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2004 Welsh Regional Championships - Retrospective

The Championship Section:
Sunday 14th March

Adjudicator: Geoffrey Whitham
Test Piece: Tristan Encounters - Martin Ellerby


Given that 4BR had predicted that the Championship Section contest here could well become two individual competitions in one; it would be easy for us to crow after the event that we were right. However, you didn’t have to be rocket scientist before or after the bands had played to have won a bet on our prediction – there was a prosaic inevitability about the Welsh top section contest right from the word go.

The draw maybe had something to do about it; the two heavyweights of Tredegar and BAYV Cory were drawn 7 and 8 respectively, so their mini gladiatorial fight for the European qualification place became a somewhat self contained two round eliminator in itself, whilst the remaining 8 bands battled it out before and after the “main event”.

The prosaic inevitability aspect was summed up by the adjudicator Geoffrey Whitham, both from the stage pre results and when he talked to 4BR after the prizes had been handed out. He stated that there had been two “outstanding” performances, both of which were as good as any he had heard at the recent Yorkshire Area. He also made the point afterwards that he felt these two performances had the requisite detail and musicality that the piece cried out for, whilst both MD’s certainly knew what was required to make sense of a complex score.

For those who had heard all the performances on the day, there was little that you could have disagreed with – both BAYV Cory and Tredegar were a good class apart from the rest of the field, whilst Geoffrey Whitham was clear that he felt BAYV Cory gave for him a performance that had the depth of sound allied to the brilliance of detail and vibrancy in the quicker movements that made them clear victors. The runners up were excellent he said, but the winners just had that extra something else. There weren’t many in the Hall who disagreed with his opinion.

The winning MD, Dr Robert Childs also told 4BR that he felt his band had to put in a special performance if they were to top their rivals – he had listened intently from the wings as Tredegar gave a very musical and very clean account of “Tristan Encounters” that set a high water mark to beat.

”We had worked hard during our preparation on the musical aspects of the piece”, he told 4BR before he took a flight to the USA with his son David, to play with the Brass Band of Central Florida. “We spent a great deal of time looking at the Tristan Chords, as well as developing the right style that had a correlation with the original orchestral Tristan and Isolde score.”

”We think that was the correct approach, and I am delighted it found favour with Geoffrey Whitham. We are also very pleased to have booked our place for the 2005 European Championships, as well as making it a hat trick of wins at the contest – something which hasn’t been done here for a number of years”.

BAYV Cory were good value for this, their fourth victory at the contest in the past five years. Their traditional strengths of powerful ensemble and precise detail were clearly evident from the word go, although they did suffer some individual slips from their usual impeccable team of soloists. They certainly missed their star soprano player Stephen Barnsley, who is recuperating from a trapped nerve, which has affected his facial muscles. Their substitute was Dominic Morrell from Brass Band Fribourg in Switzerland, who gave a solid account of himself, but who didn’t quite have that sheen and sweetness to his tone that so characterises Stephen’s playing. It didn’t detract though from a compelling overall rendition of a very difficult work.

Tredegar once more showed that they too are a formidable contesting force with a performance that had a lovely sense of restrained musicality from a wonderful reading by Russell Gray, and boasted the best set of soloists on the day. In particular Darren Thomas on Principal Cornet was the star cornet performer at the contest, whilst Andrea Lewis on flugel was gloriously secure. There were some rhythmic uncertainties in some of the more complex passages, and a couple of little blemishes in the ensemble, but it was a performance of real stature nonetheless.

These two bands will head for the Nationals and Open with high hopes of repeating or bettering the two podium places they gained last year – on this form they will be very strong contenders, whilst BAVY Cory will head for the forthcoming Europeans relaxed in the knowledge that they have already qualified for the 2005 contest. They will be one of the favourites in Glasgow for sure.

With that fight out of the way, the remaining bands really scrapped it out to claim the remaining two qualification places up for grabs – but in doing so, many tried far too hard and became overtly aggressive in their approach. In truth, the standard behind the top two fell away, and although a couple of bands may feel a little unlucky not have booked their place at the Royal Albert Hall, far too many of them committed musical suicide.

The reasons for their terminal performances varied. The most disturbing feature was the tendency to try and blow their way out of trouble, or in some cases to hit, thump, crash, bang or wallop the living daylights out of any item of percussion that came readily to hand. The other was a fundamental lack of getting basic rhythmic details right.

Why a number of MD’s allowed the main theme (first heard on the flugel) to be played with a pickup of two semi quavers instead of two triplet quavers was simply beyond belief. If you didn’t know the score it possibly didn’t come across as a heinous crime, but if you did (and saw that in many cases there was a cross rhythm of duplets against a triplet) it sounded so crass and unmusical.

Thomas Coaches Mid Rhondda were one of the first bands to suffer in this respect, although theirs was a committed attempt that wasn’t overblown. It benefited from some decent solo lines (with a special mention to ex Fairey solo trom Kevin Gibbs who was first class on euphonium!), but the ensemble work lacked clarity and there was no real difference in many of the tempo changes to create contrast. 7th place was about right.

BTM meanwhile literally cut their own throats. David Stowell, fresh from his fine win at the Midlands Regional Championships with Travelsphere would have been confident of at least claiming one of he qualification places on offer here, but they blew (or rather hit for six) their chances with a performance that was destroyed by over enthusiastic percussion playing from the word go. This is a talented band, but for the first third of the piece you literally couldn’t hear what brass playing was going on. All the good work from the flugel and euph for instance was for nothing as some inexperienced heads tried too hard to impress. 5th place was a harsh lesson learnt.

Much the same could be said of Burry Port who followed them on. Again, a tendency to try and sound like a “big band” cost them dearly as the sound was hard and brash. In the past couple of years they have developed by playing to their strengths – a compact sound and lots of detailed playing – but this year was a case of trying to become something their were not equipped to be. 8th place was a poor return – slow upward progress is always better than no progress at all, and this was another band that experienced a hard contesting lesson.

With three bands gone then and we hadn’t heard a real prize worthy performance. Beaumaris though certainly put one in. Morten E Hansen delivered a very cultured reading and his band responded very well. It didn’t have the depth or contrasts of the top two but it was neat and tidy with the correct rhythms and a secure set of soloists. We had them third overall at the end of the day, but perhaps that lack of sheer depth of sound cost them a podium place and they were given fourth by Geoffrey Whitham. After a poor year last year, this was a great result and they will be looking forward to the long haul to London in October. Where others tried to qualify by playing from the heart, this was a performance that won it through use of the brain.

Treherbert found their debut at the top level a hard one with a performance that never quite captured the necessary basic requirements needed to succeed. It was a brave effort though, although theirs was the most culpable performance that lacked rhythmic accuracy. 10th place was right on the money.

Tongwynlais Temperance would have been confident of gaining a possible qualification place prior to the contest as their recent form has been very good. Melvin White brought a straight forward approach to performance, allowing his players time shine, but it was a performance littered with individual mistakes and one that tired noticeably in the last third of the piece. 6th place was a decent return though, ahead of more fancied bands on the day.

Tredegar and BAYV Cory then produced their own contest before the final two bands took to the stage to try and claim those invaluable London qualification places. Even at this stage they were still very much up for grabs.

Northop have been through the wringer in recent years, but this was an encouraging performance under the direction of Brett Baker. Not a challenger for sure – there were too many errors in the basic ensemble and solo lines for that, but it was good to hear them playing with a secure rounded sound which was balanced and not forced. It was a small sound for sure, but that will develop. 9th place was fair, but it was great to see them back and playing with a real sense of commitment.

Finally then to Cwmaman Institute (Tower Colliery) , who just like Northop have had a terrible last twelve months or so, when they have had no luck going their way whatsoever. In recent weeks they had suffered a very poor result at Porthcawl and came to this contest with their preparation disrupted by the loss of their Principal Cornet, Tim Malpas who had to go into hospital just days before the contest for an operation on his back. Amazingly he took his seat (and choice of mouthpieces) on the stage and produced a fine piece of top cornet work.

MD John Hudson gave a very straightforward reading and it paid dividends. The playing was consistent and measured – although it lacked real excitement and was error prone in the cadenza section. Where others tried so hard to impress, Cwmaman played the notes and kept the error count down. Geoffrey Whitham liked it (we had them 5th) and we think it was that intelligent approach of getting the basics right first that pushed them ahead of others on the day who tried to impress with the fancy stuff first. Perhaps they had a touch of luck – but who would begrudge them that after the year they have just had?

So that was that, and all that was left was the results. We had a top four of BAYV Cory, Tredegar, Beaumaris and BTM, with Cwmaman and Tongwynlais making up the top six. In the end it was not quite what we, or most in the audience expected (for the two additional qualification places) and there was the slightly surreal announcement of only the top three bands to start off with from the stage. Beaumaris and the rest had a nervous couple of minutes wait until the announcer gave the news of who had come fourth.

Come the Royal Albert Hall in October both BAYV Cory and Tredegar will be looking to repeat their heroics of last year, whilst Cwmaman and Beaumaris will be looking to up their form even further to make a mark – on this form the other Welsh bands cannot rely on the two heavyweights to drag them along to success.

© 4BarsRest

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