2005 Regionals: North West - Introduction

8-Mar-2005

We have a look at the North West contest at Balckpool, where the good folk tend to have a more restrained approach to the whole business of the brass band contest.


Whereas the fine people of Yorkshire believe they are the very heartland of the brass band movement in this country, the good folk of the North West have the feeling that they are possibly the brains of the whole operation.

Yorkshire bands tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves at times; the passion is a bit more raw and intense, their rivalry has a bit more of a ‘edge' to it. The good burghers of the Red Rose County meanwhile will have you believe they tend to view the whole thing with a bit more sophistication and cool detachment. There is certainly a passion for brass banding here, but it has a less gut wrenching edge to it.   

That is why the North West holds its contest on the one day at a venue that in many ways is custom made for the job. They have used their brains you see. The Winter Gardens has a faded glory all of its own – a reminder of a grander past when the very parents and grandparents of many of the players and supporters here felt that they had to express their sophistication through the building of an opera house and civic amenity that wouldn't be out of place in the centre of London.

Of course, what they forgot was that it was still being built in Blackpool, and whichever why you look at the old town, it isn't ever going to threaten Covent Garden is it?  No, the Winter Gardens are a monument to a time long gone which has now been replaced by the manic charge for cash and entertainment – that is what Blackpool has been all about for donkey's years.

Still, the bands love it; the hen and stage parties love it, and it does offer the chance to hear bands from all the sections in one, in house venue on some excellent stages to play on. It may be old and peeling and smell of damp can take your breath away - but it is still a great venue to hold a contest.  St. George's Hall may offer the glamour and the history, but the Winter Gardens offer value for money and a sense that why bother with two days of stress when it can all be handled safely and expertly in one.

The sophistication also comes from the bands themselves at the top most level, whilst there is a real sense of pride here that the bands in the lower sections are the very best in the country (and the record books tend to prove it right).

The traditional heavyweights of Fodens and Fariey's have been matched in recent years by the likes of Leyland and the up and coming talents of Dobcross, BT and Wingates once more. Even though their records at going on to win at London isn't as good as the Yorkshire bands over the past 20 years or more, they haven't done too badly have they?  This is banding of a very high level indeed here and even though last year at London the three representatives failed to make a mark (the first time in many years that not one North West band made it into the top six) you cannot ever write off any of their chances of winning the biggest prizes the movement has to offer.

You also get the feeling that the bands like to show that they have won by using their heads rather than their hearts as well, and the performances here tend to be a touch more cerebral at times with conductors such as Howard Snell, Allan Whithington and James Gourlay all making their mark here over the years. 

Last year though it was a man with no professorship to his name who won it – Garry Cutt, and he remains the beacon of excellence here this year as well for the others to match. The Championship Section contest should be a good one, but unlike Yorkshire this year, it seems to be a bit more cut and dried with a cool acceptance that Fodens could well be unbeatable. We will wait and see though.

Meanwhile the lower sections will delight the listeners, with their quality.

The First Section will be a great contest – full of classy bands all of whom have a chance of gaining a qualification place and more than a handful capable of going all the way and winning. It could well be the best contest of the weekend here.  Meanwhile the Second Section is another, with plenty of quality bands, good MDs and a real sense of the bands playing to the top of their form. It should make for interesting listening.

The Third Section is simply the one in which the bands that qualify tend to win the National title itself – four times in a row so far this decade, so don't miss out on the chance to hear these play, and finally, the Fourth Section, where a huge field of bands really does show off the talent and vibrant nature of the movement here to the full.

The North West can boast a total of 71 bands on parade on the one day here, whilst Yorkshire can only muster 59. Everywhere you look and listen here you will find a movement that is in good health (although a couple of the major bands have been going through dodgy times of late). There is plenty of talent on show both in the playing stakes and with the baton, and the sense of pride in the achievements of the bands in the lower sections especially is true and warm.

The contest itself is very well run by the North West Committee and you can't help feeling that they have something to be very proud about up here.

The heart and lungs of the movement may well be in Yorkshire, but the brain is still ticking along nicely here on the Irish Sea coast. 

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