alternative - tougue in cheek - look the London and Southern Counties
There's a new band around to put the frighteners on the London
Region's top bands. Shockingly, 4BarsRest has heard that a number
of bands were spreading malicious rumours of Welshness (spellchecker
= Hellishness!) in an attempt to have the imposters removed from
the contest. However, the allegations have been strenuously denied
by the newcomers, passports have been checked and Alliance Brass
will be taking their place in the Championship Section line-up in
Stevenage on March 17th.
4BarsRest has contacted Lewis Edney, Band Manager of Alliance Brass,
who insisted that, in the words of the old song, "I'd rather
be run over than be Welsh". Suspicious name though, for someone
who claims to come from Preston.
Lewis agreed to speak to 4BarsRest (in his very plausible Manchester
Accent) as long as we never again print libelous, cheap, childish,
irresponsible nonsense such as;
. the newly formed London students' band
(don't know what they are called I'm afraid). I believe that this
band are due to compete in the first section but I had heard from
an unreliable source that they had already gone belly up. I must
say I am only surprised they lasted so long. I mean, what are the
chances of twenty-eight music students all getting up on a weekend
morning. Let alone having time to find their student railcards,
retrieve their charity shop DJ from a vomit-filled carrier bag,
iron a shirt (ha), text message each other to find out where they
are meant to be and why, set the video for the Eastenders Omnibus,
realise there are no expenses, smoke a joint and fall asleep for
18 hours. It's not going to happen is it?"
This appeared in our London Area preview last year. We, of course,
promised never to refer to such a piece of cheap journalism again
and assured him that the writer responsible had since moved on to
a job as Press Officer in the Department of Transport. We do, as
promised, unreservedly apologize for suggesting that you watch Eastenders.
And how wrong could we have been with our prejudiced attitude to
the new boys. Perhaps they were spurred on by our unkind words as
they went on to become one of the few success stories from the region
in the past six months.
Alliance Brass were formed just 18 months ago as the brainchild
of Lewis and his friend Ben Ellin who is the band's musical director,
no doubt after a heavy night running around London with traffic
cones on their heads. The concept was to create a contesting band
from scratch, made up of players currently attending one of the
four major London Music Colleges or who had left one of these colleges
within the last few years.
Recruitment began in earnest, despite his protestations. Tactics
were not always ethical ("of course you'd enjoy playing second
baritone, it's a lovely, sonorous instrument and you get to play
the tune all the time") as they signed up a group of talented
players. The band's first outing was to record a demo which they
rehearsed and recorded in one day. The next challenge was the 2001
Area Contest. Only five or six of the players signed were from a
brass band background and the Area Committee followed the precedent
set with First City Brass a few years back by grading the new band
in the first section. The problem for Lewis was getting the band
together to rehearse. He was dealing with busy people. Some of them
actually do "gigs" for money. But despite having just
five rehearsals in which to prepare the test piece, Alliance romped
home, winning a well-deserved first place with their debut public
performance. Using a couple of concerts in London and Southend to
hone their skills the band enjoyed a "full on" few weeks
in the build up to the Finals in Preston culminating in a joint
concert the night before the contest with Smithills Band where M.D.
Ben used to play when a lad. The following day a strong performance
earned them second place, just behind Stocksbridge
After a year that has seen his dream come to fruition, band manager
Lewis was understandably upbeat about Alliance's chances on taking
the big step up to the championship section this year. Despite missing
the Major's son and founder member of the band, Chris Parkes, for
this contest he feels that the band have the soloists required to
deal with the challenge of Whitsun Wakes.
"We'll miss Chris because his playing is "something else"
(man!), says Lewis. "We've got Dave Hilton on principal cornet
and Bill Cooper on soprano (both ex Redbridge Brass), Richard Brown
on euphonium, Rob Tooley leading a top class trombone section (says
Bass trombonist, Lewis), Ed Pascall on flugel and Richard Balsom
on Eb Bass (recently of Redbridge Brass). These may not be well
known names in the banding world but could that be about to change?
Lewis is clear about the band's ambition. "We will be trying
to win the contest and think that if we play to our potential we
can win it. We start rehearsing on 2nd March and will have two quite
intensive weeks with a few guest conductors booked to take some
of the rehearsals."
No surprises in the bands Lewis sees as the main rivals to Alliance's
chances of victory. He lists Aveley and Newham, Redbridge and First
City Brass, the three bands who have dominated the contest in recent
years. It remains to be seen whether Alliance have, to borrow an
appropriate motor racing term, the brass balls for it on the day
but their progress so far would suggest that they do and could cause
a real upset.
So what of London's three top ranked bands? At last year's contest,
Aveley and Newham took first prize with Kidlington coming through
the field to pip Redbridge and First City for the second qualifying
spot. Aveley and Newham are aiming for a hat-trick of titles, a
feat not achieved since Hanwell Band managed it in the 1970s. However,
the last year has not lived up to expectations for the band based
on the "Essex Riviera". Wins at Yeovil and the Area brought
the promise of great things to come in 2001 but a disappointing
19th place at the Masters was followed by 5th place on the band's
return to the Grand Shield, a creditable 12th at the Albert Hall
and more disappointment at Pontins with 4th place. A dismal run
of early draws has not helped Aveley. In their last four contests
the band have drawn number 1 at both the Finals and Yeovil and played
number 2 at the Shield and Pontins. "Our draws have been pants"
moans band secretary Dave Lewis.
On the bright side, Aveley go into this years contest with a settled
band and the same talented team of soloists that has performed consistently
well in recent years. The band's Musical Director, Nigel Taken,
knows where the priorities lie for the year ahead. " I want
to win the hat-trick of Area victories and I want the band to qualify
for the British Open this year," I am certain he would say
4BarsRest has shown great faith in Aveley over the year, tipping
them for success at the Shield and Pontins only to be let down.
Could it be that London's top outfit of the last four years are
over the hill, as their average age creeps dangerously close to
forty? Desperate to reverse this trend, the band has signed fourteen
year old cornet player James Edgar who will make his debut with
the band at Stevenage and mutton-chopped Chairman Derek Morris (83)
has agreed to lie about his age.
A few miles along the A12 it has been a year of glory for Redbridge
Brass since just missing out on the qualifying for the finals in
Stevenage last year. Under the expansive baton of Melvin White,
the band swept the board at the Southend Entertainment Contest in
the summer and followed this up with wins at Folkestone and Reading
Contests. Their reward for a successful year is an invite to the
Senior Trophy later in the year where they should start as one of
It would appear that the band are in their best form for years and
will be striving for the top spot on 17th March. The solicitor of
a close friend of an insider at Redbridge has confirmed exclusively
to 4BarsRest that diminutive Band Manager and flugelist Alan Roberts
has been practicing at altitude in a bid to reach top C.
The other main player at the top end of the section since bursting
onto the scene in 1997 in a blaze of technicolour is Jeremy Wise's
West London outfit First City Brass. Having qualified for the Albert
Hall in 1999 and 2000 (and coming 12th and 9th) they missed out
last year due to a disappointing show that left them out of the
prizes at the Area. Things didn't improve much as the contesting
year progressed. Thirteenth at the Grand Shield and fourth at Reading
will both have been less than they would have hoped for, as will
11th at Yeovil last month but the band did achieve a respectable
14th place at last year's Masters which was enough to keep their
place in the field for 2002. First City will certainly have been
given a boost by the signing of David Geoghan (ex of Black Dyke)
on principal cornet. David was on the end chair at Marple before
moving to London to study trumpet at the royal Academy and is the
current principal cornet of the NYBBGB. We can only wonder how Alliance
Brass missed out on this signing but he is sure to be a big asset
for First City. Last year also saw the return to the band, on solo
euphonium, of Paul Baker, who has gained a fine reputation over
the years as Matt's brother. There's no doubting that the band will
be up for the contest and aiming for the top spot. With plenty of
good players around the stand, the vastly experienced Mr Wise at
the helm and, for a diminishing number of them, the Lord on their
side, they will certainly be in with a shout.
By the formbook, that should be the top four in a field of twelve.
Of the rest of the section, City of Oxford have been regulars amongst
the top four or five at the contest in recent years but must throw
off an irritating habit of being disqualified if they are to really
make an impact. Regent Brass have kept a fairly low profile with
just an eighth place at Reading since a solid mid-table result at
last year's Area. A precarious position in the ranking table means
a good result will be needed if they are to avoid the drop. Soham
Comrades will be boosted by some good results over the last year
including a seventh at Pontins and will be hoping to improve on
three years of finishing halfway down the field. Soham have been
invited along with Redbridge to the Senior Trophy in recognition
of their achievements in recent years. John Berryman has been helping
out MD Paul Filby with their preparations and the word from the
bandroom is that they are having a lot of fun with Whitsun Wakes.
They feel that the piece seems to suit the band and that a good
band sound plus strong soloists, including David Notley (sop), Sarah
Minchin (baritone), Steven Gilbey (flugel) plus a husband and wife
team (Nigel and Sally Bramley) on principal cornet and bumper up
should add up to a good show on the day.
Kidlington put on a creditable show at the finals in October and
will be hoping to earn a return trip to South Kensington this year.
Clacton-on-Sea Co-operative Band have been reliable performers in
this contest over the years and will be banking on their soloists
to lift them up the field this time around. At least there can be
no doubt that MD Melvin White will know the score as the winner
of this years "eggs in baskets" prize with three bands
in the section (Staines and Redbridge being the other two). Bedford
Town, Hatfields of Colchester and Staines Brass are largely untested
at this level and look likely to join the relegation dogfight along
with Regent unless one or more of them have something up their sleeve.
In the First Section it's hard to see past KM Gillingham, who finished
third last year and are regular prize winners in contest in the
southeast and principal cornet Elaine Williams can be counted on
to add a touch of class. Matthews Concert Brass will look to bounce
straight back to the top section and Welwyn Garden are regulars
at local contests and earned fifth place in the Championship Section
at last years Folkestone Contest. Look out for Friary Guildford,
Egham and newly promoted Tilbury under the baton of Brass Band World's
pin-up boy Rob Nunnery.
The second section is easy to predict. Stonesfield Silver and Wantage
Silver 'A' were second and third in this section last year and narrowly
missed out on promotion. To those two add the risings stars, Becontree
Brass who can boast star performers Chris Storey (principal cornet),
Paul Hicks (solo euph) and John Hurrell (second baritone), amongst
others. Also back demoted Northfleet with their "best bass
section ever" plus Barbara King on top chair. Don't rule out
Brosely Brass as, with Ralph Tatum on soprano, anything could happen.
In the third section we go with a hunch on East London Brass (nothing
to do with Cynthia Payne, disappointingly), under the ebullient
baton of Alex Caldon and featuring star trombonist Jayne Murrill.
It takes a brave man to pick a winner in the London Area fourth
section. The field is of Grand National proportions and many of
the runners only emerge from their stables once a year. We will
go with Ware Brass to better last year's third place following some
successful contesting throughout the year. If each-way bets were
allowed we'd go for last year's winners Sandhurst Silver and Charles
The good news for the twenty-nine competing bands is that thanks
to the work of the London and Southern Counties Regional Committee,
there are four qualifying places up for grabs this year. Contest
controller, David Hobbs, informed 4BarsRest that the Regional Committee
was delighted that their proposal to the managers of the national
contest had been accepted. In addition to the extra qualifier in
the fourth section, it was also agreed that the region's large first
section warranted an additional third qualifying spot for the finals.
And the palm trees are lovely in Torquay in late summer.