2005 Yeovil Entertainment Contest - Postcard from Yeovil

8-Feb-2005

4BR sends off its usual postcard back home from the day out at Yeovil, where the entertainment was not all that it was meant to be.


The Yeovil Entertainment Contest is perhaps one of the best run brass band contests in the country; it is a fine venue, the prize money is excellent, the organisational team led by Christine Buckley is second to none, and there is usually a full hall for all the bands to play to when they take to the stage.  There is just about nothing you can fault it for except…

Why they always have to hold it on an international rugby weekend? 

It may seem like a small point, but for those lovers of the oval ball game it becomes perhaps the only contest of the year when certain bands are actively wishing for their representative to pick an early draw number out of the hat. Take for instance the lads and lasses from the Cwmaman Institute Band from South Wales, who were drawn number 11 last Saturday. With the kick off to the Wales/England Six Nations International just minutes away, they had to sum up all their powers of concentration to go on stage and perform, just as Shane Williams was scorching around the static English defence and scoring the game winning try in the corner of the Millennium Stadium.

Thankfully for them they produced a fine performance to come third, but come results time there was not a single player in the hall to witness their sole representative pick up the 'Best Soloist' award and the cheque for £700 for coming third overall. Choices had to be made, and when it came to one between a gallon full of celebratory beer or a squeeze into the back of the hall hoping to see if you have come in the prizes, it was no contest for proud Welshmen and women was it?

Come to that, what happened to the rest of the Aveley and Newham band come results time? The strange thing was that at least four of them on stage to celebrate their win were Welshmen, with the Band Chairman and Flugel player rejoicing with a middle name of Islwyn no less!

Still, they went back to London £2000 richer and with their confidence as high as that of Gavin Henson, the mercurial silver booted Welsh centre, although they did return minus the fine Chris Palmer Shield which was not returned to the contest by the reigning champions, the Flowers Band.

Perhaps they thought they would have no trouble in keeping their hands on it for another year by making it a hat trick of wins, but in the event they could only manage fourth place. It was a rather poor bit of organisation on their behalf and we hope they have now delivered the trophy by first class post to the home of Aveley's Secretary.

The Yeovil Contest is also one of the most enjoyable brass band contests of the season, as the bands are faced with the rather strange problem of winning an entertainment contest when the adjudicator is enclosed in a box, and there are no actual points for the visual entertainment programmes they put on. It is perhaps the beauty of the contest that this strange turn of events then produces such enjoyable entertaining fare, in a slightly ironic sort of way.

And talking of ironic – never let a bass trombone player loose on a set of tubular bells without giving them instructions on how to use them properly. The unlucky lad from Kidlington inspired a comedy moment without even knowing it. 

Why for instance do bands think that the wearing of sombrero hats is a signal for a comedy item? Have the rest of us missed out on something here, or is it an unwritten rule that any music with a whiff of Latin American rhythm in it has a score marking ‘a la Stan Lippeatt circa 1979' stamped on it?

Geography was certainly not one conductor's strong point on the weekend when the old sombrero's came out for Duke Ellington's North African inspired jazz standard, ‘Caravan'.  Is it us, or did the Mexicans invade Tunisia when we weren't looking?

Making people laugh is a very serious business indeed – just look at the type of people who have done it over the years. The likes of Tony Hancock, Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howerd and Benny Hill were all not naturally funny men; in fact nearly all of them were depressives of some sort, but they all had the special gift of being able to make people laugh with the material they had to use. At Yeovil on Saturday, some of the comedic humour used would have even stopped these comedy giants raising even a titter.

Apart from the funny hats (only Bournemouth Concert got it right millinery wise, with the correct head gear on their Strauss item), the rest would have had old Mrs Shilling turning in her grave.

Brass bands can be very good at the comedy stuff. Aveley were excellent with their rather camp ‘ Xylophonia' number featuring the talents of their percussion team, that included one straight man (if you excuse the unintentional pun) who was excellent on the xylophone itself, whilst the other two played it up for the delight of the audience. It was simple and effective and most importantly, funny. 

Too many others though were teeth curlingly embarrassing.   Euphonium players who are playing difficult technical solos should never, ever try humour when they are playing. For one, it takes away from the actual musical performance itself (and at Yeovil there were two very fine players doing sterling jobs), and two; they are useless at it.. An MD worth his salt should tell them that they wouldn't be allowed to play another solo in their careers if they feel they have to try and be Johnny Vegas as well. 

Meanwhile, getting percussionists to act drunk isn't possibly as hard as it may seem – many find it quite easy by all accounts, but it does tend to make you wonder when they then start to roll about stage for no apparent reason at all. SWT Woodfalls neatly themed programme made the audience laugh because it was topical and linked nicely to the items they chose. What made it as bad as an episode of Crossroads was the need to make it into a slapstick routine that would have been yanked off on the ‘Gong Show' after two minutes. 

The same applies to MDs also. On this occasion a superb bit of trumpet work by Cwmanan's MD, Jonathan Corry was quickly forgotten as soon as he donned the comedy sombrero and what appeared to be one of the female members of the band's purple poncho. It made him look suspiciously like Julian Clary on a particularly bad day.

Sometimes the visuals are needed, sometimes they are not. Making musical jokes can be done without having to slap people in the face with a wet fish (although, surely that isn't too far off), so why do they try so desperately when there is nothing in fact at the end of it to reward them. Perhaps it is time to look again at what is brass band contest entertainment.

Finally, just a few thoughts that were shared by the bar. Why do soprano players all try to blow their Jacobs off only to find that when it comes to playing quiet in the very next piece they can't produce a clear note? Are trumpets becoming (as they say in the fashion world) the new black? Every Tom, Dick or wannabe Harry James is having a go now, and the feeling is that before long some budding euph play is going to pick up a saxophone or a electric guitar and hammer a Jimmi Hendrix number out.  Why don't bands play quiet items anymore, and what ever happened to music written in a three/four time signature?  

It seems it's Salsa, Salsa, Salsa now, and not one Waltz can be found. Surely the success of  Bruce Forsyth and ‘Come Dancing' should allow us to bring back the ‘Quick Step', ‘Fox Trot' or even the ‘Gay Gordon' (no, not even for the PC brigade

Thoughts indeed that kept a happy Welshman busy on his way back to the Principality on Saturday night. For a moment, it even pushed back our historic win to the back of our mind – but only for a minute!

Iwan Fox

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