2006 North West Regional Championships - Postcard from Blackpool

16-Mar-2006

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside - not when its cold enough to freeze the appendages off a pawn brokers sign that is.


When John A. Glover-Kind wrote the famous words to ‘I do like to be beside the Seaside' it most probably was a beautiful summer's day in the early 1900s.  That of course is our idyllic thought as to how any British seaside town should be when we visit.

Snow bound
Get the costumes out lads - sunny Blackpool for the bands!
Picture: John Stirzaker


To arrive in what was becoming a blizzard last Sunday was practically unheard of in Blackpool ever since those balmy Edwardian days of old.  Blackpool Brass representatives estimated that it was the late 1980s since any significant snow fell and stuck to the pavements in the town, which is fine, but as we all made our way along the M55 into Blackpool and on the local roads into the town, there was one question and one question only: ‘Where were the gritters?'

Maybe it was complacency but the roads were being salted the previous evening around Blackpool and the forecast was for heavy snow overnight. The forecasters predicted it, but the Council/Highways Agency it would appear didn't act upon it; the result was that the final approaches into Blackpool were uncertain for many, and it was a relief just to have arrived. Getting home safely was something they'd contemplate later.

The day could have been Regional Secretary Peter Bates' worse nightmare.  He didn't really know what was going to happen, but had contingency plans in place for bands that might not get there on time, and although there were a couple of mishaps, everyone soldered on regardless with the type of British resolve that some patriotic wag said you wouldn't get with the likes of Johnny Foreigner. Good old Blackpool eh? Home to the bastion of Europeanism.

Once inside though, the Winter Gardens was like Siberia.  Clearly the central heating system wasn't equipped to cope with temperatures not much above zero and even though it was on (and it did warm up eventually) it was freezing in every hall, and the warmest places were probably in the adjudicating boxes.

The weather put pay to the 4BR editor's sojourn to the North West area as he was marooned in Wales, and instead of listening to some of the finest lower sections in the UK, endured another Liverpool defeat, although a rueful smile will have crossed his lips as the English rugby team failed dismally once more.

With a stiff upper lip everyone got on with the day though and everybody along with those who got them to the venues via coaches, cars etc deserve acknowledging for their determined efforts.

It was a day when it was more appealing to stay at home in front of the fire, enjoy the Sunday roast, a feast of sport and a day with the family.  Having worked hard for weeks though, the North West Region just got on with it and had a right good day of contesting, no matter what the weather was doing outside.

True, the attendance was down in the halls compared with previous years, because if you weren't directly involved you stayed at home, but the standard of the contests was excellent with only the Championship being a bit of a disappointment.

You'll never really get the good folk of Yorkshire and the North West Regions to agree on just who has the best bands, but it's safe to say that whilst Yorkshire's Championship bands produced a better standard than their North West counterparts, without doubt the lower sections here were much better.

The Championship Section was a damp squib.  There were only four performances of real merit with Foden's being exceptional and Fairey's solid whilst Leyland never matched their form from Kensington last October. The rest were much of a muchness, and even up to the very last band taking to the stage, the contest was there to be won, and a qualification place was very much still on offer to a band that could just deliver the goods. Leyland would be pleased they didn't have to qualify here, for this wasn't them on great form. Belfast will be different though we are sure.

Wire Brass meanwhile continued to enhance its reputation with victory in the First Section at its first attempt and they've not even been going five years.  United Co-op (Crewe) will join them in Harrogate later in the year in what was a good fight on Voyage of Discovery.

Blackpool Brass and Bollington managed to overcome the difficult ‘Images of the Millennium' with enough quality to make a rare appearance in the National Finals.  The Second Section bands certainly had a real good go at Howard Snell's work and despite being one of the strongest regions at this level, it was too much for far too many, confirming what everybody now knows that its been a poor selection.

Rainford will make a return to the National Finals for the first time since 1991 much to the delight of band chairman – 4BR's John James, and it wasn't a bad day for Kevin Gibbs either as he directed Flixton into second place before helping Faireys in the top section.

Once again, the Fourth Section was great fun, with Oldham (Lees) retaining its title from last year; this test piece has really caught the imagination of everybody whose performed and listened to it and the winning performance here will be rarely if ever bettered this year.

The Northwest region also saw the conducting debuts of two Black Dyke stalwarts, John Doyle and David Thornton.  John took Tarleton whilst David conducted Eagley; both of them seemed to really enjoy the experience – Mr Thornton gave an indication he could be a bit of a mover on the dance floor moving slickly in front of his band; It's safe to say though Dr Childs' position at the conducting podium at Queensbury is safe for the time being though.

It all rounded off a Blackpool to remember. For once it will not be the Championship Section that stays in the memory banks for a long time here, but the lower sections which once more showed that the region is perhaps at its strongest ever from the First Section down. As for the weather – well done to the organizers to have ensured everything went as well as it did.  If this is the effect of global warming then we should come back in November when the sun will be blazing. Oh how we do like to be beside the seaside..

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