2005 Pontins Championships - Fourth Section Retrospective

2-Nov-2005

There was only one winner here in the Fourth Section - and with the organisation they have in place, Oldham Band (Lees) could by looking at a long winning streak indeed.


Oldham (Lees) Band
Oldham (Lees) Band celebrate their win.

It is not often you come away from a Fourth Section contest at a National event feeling slightly disappointed, but that was the overall feeling we had after what promised to be a cracking contest failed to live up to expectations.

The reason was that it was one of those contests that was quite easy to split into clearly defined sections, with the winners Oldham Band (Lees) a class apart from the rest of the field. They were then followed by three good quality performances from Pemberton B, Uppermill and Wellington (Telford), all of whom brought something tangible to the music and met the technical challenges it posed with confidence. Those four bands stood out on the day by quite a margin.

There then followed a group of five or six bands from Dodworth Miners Welfare Phoenix down to Greenfield and Coppull who could have been placed in any order, before the final five which found the test piece, John Golland's ‘Prelude, Song and Dance' a struggle of varying intensity.

In a welcome move by the organisers the two men in the box happened to be the two men who the next day were to judge the very best bands here in the Championship Section: Geoffrey Whitham and Nigel Boddice. That meant two good brass musicians in the box, both with strong views and opinions, and it was nice to hear them address the audience before the results with purposeful and constructive comments about the playing and not just the usual platitudes that sometimes pass at this level of thanking everyone, thinking its great so many youngsters played etc.

Geoffrey Whitham said the set work had provided an excellent test which was well within the range of the bands. It needed style and shape and the second movement (the lovely ‘Song') proved to be the real tester.

Nigel Boddice meanwhile noted that they had to look at the basics before anything else: tuning, note lengths, balance, sound, dynamics, clarity and phrasing. These were the functional aspects of a performance and whilst he appreciated that there were a lot of young players on show, the comments both had made were not ‘dressed up' as he neatly put it to cover the deficiencies they had most obviously heard.

Both men should be congratulated for the way in which they explained themselves and the trainee judge who was with them would have had a real education – and not just because of Geoffrey Whitham's colourful use of the English language, which Nigel stated the next day, saw him enter the box a boy and leave a man with a whole new list of words for the Scottish version of the English language dictionary!

Oldham (Lees) MD John CollinsBack to the contest though and the winners. We had heard Oldham Band (Lees) at Harrogate last month and they made a fine impression on us there even though they did not win the contest. MD John Collins is one of the brightest and musically intelligent conductors working at this level with an exemplary approach to encouraging his young players to perform without ever losing sight of the very basics Nigel Boddice talked about.

His band stood not because they were technically any better than the other three quality performances on show on the day (although they were very neat and tidy), but because musically they were in a different league. The balance and warmth of the sound was excellent, whilst there was real clarity in the ensemble and security to the leading lines. The opening Fanfare like prelude was so cleanly articulated whilst the horn section in particular carried the theme towards the end above the band without ever sounding forced or harsh.

The second movement was a joy. A lovely bass foundation allowed the soprano to star as well as little cameo roles such as from the glock to be heard with real precision. The euphs and baritones produced a full cantabile sound, and all at a quiet dynamic.

Finally, the third movement and its almost Bavarian inspired dance, where the bass end once more provided a foundation that bounced along in playful style. Everyone had a part to play as the piece developed and by the time the final fortissimo section was played with a facility that so impressed they had overcome the ‘Swanee Whistle' inspired last chord without losing stamina and still keeping the basics under control. It was an exemplary performance.

Although his players will deservedly take the plaudits, MD John Collins should take a great deal of the credit. There was a great number of MDs throughout the entire weekend who could learn something from his approach to directing a band both on and off the stage.

4BR caught up with him both after the band had played and later the next day when the celebrations of orange pop, crisps and beefburgers (there were a lot of youngsters in the band) had taken it toll. He was still beaming like a Cheshire cat though. 

"I try to instill the basics of good playing to the youngsters – as well as making playing in a brass band fun and exciting" said John. "They have worked so hard on this piece in the past few weeks and the discipline and commitment they show is great. It is a pleasure to conduct them as they are so receptive to what I am trying to achieve and the atmosphere in the band is great."

The rest of the banding movement had better watch out though for John has real ambitions for his band: "We aim to try and go as far as possible, to try and build a strong community based band and give the children a real sense of enjoyment about playing their brass instruments. We have the system in place that we feel works well and we want to go on and win the Nationals if we can in 2006. We have about 2 years left before we start losing players to University, but we have already made sure that their replacements are already on line for when that time comes."

That is what we call proper planning for the future – and you really do feel that this talented musician deserves the success that will surely come his way with his inspirational leadership. Oldham Band (Lees) are a band to watch out for in 2006 and beyond.

With the question of the winners firmly settled off the number 6 draw there was still plenty of time for the following ten bands to really make their mark. In the event only the one did and that was Wellington (Telford) who played last but one.

Before that the contest had started with Pemberton Old B under Peter Ashley providing the early marker off the number 2 draw slot with a nicely worked performance that really did have its moments of quality in each of the three sections. It was a very clean and rhythmic rendition too, full of life and vibrancy, but just lacked the same quality in the middle movement where tuning robbed the picture. It was still a fine show though and second place was bang on the money.

Uppermill and the experienced Alan Widdop claimed the final podium place with a very neat account and a third movement that really sparkled. That left a favourable impression and although the middle movement once more caught the band out slightly in terms of style and tuning, overall it was a show that had the hallmarks of very nearly mastering those essential basics.

The final band to really come to terms with the piece were Wellington (Telford) who gave the judges something to think about right at the end of the day with a lovely balanced opening section and a finale that really captured the dance like feel required. They too suffered a little in the middle section with intonation problems, but overall it was the only other performance on the day that managed consistency of purpose linked to execution.

It was difficult to disagree with the placings of these bands behind Oldham and if they had changed places it wouldn't have been a surprise or not merited. They were all a distance behind the winners though.

After this there was a distinct drop in the standard with the likes of Dodworth, Rivington, Bream, Dobcross Youth, Formby and Greenfield lacking the overall consistency, especially in the tuning to really press for a higher place.

There wasn't much to choose between these bands – or to be fair Coppull who were 11th, and you could have out a pretty good case forward for any of them to change positions with each other. The two men in the box though felt that it was the issue of tuning that could separate them out and so the likes of Dobcross Youth and Rivington found themselves losing points to their rivals because it was this that blighted their two performances most.

Dodworth had plenty of youthful enthusiasm and got off to a fine start but like Bream the longer the piece went along the more errors crept in and the balance and warmth ebbed away. The second movement once more cost points.

The other two bands that made up this mini contest, Greenfield and Coppull and Standish had performances cut right from the same cloth: good starts, lack of stamina to end with too much poor tuning in the middle movement that robbed the overall musical picture.

It may seem a bit trite to condense these performances in such a manner, but all seven had the same obvious strengths and weaknesses. Formby for instance seemed to by heading in the right direction after the first movement, but couldn't get any warmth of tone in the second section to help them in the second, whilst Coppull suffered the same fate. The tuning cost Dobcross and Rivington especially in the second movement and Dodworth to a lesser extent and Greenfield to a greater one just lacked consistency.

These bands though didn't half as much suffer as the bottom five. Here it was a real struggle and although we must take into account the difficulties faced by bands at this level, the MDs could and should have tried to do ore about the tuning, which at times was so far out it could have been bathing in the sea. It wasn't AWOL more like totally absent and not coming back.

Denton really suffered the most off the number 1 draw, despite lots of encouragement and a sensible approach from Clive Fox, whilst Besses Boys never really found themselves at ease with the style required and it just became a bit of a blow through and hope for the best approach. Lots of talent here, but it must be disciplined talent. Dronfield also suffered the same fate with some nice moments in the outer two sections spoilt by some gruesome tuning problems in the middle section of the work. Finally Eatons Farnsworth who we have heard on much better form than this and who couldn't quite match up the technical and musical aspects enough this time around and Trentham who started well enough but fell away as the piece progressed. Tuning in all these performances was the bug bear which at times obliterated all the good work the bands and some young players were putting in.  

Young Nigel Wicks of the Trentham Band who was 6 years of age and the youngest player on the day may well be disappointed but we think in years to come he will enjoying plenty of success.

The youngsters of Oldham Band (Lees) though are enjoying that success now, and on Saturday they certainly deserved it. Look out for them in 2006, they could well be one of the bands to beat wherever they compete.

Iwan Fox

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