First Amongst Equals: Retrospective look at the British Open
Contest 2001 - where was it won and lost?
And now there is no doubt: the Yorkshire Building Society Band
and David King stand head and shoulders above all others in the
brass band contesting field. Their third victory in five years at
the 149th British Open confirmed what many have known for some time
that within the parameters of producing contest winning performances
from some of the banding worlds most difficult test piece repertoire,
they are without equal.
It is difficult to know how far ahead of the field they were on
Saturday, as no points were awarded, but the content of the three
adjudicators remarks highlighted the fact that theirs was
a very special performance indeed. James Scott remarked from the
stage (a most welcome occurrence) that the judges had little difficulty
in choosing not only the winners, but the top 6 prize winners so
it must be felt that it was at least a clear two length victory
The day started however with a reminder that there are more important
things in life and the Hall observed a two minute silence for the
victims of the terrorist attacks in the USA. Thoughts were very
much elsewhere as the Birmingham Citadel Salvation Army Band played
the American National Anthem.
The contest started with other reminders as well as Travelsphere
Holidays and Frank Renton, followed by Williams Fairey and Howard
Snell found themselves occupying the first two slots of the day
a repeat of the recent All England Masters.
Whereas Cambridge in May saw two disappointing shows from these
real contenders, Saturday saw two real performances of note. Frank
Renton gave us a reading full of elegant lines and understated detail
that benefited from a stormer of a Sop exhibition from Alan Morrison
what a talented chap he is! It was a performance that should
have deserved better than its eventual 10th place and Frank
Renton was sanguine about his bands playing when we spoke to him
later in the day. They will be a band worth putting a few quid on
at the Nationals on this form (and with a better draw).
Williams Fairey also knew they were going to be up against it off
the dreaded number 2 draw, but they literally thought Sod
it and gave a great show. Howard Snell gave time for his players
to extract the music out of the piece and there were some particularly
fine moments throughout. Only some tuning problems and few too many
slips were the real faults, but 6th place was something of an achievement
after playing so early in the day.
.Fodens. We are dumbfounded. Given it was an
early draw and they did have a few tuning problems at the very start
we are still perplexed at them coming 7th for this was musicianship
from both players and conductor of immense quality. It was a very
orchestral performance from an orchestral reading in its scope and
breadth and we thought it to be outstanding. The quality of the
interpretation allied to the overall standard of the playing marked
this one out as the performance to beat. All we can hope is that
after a second year of immense disappointment, Bram Tovey is not
lost to the contesting scene he has opened our eyes (if not
the judges ears) to a level of musicianship that is rarely if ever
encountered on a contesting stage. We spoke to him later that evening
and although he was clearly a disappointed man, he didnt let
it show and was fulsome in his tribute to his bands playing and
attitude this man oozes class.
We should also add that Fodens seemed to have been the victims
of some possible unsporting behaviour and alleged that the timpani
were possibly tampered with before they played. Although
we were seated behind the bands when they played we did not see
the alleged incident, but we did see Ray Payne, who was responsible
for the percussion on stage, having to completely retune three timps
which took a considerable amount of time for he himself to be satisfied
things were back to normal. We can only hope it was done by accident
and not design.
So three gone and plenty to talk about thats for sure and
CWS (Glasgow) next up!
Oh what a disappointment they were, and with Tredegar and Brighouse
they were the three bands that will remember this as an Open of
considerable underachievement. They started well and were moving
along nicely until things went up a gear or three in the tempo department
and it went all pear shaped. It could have been so much better but
the speed left the soloists with little time to shine and it ended
in something of a scrappy frenzy and 15th place.
Leyland up on stage next and a performance of solidity that got
them 9th place and further conformation that they are moving back
towards the top of the banding tree. It didnt have the flamboyance
of a Richard Evans performance, but it also didnt have the
mistakes either and overall they must be satisfied. Brian Grant
made a favourable impression with the stick and the soloists all
had good days at the office so that they will go to London in a
month with high hopes of coming in the prizes.
Carlton Main and Glossop Old were 6 and 7 and for the most part
suffered in comparison to what had already been heard, and their
performances although solid enough lacked sparkle and contained
far too many blips and blobs. Perhaps they were a little unfortunate
to come 17th and 20th but at this level its not just enough
to merely get through a test piece. Both will be around
next year though and should continue to improve.
Brighouse and the Open are not the most compatible of bedfellows
and 2001 was another year when it just didnt click for the
boys in purple. They are capable of producing a huge sound, and
at times it seems to be too much in a Go For It type
of performance that just didnt quite come off. Allan Withingtons
reading was nicely put together but with the slips adding up as
it went along, it wasnt going to be their day, and we think
by the end they knew it too. 8th place one day surely theyll
get it right.
Well done Whitburn! Just when they must have thought the world
and its mates were ganged up against them they gave a delightful
performance that was full of resolve and good musicianship. Great
sop playing throughout and a straightforward reading of the score
from Mr McCann that many others should have done well to copy. At
times it was a bit forced, but it was a high-class performance from
start to finish and even at the end of the day their name was mentioned
by many as prizewinners, so it wasnt a shock when they came
With some good performances already tucked away, the judges may
have thought it was time for a quiet spell, but when YBS took the
stage and started to play, it was the quietness of the dynamics
at the opening that was simply amazing.
David King put his neck on the line and made the cornets play with
bucket mutes from the start to very nearly four or five
bars before figure A and the big tune and a peddling
Bb bass to add extra depth to the sound. Although not marked, it
was a brilliant effect and gave colour to the opening as well as
a marked contrast to the dynamics, that too many bands choose to
ignore. By the time the piece was in full swing, YBS were ahead
of the game and racking up the points. Peter Roberts was simply
awesome and even though there were some dodgy moments in places
it didnt detract from the overall picture. By two thirds through
it was obvious this was a stormer of a show and the standard of
playing and direction had no slack in it at all. For us it was the
only performance that equalled Fodens (although they were two totally
different musical animals) and the comparative lack of slips and
tuning problems gave it for us, the edge.
Ever Ready and Desford followed and the contrast between these
two bands was as marked as it was between Fodens and YBS. Ever Ready
set out poorly but recovered to give a spirited performance that
owed much to Ray Farrs sensible pragmatic approach, whilst
Desford are just a shadow of their former selves and dispirited
disjointed rendition that not even Peter Parkes could inspire. Ever
Ready had real good moments and recovered each time there were the
splits and mistakes, but Desford collapsed from a good opening as
confidence evaporated. 12th for the lads and lasses from the North
East was a deserved result, but Desford and 19th means they will
have to wait to see what their ultimate fate is.
Grimethorpe and Black Dyke two great bands and two great
and contrasting performances.
Grimey up first and a brass band performance of Les Preludes
that had echoes of George Thompson and his Grimethorpe Colliery
bands of yesteryear. Garry Cutt gave a superb reading and Grimey
were on form with Sandy Smith on horn outstanding. It was a No
frills It does what it says on the tin type of
show that had so much to merit its 4th place and reconfirmed
both band and conductors reputations as top class musicians.
Dyke were certainly Up for it and gave a performance
of real class that benefited from superb soloists (Michelle Ibbotson
on sop and John Doyle on flugel especially) and a top class reading
from Nicholas Childs. Nothing was out of musical place and the balance
between the sections of the band was spot on nothing overblown
or strident. Perhaps it was a bit too deliberate in places and didnt
have the overall excitement of YBS or Fodens, but as a performance
it was the one that had least mistakes and would have been a worthy
winner on another day. Three 2nds in a row now London on
this form could very well see them take a 1st.
Flowers had the problem of following on Dyke and somehow you could
sense they were beaten as they walked on stage to be confronted
by a hall that was rapidly emptying. The playing was nervous and
just the start gave way to small clips that detracted from the overall
picture. There was some good playing in places (especially flugel)
but by the end it was a very disappointing performance from a band
that can and has played so much better. 21st place and a return
to the Grand Shield seems harsh, but they will surely return.
DUT Yorkshire Imperial were another band that had performed admirably
at the Masters but were undone at the Open and 14th place was an
accurate reflection of a performance that never really built on
a good confident start. Again some good moments, but they were undone
too often in other areas to really mount what could have been a
Band 17 were Tredegar and like Brighouse and CWS the 2001 Open
is one that promised so much but delivered little. Theirs was a
performance that sounded as if it was more suited to the Albert
Hall and lacked a lot of the usual confidence and dynamic contrasts
that have seen them do so well in the past. Slips in the horn and
sop were costly and 13th place a fair reflection of a band having
a bit of an off day.
So four to go, and most in the audience felt it could only be the
reigning champions at number 20 who could possible dispose one of
YBS, Fodens, Dyke and Grimethorpe from winning. Opinions were fairly
equally divided on who would win, but fairly unanimous that it was
between these four heavyweights for the title. Could anyone upset
Todmorden Old at 18 gave a very workmanlike performance that confirmed
that they are more than comfortable amongst top class company. It
heralded yet another step up the ladder of improvement for the band
and was a constructed performance that had the hallmarks of well-spent
rehearsal time and hard work imprinted on it. Not spectacular but
memorable enough to fill 11th place without too much of a problem.
Kirkintilloch came as Grand Shield winners and for the most part
played well enough to suggest that they can look forward to a long
stay at the contest. It was solid and unpretentious stuff and was
most impressive when they didnt try and blow too loud
when they did the quality suffered and we think they would have
been penalised. Allan Ramsey gave a well-directed reading to his
band and in return they performed with a committed and robust performance
that took 16th place. They will be disappointed for sure, but next
year should see them do better.
And so to the reigning champions BAYV Cory. Last year they
played last but one and took the top prize and a repeat this year
was certainly not beyond them. It was a top class performance from
them, and they recovered from a somewhat hesitant start to give
a substantive account of the test piece that owed much to a fine
reading from Bob Childs and some delightful work around the stand
from his soloists, especially Steve Barnsley on soprano cornet.
If the piece was two minutes longer they surely would have done
enough to possibly retain their title as the further the piece progressed
the higher the standard of playing became.
However, the opening was their Achilles heel (much like their own
choice at the European) and it was enough especially against the
level of performances elsewhere from their rivals to put them in
3rd place. It was however, a heroic title defence.
As Marple took the stand at number 21, the prizes were decided
and the title was due to return to Yorkshire. Marple put on a brave
show that owed much to character and inner resolve in trying to
maintain their position in the Open. 18th place may not be enough
to save them form relegation to the Grand Shield, but Duncan Beckley
should take a lot of credit for his efforts on the day and the players
should also take great heart from a performance that showed that
there a still a very good band at Marple if they can stick
together. Lets hope they do.
So it came to the results. James Scott gave a model address (and
stated he was pleased to comment off the stage this must
continue, it makes the decision much more transparent and understandable
when you get to know what the men in the box were looking out for),
and the prizes were dished out to the bands in front of a well satisfied
The test piece worked well and was a very tough test of all the
bands and the award of the soloist prize to John Doyle of Black
Dyke was well received and merited. Many though it should have gone
to a sop player on the day but it wouldnt be a band
contest without some controversy would it?
So with prizewinners 4, 5 and 6 announces, someone was going to
miss out. YBS, Dyke, Cory? No. It was Fodens again.YBS were the
worthy winners, ahead of two super shows from Black Dyke and BAYV
Cory bands. Fodens deserved to be up there with them, but they are
getting used to it now. It doesnt make it any easier though.