2005 Regionals: London & Southern Counties - Introduction

16-Mar-2005

The last of the Regional competitions takes place in Stevenage this weekend, so 4BR cast its eye over the London banding scene in preperation.


It is sometimes very easy for people to be very dismissive of the standard of brass bands to be found South of the Watford Gap.

4BR has fallen into the trap on far too many occasions, and whilst it is also very easy to point at the record books and state that at present there is no band from the region at the British Open, and that it has been more years than you can care to mention that any of the Championship qualifiers have made any sort of mark at the Albert Hall (see what we mean), it is an argument that ignores the fact that the standard of the top bands here has improved dramatically over the past few years and that London and the Southern Counties is perhaps the only region where competing band numbers are always at a healthy level.

This year for instance there are 82 bands down to compete, and even if there are a few withdrawals here and there, only the huge Midlands Region has more competing bands (and only by 2 this year). London may not have the history of say a Yorkshire or North West Region, but neither does it have the problems of attracting bands to come and compete.

Credit for that must go the various bodies that make up the London and Southern Counties Brass Band Association, who oversee a fairly healthy banding structure in this part of the country (there are regular contests from Great Yarmouth to Stevenage throughout the year) and they always attract a good turn out.

Granted, the standard may not be as strong as say a contest in Bradford or Preston, but to be honest, they are not exactly flourishing are they? No, London has a lot to be proud of, and in 2004, there were real signs that the bands from the region were getting stronger and stronger.

Everything of course trickles down from the Championship Section, and here in the past 12 months or more the top bands have started to mix it with the big boys and not been found wanting on too many occasions. Aveley and Newham, after a couple of dodgy years have hit a very rich vein of form of late, whilst Redbridge have slowly but surely been making progress almost surreptitiously over the past months. Both have enjoyed a pretty good start to 2005, and with the likes of he new kids on the block such as Alliance Brass and the interesting Zone One Brass, the top section contest is as strong as at least a couple of others around the country in terms of quality.

The critics will of course say that there is till no breakthrough being made at the very top level, but last year at the Albert Hall, both qualifiers put in quality shows in their own way to come 12th and 15th and beat the likes of Brighouse, Leyland, Wingates and Scottish Co-op into the bargain.

Come the Grand Shield weekend, and it could be a case of a Southern band making it back to the Open – and it wouldn't come as a complete surprise. Years ago, the likes of Morris Motors and Hanwell ruled the roost here, and they were bands that could certainly more than hold their own against the big boys. Now a new breed has followed on, and although it has taken them a little while to make their mark, they are now doing so from London to Cambridge, Skegness to Yeovil. 

In the Lower Sections there is also cause for optimism too, with Staines putting in an excellent performance at Harrogate to come 3rd in the First Section Finals, and Clacton on Sea coming 8th. In the Second Section Becontree came 5th, whilst in the Third, Sandhurst came in 7th. 

The best news though was Potters Bar in the Fourth Section who became the first London based band to win a National title since 1997 – and it was a cracking win too.  Overall, it was a very good set of results for all the bands and ones that they could be very proud of, and which out some other so called "traditional areas" to shame.

The weekend should be one to enjoy then, although the venue isn't the greatest one to ever hold a brass band contest, it is functional and offers good facilities for players and supporters alike. The trick is of course to get from here to either Harrogate or Kensington, but given that things are now looking up here, it may be harder for some of the more fancied bands than they think.

London and the Southern Counties may well be the last Regional Contest of the year in 2005, but it will be determined not to be ‘after the Lord Mayor's Show' so to speak. We think they could be right, and a vibrant, noisy and colourful weekend of good quality brass banding awaits all those who make it to Stevenage. We will be there to enjoy it as well!

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