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ARTICLES

 

Preview:
North West Regional Championships

And so the musical juggernaut that is the Regional Championships of Great Britain now roll into the unlovely seaside Mecca of Blackpool. Appropriate really for the bands in the Championship Section as they get to grips with "Whitsun Wakes" and it's musical memories of the seaside fun fair here, but for the rest it's the venue of the Winter Gardens on Sunday March 10th that will the Mecca itself, as 78 bands of the region do battle to see who claims the qualifying spots for London and Torquay. From one run down seaside town to another for some then.


Championship Section:
The Winter Gardens
Opera House
Sunday March 10th
Adjudicator: Dr Roy Newsome
Commences: Approx 3.15 pm

Competing Bands: BT (M. Fowles): Besses O' th' Barn (S. Sykes): Fodens (R. Gray): Freckleton (P. Dalton): Haydock Ogden Travel (I. Brownbill): Leyland (G. Cutt): Longridge (S. Booth): Marple (J. Cant): Mossley (J. Davies): Williams Fairey (H. Snell): Wingates (B. Hurdley).

What ever Yorkshire can do, Lancashire believes they can do better. It will be a hard act to follow though for the 11 bands on show as Bradford set a pretty high standard and it will take some damn good playing from the top bands here to equal or better the winning performance from Black Dyke or Grimethorpe for that matter.

Who cares though? It's about winning here, not comparisons (that can come in London), so who will be the bands looking to join both Fodens and Williams Fairey at the Albert Hall? As these bands both came in the top four last year, the same scenario as Bradford could very well occur, with the bands coming 3rd and 4th also making the trip.

Last year Williams Fairey and Howard Snell set an electrifying mark with the performance of the whole regional championships on "Jazz". This time around it's the great man's swansong and both he and the band will be keen to see things off in style. That they can is in no doubt - if they do however is something else, and with plenty of new faces to blend in around the stand they may well be vulnerable to the challenge. There is an unhappy precedent of great men having feet of clay on their very last outings, so we hope Howard Snell doesn't suffer the same fate as the great Donald Bradman.

Fodens have also had more than a few changes in the past months and will be conducted by the third new face in as many years at the contest when Russell Gray takes the helm. They have the class and personnel to win here (and anywhere else really) but the recent changes may have taken the hardened edge of them for the time being. They may need a bit more time to gell, but they have performed this music with style before and they will be determined to regain their crown.

Leyland have plumbed once again for the mercurial talents of Gary Cutt who thrillingly took them to third place here last year (unlucky not to have come higher) and they have been playing to a very high level in recent months. They too have lost a few faces, but they are a band on the up and 2002 could be the year when they return to the top of the Lancashire pile.

Besses o' th' Barn will be conducted by Steve Sykes (not newly appointed Lynda Nicholson) and they will be keen to put a fairly miserable 2001 behind them - a year that saw them burgled as well as come down the lists in national contests. Steve Sykes will bring verve to their challenge, and they have enough good players around the stand to make a mark, but they could well do with a large dollop of good luck to really challenge for a qualifying place. Should hope to better last year's 6th place though.

BT will again by taken by the talented Michael Fowles and they will also be keen to put in another good showing at the contest. 5th last year and 4th the year before show that they can mix it with the heavyweights of the region, but they only came 2nd at Rhyl, 2nd at the recent Wilkinson Contest and 8th at Yeovil, so they may need to up the ante to challenge successfully once more.

Freckleton and Peter Dalton have survived with comfort at the contest since being promoted in 1998, and have recently won the Fleetwood contest, but they have since come out of the prizes at both the Wilkinson Contest (4th) and Preston (5th). 4th place at this contest last year was very well deserved and they are more than able to produce good quality well shaped performances.

Haydock Ogden Travel and Ian Brownbill are making their debut in the top section this year, and they will have to play to their best form to make a mark against a very strong field. The difference between the first and the championship section can be wide indeed. They were 3rd at Pontins in the first section last year and have since come 6th at the Wilkinson contest and 2nd at Fleetwood. They have come a very long way since winning the second section in 1997 and 4th place in the first section last year may be an indicator of how they may fare against the premier bands of Lancashire.

Longridge and Stephen Booth will be hoping to make a mark, especially as they have been very active in the recruitment stakes and have recently announced Brett Baker, principal trombone at Black Dyke as Musical Director. They will need to be on form for the task ahead though as they come off the back of a very disappointing 22nd place at Pontins. A band with a long history and hopefully a secure future, they will need to be on the top of their form here to take a few scalps.

2002 sees the welcome return of the Marple band under Jim Cant, and it has been something of a triumph for the band, that less than 12 months ago was really facing extinction. Real hard work from the indefatigable secretary Eileen Murphy and the players brings them back to a contest that only in 1999 saw them come third. Hopefully the horrors of 2001 are behind them and they can secure their future here with a good quality performance - they deserve it.

Mossley have ridden a fast rising escalator of success in the past couple of years, but the fulcrum to that success, Simon Stonehouse has left the band and this time out they will be taken by John Davies. They came second at the Manchester contest a few months ago and so will still be in a confident mood of at least taking one or two scalps on their first time back in the premier section for over 30 years, but it's going to be so much harder this time.

Finally Wingates, who came 7th here last year under Brian Grant, and have this year made the sensible appointment of Bryan Hurdley to spearhead their assault. He's a man who has a well-merited reputation for being a top class band trainer and this should hold them in good stead, as in recent national contests they have flattered to deceive. 9th at the Grand Shield and 10th at Pontins should and could have been so much better for a band that has lots of talented players and a big rounded sound.

So, who is it going to be then? Fairey's, Fodens, Leyland, Wingates? Who knows, but with Roy Newsome in the box, they will have to impress a man with a great deal of knowledge and experience of top level banding, and one who knows the ropes. The top bands in Lancashire are as good, if not better than any bands elsewhere, so it should be a high-class contest. It really does seem to be a fight to the death between the three traditional heavyweights of recent years, and with sentiment and hard headed pragmatism on our side, we think it could well be a repeat of last years top three.

The Bands:

BT
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5th place last year and 4th the year before should tell us something about the standard they can perform to here, but they also have come 2nd at lesser contests (Wilkinson and Rhyl) in the recent past so they may need to recapture some form to repeat last year's result.

Plenty of talent and with Mike Fowles in front of them, they could well make it a repeat performance if they play to their potential.

Besses O' th' Barn
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Another band hoping to improve on last year's result. Besses come to the contest off the back of a 2001 that saw 11th place at the Grand Shield, 10th at the Masters and 15th at Pontins. They have parted company with their MD and replaced him with Steve Sykes.

Could Besses' repeat their performance here of 1999, when they were 5th, or could it be another year of mid table respectability? They have the potential to do well, but they may need a bit of luck to push for a prize.

Fodens
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The triple champions of 1998, 99, 2000 came second here last year - a year when they very nearly won both the Nationals, and should possibly have won the Open.

Lots of changes in personnel and a new man at the helm may weaken their challenge on paper, but on stage they are a formidable ensemble and should be there or thereabouts come the final whistle.


Freckleton
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One of the most consistent bands at Blackpool over the past few years, Freckleton come to the contest hoping to regain the form of Blackpool 2001 when they were 4th, and not the Wilkinson Contest and Preston of late, when they could only manage a 4th and a 5th place and the Grand Shield when they were 18th.

Should be more than capable of holding their own in this field, but will need to play to form to push for a prize. Mid field this time around may be where they finish.

Haydock Ogden Travel
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Debut year in the top section for Ian Brownbill and his band, after promotion from the First Section, where last year they came 4th. They were 3rd at Pontins in the same section and recently came 2nd at the Fleetwood contest and 6th at the Wilkinson competition.

Talented players and a fine young conductor mean a good future, but the immediate present may be tough and they could do well to take one or two scalps this time out.

Leyland
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Last year they deserved possibly to come 2nd but it did them little harm and throughout 2001 they were a band that improved each time they took the stage. It culminated in a fine 6th place at the Nationals and with Garry Cutt at the helm, they will at the sharp end come Sunday evening.

Lots of talent around the stand and Garry Cutt will surely bring the best out of them and the music. Leyalnd continue to improve and should on form get the booking forms out for a weekend at a London hotel.

Longridge
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The 1996 National First Section Champions, also took the First Section title here in 2000, but didn't compete last year. 22nd and last at Pontins wasn't a good result, but a recent 3rd place at the Fleetwood contest should have given them heart.

Stephen Booth takes the band, and they will be hoping at least to defeat a couple of bands. It could be difficult though.

Marple
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The return of a fine band - although they certainly won't be as strong as they were when they were coming in 3rd and 4th in 1998 and 1999.

Marple have done well to even get here this year and they deserve to do well. A comfortable mid field place shouldn't be beyond them and the hard working Jim Cant.

Mossley
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Last year's First Section Champions recently cam 2nd at the Manchester contest, and they will have to perform above themselves f they are to make a mark against these bands.

Plenty of talent around the stands, but the gap between First and the Championship is huge and it could be more of a holding their own exercise for them this time out.

Williams Fairey
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The aristocrat band of Lancashire will be looking for a wining send off for Howard Snell - and there won't be many to bet against them doing it as well.

The recent recruitment drive of new players has certainly given the band an even stronger feel to it, and this could well be enough for them to retain their title.

Wingates
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Another band hoping to do better than last year. Wingates have the talent, but are fragile flowers and have tended to wilt under the spotlight of late.

Bryan Hurdley will have done his homework though and instilled a bit more belief and steel to a potentially very good band. Should do better than last year's 7th, but you never know.

2001 Result:

1. Williams Fairey
2. Fodens
3. Leyland
4. Freckleton
5. BT
6. Besses O' th Barn

4BR Prediction:

1. Williams Fairey
2. Fodens
3. Leyland
4. Wingates
5. Besses O' th' Barn
6. Freckleton

Dark Horse: Marple




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