2006 Midlands Regional Championships - Second Section retrospective

16-Mar-2006

Images of the Millennium was a very strong test for the bands here, but Foresters Brass 2000 made it sound quite easy and gave Stan and Pete an easy job to pick the winners.


One of the biggest cheers of the Second Section contest at Burton on Trent came when Stan Lippeatt turned to the audience during his post contest eulogy and nonchalantly pointed out that the top two bands had given better performances of Howard Snell's ‘Images of the Millennium' than anything he had heard in Yorkshire the previous weekend.

Foresters 2000
Foresters 2000 - The 2006 vintage enjoy the victory at Burton

By this point Peter Roberts had already indicated that two bands had made their decision easy for them and in this respect Messrs. Lippeatt and Roberts were absolutely on the money.

It was not simply the case that Foresters Brass 2000 and Hopkins Solicitors Blidworth were ahead of the field. They were a country mile ahead of it. In fact they obliterated the competition to the point that the two points separating Blidworth from third place Carlton Brass, themselves one of the pre- contest favourites, seemed woefully inadequate.

Equally noticeable however was the fact that Foresters, under the impressive direction of Pete Collins, were in a league of their own. The fact that they had a comfortable number six draw was irrelevant. They could have played the previous day and still won by a margin.

Peter Roberts and Stan Lippeatt were warm in their appreciation of all of the band's performances and once again, rightly so. The difficulties of the piece were certainly not swept under the carpet but to credit the efforts of the competitors was absolutely right and proper.    Not surprisingly Peter Roberts got a congratulatory word in for the sopranos of the day, whilst adding that every band had managed to get something out of the piece, however small. Yet the fact of the matter was that despite the valiant attempts of the bands and their MD's (and there was not one performance lacking determination in abundance) it was painful, at times excruciatingly so, to hear bands wrestling with music that they were simply not technically equipped to play.

Given the cumulative body of evidence following on from Yorkshire the week before, it is to be hoped that the choice of test piece for next year's second section area rounds will be thought through in a great deal more depth than was the case for this year.

Phoenix West Midlands were a good pre-contest bet for a prize, but despite a spirited attempt off the number one draw there were just too many slips to get them anywhere near the top four.

A good band sound was marred by a lack of detail, particularly in the cornets, with the soprano having something of a nightmare in all three movements and probably feeling glad that the hall was nearly empty at that early hour. Disappointment seemed to be etched on the player's faces as they went off stage clearly knowing that they could have done better.

Geoff Hawley and Blidworth got off to a slightly nervy start in the opening couple of bars (throughout the whole contest there was hardly a band who managed to make the opening sound convincing) but once settled it soon became clear that this was a scrupulously prepared group of players. However difficult the band may have found the notes in the opening movement the playing was never short of musical and never over blown.

The extremely difficult and exposed second movement was marked by fastidiously observed dynamics (the most faithful to the score of the day we would say) and careful attention to the line of the music. Individual player's contributions were generally sound and the soprano in particular came through admirably unscathed.

Detail was there in abundance in the final movement and once again the dynamic control was such that the big sounds were saved for the big moments, something that only the winners were to emulate as so many bands tried to screen a lack of detail with sheer volume. This was clearly going to be a performance to beat.

Carlton Brass was our prediction to pip Blidworth to the winning post and they are another band that would have come to the stage with high hopes. Like Blidworth the opening bars did not settle although momentum was soon gathered albeit without the quality of detail in the running lines that had marked Blidworth out.

The second movement was not without its atmospheric moments but the musical line did not always flow and heavy handed dynamics occasionally unsettled the overall effect. Big sounds in the final movement spilled over into aggression at times although the band's sound paid off at the close to bring the performance to an exciting close. Tony Wilson directed well from the middle but overall the finesse was not there and we would go along with third place being the right result.

If there was a prize for the most heart warming performance of the day it would undoubtedly have gone to Marie Smith and Shirland Welfare Training. There were some very young faces around the stands here; bolstered by a handful of more mature mentors and the band can be very proud of a performance that saw them hold their own against bands with considerably more experience in the ranks.

True, the players were unable to sustain the quality of the opening movement through to the very end but the opening certainly flowed very nicely with relatively few individual blips. The flow was lost slightly in the central movement but the cornet section in particular put in some good work before tiredness started to get the better of things in the final movement. A creditable effort though and one which easily deserved its placing in the middle order of the results.

Porthywaen set off at a tempo seeming to indicate that they could not wait to get to the end. The music is difficult enough at a more sedate speed and it was not long before casualties started to appear. Everything felt horribly rushed and it was.

Oddly the same was true of the slow movement where the fast flowing tempo didn't seem to allow the music time to breathe. As a result the players were able to generate little if any sense of atmosphere although the soprano shone through as one of the successes of the performance.

Things settled down to some degree in the final movement but the notes were simply too difficult overall and the band's fifth placing was bolstered somewhat by the lack of quality lower down the field.

From beginning to end Foresters Brass 2000 and their young conductor Peter Collins were a class outfit and judging by this performance would have given many of the top bands in the first section a pretty serious run for their money. The ranks were swelled by some very experienced players around the stands, amongst them ex William Davis trombonist Ian Lawson and long standing Forester's stalwart Andy Bates on soprano. That said, even they didn't manage to completely nail the opening bars (there wasn't one band on the day that was entirely convincing here) but other than that it was a show of real quality.

Dynamics were impressive in the opening movement with a big, but rounded band sound and detail in the cornets that came through with admirable clarity. The whole band contributed to a central movement that displayed a confidence in the playing that had been missing from every other performance other than Blidworth but here there was an added polish in the ensemble that simply put it miles ahead. Pete Collins, whose intelligent direction was a highlight of the performance as a whole, shaped the lines of the final movement exceptionally well to bring things to a rousing conclusion that summed up a show of real band strength.

Rob Boulter, the MD of Unity Brass, easily won the prize for the most outrageous conductor's outfit of the day when he took to the stage in a vivid (and we mean vivid) shirt illustrated with large sunflowers. Maybe it was some kind of reaction to the fact that it was snowing a blizzard outside at the time although it may well have had a detrimental effect on his player's concentration who gave a performance that started with great promise and ended up as something of a train wreck.

A strong opening (one of the most confident of the day) revealed a good band sound and bold presentation which although not overly subtle got up quite a head of steam. All went very well until the slow movement when the train seemed to come off the rails in spectacular fashion. Suddenly confidence crashed and nerves kicked in with a vengeance leaving the confidence of the first movement way behind. Unfortunately the tone was then set for everything that followed and poor intonation allied with cornet problems in the upper registers conspired to ensure that the final movement lacked any real presence.

Neither Harborough, Stamford nor Daventry Brass really got their performances off the ground with all three finding the going very difficult indeed. The final three places were taken by them in the order they played (eight, nine and ten respectively) and although they would have been licking their wounds they can at least take heart from the fact that they gave of their very best in exceptionally difficult circumstances.

That left Shirebrook MW Unison and Wigston to bring up the rear guard, taking to the stage on an eleven and twelve draw. In Shirebrook's case they would have felt pretty hard done to by their ninth place. Taking no risks with a fairly safe tempo to start they got through the opening movement with a fair bit of gusto, even if the soloists did not survive entirely intact. A few nerves marred the central movement although the band still succeeded in creating an atmosphere and there were fleeting moments when the music had real poise. Ultimately though there were just too many individual slips through all three movements which no doubt cost them dearly with the adjudicators.

Wigston, benefiting from the enthusiasm of Gary Sleath who was one of the more dynamic conductors of the day, gave a confident performance that put them in close contention for Carlton's third place. As it was they finished a convincing fourth and for our money were well ahead of the one point difference that separated them from fifth place Porthywaen. Wigston's slow movement was one of the least error strewn of the day and although the outer movements were not always as tidy the band would have come off stage well pleased with their efforts, if not the result.

This was one section then where justice was clearly done. Certainly there were bands we would have favoured pre-contest (Carlton for one) that faltered under the strain of it all but in Foresters and Blidworth the contest produced two bands that are certainly technically equipped to fight it out in the first section next year. The rest of the field will survive the wreckage to fight another day, albeit no doubt hoping that their next test is not quite as unforgiving as this one was.

Christopher Thomas.

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