2005 Regionals: Midlands - Retrospective: Third Section

11-Mar-2005

It was a case of who could master the evils of drink, women and the Devil in Burton, where a Phoenix rose from the flames to take the title.


Phoenix Brass
John Berryman presents Phoenix Brass the trophy

John Berryman returned to the Town Hall, Burton upon Trent, the day after taking Kibworth into third place in the First section to this time sit in the box:  and as such it fell to him to call the tune in the Third section.

The challenging piece ‘Tam O'Shanter's Ride' proved a stiff test of the nineteen Midlands bands where the standard overall wasn't by any means a disappointment and in fairness to the bands there were five or six very fine accounts indeed.

The placings pretty much sorted themselves out in terms of relative merit in this contest and the bands that will represent the Midlands at Harrogate this year were good value for their nomination.

It must be commented that the percussion sections in all the bands coped with their parts very well and throughout the section we noted particularly good snare and wood block accompaniment. It's nice to recognise the boys and girls at the back of the band sometimes, and in this piece they were integral to the success of the best performances. There was some super playing on thee weekend here.

Phoenix Brass: MD David Bishop-Rowe
Phoenix West Midlands
Phoenix West Midlands
 

The winners of the section were Phoenix West Midlands under the baton of David Bishop-Rowe.

Speaking to 4BR shortly after taking the trophy, he was full of praise for his band, giving them all great credit for playing to their best when it mattered; on the contest stage.

Whilst praising all his team he had a special word of mention for his principal cornet player Lisa Glover. He too had kind words for his flugel and baritone players who also performed with great aplomb, and if we had talked to him any longer he would have had a word of thanks for the tea lady as well. Great to see a man and his band having so much enjoyment though.

 

The win though didn't deflect him from his own feeling that this piece was still a little too stern a challenge for the bands of this grade.

Opening with warm ensemble sounds and assertive solo work they certainly weren't lacking in confidence. The hallmark of this performance was the contrasts both in tempo and dynamic that the band was able to convey. The piece unfolded well and they were unquestionably, as the final notes filtered through the hall, in our estimation, one of the bands ear-marked for a prize.

In our predictions we had them 3rd and not to be outdone they showed that our faith in them wasn't misplaced.

The Arrow Valley second place performance benefited from some very good MD work as Andy Culshaw shaped the music really well and kept the music flowing throughout.

The upper band was glowingly fresh and the middle band quite rich and luminous and when that was added to the MD's interpretation that avoided any cloudy detail it deservedly captured a Finals place.

Under Paul Northey the Daventry band put down a very good marker from a very early draw. Poised in the opening thematic lines the band played with a natural bright sound and overall gave a most satisfying account of this evocative piece. Throughout, the music was nicely judged and complimented with some good dynamics and without losing control, the band got excitement into the music and it too was well worthy of its placing.

Long Eaton Silver was very competitive and played with warmth and eloquence. Sharon Stansfield encouraged dynamics and phrasing that were fresh and relevant, but if one were to look for the moments that just put them a point or two back it may have been an unsettled Allegro passage.

The young drummer looked aghast and worried at a dropped piece of percussion towards the end of the work but should take heart that this was purely incidental and in no way consequential, as by that time the band had secured its higher placing.

West Mercia Constabulary led by Stephen Pritchard-Jones gave a high quality reading: straightforward in character and supported excellently with the confident playing from the whole band. A touch of intonation at the very outset caught the ear but this was quickly and successfully mastered as they too came very close to one of those Harrogate slots.

The University of Warwick ensemble conducted by Simon Hogg gave a tremendous account and was certainly in the performances that had drawn inspiration from the story of student drink and devilry (or are we wrong?). They avoided any heavy expressiveness and made the piece come to life very well. The molto allegro perhaps felt a little rushed but the overall bold full sound with lots of neat articulation left a much stronger impression.

After a most positive start, some early intonation issues and some ‘nervy' closing phrases just detracted from an otherwise quite rewarding performance by the Syston Band. The little melodramas that come out in the body of the music were well captured by the MD Graham Sutton who found the detail particularly well in the animato and molto allegro.

A mid table placing for Leicestershire Co-op was a fair reward.  Again, as with Syston Band, it was the intonation and tuning in the opening and closing arguments that cost some points. Under Graham Jacklin's direction they intensified the atmosphere very well at the allegro but lost a little of the resilience as the piece was drawing to its conclusion when we felt the music became a little untidy and rushed.

Taking the opening with plenty of conviction Mark Wilkockson encouraged the music to flow making the Bakewell Silver Band sound quite refreshing and individual. There were slight scratches in the solo line but the percussion played very well. Unfortunately as the piece progressed the opening conviction was lost and the musical statements became more inconsequential dramas. It wasn't until the Piu agitato that the band really recaptured its earlier strength which was a shame, because this was a performance that could easily have been 6 points better.

WEM Jubilee can be a little disappointed with 10th place and we had them perhaps a little higher in the frame. Roger Thorne didn't take the music too briskly and asked for a quite delicate articulation. The piece had an engaging style and the necessary ‘bustle' when required. It wasn't without blemish though. There were a couple of untidy links when intonation and one or two scratchy solo lines played their part.

Even with a most clean opening and lots of good playing there was one or two uncomfortable transitions through the Rushden Windmill rendition. This made for a performance that had vigour and dynamic contrast on the one hand and some less secure moments that could not displace the bands finishing above them on the other. The snare work was particularly good and the euphonium had sparkle but here again we heard a performance conducted by Richard Graves that had the potential to have been a few points better. Did they leave the contest winning performance in the bandroom we wondered?

The City of Birmingham performance was for quite a time really restrained in fact we felt it took a little time to glow with life. The MD James Cunningham chose a dynamic range and tempi that avoided distracting exaggerations but that made for a performance that didn't convey the atmospheric qualities the music required. The band certainly grew in confidence by the allegro and had certainly warmed to the task by the Piu agitato but by then we thought the impression had already been made.

The bands that then filled the next five places had their moments, but each left the door open.

Following a steady controlled opening the Malvern Hills & District Band (Nigel Hall) didn't find, for the total duration of the piece, the refinement and finish that would have produced a higher placing. The soprano did play well at the Allegro and the band work hard in support but too many unsettled moments robbed the overall show.
 
Almost the opposite of Malvern Hills & District, as with Whitwell it was the opening and closing statements that may have cost a few points. The Allegro and Piu agitato too lost some cohesion but MD Ken Vernon quite nicely judged the ensemble sounds during the andante.

A steady approach in unhurried style by conductor Mark Phillips was the hallmark of the Newhall performance that unfortunately took to the Allegro to achieve its confidence. By then we think points had already been lost. The ‘flutter' tongue techniques throughout the contest did vary quite dramatically in scope but Newhall did achieve one of the stronger effects on the day.

Avonbank Evesham taking the stage with 18 brass players and 1 percussionist (with one bass player shouldering the total responsibility instead of four) was always going to cause problems with balance. Credit to the band for giving the piece as "good-a-go" as was possible under this handicap. The MD went for an unforced reading and tried to get as naturally balanced sound as was achievable. It was in the Molto Allegro and in the important quaver passages that the music lacked some body in particular and not unsurprisingly a thin bass end. Although disappointed conductor Alan McRae was very philosophical and had tremendous praise for his players in talking to 4BR shortly after the results were announced.

After a good start with a steady tempo and it must be acknowledged a decent trombone motif the Ratby Co-op 'Mid' Band piece became unsettled both rhythmically and in respect of tuning. A well-conceived Molto allegro from conductor Geoff Newman and a decent show by the closing solists (flugel & baritone) could not fully compensate for the tuning issues which deflected from musical picture.

Croft Silver (S. Burton) and Fairfield (Buxton) –(C. Kitchen).

Whilst not wishing to appear unkind and certainly not go to an extreme and give an impression that these performances were mediocre it is not unfair to say we felt that they both found the challenge of this work a little too demanding. In no way would we also wish infer that the players didn't try hard. They certainly could not be accused of that but they both had young players in their ranks. Either, as we have all done at some time in our career, they left the contest performance back in the band room or which we think more likely it was just that the piece for the day was that too stern a challenge.

The Midlands Region will head for Harrogate with a pretty strong contingent. In the last couple of years, by coincidence, we at 4BR have lodged in pretty close proximity to the Phoenix West Midlands Band so it's not beyond the realms of possibility that our accommodation trail might once again coincide.

Come September, no matter which band we join company, we wish only good fortune as well as successful fund raising between now and the Finals.

John James / Malcolm Wood

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