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Nationals 2001: Our Retrospective Review


On a weekend that very nearly fulfilled every expectation that brass band lovers could have wanted, Black Dyke and Nicholas Childs put behind them nearly six years of frustrations, hard luck and disappointments to claim their 19th National Championship title and in doing so finally confirmed that the band from Queensbury are very much back at the top of the brass band contesting field.

As we said, the Championship weekend was very nearly perfect, what with a universally popular and justified result, a superb test piece, a whole batch of fine performances and even a Gala Concert that provided top class entertainment.

As always however there were the minus marks, and the decision of the adjudicators not to speak (although this we understand was a decision that was made by their own Association rather than the organisers or the three judges themselves) was stupefying in it’s crassness and looked so amateur that it was almost laughable. There is a paying public out there who shell out anything up to £25 a ticket and deserve to be informed of how and why the decision has been made. There is no justification for it in any sense, and not to have the composer say at least a few words was enough to make you cry in frustration.

Still – we can only hope even the organisers will realise that even a brass band audience have had enough of the inane witterings of the compere Sheila Tracy, who was brought on dressed in the type of white suit Kirk Stevens the Canadian snooker player used to wear and who spoke to us in a tone of voice last heard on “Listen with Mother” and in a manner that assumed the we had the intellectual capacity of a group of retarded seals. She has to go!

Anyway – back to 10am and the start of the whole contest.

Londoners Aveley and Newham didn’t have to travel far to play, and as they were drawn Number 1 they could have been home in front of the telly an hour later watching England being beaten by Ireland in rugby (told you it was a good weekend!).

In the event they put up a pretty good showing of the test piece, which gave the audience a fair indication of the complexities of the opening and the need to have lips made to iron to make it through to the end without running out of steam. Although they couldn’t quite manage both aspects cleanly or without losing stamina it was a performance that again showed that they are now a solid and competitive outfit. The applause was perhaps a little muted because many in the hall were still trying to fathom out the beginning of the piece, but 12th place with 185 points was a good return.

The next three bands on were certainly going to provide the audience with an indication to whether or not Jan Van der Roost’s test piece was capable of sorting the men out from the boys with Williams Fairey, Travelsphere and Brighouse and Rastrick due to take the stage and lay down their markers.

Williams Fairey will never want to see the Number 2 draw again in their lives but it says something about them that at both the Open and now the Nationals that they have given two very fine performances off statistically the worse draw of the lot. Right from the start, Howard Snell made complete sense of the need to create the atmosphere of the three “battle groups” and this continued throughout the performance which had plenty of fine detail and only the occasional blips and blobs that detracted. 195 points was a justifiably deserved return.

At last, a late draw for Travelsphere! Whatever they have done to incur the wrath of the Gods, they have paid their dues threefold as this was a performance that had much merit but little reward at the end of the day. It wasn’t as bad as 16th place for us but Frank Renton took the Larghetto very slowly and some of the soloists weren’t quite at the top of their game and this may have been why they found themselves down with the dead men come 6 o’clock. They too found the piece stamina sapping towards the end and it finished a little subdued and underpowered. You could tell by the look on the faces of the players as they left the stage that they were glad the 2001 majors were over.

What to make of Brighouse eh? The early draw perhaps didn’t help the cause and it was a bit of a curate’s egg of a performance as a whole. At times for us it was bold, big and certainly very good, but unlike the Masters it was never brilliant and an unsure opening meant they were behind the game right from the start. Some super bass playing put them back on course, but the wheels just about fell off in the slow section where only the flugel played to form. By the time they had finished and the crowd had gone bonkers those who had listened rather than watched knew it wasn’t going to be their day and for all the excitement it wasn’t vintage B&R and 11th place was a fair reflection.

At this point however, the audience had either had enough of the test piece or had taken the universal decision that it was time for a cup of tea, three course meal and a trip around the Natural History Museum, for the hall was as empty as a dole office on signing on day. It couldn’t have been the music, because the early responses from people we talked too were very favourable so it was the usual decision of those who are unfair on the chances of the so-called “lesser name” bands.

Fishburn were faced with a hall that was about a quarter full, which was unfortunate and a bit unfair on the band, but they started well and gave the test piece a decent performance. The nerves got to many of the soloists a bit and there were far too many slips in the leading lines for them to make a real impression and the band tired badly towards the end as the intonation and mistakes mounted. 18th place with 177 points was a fair result in our opinion.

Whilst the throng were still enjoying an overpriced muffin in the bar or some tasty food at the Student’s Union over the road, Whitburn, on the back of a super show at the Open took to the stage only to find the hall still only less than a third full. For a band that has improved so much this was more than a little cruel, but they didn’t let effect them too much as they started off very well indeed with the flugel horn being used muted to supplement the opening fanfare line.

Phillip McCann had obviously prepared the band well and for the most part just about everything came off, but it was the slow section that put pay to them repeating their Open success as the soloists showed frailties. They recovered well, but overall it sounded a bit bland and unexciting, which for us was a pity as it had real potential. 8th place with 191 points however confirmed that they are a rapidly improving outfit.

Thoresby and Stan Lippeatt up next and a very different approach to the start that must have cost them points. As Leyland proved just one band later, the beginning is meant to portray chaos, but it is cleverly written so that each part has a direct quantifiable input into the musical picture. Thoresby took the approach favoured by many not to realise this in full, and so it sounded disjointed and without context so that some parts ended up being played at the same time and in the same tempo.

Although they had some good moments the overall picture was scrappy and the solo lines were insecure in the slow section. However the basses came to the rescue and it moved well for a time towards the end when we thought Stan Lippeatt rescued the band from possible disaster around 297 when the bass end totally lost their ff entry for a moment and nearly came in a bar too soon. It ended with a big sound, but it didn’t do anything for the judges and they limped home in 17th place.

Leyland on next and an opportunity to see if the recent run of good form was being translated into a permanent move towards real competitiveness. The answer was a definite yes. Garry Cutt directed a very well controlled and clean performance and the players were all on good form with the flugel player in particular very good indeed. It was also noticeable that Garry Cutt made complete sense of the opening in that each entry was defined and accurate in terms of tempo and metre so that they came together accurately one bar before rehearsal marking II and ended separately before rehearsal marking III.

So many of the conductors that did not feature in the prize list choose to ignore the very precise mathematical relationship of the tempo markings between each of the entries that meant that at one point all the entries came together and at the end each group finished in sequence ahead of each other. When it was done this way it was a superb effect, but many just didn’t realise it at all and paid the price.

Leyland however played very well and although the performance had it’s uneasy moments here and there, overall it was a very fine show and deserved 6th place with 193 points.

Bands 9 and 10 were Kidlington Concert Brass and EYMS and again there seemed to be a dash for a cuppa.

Kidlington were understandably very nervous and this transmitted itself throughout the opening, which started for a strange reason on a snare rather than field drum. The complex rhythms caught the band out at times but they were more secure when the music went into common time. The Larghetto nearly fell apart but was well rescued by the euphonium and flugel and come the end third of the piece the band started to enjoy the experience (especially the bass trom!) and they put up a creditable show. 20th with 174 points - but no disgrace.

EYMS were the last band before the comfort break for the judges (although the audience certainly didn’t need another one) and Gareth Pritchard directed a sensible account that was only let down by scrappiness in the ensemble and an over enthusiastic percussion section. Again the slow section caused casualties but they recovered and battled with very tired lips through to the end. 14th place with 182 points was a fine return for a sensible approach from the man in the middle and a hard working set of players.

The comfort break was just what we needed as we collected our thoughts before the onset of what we believed to be the main course of the contest. Up until then we certainly had Leyland, Williams Fairey and Brighouse up there, but after those three there was something of a yawning gap.

Flowers certainly had learnt from their uncomfortable experience at the Open and gave a resolute account of themselves under Philip Harper that owed much to some fine lower band sounds and good recognition of the different dynamic levels. The band had more than their fair share of small blobs in the solo lines but it didn’t detract too much from a very good musical picture. Although they tired before the end, they just had enough to make a final impression to finish off a very decent showing and a return to the type of form that many know they are capable of. 190 and 9th place would have really pleased them.

Now the hall filled up quicker than a Post Office on pensions day as Black Dyke took to the stage.

Pressure is a relative thing, but when you have been expected to win just about every prize under the sun for the past six years and all you have to show for it are a collection of second places and the odd Yorkshire Area triumph, then you can imagine what the tension was like before Black Dyke even played a note. When they came however, it heralded a superbly crafted performance.

Great fanfares that were clear and precise balanced some fine bass end sounds to start and the band continued to race through the complexities of the technical challenges without a hitch. It was the effect of the slow movement however that made the lasting impression for us, as even though the solo lines had the odd blip, the music was so well shaped and the players had so much time to express themselves. By the time the run for home was on, it was only a question if they could raise the excitement level up an extra notch to complete a truly commanding performance. The answer was of course, yes, as they completed a superb performance of the highest class. It was at that point in time a mile ahead of the field and fully justified the award of 198 points.

Who could follow that then?

BAYV Cory took the stage as reigning champions, but left knowing in their heart of hearts that even though they gave a very fine performance, it wasn’t going to be enough. The start – as in the European and the Open again was perhaps the weakest moment of their performance as the fanfares didn’t quite come off and the percussion seemed a little heavy in too many places. However, the technical passages were superb and they reached the slow section very much back in the hunt. Robert Childs gave his players the time to express themselves but there were too many little slips in the solo lines and even though the ensemble playing was of a high quality these moments detracted. The run in again confirmed the bands class and the ending was electric, but against what had gone before, this performance wasn’t enough to retain the title and the start and slow movement cost them dearly. 5th place with 194 points rewarded a fine defence of their title though.

Just like last year, Tredegar took the stage behind the fellow countrymen and again they performed with quality in both terms of individual and collective musicianship to come 7th with 192 points. Just a few moments of uncertainty and a few splits here and there detracted and they played the slow section with high class from the solo players (especially the euph and flugel). The run in had plenty of shape and poise and a very big finale was both exciting and not overblown and they could count themselves a little unlucky not to have come higher up the leader board. Many in the audience had them in the prizes.

After the Welsh duo came CWS (Glasgow) and they were the fourth band in a row to deliver a fine performance of the test piece that confirmed that when it was played with skill and musicianship it was a superb test of both musical nerve and character.

Glasgow had had a disappointing Open, but on this outing James Gourlay worked out of his charges a very committed performance that was only marred by scrappiness in the ensemble at the beginning rather than the end, and some uncertainty in the soloists (with the exception of the solo cornet) in the slow section. It was a measured and detailed performance that was a mile better than the Open and confirmed a return to form for the band. 10th place and 189 points was spot on.

Last year’s runners up, Ransomes gave a good account of themselves without ever suggesting they were capable of repeating their success. A scrappy opening put pay to that, but again Russell Gray pulled things around with a sensible approach. The Larghetto was OK but never really shone and at times it was both neat and scrappy as one section undid the good work of another. They will be disappointed as it never quite got going and there was too much that didn’t quite come off, as they would have like it to. 184 and 13th was a fair return.

Point of Ayr was back at the Finals and started off at a high tempo that caused grief in places. Again it was competent stuff but at this level that’s never enough to really make a mark and at times the band lacked a bit of drive and energy in the technical passages. The slow section caused a few moments of anxiety but the euphonium was excellent. Tiredness perhaps cost them any further chance of climbing the placing ladder as they finished well but lack the big sound required by the music for it to work. Still, 15th place with 181 points was so much better than they could have expected this time last year.

And so the Yorkshire Building Society and David King.

With the experience of last year behind them and on the trail of a treble of European, Open and National within their grasp, they couldn’t have asked for a better draw, but they could have asked for a better start.

The first fanfare group at the very beginning of the piece were scrappy and this unsettled things for a little while and most probably cost them the chance of victory. It may sound harsh but they had to beat a superlative performance and even the tiniest of slips was going to be costly. The recovery was made with immense style and purpose and the move to the slow section was superb. Here the MD gave plenty of time for the soloists to shine, but the sop and horn line was not together and again they let slip a point or two.

The road home was brilliantly realised however, and was perhaps the most musically satisfying of the day with each line heard in detail and the whole picture having a sense of balance and control. The lead to the very end made the hairs on your neck stand on end and the bands ability to surge into a huge dynamic close was awesome. It was a superb show, but the start and slow movements lost them vital points and they had to be content with third place on 196 points. On any other day it could have been a victory.

Camborne really went for it! A scrappy opening meant they were up against it from the start but things recovered and seemed to be going well until the slow section when the wheels on the bus were well and truly punctured. After that it was a bit of an out of control journey home as the players got caught in the enthusiasm of the music and it became more than a little OTT. The bass drum player went a little bonkers and the bass trom seemed to enjoy himself, but the tiredness meant slips, blobs, splits and misses and they fell away to a good cheer it must be said, but 19th place on 176 points. It was one heck of a ride though.

So last band on and little doubt around the audience that the band to beat was Black Dyke. YBS had their fans as did Cory, Leyland, Fairey’s and Tredegar, but everyone though that it was the Dyke that had their hands very nearly firmly grasped around the big pot.

Fodens took an absolute age to set things up and Alan Wycherley could be seen impressing instructions to all and sundry to remain focused on the job in hand. The start was brilliantly realised with the players moving in circular motions to send their fanfares to all corners of the hall. The bass end was magnificent and the technical challenges were literally brushed aside, with the bass end chromatic runs by far the best of the day – not much waffle there!

The slow section perhaps robbed them of the title as it started with a hesitant opening solo and contained a few clips in the other solo lines. The euph was splendid but the Bb bass line sounded uncertain. This was still superb stuff but again, compared to what they had to beat it just fell tantalisingly short. The run for home was big and bold and very brilliant with a real sense of build to a huge climax and end. Would it be enough though?

Just as we all got our breath back, there was the interminable delay before the announcement of the results in which Sandstorm Brass gave a delightful exhibition of musicianship with a short concert which was just about spoilt every time Sheila Tracy opened her mouth to witter on again. We hope to hear more of the former and less of the latter in years to come.

Phil Morris gave someone some flowers and a bloke from Boosey and Hawkes had the brass neck cheek to say that he felt that previous awards from the lottery to bands was not sensible (even though you never heard his company never complain when they pocketed close on £14 million in sales) and said that they will continue to support the event. Great – how about actually increasing the prize money then? It’s been £2000 for the winners for over 20 years now.

And so to the results. Leyland a well-deserved 6th; BAYV Cory a well-merited 5th in defence of the title and Williams Fairey 4th off a number 2 spot that was a fine achievement.

The top three saw YBS get third before the tension was racked up to see who was going to win – Fodens or Dyke. Second place with 197 points went to band number……. 20 – Fodens, and so without any disapproval Black Dyke off number 12 with 198 points had taken the title back to Queensbury for the first time since 1995.

It was Nicholas Child’s second National victory in three years and Dykes 19th in all and it crowned a superb day of contesting. Well done Dyke, well done Jan Van der Roost – it was a worthy test piece for worthy winners.

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