2004 Spring Festival - Grand Shield - Introduction and dodgy predictions

5-May-2004

This Saturday sees the 84th running of the Grand Shield Contest - the hardest brass band contest in the world to win. 22 bands will be trying to book a place at Symphony Hall in Birmingham in September, and we will be there to report on how they do.


We have said this any number of times, but there is little doubt in the minds of both performers and audience that the Grand Shield is the hardest brass band contest of all to win and this year once again proves the point.

All our readers know we like to use football as an analogy, but even though we sometimes go a bit OTT with the comparisons they do remain the most accurate. This is the Nationwide League full of teams with great ambitions, real and unrealistic aims, fine players, good conductors and most importantly of all self belief. For in a contest which pits perhaps 15 or more bands with approximately the same talent against each other, then it surely comes down to self belief as the factor which decides which three bands will be making the trip to Symphony Hall in Birmingham, and which ones won't.

Just take a glance at the 22 bands hoping to make it this year. (It must be said, that it is a field that is too large for comfort, but that's another matter). There are a whole host of bands here who could quite comfortably win, and win in style, and who wouldn't be out of place in anyway shape or form at the Open itself. There is one "Major" winner here from 2003 in the presence of Leyland, no less than four Regional Champions in the shape of Leyland again, Travelsphere Holidays, Redbridge and JAG Mount Charles, two qualifiers for London and the National Finals Beaumaris and EYMS, the Mineworkers Champions, Desford, the Pontins Champions Skelmanthorpe, and the Yeovil Entertainment Champions, Flowers. It is some line up of successful bands, and that is not counting the bands such as Hepworth who had a great 2003. This will be one heck of a contest to win this year.

The 4BR rankings really show how close it is on form over the past few years with seven of the bands ranked between 9 and 25 and the rest bar five all in the top 50. That has the makings of a close contest in anyone's books.

The added ingredient that will make this contest even harder this year is the choice of the test piece Les Preludes. Last year the organisers dropped a bit of a clanger with Tallis Variations it didn't extend the bands enough for sure, but that will certainly not be the case this time around. This is one heck of a difficult set work nearly every band at the British Open in 2001 found it extremely tough going, so with soprano and flugel players having to play the performances of their lives, one or two fancied runners may find themselves in trouble if one of their soloists has an off day. It is a set work that can be a very cruel test.

So all 22 bands will make the journey to Blackpool with genuine hopes of doing well, but isn't that how it should be? Come results time there will be the usual complaints and disgruntled moans, but the two that do gain the favour of the judges will have proved their worth against their contemporaries. There are real quality bands here, but also a whole raft that on their day could give a performance that could win it in style. That's how hard it is going to be. The three that do get through will have done it the hard way though, and that can only benefit them when it comes to the even bigger test in Birmingham in September.

Prediction:

It is not the hardest contest to win in the banding calendar for nothing, and it is also one of the hardest to predict as well.

This year's line up of bands is perhaps the strongest ever a good thing for the audience who will be guaranteed a high standard of playing, but bad news for those bands desperate to gain a place at the Open. With a real stern test of stamina, style and especially soprano and flugel players, class should tell although slips will be plentiful for sure.

There are some bands that do stand out though and we think the best bet to claim the three places up for grabs (for this year only) should come from the so-called "big boys" from the North West and Yorkshire. Leyland are the band in form and if they play like they did in Blackpool a few months ago, a return to the Symphony Hall should be assured. The same goes for Sellers, although they will have to be on top form and well prepared, whilst we think Desford should have enough about them to claim the third place on offer.

After that it will be one heck of a dog fight between bands of quality, so don't be surprised that the likes of Hepworth, Travelsphere and JAG Mount Charles feature highly and possibly higher than we predict. Our dark horse this year are Flowers, although there are so many others on show who are worth a punt or two at the banding bookmakers.

The top three bands this year will be invited to the British Open Brass Band Championships at Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

4BR Prediction:

1. Leyland
2. Sellers International
3. Desford
4. Hepworth
5. Travelsphere Holidays
6. JAG Mount Charles

Dark Horse: Flowers

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