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2003 North of England Regional Qualifying Championships

Championship Section - Retrospective


The Dolphin Centre was ready. The swimming pool had been emptied of section one sop players and everyone was looking forward to the big one.

As in Yorkshire and Lancashire there were plenty of people prepared to run down Prague, but having heard dozens of interpretations there is no doubt that it has been a hugely successful test piece. The music has intensity, warmth, lyricism, tenderness, passion and power. It’s also exciting and compelling to listen to, whilst those who consider it to be modern may wish to note that bitonality and atonality have been around for 150 years. This is not avant-garde, this is the music of today.

We are pleased to say that the results were a fair reflection of the days play, with maybe two exceptions. We’re also pleased to congratulate all the bands as for us there wasn’t a bad show all day. Well done.

In first place came Ever Ready and worthy winners they were too. Their sheer power was evident from the off and despite some wild basses and unheard percussion the opening was excellent. Apart from a handful of splits the only drawback for us was the slow section which was too fast and lost the sense of intensity and atmosphere - but that was a small detail. Well directed by Russell Gray and well played they make the trip to the Finals for we think the 26th time. They go this time a stronger band than ever they have in the past ten years or more.

EYMS were hot on there heels and pushed them all the way. Second place was right on the mark and thoroughly deserved. The opening was super, if a little light in the cornets, but the music flowed really nicely and the direction from Gareth Pritchard had a flow and consistency that was missed by others. The Solo cornet did a super job and for us was best of the day. There were one or two blobs but the main drawback was the ending which was too fast and the intensity which had been growing from the other movements was lost. A great show though, well done – they to seem to be in a stronger position now than they have been for quite a few years.

In third came Fishburn under the secure baton of Graham O’Connor and there were lots of great shapes here and very clear playing. It was very enjoyable but it had too many loose moments to keep it from the top two. The bass trombone entry didn’t quite work and the ending wasn’t as secure as most, but it had some lovely music throughout. Errors, even small ones cost at this level and that seemed to be the case here.

Cottingham played really well and they pushed Fishburn hard for third. This was a really clean and controlled show. We felt it lacked some warmth in the lyrical sections and they had some intonation problems may have cost them, but the slow movement was one of the nicest and most atmospheric of the day. Richard Grantham gave the music the space it deserved and it certainly had the atmosphere that the music demanded. The soloists played well and the band never got out of control yet the music was exciting throughout. This is a band on the up and will challenge strongly again here we feel.

Fifth and sixth came Rowntrees and Harrogate. We felt that both these performances were a little too highly placed, but as they were both similar in style we could see why they were placed together by the adjudicator Steve Sykes.

Rowntrees made a good start and had some lovely moments, and the slow section was especially well handled, but too many errors were present in the louder sections. Some balance and intonation problems were evident and the music did lack some warmth in the louder passages. The final section got very aggressive and it lost some quality because of this we felt. William Rushworth though has pulled the band up to a level of performance that can now be built on to challenge further, so disappointment should be tinged with realism of how far they have come under him.

Harrogate stood their cornets at either side of the band (very much like Yorkshire Imps at Bradford) and it was obvious from the outset this was going to be a full on performance. The opening was very loud and though there was some good playing the layout didn’t help the balance. The cornets became strident and with them facing right out as well, it was too much we thought. There were some great attempts to make the music really exciting but generally it became overblown. The shock notes suffered from being too percussive and hard before the end build up it got too loud too soon. David Lancaster’s enthusiasm for the piece was evident and this led to a very exciting performance, but for us it was too much.

Broughton came in seventh under Kevin Bolton and though the playing was generally good the music lacked some colour and warmth throughout and lots of little errors all added up. Well directed though, the technical aspects defeated the band in too many places.

In eighth place were Gateshead. Again the playing was generally good but it rushed and had some balance problems especially in the outer movements. We felt the tempos were too fast throughout but the playing was technically good. The ending did slow slightly but the effects had already gone and the drama was missing. Overall though we liked the picture that was created and we had then a few places higher up the placing table than the judge.

Chester le Street came in ninth and we felt this was a little too low. They played well off number one and set a good standard under David Hirst. After a convincing start there were a few splits and splashes but nothing major, whilst there was a fine trombone (the best of the day) and the piece had shape and warmth. A touch harsh from Mr Sykes for us.

Greggs Bakery came in last under David Marshall. The opening was untidy and never really recovered the poise it needed or the detail that was required. In amongst some good playing were too many scrappy moments We didn’t think it deserved last but had too many mistakes to lift it into the top six. Hard luck.

Overall then we thought every performance offered something positive and although the piece may seem angular we feel it needs treating with warmth and respect. The top two especially did that for us and both MD’s should be congratulated for not going down the easy road of just blowing their way to victory. Both were well capable of handling the loud stuff, but their pulled the reins in where it mattered and that gave their performances a clarity and precision that was a pleasure to listen to. Over the last few years the bands have travelled from here and have not done well at London, but on this form and with fine direction there will be cause for optimism. It made for a good day out.

Our top six before the day were: Fishburn, Ever Ready, EYMS, Nestle Rowntree, Cottingham, Broughton’s with Chester le Street our dark horses. On the day were plumbed for:

1. Ever Ready
2. EYMS
3. Fishburn
4. Cottingham
5. Gateshead
6. Chester le Street

Not bad then – we had the top five but in the wrong order pre match and after we heard the bands we had the top four. We’ll have to come more often.

With thanks to Simon Wood

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