2004 Pontins Brass Band Championships - Retrospective: Second Section

2-Nov-2004

"The Deep" proved to be a perilous journey for nearly all the bands in the Second Section - some drowned, some took on water, but the winners totally commanded the waves


Barnsley Building Society
Members of the Barnsley Building Society Band celebrate

It was quite apparent that Bram Wiggins test piece "The Deep" was going to cause the bands in the Second Section here quite a few problems, from the very first note to the very last tam-tam ring, and so it proved.

However, many of the problems arose as Colin Hardy, one of the two judges on the day remarked, because the bands themselves had dug "deep" holes for themselves with their choice of tempos. The pun was perhaps accidental, but the observation was very clear indeed, and it lead to too many bands losing their way with tempo choices that were over ambitious and as the other adjudicator, Raymond Tennant pointed out, not what was marked on the score.

"We were very disappointed that so many MDs chose tempos that found their bands wanting," said Raymond when he spoke to us. "The tempo markings were very clear and even though you can allow for some freedom, you can only do this if you are able to maintain clarity, balance and control. So many went for a tempo that was beyond them and as a result suffered for it."     

Colin backed this up. "This is a wonderful piece, but a very stern test at this level. The winners certainly gave a fine performance of the work, but so many others failed to overcome the technical difficulties - mainly because they chose tempos that meant that they could not control the detail required."

The winners, Barnsley Building Society under the experienced John Hopkinson gave a wonderfully controlled performance that found great favour from the judges and their compelling and detailed account was rewarded with the top prize of 1750, which was collected by a rather stunned band secretary Emma Fogarty "Brilliant," she said. "We thought we had played really well and we know our conductor was pleased, but it still a bit of a shock. It's a fantastic result for the band." A fantastic result indeed and one that both adjudicators stated to 4BR that they had little problem in picking after they had played off the number 8 draw slot.

Behind them though, things were a little more difficult for the men in the box. "We really had a hard choice to make between the bands who came second and third," said Raymond. "In the end we went for the band that just had that extra control." That meant a runners up place for South Yorkshire Police, whilst third place went to Hebden Bridge and such are the small margins between prizes at times that nobody would have begrudged either of them if the prizes had been awarded the other way around. These were two top notch accounts, and we had Hebden Bridge conducted by Ian Craddock just ahead for us from Andrew Dennis and his band - but that was just a personal choice from two quality readings.

One of the problems with the set work was certainly its ambiguous ending - a couple of tam-tam rings that meant something of an anticlimax of a finish. The musical intention was clear in the reading of the score - the three movement work highlighting the perils of the sea (including the famous hymn) and the tam - tam was perhaps meant to signify the never ending flow of the ocean. However, it also meant a never ending moment to most of the performances as well, with MDs a little unsure when to make a final declaration or the audience a spirited attempt to start the applause. It was perhaps the only weak point of a fine work.

The tam-tam itself seemed to suffer from the use as well, as the excellent team from Ray Payne Percussion had to do running repairs with a hammer and gaffa tape between bands later in the contest as its stand wilted somewhat under the strain.

In addition there were the final few bars when the placing of the bass notes in relation to the timpani meandered like a seagull waiting for the scraps off the back of Grimsby fishing trawler. Added to the tempo choices from many MDs which saw too many bands set off into the waves at a rate of knots of a speed boast let alone a trawler and the overall standard of performances here was a bit of a disappointment. Tempo markings of 132 and 126 - triumphal were often seen as not a guidleline but more a matter of a lowest bargaining point.

Thus the bands who filled the remaining top six places could have benefited from a little more in the way of relaxed tempos. Flixton under Kevin Gibbs and Foresters Brass 2000 directed by Peter Collins certainly performed with plenty of enthusiasm and style, but it was edge of your seats stuff at times and a little too frenetic. They could certainly play the piece, but perhaps the MDs felt they needed to inject a bit more excitement into the proceedings than was necessary on the day. Two good bands though.

The final top six place went to Meltham and Meltham Mills and they were our dark horse to do well after we heard them off the number 13 spot. It was a bit different in style from the other bands above them, but it certainly caught the attention from start to finish and we thought them a touch unlucky to come where they did.

Others in the 16 band field who took our fancy on the day were Skelmersdale Prize under S. Foster who ended coming in 10th, Elland Silver under Morgan Griffiths who came 7th (we had them 4th) an Deinolen who came 16th, but who we really liked. The others were much or a muchness this time around with plenty of good individual playing but once more the choice to opt for speed where speed was needed cost them nearly all dearly.

Congratulations though to the winners - they certainly didn't have any fear of going back into the water on this form, whilst the other two top in the top three also showed a command of the waves that was very pleasing to hear. Below that and a few difficulties set in, but overall it was a fair standard rom the top to the bottom.

Iwan Fox.

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David HirstDavid Hirst
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Conductor, adjudicator and arranger