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St Kilda Brass Band musical director Shane Foster, of Herbert. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

A North Otago man is putting his northern England skills to good use in his adopted country.

Shane Foster has been named musical director of the St Kilda Brass Band the finest in New Zealand.

The Herbert resident travels to its Dunedin headquarters, where he has taken over as conductor from Associate Prof Peter Adams, of the University of Otago’s department of music.

Mr Foster is from Wigan, in England. Located near Manchester, it is heartland coal-mining country, where brass bands began.

“They were the working men’s orchestra.”

He started playing the cornet at the age of 6, then moved up to the soprano cornet when he was 13.

Some of the top brass in England were keen to have him in their ranks. He played with CWS Manchester, Brighouse and Rastrick, and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

The latter became world famous as the subject of the 1996 movie Brassed Off, in which Mr Foster appeared. He had to join the musicians’ union and recorded the music in the Beatles’ Abbey Road studio. The brass band members had their photograph taken on the famous pedestrian crossing outside, carrying their instruments.

Mr Foster has also been in episodes of television classics Coronation Street and Emmerdale, conducting brass bands.

He switched from playing to conducting 20 years ago after developing severe headaches from the pressure of blowing into the soprano cornet’s mouthpiece.

He had been in the Leyland Vehicles Band, which was based near his home. Its conductor, Richard Evans, mentored him in the art.

Although Mr Foster was invited by Christchurch’s Woolston Brass to join it in 1981, it was not until 2006 that he took up its offer to be its conductor.

As a qualified engineer he had no trouble gaining entry to this country. He was accompanied by wife Angela and then 17-year-old son Chris.

The New Zealand Army snaffled Chris to be a soldier based at Burnside and play the tenor horn in its renowned band.

He travelled to England with the band three times in one year – firstly to play at the Queen’s 90th birthday party, then at Her Majesty’s request and expense to play privately for her at Windsor Castle, and again to perform at the Edinburgh Tattoo.

Meanwhile, Mr Foster was asked to conduct many other brass bands in New Zealand, to the point where he was almost freelance. He also went to Australia as an adjudicator in competitions, having passed the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators’ exam.

Continuity and consistency was important when assessing band performances, he said.

The internet and Facebook brass band forums made it easier for everyone to keep up to date with developments. Mr Foster said a new composition that was played in the UK last week could be performed in New Zealand just days later.

He was not a composer himself, although he has arranged music.

After Chris moved to Dunedin to become a full-time fireman, Mr and Mrs Foster decided to move from Canterbury to Otago to be closer to him, his wife Mel, and their children Thomas and Poppy.

“We love it down here,” Mr Foster said. He and his wife have 6ha where they keep horses and their three whippets.

Music has always been Mr Foster’s main interest, even when he was gaining his engineering qualifications. He would have loved to make it a career.

The St Kilda Brass Band has about 28 players, including Chris. They take part in “numerous competitions” and also give concerts.

“I’m trying to build it up,” Mr Foster said.

He would like to take it on tour to towns such as Lawrence, Arrowtown, Oamaru – where it would support the Garrison Band – and Waimate or Timaru.

The “ultimate” trip would be to the Whit Friday March, a major annual event in England in June. This year would be too soon, but next year would be ideal, he said.

Mr Foster is now teaching brass music to newcomers and to those who want to expand on what they already know, preparing them to join a local band.

He does not play the cornet at all now, but plays his grandfather’s bugle in Anzac and Armistice Day services in Dunedin.

His grandfather served in the Boer War and in World War1 with the Lancashire Fusiliers. After surviving the conflict in the Dardanelles and the Somme, he was badly wounded in Ypres and shipped home. He kept the bugle, which is now 109 years old.

A bullet had ricocheted off it at one time while his grandfather was playing it and the mouthpiece was bent, but it was still “a really nice bugle”, Mr Foster said.