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Post Match Analysis:
West of England Regional Championships 2002


Championship Section:
The Colston Hall, Bristol
Saturday 6th April
Adjudicator: William Relton
Commences: c. 3.00pm

Results:

1. SWT Woodfalls (G. Cutt): 2 198
2. Camborne Town (F. Renton): 5 197
3. Flowers (P. Harper): 6 196
4. JAG Mount Charles (B. Hurdley): 7 195
5. Bournemouth Concert Brass (Nigel Taken): 11 194
6. Yeovil Town (P. Bailey): 10 193
7. Bodmin Town (Russell Gray): 3 192
8. Hyde (P. Wise): 4 190
9. Thornbury (Nigel Seaman): 8 188
10. Cinderford (L. Baglin): 1 186
11. Aldbourne (B. Grant): 9 185

Top two qualify


It’s not often that you come away from a top section brass band contest feeling disappointed – but that was the feeling 4BR got after spending the afternoon listening to the bands battling it out on “Whitsun Wakes” at the Colston Hall on the weekend. There could be many and varied reasons for our trip back along the M4 motorway to a cold caravan in Tenby being so bleeding miserable, but on reflection it certainly wasn’t because Wales lost once more at rugby or that our Grand National tip fell at the first fence; this was a contest when the majority of the bands left their chances in the saddling enclosure that is their rehearsal rooms.

SWT Woodfalls under the baton of Garry Cutt won the day, with reigning champions, Camborne and Frank Renton taking the other qualification place on offer for the Albert Hall; but even these two winning bands couldn’t be totally pleased at the way they performed.

The contest was held close on a month after all the other Areas had finished, and we think this may have had something to do with it. Nearly all the bands could play Michael Ball’s work, but maybe they had too much time in which to flog the piece to death at rehearsal after rehearsal, because by the time it came to the contest stage, many sounded tired and with a degree of “going through the motions”, whilst too many MD’s overcooked their interpretations and tried to find hidden musical moments that just simply weren’t there to be found.

The contest started with a very below par performance from Cinderford under the baton of Lyndon Baglin. Right from the word go, when the timp player decided to keep his walking out jacket on to play, to the unfortunate second euph player scrabbling on the floor for a slide that fell out three quarters through the piece, it was a struggle. Mr Baglin must have known things weren’t going well, and decided to cut out any further problems by keeping to a rigid tempo in all the sections that barely wavered and gave the solo lines no time in which to be played with anything other than a rapid flurry of splits, blips and clips. It was a performance that merited the 10th place it was given by William Relton.

SWT Woodfalls took the stage with Gary Cutt at the helm, and even though it took a while for the piece to come to life, it benefited greatly from a very secure and sensible approach by the MD that as they say on the advert –“Did what it said on the tin”. Nothing spectacular and not a lot wrong, with some fine solo playing from the flugel and horn and some exceptionally confident playing from a sop player who had more ticks and twitches than Dustin Hoffman in the film “Rainman”. He was very good indeed though.

At times it lacked clarity and there were numerous blips and blobs, but overall it was secure and solid – if a little staid in places and it certainly set the mark. The applause started before the last note from the excitable crowd and there were more individual standing ups than were really necessary, but perhaps the locals knew better than we did (who doesn’t we hear you shout) and it was in William Relton’s opinion the best of the day - and that’s what counts, doesn’t it.

Bodmin were taken by Russell Gray, not Steve Sykes as was stated in the programme, and the winning MD at the North West tried his best to drag a winning performance out of his Cornish charges. Things didn’t start too well, but they seemed to be on track until it began to unravel in too many places, and by the end it was too much of a curates egg of a showing to really make an impression.

There were too many frailties in the solo lines, with the notable exception of the Eb tuba, who with his James Galway inspired “Golden Bass” was the outstanding tuba of the day, but by the end there was too much that had gone wrong for them to challenge for a trip to London.

Hyde and Jeremy Wise were next up, with the MD carrying his score in what seemed to be the type of exercise book cover that you used to have to make in school out of old wallpaper and cellotape. They also had a percussionist who chewed gum with immense vigour. Perhaps he had heard the latest news that it helps intelligence – if so he became a Mensa candidate by the end of the piece.

It was perhaps one of the performances in which nothing more could have been asked of the band, and one that the MD should take great credit, as Jeremy Wise choose sensible and playable tempos, and gave license for his players to perform with time and expression in the slower movements. It was neat and tidy, and although it didn’t have the tonal sound, the dynamic variances, or the technique of other bigger bands, it was a performance of merit and musical intelligence. On a day when those qualities were at times a rarity, 8th place was for us a little bit severe.

There were rumours galore about Camborne prior to the contest; stories of “ringers” and Royal Marines, half full band practices and Frank Renton’s individual interpretation to name but a few, but on the day, they gave the most musically satisfying performance of all the bands.

It was big and bold, and a little too brassy and hard in too many places, with Frank Renton having to keep his left hand in almost permanent horizontal “keep it down” mode throughout. The solo lines were very secure though, and from sop to tuba they played with confidence. The only odd bit for us was the surprising tempo that Frank Renton chose for the hymn section (it was very nearly one in a bar!) and at the end, the hard tonal quality was starting to grate. A bit OTT, but directed with an elegant liquidity by Frank Renton that shone out amid so much mediocrity. Second place was a fair return.

Flowers were the next of the pre match contenders that made up the meat filling of the contest, and from the word go they certainly sounded the best band of the day. Flowers were in total technical command of the piece, and for the first third of the work they were a veritable street ahead of the opposition. This should have been enough, but for us, Philip Harper imposed a musical interpretation in the slower movements and exposed solo lines that possibly destroyed their chances.

He is an immensely talented chap, but surely there was no need for the way in which the quasi cadenzas and especially the trills were handled. They were so slow that all flow and pulse were destroyed and in the end we were left with a series of sectionalised features that bore little relevance to what the composer surely intended. The elongated timp feature, rep solos, euph and solo cornet lines became so detached that it didn’t make sense and spoilt all the good quality work that went before and after. Conducting without a score is a risky business as well, and there were times when things were going awry and needed a reference point for the MD to lock onto. Without the score, the band and conductor lost musical contact one too many times for comfort and the ensemble playing became loose.

The flugel horn however was outstanding and the treat of the day in the best cadenza we have heard anywhere this year, but even that sheer class couldn’t save the band from a third place that could and should have been so much better. There is always music to be made, but surely not in every bar of the piece.

JAG Mount Charles were our favourites for the title, but by the end of a disappointing performance we were left with the type of feeling that people get when they talk about “New Labour” and Tony Blair.

Their form has been good, but like Tony and his friends there may seem to be an argument that much has been done with the aid of smoke and mirrors, and that the substance may be missing. We don’t quite go along with that, but this was a hard reality check for a band that has ambitions to be contenders at the major contests.

Bryan Hurdley gave them a solid and uncomplicated foundation from which to work, but when it came to the crunch too many individual players failed to raise their game and it became a luck lustre performance that even considering what had gone before from their rivals, was a let down of major proportions. There is a very good band lurking here, but they will have to start playing like one if they are to really make a mark when the chips are down. 4th place was well off the pace as well as way off what they can really play like.

And with this, the audience disappeared as if there was a sale on the cheap beer at the nearby Yates wine bar, and even though they didn’t miss performances from both Thornbury and Aldbourne that were going to make a play for the top places, they were not performances without merit.

Thornbury had the experienced Nigel Seaman at the helm, and after a cautious start they gave it a brave stab, and even though much of the technical work was rushed and lacked clarity, they did produce a well balanced rounded sound that was never over blown for the first half of the piece.

The technical problems continued however, and some insecure solo playing meant that they lost points all too frequently. Nigel Seaman kept things on track with very composed direction, but it was a losing battle towards the end and tiredness led to the sound hardening and becoming forced and brash. Some neat touches from individual players meant that 9th place was secured, but we thought that was a good as it was going to get, and we think they would be happy with it too.

Aldbourne also gave a brave account of themselves without ever suggesting they were going to come any higher than their eventual last place in the eleven band field.

Brian Grant gave solid direction and an interpretation that was sensible and well thought out, but his band just couldn’t come to terms with either the technical or musical challenges of the set work and by the end they fell away amid a litany of individual errors and mistakes and a tiredness that made they sound become forced and very harsh. No complaints with the result from Wiliam Relton or us we feel.

Yeovil and Philip Bailey were 10th of the 11 bands to give it a crack, and they really did make a good a fist of it. It was a little over blown at times and a lot of the detail suffered as they tried to maintain a fast and furious tempo in places, but overall there were more plus points than minuses as they continued through the work.

All the soloists played with style, with the flugel horn in particular superb, with a lovely sound and secure technique that made the extremely difficult cadenza sound very easy indeed. As it went on though the playing lost much of it’s zest and the dynamics became monosyllabic in character, but it retained enough quality and ended with a flourish. 6th place was well deserved.

Bournemouth Concert Brass were the last band to take the stage with Nigel Taken at the helm. As both Bournemouth and Nigel’s own band, Aveley and Newham have much the same uniform, it appeared he felt at home, and for much of the performance there was much to admire. However, all the good playing was spoilt by some truly awful tuning and this really marred what was a performance that had its moments.

The second man down had a busy day taking over all the cornet solos, but the decision to get the euph and solo cornet to stand during their operatic duet didn’t work and was unnecessary, as both had fine tones that were clearly heard when they played within the band ensemble. The sop did very well indeed to the accompaniment of an errant mobile phone and the band held together right to the end. Not really with the class to make it any higher up the listings, but still not too bad at all.

And with that it was all over. Opinions differed between the people we managed to talk to, but most thought it a straight fight between Camborne and Flowers with Woodfalls in with a chance. So much for that then.

Frank Renton made two very welcome awards of the Diplomas of Honour to Francis Edward Cowley for over 40 years of sterling banding service in the Swindon area, and to Malcolm Lewis from the Isle of White and the Shanklin Town Band, who was actually in the army with old Frank many a year ago.

William Relton then took centre stage and proceeded to say absolutely nothing, other than a very lame third hand joke about Sir Thomas Beecham and to say that the MD’s had to concentrate on all the different styles of playing that the music needed. Well I never!

Woodfalls were announced the winners – and well done to them for that, but we were left feeling that on this form, both they and Camborne will be very hard pressed to make any kind of mark come the Finals in October. Woodfalls were the best of a poor bunch on the day – a day when all the fancied runners failed to live up to expectations and left their form in the rehearsal rooms.


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