at the Grand Shield 2002:
Qualifying Contest for the 2002 British Open
Test Piece: Checkmate, Bliss arr Eric Ball
Cwmaman take the Shield back to Wales
When you are looking for mixed metaphors to describe a brass band
concert, then you cant go wrong with the story of the Three
Little Pigs. You remember dont you?
Given the number of bands at the Grand Shield on Saturday who built
their musical houses on foundations of sticks and straw and forgot
the basic Little Piggy building blocks of balance, good
intonation and quality of tone, it came as no surprise that so many
came a cropper when it required a bit of huff and puff. Trying to
win a contest as important as the Grand Shield by relying on a musical
structure that resembled a Barrett home isnt a recipe for
success at the best of times for when it starts to leak,
crack and finally subside when the winds up and blowing, you may
as well been better off pitching your efforts to win by erecting
the musical equivalent of a scouts tent.
Too many bands lost the chance of competing at the British Open
this year because they didnt have the ability (or good sense)
to keep things safe and secure and hatches bolted down when they
had the obvious opportunities to do so. Band after band came on
stage and within a few moments their foundations were rocking as
they became a successful version of the Big Bad Wolf.
Blow they did, and blow away their chances they did as well, as
splits, cracks, harsh strident sounds and tuning problems undermined
their performances. It was self destruction.
The bands that did well at the Grand Shield were the ones that used
their heads and built traditional musical structures well
controlled dynamics, rounded sounds and a lack of splits and cracks.
Its a recipe that has served the best bands well for over
a hundred years, but on Saturday good bands, and in some cases very
good bands, threw away the architects blueprints and went for the
DIY self build version.
In the circumstances then it came as no surprise that the winners
and the runners up gave two very well controlled and musical performances
of Checkmate that had the traditional qualities earmarked
Both John Hudson at Cwmaman and Lynda Nicholson at Besses O
th Barn set their stalls out with an emphasis on control and
musicality that were justly rewarded with a trip to the Symphony
Hall in September. Some people expressed surprise at the result
after it was announced, but as that came from many that spent their
time in the Spanish Bar and didnt make the effort to go into
the hall and actually listen, they didnt have much of an argument.
There were the usual conspiracy theories doing the rounds half an
hour after Robert and Nicholas Childs gave their very insightful
and very accurate reflections of the days performances, but those
theories were as empty as the pint glasses still stuck in their
hands. These were worthy qualifiers.
The MDs of Black Dyke and BAYV Cory have justified reputations
as two of the best prepared and thorough conductors of bands in
the banding world, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they
knew the score of Checkmate backwards. So when they
talked about the way in which some bands sacrificed their chances
by overblowing, too loud percussion and indiscriminate camouflaging
of parts (especially trombone) by other instruments you knew that
the bands that tried to win by using those means were going to be
found out big time. The use of these two new judges
to run the ruler over the bands at the contest was an unqualified
success and should be repeated. Plenty of people complain that there
arent enough new adjudicators being used at top level contesting,
so congratulations to the organisers for taking the chance of using
two of our best conductors in such a way. Lets hope it continues
They were certainly impressed by the way in which the winners controlled
their performance throughout, and it was noticeable that John Hudson
keep the dynamic levels in check very nearly to the bitter end,
when he finally let the band have its way and blow for all they
were worth. As this wasnt until those dramatic last descending
chords as the frail old King gets stabbed to death it gave the performance
a tremendous climax and finality. Special mention must also be given
to the bands excellent soprano player, Paul Eddy and the boys on
the bass end who gave the performance a rock solid rounded foundation.
John Hudson provided the band with a very intelligent reading
one that many would have done well to have listened to, and it was
just reward for a conductor who always gives full value whenever
he appears on the contesting stage.
Besses also gave a performance of high class and musical intelligence
that had control and drama in equal doses. They had the odd blip
and blob for sure, but the way in which there was real differences
in the dynamics and in the way in which the music had a flow even
when going full bore was a pleasure. Besses have for too long been
a band not playing to its potential on this evidence
Lynda Nicholson has certainly stopped that and they will be confident
challengers come the Open.
Flowers and Philip Harper also gave a performance of merit in coming
third, and once again showed that they have quality players right
through the band, with the soprano playing of Chris Howley a highlight.
He deservedly won the soloist prize and the band could well pleased
with their efforts (although they will be a little disappointed
that it wasnt enough to sneak into the frame).
Aveley and Newham also performed well in coming fourth. With quality
sop and trombone playing throughout, they possibly (and unlike many
other bands on the day) lost their chance of a trip to Birmingham
in the quiet middle movement where there were too many individual
errors that lost them vital points.
Many had the Ransome Band under Peter Parkes as the band to beat
after they gave a very exciting performance (complete with choreographed
trombones); but perhaps their interpretation took a few too many
liberties and they had to be content with fifth place.
Sixth place went to a rejuvenated Fishburn who put their troubles
of the Regional championships behind them to give a very hard working
Below these and it was a question of wind assisted damage limitation
as too many blew away their chances - especially in the first movement
when they went for it and it didnt come off
in some cases with disastrous results.
Sellers International will be disappointed with 7th for sure, but
they fell foul of problems of intonation and slips in the top cornets
that were too costly, whilst Kibworth came 8th with a performance
that had its moments. JAG Mount Charles once again failed to live
up to their reputation with a performance that was possibly penalised
for the extra strength of the percussion (and added parts) and ntl
Skelmanthorpe also gave a bit of a curates egg of a show. BT were
much the same in coming 11th and Seindorf Beaumaris found that the
middle movement was their Achilles heel in coming 12th.
The bottom six however could have no cause for complaint
even though more than a few eyebrows were raised with Wingates coming
18th and last. Theirs was a performance that started in terrible
fashion (did everyone come in on the first note?), and ended with
a last chord that for some reason was played in fp fashion. This
was a very good band not having the very best of days.
The same could also be said of Ashton under Lyne, Peter Hawke Lindley,
Newtongrange and Bodmin who filled the other relegation places.
On another day they would have had less mistakes, but all of them
over blew to varying extents that just scupperred their chances
of coming higher. The Senior Cup will be filled by six good quality
bands next year though.
So the Grand Shield went back to Wales for only the third time since
1974 as Cwmaman equalled the achievement of Cory and Tredegar in
winning the contest. The Saturday night was certainly a night of
great celebration in their hotel and the rumours are that this week
will see the band locked in their bandroom (not for practice, but
because its next to the bar of the Workingmens Hall
in which they rehearse). They deserve all the drinks as they gave
a performance of merit and intelligence on a day in which many left
their brains at home. As two of the little pigs found out to their
cost you cant build anything to last if all it takes
is a bit of hot air to blow it all down.