2004 West of England Regional Championships -
Saturday 27th March
Test Piece: Coventry Variations – Bramwell Tovey
Adjudicator: William Relton
The First Section contest here was perhaps the one big disappointment
of the whole West of England weekend.
When William Relton gave his remarks from the stage he was quite
prescient – “Rhythm, tuning, intonation, style and expression”,
he said. What he didn’t say was that for the most part, all
of these attributes were sorely missing from the vast majority of
the performances he had to adjudicate upon. This was not a good
As with the Championship Section though, Bill was in a very generous
mood (something certainly tickled his fancy in Torquay) and he complimented
the bands on the way in which they tackled the difficult middle
section of the work (Var 7). He said he rewarded the MD’s
for their good work and most he felt came through with flying colours.
However, his most telling point was made in a deadpan fashion that
perhaps many in the audience missed. “It was,” he said,
“the quiet and sustained playing that was the most difficult
for the bands to overcome.” The climax at letter P was the
most difficult section, and bands stood or fell by this.”
Given that Bill awarded the top six bands 190 points or more, he
must have felt most were standing on the shoulders of giants –
for us though, most never recovered their legs after making starts
that at times asphyxiated through lack of air and nerves.
Bournemouth Concert were clear winners – and deserved winners
too. However, they didn’t have to play to the top of their
form to secure the title and a place at Harrogate later in the year.
They were the only band on the day that sounded like a championship
section band in waiting – broad, full balanced sounds, some
fine individual performers and a MD who knew how to bring the best
out of his charges. They were one of only three bands on the day
who actually started the piece in a confident manner.
The opening for cornet, flugel and bass trombone was an Achilles
heel for just about everyone. Nerves will always affect players
at any level, but the simple trio that proclaimed the theme of the
famous hymn tune took more casualties than even the Luftwaffe could
manage. MD’s tried just about every trick in the book to make
sure their bands made a confident start, but whether it was three
standing in a group or players turning their backs on the audience,
the basic problem was that far too many players simply didn’t
put enough air through their instruments to make them speak. Better
to play at a comfortable dynamic than to try in vain to play too
quietly was a lesson learnt by many on the day. Being brave on a
contest stage is to be admired, but so too is common sense.
Bournemouth made a confident start and all the
loud dynamic playing was excellent – some super soprano cornet
playing and a lovely middle of the band sound being the highlights.
Nigel Taken brought breadth to his reading and they were coasting
along in fine fashion. Come the quiet stuff though and the wheels
– although not quite coming off, certainly wobbled a fair
bit. All of a sudden there was uncertainty and lack of clarity,
tone and balance. They recovered to make a splendid finish, but
it was a performance that confirmed that although they will be strong
contenders at Harrogate, they still have a little way to go to make
the step up as contenders at Championship level.
The contest started off in pretty low-key fashion with a disappointing
performance from Torbay Brass under David Johnson,
who found the set work a very difficult challenge indeed. Nothing
quiet gelled from the word go, and once more it was the quiet dynamics
that was their undoing. Even though they came 14th, they wouldn’t
have been out of place if they came 8th or 9th – there was
little to separate so many of the bands on the day.
Then came the curious case of Bendix Kingswood –
not an Agatha Christie novel, but a performance that lasted some
32 minutes in duration because a fire alarm and evacuation procedure
had to be put in place half way through their performance. It is
a little unclear to what the actual rules concerning such an incident
are, but in the event they returned 20 minutes after they started
to complete their performance from the beginning of Variation
Up until they were stopped on stage (neatly done by the official
it must be said) they were not playing too well, and on their return
they played even worse. They cannot though be faulted for this,
and perhaps they should have been allowed to start again after the
last band in the official draw had performed. The break destroyed
the performance as a whole, and that they came 13th becomes irrelevant.
Lets hope they are not further penalised by the relegation committee
– they deserve another chance.
The odd thing to report though is that throughout the whole episode
the bar in the Riviera Centre was full to bursting point –
not one soul left their beer. In these times of heightened security,
it seems some people would still rather take the risk of being burnt
alive rather than miss a mouthful of ale.
Lanner and District and Poole Borough
were the next two bands on and they produced the performances that
were to bring them second and third place from Bill Relton. Lanner
had an excellent start – the best by far of the day, and their
flugel player (a menacing looking chap with a boxers physique, tiny
ponytail and a beautiful sound) was outstanding. It never had the
depth of sound of Bournemouth, but it did have control and balance
from start to finish. Second place was well deserved, although we
had them down for third. (Hope the flugel player doesn’t mind
Poole too had some real quality moments, but it
was a performance that had too many slips for us and sounded fragile
in the quieter moments. Where other blasted away in the louder sections
trying to create excitement through volume, MD Phil Randell capped
the volume and it paid off. We had them fourth, but Bill had them
After that came a whole series of bland performances that either
never got going, or if they did, never caught the emotion of the
music – especially that Variation 7. Chalford
put in a decent effort under Steve Tubb to come 7th, but
the performances of Cinderford, Swindon Pegasus Brass and
Ocean Brass were at times not up to the technical challenges
of the work.
Sherborne Town were the next to catch the ear
of Bill Relton – although we must admit they didn’t
catch our ear. It was for us another performance that was musically
too fragile and technically too error prone, but given that all
around them was much the same then fifth place was a good return.
After Bournemouth at draw number 10 came a real curates egg of
a show from St. Keverne – exciting and musical
but full to the brim with slips, blips and blobs and a decent showing
from Lydbrook that gained them 6th place.
Solent and Aldbourne then gave
two performances that varied in quality, but really caught the ear
musically. Solent under Wesley Garner were resplendent
in their amazing yellow uniforms, but theirs was a performance that
for us captured the essence of the subject matter. It certainly
wasn’t flawless, but it had a fine feel for the music and
the middle section was really beautifully shaped. They could count
themselves a little unlucky to come 8th. Aldbourne
on the other hand could count themselves very unlucky to have come
4th. We had them 2nd.
Without being disrespectful, Melvin White is a crafty old so and
so when it comes to contesting – at whatever level. His record
over the years in getting bands of varying quality to the Finals
of National Championships is second to none and once more here he
produced a fine show from his employers on the day. His was the
only performance that really captured that Variation 7 to
a tee – a lovely Siciliano lilt in 2 (nearly everyone
else wafted around in varying patterns) and even though there was
a nasty moments with the troms that teetered on the edge of disaster,
it was still a finely crafted show. Unlucky.
With that to end, the First Section came to a close and after the
pleasantries (including a female master of ceremonies who would
have given Anne Robinson a run for her money) Bournemouth were declared
winners of a contest that never really came to life. Both they and
Lanner will have to up their games to a higher level if they are
to feature in Harrogate.