2003 London and Southern Counties Regional
Championship Section - Retrospective
21 today. Melvin White has one of the most impressive records of
any MD at the Regional contests over the years, and 2003 proved
that even after a bout of ill health there is no stopping him adding
to his fine record over three decades that has now seen him gain
his 21st qualification to the National Finals. He’s certainly
got the key of the Royal Albert Hall door for sure, and after this
imposing win for Redbridge Brass the odds are certainly shortened
on them making it a hat trick next year. At the moment they are
the main band in this region – but the real task lies ahead
and we will have to wait and see if they will be real contenders
when they come up against the bigger and better bands in October.
On this form at Stevenage though they could well push harder than
they did last year at the Finals when they came 11th as this was
a true Championship winning show, and even though adjudicator Alan
Morrison only gave them the title for a second successive year by
a point, there was little doubt in the minds of the audience that
they were well deserved winners.
By contrast though there was a great deal of debate over second
place with many split between the virtues of Alliance Brass conducted
by Peter Parkes and Aveley and Newham directed by Nigel Taken. Both
put up strong performances with Aveley possibly losing their chance
for another trip to the Finals by producing too full and heavy a
sound especially in the last movement.
What must also be said is that Alliance Brass put in an excellent
performance that owed much to the direction and understanding of
Peter Parkes as it did to an super group of individual soloists,
who collectively were possibly the best on the day. What is alleged
though, is that they were not the best of the day when it came to
the behaviour of some of their players and supporters after the
results were announced. Reports from a number of sources suggest
that loutish behaviour was apparent both in and around the hall
and bar areas and in some cases directed to members of staff and
other bandsmen and women.
We at 4BR hope that Alliance Brass were not in any way responsible
for the alleged actions of some mindless individuals who sources
believe may have been associated with the band. It has certainly
in the minds of many soured their fine achievement of getting to
the finals at their first attempt in the top section.
The top three bands on the day though were a good few lengths ahead
of the rest of the field and possibly made Alan Morrison job easier
than he expected.
Alliance took the stage as band number 2 after Regent Brass and
A. Wyatt started things off with a rather insipid account of “Prague”
that never caught the drama and vividness in the outer movements
or the necessary atmosphere in the inner ones. 185pts and 5th place
was a decent return, but it didn’t really set the marker that
was needed. Alliance though meant business right from the start.
Peter Parkes held them together superbly in a detailed opening
section which featured some excellent cornet playing whilst the
ensemble was almost clinical in it’s approach to the complex
patterns that feature so prominently. This led to two inner movements
that had flow and atmosphere and an excellent euphonium solo that
was justly rewarded with the “Best of the Day” prize.
By the time the 4th movement veered towards its climax it was obvious
that the Major had caught the essence of the piece and the players
had done him proud. It was a fine show indeed and the runner up
spot was just reward.
Bands 3, 4 and 5 though were very disappointing indeed and to put
it mildly never got to grips technically or musically with the piece
at all. In fact all three of City of Oxford, Clacton on Sea and
Staines sounded like decent First Section bands a little out of
their depth. This may seem a rather nasty thing to say, but truth
be told – all three were not up to the mark.
City of Oxford tried manfully but lacked the quality of sound in
the outer sections and there was a distinct lack of precision and
clarity to the entries and the patterns they were supposed to create.
The middle movements lacked atmosphere and were mechanical rather
than musical, whilst the solo lines were forced and rather nervous.
We have heard them play better, but this was a poor performance
and 8th place was spot on for us.
Clacton on Sea were directed by Melvin White, but unlike his direction
of Redbridge which was responded to in fine fashion by his players,
here there was no musical response at all and it was a question
of just playing the notes – hopefully in the right time and
place. The outer movements lacked any detail and were just blown
into submission whilst the inner sections had a total lack of atmosphere
and control. Melvin White just didn’t have the personnel under
his command here to make the most of the time and space he gave
them and his reading was lost without trace. It may sound harsh,
but this wasn’t a Championship level performance. 10th place
was bang on the money.
Staines were also directed by an MD who was in truth too good for
the band he had in front of him and it was a great pity to see some
lovely articulate direction and hear such poor playing. Ian McElliggott
may enjoy himself – but this was pretty dire stuff in places
and was never a performance that was up to Championship scratch.
The error count was huge, the sound of the band hard and strident
and they never got close to capturing the essence of the music at
all. 11th place was more than justified, but seeing the MD having
to direct it after the glory of Bradford was a real shame. He is
such a class act.
So with five bands gone 4BR was left rather disappointed to say
the least. Alliance for us were 15 points ahead of the next best,
and even though they were very good, it was an eminently beatable
performance. It seemed as if it was turning into a long day.
Redbridge came to the rescue though and gave a performance that
would have held it’s own in any of the Regions we have so
far heard. At last there was control and detail in the opening –
the flugel at bar 13 could be heard and the complex bell patterns
sounded precise and balanced. There was also some super cornet playing
that gained the “Best of the Day” cup and a fine lyrical
euph in the third. The atmosphere was well caught and by the time
of the well-balanced but very loud ending there was little doubt
that this was the performance to beat. Not without its errors and
at times a touch harsh it was finely directed by Melvin White and
justifiably took the title for the second successive year. This
is a band on the up.
Soham Comrades followed on stage under P. Filby and they provided
the best performance of the “rest” behind the top three.
The MD played to his strengths and didn’t go for anything
too extravagant. The result was a very tidy and detailed performance
that was perhaps a bit “light” in sound compared to
the bands above them but was certainly in tune and well rounded
– a feature conspicuous by it’s absence in the bands
below them. This was an intelligent piece of directing and the players
responded and 4th place was fully justified.
Bands 8, 9 and 10 were also nearly as disappointing as the group
4, 5 and 6, but redeemed themselves by being able to show a more
expansive dynamic range and were able just about to over come the
technical difficulties. The music and the atmosphere though never
shone at all.
Welwyn Garden City had a good stab at “Prague” but
we had the feeling that they were more than happy to get through
the piece rather than make anything substantial of it, and the last
movement in particular was a bit of a mess with entries “nodded”
in. This was edge of the seat stuff and it lacked any control. They
blew for all they were worth though and it grated at the end. The
inner movements were mechanical and lacked shape, but the error
count was lower than their rivals and 7th place was their reward.
We have heard Kidlington play better than this. MD Catherine Underwood
gave the music a flow and space in the middle movements and kept
to sensible tempos in the outer ones, but the players never seemed
at ease and the piece meandered too often for it to make a mark.
The errors started to appear with a monotonous regularity and the
balance and quality of sound was lost the further the piece developed.
By the end it was overblown and harsh, but it had enough about it
to beat the others and come 6th. Elsewhere around the country though
and it would have come quite a few places lower.
Bedford never got to grips with the piece from the start and the
first movement in particular seemed uncoordinated. The patterns
never materialised and the bass end in particular wewas weak which
lead to the ensemble sound being ill balanced. The middle movements
lacked shape and atmosphere and the players sounded rather unsure
of entries, whilst the final movement was messy and overblown. Again
we may sound harsh, but this wasn’t up to scratch and 9th
place was the result. It was however no better or worse than the
two below them or the two above.
That left just the one to play and the pressure was on Aveley to
give a performance that would pip either Alliance or Redbridge.
The wait to get started didn’t seem to put them off though.
They started with a bold and heavy approach to the opening movement,
but all the detail was there and the precision in the complex patterns
was clearly heard. Individual errors were evident though and you
had the feeling that at least a couple of points were knocked off
by the end of the second section which had space and atmosphere
but just some blips and blobs in both the ensemble and solo lines.
There was some fine euph work in the third, but there was a hint
of uncertainty on the sop and solo cornet that detracted from the
musical picture. The fourth movement was a cracker though and had
plenty of excitement, if at times it was a little overblown, but
by the end you sensed that it wasn’t going to be good enough
to upset Redbridge at the top of the pile but it would be nip and
tuck for second spot. We had them 3rd basically on the error count.
Alan Morrison gave a model address to the audience that covered
just about every aspect of the piece and was a welcome change to
the usual banalities we sometimes get, and he made the point that
it was really between the top three bands he heard. That was right
on the mark for us and in the end we think he had the decision spot
on – right down the list.
The Championship Section in London is a strange contest in many
ways. The top three bands are true Championship bands that would
have held their own in any region (not saying they would have qualified
in every one mind you) but below that the standard falls away dramatically.
The next three in line were up to the mark, but on the evidence
we heard on Sunday the bottom five sounded out of their depth and
were really good first section bands. That may be harsh as we have
said - but it is true.
As for our tips? We had the top three but not in the right order,
whilst Soham came one better than we expected and Kidlington were
bang on the mark. Five out of the top six then – who says
we know nothing about London bands?
London though has now got three bands that can battle it out against
each other every year, which will raise standards further and give
the two qualifiers for London a real opportunity to force their
way into the top ten at the Albert Hall. What is needed is perhaps
one more band to come onto the scene and make it a real scrap. First
City are lost to us and we don’t know if the two bands from
Section 1 will be able to bridge the gap. Lets hope they can do
it – it would make for an even more interesting contest in
With thanks to Paul Jones