Robert’s playing career began with a very brief spell on cornet before he began in earnest with the baritone. The first band he joined at the tender age of 9 was the Crosskeys Silver Band, conducted by father John with Sandra also on cornet. Soon after they all moved up the valley to Tredegar Town Band, where John took up the position of bandmaster. Both Junior and Senior Bands went from strength to strength and it wasn’t long before Robert was accepted into his County Youth Band and won a coveted place in the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. This was to have more of an impact than Robert could have anticipated, as in the summer of 1974 he began a relationship with Lancashire Lass Lorraine Hartley, his future wife. By this time Robert had become solo euphonium at Tredegar and an apprentice engineer at Ebbw Vale Steel Works. Not bearing to be apart any longer Lorraine moved to Wales and also joined the Tredegar Band. Their engagement was announced from the stage at the Royal Albert Hall after a Nationals win for the band in 1975. In 1976 they were married and after a request (by telegram!) from Geoffry Brand, they moved up to England where Robert joined the GUS footwear band, under the guidance of Trevor Groom. His first big break came one year later when he was asked to join the famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band on solo euphonium in 1977, the start of a 22 year career with the finest bands in Yorkshire.
During his time at the Grimethorpe Colliery Band Robert had the pleasure of working with Elgar Howarth, a fine musician whom Robert continues to hold in the highest regard. Robert quickly established himself as a star soloist within the band and as part of their tour to Australia in 1981 he gave the premier performance of Golland’s Euphonium Concerto under the baton of Ray Farr. The premiere took place in Perth Western Australia and later on the tour Robert went on to perform the work to great acclaim in the world famous Sydney Opera House. Conductor Ray Farr fondly remembers the way Robert’s performance lifted the band, “He was absolutely amazing. I’ll never know how he did it, not only did he produce superb euphonium playing in every technical and musical sense, but I don’t know – somehow in his playing there was something spiritually dynamic and inspired. It was some of the best brass playing I’ve ever heard in my life.” This was one of many highlights with Grimethorpe which included various European Tours, prestigious concerts and broadcasts and success within the contest field. Having played with Grimethorpe for 5 years, in 1982 Robert was awarded the title ‘International Euphonium Player of the Year’, no small achievement, particularly when you consider that by this time Robert had two small children, Lisa (1979) and David (1981), and his day job included time under ground as a miner at the Colliery!
In 1983, at the request of Geoffrey Whitham, Robert left Grimethorpe and joined the Hammonds Sauce Works Band (later to become known as YBS). He also secured a job as an engineer at the Works, however Robert was now highly sought after as a euphonium tutor, so after finishing a 12 hour shift at the factory it became common place for Robert to travel to Salford College to tutor their euphonium and baritone players before returning home to his family. By this time Robert was already a council member of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain (the youngest ever appointed) and in 1984 he was invited to be a member of the tutorial staff, a post he still holds today.
1984 proved to be a momentous year for Robert. At the suggestion of Boosey and Hawkes, for whom Robert was already an endorsee, he teamed up with brother Nicholas and the ‘Childs Brothers’ was born. Their inaugural performance could not have been more prestigious; the Gala Concert of the National Championships of Great Britain at London’s Royal Albert Hall. With a lack of euphonium duet repertoire, Boosey and Hawkes specially commissioned new arrangements from Ray Farr, Howard Snell and Alan Catherall in the form of, ‘The Carnival of Venice’, ‘Moto Perpetuo’ and ‘Softly as I leave You’. The Childs Brothers were an instant hit and their debut together was made all the more special as on this occasion they were conducted by their late father and mentor John, who sadly passed away soon after.
Following a brief spell with Hammonds, Robert joined the Brighouse and Rastrick Band as their principal euphonium, and in 1985, under the baton of James Watson, he won the coveted Granada Band of the Year Soloist Prize performing what would become his trade mark solo, The Carnival of Venice. By this time Robert and his brother Nicholas were in great demand, ‘The Childs Brothers’ became hugely successful undertaking tours of the USA, Australia, Japan, as well as giving concerts closer to home in Europe. Robert’s success as a soloist and duet artist continued throughout the 80’s and 90’s, but a significant development took place in 1986 when Robert was finally able to trade in his engineering career for a full time teaching post as a brass peripatetic for the East Riding Music Service. His passion for education was ignited.
Robert and his family relocated to East Yorkshire as a result of his new teaching commitments which meant a 150 mile round trip at least twice a week for band rehearsals in Brighouse. It was whilst undertaking one of these journeys that a conversation took place between Robert and Dixon Laing (a colleague and friend from the music service, and cornet player with Brighouse) about the possibility of forming a band a little closer to home. In 1989 the City of Hull Brass Band was established with Dixon Laing on principal cornet and Robert as conductor. In the same year as taking up the baton, a life long ambition was fulfilled for Robert when he became principal euphonium with the world famous Black Dyke Band, a position vacated by euphonium legend John Clough. Whilst with Dyke Robert continued to work closely with brother Nicholas, not only touring and performing as the Childs Brothers, but also by forming a new company, Doyen Recordings. At the same time the City of Hull Band had become extremely successful under Robert’s direction and achieved remarkable success – at one point winning 19 out of 21 contests entered! With Robert’s wife Lorraine on flugel horn and children Lisa and David bolstering the cornet and euphonium sections the City of Hull band had become a family affair and with the demands of a full time job, solo career, Childs Brothers, Doyen, conducting, and playing with Black Dyke, something had to give, so in 1990 Robert left Black Dyke. With more time available to them The Childs Brothers continued to gain even greater critical acclaim, commissioning new repertoire and performing live to the highest standards. They also produced a number of commercial recordings including, Childs Play, Euphonium Music and Welsh Wizards, all on their new Doyen Label.
In 1991 Robert accepted the position of principal euphonium with the Yorkshire Imperial Metals Band and in 1992 rekindled his love for the Queensbury outfit when he once again joined the Black Dyke Band, this time at the request of their new Musical Director, James Watson. The band was to enter one of its most successful periods, with a number of contest wins culminating in a ‘Grand Slam’ of British Open, National and European titles in 1995. Under James Watson the band were also breaking new ground making prestigious festival appearances with Robert featured as their star soloist on every occasion, in many cases performing concerti dedicated to him. Such performances included concerts at the Bridgewater Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Barbican, Royal Albert Hall and the Carnegie Hall, New York.
Unfortunately at a time when the Childs Brothers had never been in such great demand, Nicholas decided to hang up his euphonium in order to dedicate more time to conducting and running Doyen Recordings; this signalled the end of the most successful family ensemble since the Distins. Fortunately for Robert he had an ace up his sleeve, a prospective new talent that he himself had been nurturing in his role as Head of Brass at Hymers College, his own son, David, and so a new Childs duo was born. In spite of the busier than ever playing schedule, Robert also took his band, East Yorkshire Motor Services (City of Hull) to the National finals at the Albert Hall where they gained 8th place (no mean feat in 1996 considering that only five years ago they were in the 4th section). He also embarked on a Masters Degree at Leeds University, his first academic undertaking since leaving school in 1973 aged 15. Robert naturally applied himself with the usual dedication and effort and graduated top of his class with a Distinction!
As a result of his impressive qualifications and experience Robert increased his work in tertiary education becoming a euphonium professor at the Royal Northern College of Music and the University of Leeds. His continued success with the EYMS band saw his demand as a conductor increase greatly, which also led to his role at Black Dyke developing in this vein. In addition to being the band’s principal soloist, he was appointed bandmaster, conducting the band at rehearsals, concerts and recordings. In this capacity Robert directed some of the world’s finest musicians, including Lesley Garrett, Lady Susannah Walton, Philip Smith, Beautiful South, and of course James Watson. As Robert’s reputation as a conductor gained momentum he remained dedicated to his love for the euphonium and in 1999 his efforts were rewarded when he won the highly coveted best soloist prize at the British Open Championships on Philip Wilby’s notoriously fiendish ‘A Dove Descending…’ This performance with the Black Dyke Band was especially significant for Robert not only because it was his last contest performance with the band, but also because he shared the stage with his daughter Lisa, who played in the solo cornet section on this occasion.
Robert returned to the British Open the following year with the famous Cory Band (formerly Buy As You View) and conducted them to an historic victory, not only beating his childhood idols Black Dyke into second place, but also taking the shield to Wales for the first time in the competition’s 150 year history. Two months later he consolidated his success as the Cory Band’s Musical Director by turning his debut win into a ‘double’ directing the band to victory in the Royal Albert Hall on Peter Graham’s Harrisons Dream at the National Brass Band Championships 2000. Not a bad start! These unprecedented wins marked the start of a highly successful partnership between Robert and the band which saw him return to the ‘Land of his Fathers’, Wales.
Having moved to the Principality Robert’s services as an educator were quickly realized by the Millennium Centre’s Welsh Amateur Music Federation and the then Welsh College of Music & Drama. WAMF appointed Robert as the Musical Director of the National Youth Brass Band of Wales in 2002 and shortly after he became the first Director of Brass Band Studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Since Robert’s involvement, brass at the RWCMD has flourished through the development of a brass band pathway spearheaded by Robert. This specialist pathway is constantly evolving and developing under Robert’s leadership and is already considered to be one of the finest of its type in Europe.
During Robert’s tenure with the Cory Band he has directed them to six consecutive Welsh Championship wins and taken them from 13th in the official world rankings to No.1, a position sustained for a period in 2005. However, his work as a conductor outside the UK has also benefited many other bands. He now has a successful association with both Switzerland’s Brass Band Fribourg and Norway’s Manger Musikklag. In addition he regularly works with bands further a field including the USA’s Brass Band of Central Florida and Canada’s Hannaford Street Silver Band.
Whilst dedicated to his commitments as conductor and educator, Robert continues to wow audiences as a world renowned euphonium soloist. In 2006 he gave his 25th concert performance of Philip Wilby’s Concerto for Euphonium with the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, a work premiered by Robert ten years earlier. He also regularly performs duets with his son David and in 2005 they recorded their first CD together with Robert’s brother Nicholas as guest conductor. Later this year Robert will release his latest solo album on the Doyen label featuring substantial repertoire for euphonium with both brass band and orchestral accompaniment.
In addition to performing, lecturing and conducting; Robert writes for a variety of music publications, he’s a Director of The International Brass Band Summer School, a Director of Prima Vista Musikk Ltd., Managing Director of Performing Arts Education, and a well respected adjudicator. His career has been and continues to be diverse, with musical excellence and dedication remaining the foundation of everything he achieves.