, John returned to Manchester for a year - before getting dragged off to Spain again, this time to the Basque Country, where he was appointed, in 1991, Principal Trombone with the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra. He spent seven very enjoyable years here, ploughing through a wide range of the symphonic and operatic repertoire, and a good selection of top golf courses! During his time in Bilbao, John performed the Gordon Jacob concerto with the orchestra, was a founder-member of 10-piece ensemble, Iberian Brass, and the Iberian Trombone Quartet, worked with the Basque National Orchestra in San Sebastian, the Santa Cecilia Chamber Orchestra in Pamplona, and played at bullfights with the Municipal Band of Bilbao!

In 1998, John returned to the UK to resume his freelance career, and enjoyed a wide variety of work, playing with orchestras such as the Halle, English Symphony and Liverpool Philharmonic, as well as the Ulster and RTE orchestras in Ireland, and with Scottish Opera. He toured with artists such as Barry Manilow, The Temptations and The Four Tops, and as a member of "The British Rock Symphony", backing Roger Daltrey and Alice Cooper. He also spent time in the pit for various shows, including West Side Story at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre.

He played regularly with the Bilton Silver Band in Rugby, and formed a trombone ensemble, Trombonology, and with Bill Richardson, the Tongue & Groove Big Band. In the summer of 2002, John was appointed trombonist with Britain's only surviving seaside orchestra, the legendary Scarborough Spa Orchestra, thus guaranteeing himself an annual 3-month summer holiday!

Throughout his career, John always wrote music for whatever was his current ensemble, from trombone quartets to arrangements for big band, brass band and orchestra. His celebrated arrangement of the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, recently re-edited and published by Warwick Music, has been performed at trombone events all over the world, by groups such as the RNCM Trombone Ensemble, to whom it was dedicated, and the trombone ensemble at the Julliard School in New York. In addition to his trombone playing, teaching and arranging, John spent many months working at Warwick Music before being diagnosed with cancer. He lost his brave battle on Saturday, 27th September 2003.