European Championships 2002:
A retrospective look at the championship section
Date Posted: 07.05.02
Bob Paisley, the manager of Liverpool Football once
said that the real test of greatness was for a football team to
win, and win big, when the pressure on a team to succeed
was the most intense. His Liverpool side were able to do it, time
and time again and managed to win the ultimate club football prize,
the European Cup on four occasions into the bargain. 4BR was reminded
of this after the conclusion of the 25th European Brass Band Championships.
Yorkshire Building Societys sixth win in seven years in Brussels
showed that they are now without doubt a truly great
band. They won big their biggest margin of victory
in fact of each of the years of their dominance, but it was the
way in which they did it that was the measure of how great a band
they can now be seen as.
At the beginning of 2002, they lost a core of major players that
had been cornerstones of their successes over the past decade, and
come the Yorkshire Regional Championships they were well beaten
by both Black Dyke and Grimethorpe. To come back to win the premier
prize in banding with nine new players in the ranks, was an immense
achievement in itself to come back and win it in the way
they did at the Palais des Beaux Arts with the intensity of the
pressure that surrounded this years event and the expectations
of the packed hall, was simply awe inspiring.
The 25th Championships saw perhaps the strongest ever brass band
field assembled to do battle for the title of Champion Band
of Europe and the standard of the contest both set
work and own choice was immense.
The choice of Piet Swerts Chain had raised a few
eyebrows before the start on the Saturday morning, but in the end
it proved to be a very worthy test and a popular piece for the audience
to listen to. It was a dramatic and challenging work for the conductors
and players to grips with (especially the solo horn, flugel and
xylophone) and after the ten performances from the bands, the large
audience expressed their satisfaction that it was a good test. It
was different but not too different, and that made it a worthy addition
to the banding repertoire. It deserves further contest performances.
Eikanger started things off with a very secure performance under
Howard Snell, that wasnt quite what we were expecting, but
none the less ensured that a serious marker was put down for the
following bands to beat. It got them 92 points and 4th place and
it could have been more, but there were too many small blips and
blobs that finally detracted from their performance, whilst the
decision to play in a formation that had the cornets facing the
audience and the euphs and baritones occupying the cornet section
possibly made the tone of the band sound harsh in places. There
were the usually touches of class from Mr Snell (and Martin Winter
as a floating second sop), but somehow it just didnt
have the extra something about it to set an unbeatable pace.
CWS Glasgow followed them on under Ray Farr, and for the most part
for us, they gave a very worthy performance that just lacked that
touch of excitement that could have made the difference. It was
secure and had detail, but it sounded one paced and pedestrian by
the end, and coupled with a few insecurities around the stand, it
was penalised perhaps a bit harshly for us. 87 points and
8th place seemed a touch unlucky.
Concord Brass Band from Denmark also put in a worthy performance,
but it lacked the overall class of tone and ensemble tightness of
what went before and immediately after and they came away with 82
points and 9th place. It had its moments though and certainly sounded
well rehearsed, but against this standard of opposition, giving
a decent show was going to be nowhere near enough.
Black Dyke had waited a long, long time to return to the European,
but the wait was made worthwhile with a superb performance of the
set work that had many believing that they had heard an unbeatable
performance. It was a reading of stature for sure and the individual
solo lines were top class (especially the solo horn). It was very
nearly devoid of mistakes and there was so much excitement about
the ending as to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on
end but the jury thought otherwise and even though they marked
it high with 93 points, it deserved a few more at least.
Brass Band De Bazuin Oenkerk gave a fine rendition as well, and
although it wasnt in the class of what went before it did
contain some wonderful ensemble playing. It perhaps sounded more
of a brass ensemble rather than a brass band in places, but it was
good quality playing none the less and deserved the 90 points and
5th place from the judges.
Much was expected of Brass Band Trieze Etoiles and Peter Parkes,
especially as they were seen as one of the pre contest favourites
to take the title, but the morning didnt quite see them play
to form, and although they had perhaps the best horn player of the
day on the immensely difficult capriccioso solo, they had too many
errors and slack ensemble moments and 89 points and sixth place
was more than a fair return.
Brass Band Willebroek were also fancied, but it would be fair to
say, that not many in the audience were expecting them to perform
as well as they did in the morning, where they produced a real high
quality show that had tightness in the tutti ensemble and high quality
work from the soloists. It may not have had the dramatic impact
of Black Dyke, but it didnt have any noticeable weaknesses
either. It was a very fine performance and although we thought it
didnt quite did enough to get the 96 points and the 2nd place
it finally did, it wasnt too far away from it either.
Tredegar followed them on stage and started superbly. They revealed
a few flaws as it went on, but it was a performance that had many
in the audience noting them down as high finisher. Some super solo
playing from the xylophonist and the sop were features of a rendition
that had many plus points, and they should feel a little disappointed
by only getting 88 points and 7th place it deserved higher.
CWA Brass gave a very brave account of themselves, and although
they fell short in terms of ensemble and solo playing, they never
disgraced themselves and although the piece was too difficult for
them as a whole it still took an immense amount of character and
hard work for them to get through. Congratulations rather than commiserations
were the order of the day and 78 points was their reward rather
Yorkshire Building Society were the last on in the morning, and
the expectation in the hall was intense. Right from the start they
sounded confident and the ensemble playing in particular was the
outstanding feature of a performance that also featured some top-notch
solo lines. It was a performance that was very different from what
had been given by every other band though, and the tempos in particular
seemed deliberate and specific. It was for us a high risk strategy,
but the more the piece developed the more you could see the reasoning
behind it as the links of the musical chain became more clear and
Each became more intense and stronger, and each link connected to
what went before and what was due to come in fact just what
the composer wanted, and when we spoke to him afterwards he indicated
that the YBS performance was just what he had intended his composition
to sound like a series of linked musical ideas that grew
and grew into an immense climax. He was delighted, and so were YBS
with 97 points and 50% of the contest in the bag.
An hour or so later and the Own Choice section started.
People had already made their choices of who were the bands to beat
from the morning, and we thought it was a Black Dyke, YBS, Willebroek
top three, with Glasgow, Tredegar and Eikanger making up the top
six. Others it must be said thought otherwise.
First up were Willebroek and with a choice of Dove Descending
they produced a superb rendition that once again had very little
to fault it. This is an immensely talented band that would without
hold its own in any UK field, and it gave notice that this was a
performance of real stature with solo players and ensemble work
of the highest class. They produced not quite the same tonal quality
of the likes of Black Dyke and YBS but in every other capacity they
are near equals they are that good. 94 points was their return
and 3rd place gave them a total of 190 points and the runners up
Concord Brass Band followed and played The Essence of Time
very well, without ever really showing that it would be either a
choice or performance that could trouble the bands in real contention.
Still, a fine account with plenty of things on the plus side and
86 points and 9th place was a fair return especially given
the standard of performances that were to come. 168 points and 9th
CWA once again followed and chose English Heritage
a very difficult piece. Once more they gave a brave account of themselves,
and had obviously had worked their socks off, but at this level
they were way out of their depth and should really have been playing
on the First Section on the Friday, where they would have been very
strong contenders for the top prize. Perhaps the time has come to
do this as it would be fairer for them (musically and financially),
but they were as fine a set of people you would ever want to meet,
and we can only hope they can continue to keep the flag flying.
84 points and a total of 162 points and 10th place was a notable
achievement in itself.
Tredegar up next, and another quality performance from the Welsh
band that once again had many more plus points than minuses. Steve
Bastable is one of the most talented young conductors around and
brought out the music in Harrisons Dream and also
ensured that the packed hall listened to some of the quietest playing
of the day from any of the bands. It was edge of the seat stuff
and very nearly came off in spades. Tiredness possibly crept in
to scupper higher hopes, but this was the second of two very high
quality performances on the day. 90 points and a final total of
178 and 7th place was a little unlucky.
Howard Snell took the contesting stage for last time with Eikanger
and the band responded to what was an emotional occasion with a
superb rendition of Dove Descending. Once again there
were the odd moments of unease, but it was playing of the highest.
Mr Snell however seemed satisfied by the bands efforts and was given
a heartfelt ovation at the end from the audience in the hall. He
will be sorely missed by all. In the end it wasnt to be a
fairy tale ending and 93 points and a final total of 185 points
and 4th place was a somewhat cruel end to an amazing contesting
career. Eikanger will be back though.
CWS Glasgow up next and they chose to play Revelation
a choice also made by Black Dyke later in the day. This was
for us a very fine performance but once again it was perhaps the
lack of excitement especially towards the end that cost them dearly.
The euphonium work from David Childs was superb though and a real
highlight of the day, but the individual errors were noticeable
and at times the ensemble sounded unsteady. They were unlucky though
to be given just 89 points and their overall total of 176 and 8th
place may seem harsh, but the standard of the contest was that high.
Brass Band De Bazuin Oenkerk followed with English Heritage
and gave a very powerful performance that gained 88 points and 8th
place but for us they can count themselves a little fortunate
as they tried to power their way into the prizes and left the beauty
of George Lloyds work behind in the process. Even the bells
at the end just obliterated just about anything else that was gong
on and so they can be grateful that their fine showing in the morning
was enough to ensure that they gained an overall total of 178 and
YBS were now going to subjected to the most intense pressure situation
ever at this contest, but they responded with a performance of Concerto
Grosso that as we said within minutes of it ending was nigh
on unbeatable. This was immense playing both individually
and collectively and Dr King gave a reading that brought life, vigour
and wit to compliment the darker hues and tones of this immense
work for brass. There were moments that just took your breath away
and at the end you sensed that the band and their MD had proved
their worth to be called great. 99 points seems ludicrously
high but it was as near to a perfect contesting performance
that you could have hoped to hear. It proved to be justified in
all contexts. This was simply awe inspiring.
Brass Band Treize Etoiles had to follow them on stage and they gave
a fine account of themselves on Harmony Music that fully
warranted their 92 points and 5th place to gain 181 points and 5th
place overall. It was exciting and colourful, and although a lot
of the detail of Sparkes fine work was lost it made an impression
on the audience and the judges in particular and showed that they
are a top class band. They too will be back the stronger.
And so it came down to the very last performance of the day. Black
Dyke took the stage knowing that they had to play to the very best
of their abilities to take the title back to Queensbury. Nicholas
Childs had chosen Revelation as the bands own
choice and right from the start it appeared that were moving
in their direction as the immensely difficult pedal notes rang true
and the build up to the first climax had so much menace. However,
there were from there on moments that didnt quite work and
even though the horn once again performed heroically, there were
too many tiny clips and blips that started to detract from the picture.
The euphonium duet was superb and the build towards the chaos at
the end was electrifying even getting the MD away from the
stand to drag out the last ounces of music from his players. It
was intense and brilliant, but in the end it was perhaps the music
itself that did for their chances. Wilbys works are immensely
complex in construction and sometimes this makes them sound over
burdened by technical detail. It was this that you felt stopped
Dyke from giving an even better performance than they did
but not by much. 97 points was a justified return, but in the end
it wasnt enough and that wasnt really the bands
fault. 190 points and 3rd place was the result disappointing
to say the least for all Black Dyke lovers.
With it all over there was the wait, and this gave the audience
and supporters the chance to assess and reassess the chances of
the bands. Nearly everyone we talked to thought it was a straight
fight to the finish between YBS and Dyke with Willebroek and Eikanger
a little way behind, and for the most part they were proved right.
The awards ceremony was slickly presented a few hours later. The
organisers ensured that there was to be a final flourish to the
proceedings when the results were released as well, and there were
a few raised eyebrows when De Bazuin were given 6th place and more
than a few when Eikanger were announced as 4th.
However, the announcement of Black Dyke being given third place
was met with a hush that is usually reserved for the death of a
relative. When the stakes are this high, coming third to a band
like Black Dyke holds little water and the long trip back home via
a concert in Norwich the next day would have been very long indeed.
There was an eruption of unconfined joy when Willebroek were announced
as runners up, but it was just the prelude to the announcement of
the winners. There was a gasp as the points were announced
six points ahead and winners of both the set work and own choice
sections, but that was replaced with a huge applause as Yorkshire
Building Society were announced as the 25th Champion Brass Band
YBS had been put under the most intensive pressure and had come
out of it by winning not only in style but winning big
to boot. They had taken the title for the fourth consecutive year
and the sixth time in seven years they had proved their greatness
without a shadow of a doubt.