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ARTICLES

 

The Year of the Dragon: A closer look at last years Millennium Open Championships


The Millennium Open on 9th September 2000 at Symphony Hall Birmingham was an historic occasion – for the 148th British Open saw the greatest title in the brass band world cross the Severn Bridge and make its new home in the Rhondda valley of Wales. The year 2000 was the “Year of the Dragon”.

Pre contest opinion was divided about what bands had the best chance to become “Millennium Champions”, with the usual list of suspects rounded up to be given short price odds on winning. Black Dyke under Nicholas Childs, YBS and David King and Fairey’s with James Gourlay all featured in pre contest wish lists. Foden’s also appeared to have a legion of fans who thought 2000 was going to be the first time since 1964 that the title went back to Sandbach, as they had employed Bram Tovey all the way from Canada to lead their assault. In the end it was none of them.

Cory had been going about a vigorous recruitment drive in the valleys, and backed by excellent sponsors with deep pockets they had signed up most of the Principality’s best players. Seven had come from their rivals at Tredegar to give Buy As You View Cory one of the strongest line-ups in the country.

Earlier in the year they had won the Welsh Regional Championships under the baton of Jeremy Wise, but by the end of that month he had gone and Robert Childs was brought in (ending his tenure as Principal Euphonium at Black Dyke). Rumours suggested that other more well-known and experienced conductors may have been first choice for the job, but in the end, and after a victory at a Welsh Championship contest, the job was his. It was an inspired signing.

The day of the contest arrived and the three men charged with the task of finding the winners from a field of 23 bands were John Iveson, William Relton and James Williams. It was to be a mammoth day, but a day made all the easier by the choice of a fine test piece in “Ceremony” by Michael Ball.

Ball had written the test piece for the 1997 Open – “Whitsun Wakes” and “Ceremony” proved to be an excellent mix of the technical and musical that tested all the bands very nearly to the limit.

The draw had been kind to some of the favourites and unkind to others. YBS, the reigning champions had picked a fairly short straw with number 3, but most of the others were well pleased with their Band Manager’s efforts in the sack (excuse the innuendo!)

Brighouse were drawn 8, Fodens were number 9, Dyke were 15, Fairey’s 17, Grimethorpe 20, whilst some dark horses were also smiling. Leyland with Howard Snell were 10, Tredegar 12 and Travelsphere 6. Buy As You View Cory were the most pleased of all though – they had 22 – last but one on the stage.

The contest however got off to a bit of a damp squib of a start with both Flowers off number 1 and Yorkshire Imperial off 2, giving fairly flat accounts that neither impressed the audience or the men in the box. 18th and 19th seemed a fair result. Band number 3 however was very different.

YBS and David King gave a thrilling account of the music that was the benchmark performance for the first third of the contest. It sounded a winner, but was it too early in the day? The answer was yes.

Whitburn and Marple followed, but neither suggested that they were to be contenders and had to settle on the day for 17th and 22nd place respectively, whilst Travelsphere Holidays (the new name for the famous GUS band) gave a pretty good account of themselves and nestled in behind YBS in second place at the time.

NSK Ransome were drawn 7 and had a bit of a mare of a performance that gave no indication that they could have been capable of the superb showing they gave at the Royal Albert Hall a month later - 21st place – whilst Brighouse and Rastrick gave a curates egg of a show under Allan Withington that saw them come a disappointed yet deserved 12th. Brighouse and the Open just haven’t yet hit it off in recent years and 2000 was no exception – it remains the only “Major”, Allan Withington has yet to get his hands on.

So a third the way through and it was still YBS way out front. It wasn’t to last.

Fodens gave a brilliant show. Bram Tovey was electrifying and the band responded with a performance that for many just about had everything. In fact it possibly had too much and it sounded like a concert rather than contest performance with the conductor drawing an interpretation that was as special as it was specialised. No other band made the piece sound so detailed – but it wasn’t enough for the men in the box and Fodens had to be content with 5th place. It was the shock of the whole contest.

Leyland and Howard Snell were very good in parts but had more accidental splashes than could be found in a men’s urinal and had to settle for 10th, whilst Woolston Brass from New Zealand seemed overawed for half the piece until they dragged themselves together to give a spirited account of themselves to come 13th.

Tredegar gave one of the most musical performances of the day and could count themselves unlucky to have played to a half empty hall – 8th was a little harsh, whilst Todmorden Old on their debut gave a solid account of themselves to secure 15th place and Rolls Royce also didn’t disgrace themselves to come 16th. Three of the “Big Boys” were on next though.

Black Dyke were number 15 and thrilled a packed hall with some sublime playing, especially from the soloists. It was perhaps no better than YBS or Fodens - but the judges liked it more – and that was the most important thing for they were now very much in the lead and heading for their first victory since 1995.

CWS (Glasgow) however were a disappointment. They had taken a huge gamble with Japanese conductor Kazuyoshi Uemura, and although he certainly looked the part there was no symbiotic relationship with the band and it was a performance that under whelmed itself into 11th place. Williams Fairey however were the complete opposite, and with James Gourlay transmitting his elegance of style and musicality through to the band many had them very much in the frame. 4th was perhaps one place too low.

The BT band followed on Fairey’s and never got to grips with the music and came bottom of the pile and 23rd, whilst Desford gave the impression of being totally under rehearsed and came a very disappointing 20th. The same could not be said of Grimethorpe who under the excellent Garry Cutt reminded everyone that on their day they are a match for any band. Superb soloists and a very musical interpretation gave them 3rd place. It was a welcome return to form from the disappointment of the previous year’s 18th place.

Carlton Main also gave a good account to show that they were very much a band on the upward slope of achievement and 9th place was well deserved.

This left just the one real contender left and with the greatest respect to Glossop Old who had drawn last to play and played very well to come 14th, the majority in the audience didn’t really think it was going to be them.

Buy As You View Cory strode on stage with debutant conductor Robert Childs and gave the performance of their lives. It was all about detail (a hallmark which has since been confirmed as one of the bands major strengths), muscular power and very, very few mistakes. It perhaps didn’t have the sheer thrill of YBS, or the depth of musicality of Fodens but it had the combination of both that each of those bands and others couldn’t quite achieve. It was a performance made up of all the sum of its parts and as such, perhaps justifiably was the best on the day. The judges obviously thought so and even though no points were awarded, it was their clear winner.

So the British Open came to Wales for the first time in 148 years and BAYV Cory were Open Champions. Robert Childs had taken the title at his first attempt and to cap matters fully, the bands Principal Euphonium player, Nigel John took the soloist prize. No one would underestimate them again.

THE 148TH BRITISH OPEN
ORDER OF MERIT

Test piece: Ceremony – M. Ball

Pos

Band

Conductor

Dr

Pts

1

Buy As You View Cory

R. Childs

22

-

2

Black Dyke

N. Childs

15

-

3

Grimethorpe Colliery

G. Cutt

20

-

4

Williams Fairey

J. Gourlay

17

-

5

Fodens Courtois

B. Tovey

9

-

6

Yorkshire Building Society

D. King

3

-

7

Travelsphere Holidays

M. White

6

-

8

Tredegar

S. Bastable

12

-

9

Carlton Main Frickley

J. Hinkley

21

-

10

Leyland

H. Snell

10

-

11

CWS Glasgow

K. Uemura

16

-

12

Brighouse and Rastrick

A. Withington

8

-

13

Woolston Brass (NZ)

D. Gallaher

11

-

14

Glossop Old

J. Berryman

23

-

15

Todmorden Old

D. Hadfield

13

-

16

Rolls Royce (Coventry)

D. Lea

14

-

17

Whitburn

P. McCann

4

-

18

Flowers

R. Evans

1

-

19

Yorkshire Imps Rothwell

T. Wyss

2

-

20

Desford Colliery

P. Parkes

19

-

21

NSK-RHP Ransome

R. Gray

7

-

22

Marple

D. Hirst

5

-

23

BT

P. Bailey

18

-

 

Adjudicators: John Iveson, William Relton and James Williams

The three relegated bands were BT, NSK – RHP Ransome and Rolls Royce (Coventry).

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