2006 London and Southern Counties Regional Championships - Introduction

15-Mar-2006

We have said in the past that it is easy to dismiss the level and standard of banding in London and the Southern Counties. That may have been true in the fairly distant past, but not now it isn’t.


Last year bands from the area made an impression at all levels from Championship to Fourth, not just at the Nationals but also around the country. There certainly is quantity in the banding scene here, but now it appears there is quality too.

Redbridge led the way and in 2005 they showed tantalizing glimpses that they could well be the first top section band to break into the top six at the Albert Hall for the first time since 1989, whilst there was also encouraging results for the other top flight bands too.

The First Section saw a very fine performance from Staines Brass come runners up at Harrogate whilst the other two qualifiers more than held their own, whilst in the Second Section there were two top ten places for Horsham Borough who came 5th and Sandhurst Silver who came 10th.

Add to that a fantastic win for Jersey Premeir Brass in the Third Section and a 5th place for Norfolk Wherry Brass in the Fourth and you can see why the rest of the banding movement is sitting up to take note.
There are a number of very good young conductors coming through too, with Simon Dobson in particular a talent to watch out for in the top section, whilst others such as Sarah Groarke and Tim Pritchard others who have in the past couple of years made a name for themselves.  There is also plenty of quality experience too though with the likes of Melvin White and Nigel Taken still at the head of the field.  

This year there are 84 bands down to compete (up 2 from twelve months ago), and even if there are a few withdrawals here and there, this represents a wonderful turn out (and an amazing headache for the well run Regional Committee who perform minor miracles in accommodating all the bands over the two days here). 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 2005, there were real signs that the bands from the region were getting stronger and stronger.  2006 could really be a breakthrough year.

Championship Section:

The band to beat it seems is Redbridge who last year took the title for the fourth consecutive year and for the ninth time in their history. If they make it a nap hand this time they will draw level with Hanwell in second place on ten wins, just one behind the famous Morris Motors band who hold the record for wins here.

They may be favourites, but they will face stern opposition from Aveley and Newham, their traditional rivals and many more. It is not a sure fire bet two horse race anymore here. When the band do get to the finals it may be asking a bit much for them to win the big pot and become the first band since Luton in 1923 to become National Champions, whilst it is also a big ask for both to come in the top six Ė but it is realistic for the two best bands here to make it into the top ten.

Last year Redbridge were very solid in coming 7th, whilst Aveley did disappoint somewhat in coming 18th. If they can both make it again this year they should be both confident of improving on those results.  Others could well push them though with the likes of Staines who were so good in Harrogate coming up a level and the two student inspired outfits of Alliance Brass under John Clarke and Zone One Brass under Simon Dobson also ones to look out for. Colin Hardy will be the man to cast his eye over the performances here.

First Section:

After Staines heroics in Harrogate it will be interesting to see which bands come to the fore this year here. Bands from the area have come in the top six in four of the last five years at the Finals, and there is no reason to suggest that any of the qualifiers who do get through this time won't do just as well.

Last year Clacton on Sea came 12th (a little unlucky if truth be told) and Wantage Silver A, 15th at Harrogate and whilst Clacton and Staines have moved up a section to the top tier, Wantage remain and will be leading the battle to return to the Finals once more.  David Horsfield will be the man to impress in the box.

Second Section:

You have to go back to 1977 for the last time a band from the Region took top honours in the Second Section when Clacton on Sea won under R. Howard, but last year there were two strong contenders in Horsham and Sandhurst who came 5th and 10th respectively. Both of these bands have moved up a section too, so it will be a keen battle we think between the rest to see if they can book a place in Harrogate in September.  Chris Wormald has the task of picking out the winners.

Third Section:

With Jersey winning the National title in such splendid fashion last year, they move up a section with Hitchin, although St. Sebastian Wokingham remain and will be looking for a return trip to Harrogate for certain. The qualifiers from here haven't done too badly over the years with top ten finishes in the last eight years for at least one qualifier. Don't know of any of the bands here will eventually go on and emulate Jersey this time as the two other qualifiers could only mange 13th and 17th respectively, but you never know. Colin Hardy is the man with the difficult task of separating out the bands.

Fourth Section:

The last National Champions in the Fourth Section to come from the area were Potters Bar in 2004, but in five of the last eight years bands from here have come in the top six. Last year the qualifiers, Norfolk Wherry, Fulham Brass and Blectchington Silver came 5th, 16th and 18th, so it was a little bit of a mixed bag that did show some promise. Norfolk and Fulham have since moved up a section, but Bletchington remain to battle it out again. It's a large feiled though and Chris Wormald will certainly have his work cut out to pick the best bands here in what promises to be a close run contest. 

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.

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