2006 North West Regional Championships - Introduction

8-Mar-2006

There is a belief that the good folk of the North West are a bit more sophisticted than their rivals over the Pennines, but does that mean they breed better bands?


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 that 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 feel 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  No, the Winter Gardens are a monument to a time long gone which has now been replaced by the manic charge for cash and cheap entertainment: that is what Blackpool has been all about for donkey's years.

Still, the bands love it and 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 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 of late tend to prove that right).

Championship Section:

The traditional heavyweights of Fodens and Fariey's have been matched in recent years by the likes of Leyland (who currently hold the upper hand over them all) and the up and coming talents of Dobcross, BT and Wingates to name a few. 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 and last year Leyland came back home with the old silver pot itself didn't they? 

This is banding of a very high level indeed here and due to Leyland's success there will once again be three bands in Kensington in October.

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

First Section:

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. In the last seven out of eight years at least one band has gone from here and come in the top six at the Finals and in the last three years that has included at least one podium finish. Last year's representatives came 3rd and 9th.

Second Section:

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. Again, in seven out of the last eight years at least one North West band has gone on and come in the top six at the Finals and last year's representatives came a very worthy and well deserved 2nd and 4th.

Third Section:

The Third Section is simply the one in which the bands that qualify tend to win the National title itself – six times since 1997 in fact and not one representatives since 1999 has gone from here and come outside the top 10. That shows how good the level is here, so don't miss out on the chance to hear these play.

Fourth Section:

Finally the Fourth Section where a healthy field of bands really does show off the talent and vibrant nature of the movement here to the full. Last year Valley Brass (Haydock) went to Harrogate and came back as National Champions whilst The Oldham Band (Less) came a creditable 4th. With two National wins since 2003 and with bands from here coming in the top six in six of the last eight years, you can see why any qualifier will fancy their chances in Harrogate.

The North West can boast a total of 73 bands on parade on the one day here, whilst Yorkshire can only muster 61 this year. Everywhere you look and listen here you will find a movement that is in good health. 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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