2005 Regionals: London & Southern Counties - Retrospective: Second Section22-Mar-2005
Malcolm Wood braved the Second Section where Sandhurst Silver and Roger Burke took the top honours and claimed one of the two qualification spots for Harrogate.
Sandhurst Silver: First place
Whatever Roger Burke and Sandhurst Silver do before a major contest such as the Regionals, they should certainly bottle and sell it. For the fifth year in a row, the band will be competing in the National Finals and are full of confidence, and at Stevenage on the weekend they once more showed that under an intelligent and musical conductor, with intelligent and musical players they are one of the very best bands at this level anywhere in the country. They were an absolute pleasure to listen to.
Having been placed sixteenth in the Fourth Section in 2000, Roger has completely transformed the bands fortunes. Back-to-back wins in the Fourth Section saw them gain promotion to the Third, and they didn't stop there. Third place at the first time of asking, they went on to win that Section last year, and Sunday saw them take the Second Section title at the first time of asking. Some band, some conductor and what is stopping them continuing the progress they are doing? The answer is nothing at all.
At the conclusion of the contest, Malcolm Brownbill gave a thorough assessment of ‘Variations for Brass Band' by Vaughan Williams and talked openly about the challenges facing the bands and conductors from a piece that once more showed that it was on the whole, an unsuitable test for bands at this level here.
Whilst admitting that Sandhurst and Horsham (who came second) did very well, he also told the large audience awaiting the results that they were not perfect performances either. Praising the conductors, Malcolm stated that they had to really ‘control their bands' and this was something that these two had done well in particular.
The two qualification performances actually came next to another in the draw and had plenty of merit about them. Sandhurst had a lovely feel to its performance. Roger Burke was intelligent in his approach and linked the variations together in such a way, that the overall quality of the music never suffered. If only others had followed his example.
The band's soprano was one of a number on the day that really did shine and brought plenty of colour, and a fine pure tone to a performance that was very impressive indeed in both thought and execution.
Horsham: Second place
Horsham, directed by G. Bacon followed Sandhurst on stage and quite possibly, what they had heard back stage, rubbed off on them. Once again, it wasn't perfect, but the band's MD had his whits about him and kept things tight and produced a nicely shaped performance, whilst the players responded in fine fashion – none going for individual glory, as was the case too often elsewhere.
After coming tenth last year, this was a cracking result for them and they seemed to enjoy the performance. So many bands (including Championship and First Section ones here) got so wrapped up in the contesting mantra that at times, they appeared to forget that performing music is a pleasurable experience, but not so Horsham or the winners. Having a smile on your face when things are going well is worth at least two extra points as it rubs off on all those around you.
Cawston directed by C. Swaep set the marker for the day from a number one draw. It had moments of quality within it, but some of the variations didn't come off for them and having finished twelfth last year and faced with the dreaded number one, this was an outstanding result for the band, who seemed delighted at the announcement of the results. It takes a lot of character from players to perform as well as this – and a big pat on the back should go to the MD who gave encouragement to his band in the form of a free flowing interpretation that allowed the players the time and space in which to express themselves.
Crystal Palace and their MD, M. Gray equalled last years placing of fourth with a performance that again had its moments. Consistency was crucial on the day with the challenge of linking the variations together just about being met here. Crystal Palace did ok though from a draw right in the middle of the contest (seven) and whilst it didn't have the cutting edge of the top two qualifiers was an interpretation worthy of featuring in the prizes.
East London, Capital Concert and Epping Forest were the remaining three bands that made an impression on us, as after them it became a bit of a scrapheap of troubles for the competitors.
East London under S. Earley struggled at times with some of the variations, but with a bit more consistency in the middle variations could have finished higher. It was the troubles with the Arabesque and alla polacca that undid them though (as it did for the rest who came below them here) and it was a pity, as some of the other work had a stamp of authority about it.
Epping Forest have just come down from the First Section and at times found this really hard going. As with everybody else, it had some nice moments, but the tempo in the variations and overall quality of sound stopped them finishing higher and once more it was the lack of care taken in those two main variations of the Arabesque (where the flowing lines didn't coincide with the simple melody) and the alla polacca (again taken at too quick a speed for a Polonaise danse) that undid their challenge.
Capital Concert Brass was a band that held it together when at times you were waiting for it to wobble big time, and there were a few too many moments when they got close to the edge of the precipice, only to drag themselves back from musical oblivion by some judicious conducting from the man in the middle.
Betteshanger Welfare's performance was missed by us (sorry folks) due to our attempts to be Houdini and be in two contests at the same time. We were informed though that the band's performance was on a par with many that were sandwiched in the middle. At times, it was ok, whilst on other occasions; it was a long way off the mark.
Yiewsley & West Drayton, Tilbury and Ware Brass all struggled with the set work from the start. In fact it would be true to say they struggled from the dreaded bar 6, which once more in all three performances was played incorrectly. Why bands and MDs can't hear that it was sounding like two semi quavers instead of two triplet quavers was beyond us. At times thereafter, it was hard work and in some cases, it was never going to happen and the music was just too much for them all. Again the two main variations caught them out in the Arabesque and alla polacca, whilst the secondary Fugue was again taken at a tempo that was increased from that of the opening statement of the work. These were basic errors of musical misjudgement for us.
Brighton & Hove City Brass followed Betteshanger in the draw and sadly they were another band who failed to match their intentions to the execution of the piece. Too many errors in the ensemble and by individuals robbed them of any chance of coming higher than their eventual 12th place.
Last but not least, Fulbourn and Teversham RBL. Having come up from the Third Section, the band found the step up and the test piece to be a bit more than they were comfortable with. Last place perhaps was a touch unfortunate but it was a performance that was never going to trouble the adjudicator on the day, although they will surely not be faced with such a severe test next time around. Saying that though, would they have rather have played ‘Variations' or ‘Tam O'Shanter'?
Once again, ‘Variations for Brass Band' was a tough ask for a lot of the bands here. The top two were clearly above the rest of the field, but didn't get away without a few blemishes, whilst for the majority, sadly, it was just a test piece asking for more than they were capable of on the day.
Not so the winners, Sandhurst and the MD, Roger Burke. This was classy, consistent and well thought out. In fact, everything a winning performance at any level should be. Get the distillery to bottle it now, and they could make a fortune selling it to Championship Section bands.
Swiss National Brass Band Championships
Venue: Montreux Music and Convention Centre, Grand-Rue 95, CH-1820 Montreux, tel. +41 21 962 20 00, fax +41 21 962 20 20 CH-1820