2006 West of England Regional Championships - Championship Section retrospective23-Mar-2006
It was always going to be a close run contest here in the top section - but how close nobody could have guesssed. Right down to the very last band in fact.
Philip Harper and his PolySteel Band must be starting to wonder what they have to do to qualify for the National finals in London. It's now three years in a row that the band has missed out; the last two years seeing the band finish in third place with just the two qualification spots up for grabs.
Journey to Kensington: Mount Charles on their way to victory
PolySteel were the first band on Sunday to bring ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth' to life with a performance that not only left many thinking ‘that will be tough to beat, let alone qualify' - only to be beaten at the post by the last two bands onto the stage, Camborne and Mount Charles.
Camborne played number ten and under the charismatic and inspirational leadership of Frank Renton produced a performance that grew in stature as it developed, and although it wasn't as inspiring as Polysteel, it had plenty admire about it. And so we had the two qualifiers for London – or so we thought.
On came Mount Charles with Dr Nicholas Childs at the helm who gave a performance that wasn't error free, but had so much to admire about it; none more so in the slow middle movement and a magical Day of Rest, and this what in the end gave them the edge. 4BR's top three was Polysteel, Mount Charles and Camborne and for Geoffrey Whitham and Denis Wilby, their taste buds had been tickled by Mount Charles and Camborne and that's all that mattered. PolySteel it has to be said can consider themselves very unlucky not to win, let alone qualify.
Sadly, somebody decided to shout ‘Rubbish!' at Polysteel's placing when it was announced – whether it was somebody connected with a band, be it player or supporter, or just a general member of the public, we don't know, but people should behave better whether they agree with something or not.
This result delighted both band and conductor Nicholas Childs of course; the latter turning round in his car to join in the celebrations, having began the long journey home to Yorkshire. Mount Charles was extremely disappointed by their placing at Butlins earlier this year but a return to London in October after missing out in 2005 certainly makes up for that disappointment.
Overall the standard was a mixed bag with the piece proving to be too difficult for some. Aldbourne and Bournemouth Concert produced strong performances to give the adjudicators something to ponder and they were worthy of a top six berth, whilst SWT Woodfalls and Garry Cutt just didn't quite have the cutting edge on the day to make it into the top three, finishing fourth.
Back to the beginning though and with the withdrawal of City of Bristol, eleven bands commenced battle at 5pm.
St Austell drew number one and having waited an age to commence their performance due to the recovery of a missing music stand, they produced a performance that suffered from too many insecurities in the ensemble and solo lines to feature.
Whilst the trombones at the opening were fine, the cornets didn't match them and as things progressed, it became clear that those errors were going to prove costly. It was only at the Day of Rest that the performance settled and this was their finest moment; some nice horn and baritone, along with the soprano. The whispering was chanted and not effective, and although the ‘Battle' was exciting, the band sounded tired towards the end.
Lanner & District Silver followed St Austell on stage and as committed as they were to the cause, it never really settled down and at the end, they looked a tired band, on a par with dragging musical bags of rocks on the back for the MD. Wrong entries and some wrong notes, but if it had started better and had more confidence about it, then it would have been a completely different performance. The Day of Rest featured some nice horn sounds, but the ensemble playing wasn't the best and some over-blowing at the end knocked things out of tune slightly.
The last time Garry Cutt conducted SWT Woodfalls here in 2002, they secured victory and with the first two performances failing to convince, it was going to be interesting to see how the band would respond to an MD who'd conducted Fodens to victory, seven days previously.
It was good and at times extremely good, but it never had the polished finish that was needed overall; a little bit like the army boots, clean, spotless, but you can't see your face in them, and it just needed that little bit more finesse about it to take it into the top three.
The opening had great atmosphere with the trombones using hat mutes and some lovely shaped phrases from the cornets including a soprano player that stood out for us as one of the best of the day. The tempos were brisk and the trombone was fabulous in his solo passage. The whispering was by far the best at that point, but there were clips around the stand, A big strong finish seemed to set them up nicely though.
So what about PolySteel?
‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth' was their kind of piece for sure and Philip Harper was pumped up; we can only apologise for not having a camera upstairs because some of his facial expressions were brilliant - the MD was completely engrossed in the performance.
This show from PolySteel reflected ‘JIT' – Just in Time Management – a performance that peaked on contest day itself. Fair enough, Chris Howley didn't have his finest day on top man, but the other soloists more than compensated for that.
The atmospheric opening featured the best opening percussion of the day, nice trombones and a baritone part that could be heard. The overall sound projection was in a different league to anything that had been heard previously and not only was the style great, but it had that level of excitement to go with it. The euphoniums were clean and clear (something else that hadn't really been heard until now) and the bass duet wasn't bad at all. In the Day of Rest there was some nice sounding horns and baritone work going on, but the trombone didn't click into the right style. This was the band to beat though at this point and the basses were a different class when it came to the ‘Battle' Section. A fine close, and rapturous applause from the audience. The rest was in the hands of the adjudicators.
Bodmin Town had the unenviable task of following PolySteel on stage and as with St Austell and Lanner, they never really settled down or sound at home with the music.
The opening wasn't great and it just took too long to settle and they didn't have the greatest of interpretations on the day. Wrong notes and insecurities around the stand, it just didn't settle and if it had it done it could have become a decent show with the basses in the ‘Battle' section on top form. Sadly even they looked and sounded tired at the end.
Steve Sykes led Aldbourne's challenge here after being promoted from Section One, and what a cracking show this was. They thoroughly deserved a top six placing and although they didn't quite have the sound of the top three, the MD got inside the score and pulled every ounce of effort out of the band to produce a convincing performance.
The atmospheric opening developed into a fine opening and it was progressing it was a case of …‘how good could this become?' The tempos were fine and some of the best bass playing of the day came from Lyndon Baglin and the MD's son, Stephen was at ease with his trombone part. The solo cornet and flugel did well on the whole and the battle was impressive. Aldbourne would have been unlucky to finish outside the top six and they will no doubt have been delighted with fifth place.
David Barringer led Yeovil's challenge, but their performance never really captivated the adjudicators or impressed ourselves into thinking that a top six place was on the cards.
It was one of those performances that had it started confidently, then it would have grown, but a poor start meant that it took a while to settle with not the best solo playing, and if they'd started as they had finished it would have been a different story altogether.
Bournemouth like Aldbourne produced a show that was worthy of a top six placing on the day. If it had just that extra layer of polish upon it throughout, it could have sneaked into the top four. It was tight and steady - not quite edge of the seat stuff, but there wasn't much loose playing on offer either. There were a few nerves in the solo lines from trombone and solo cornet, but the soprano was fabulous throughout. The whispering section caught our eyes as well as our ears too with the euphonium player whispering into his bell that was pointing out towards the audience whilst the bass trombone was excellent. Just a tinge of tiredness crept in towards the end though of what was an impressive show.
Sherborne with Paul Cosh at the helm found the step up from the First Section into the Championship a little tough going. Whilst they came in last place, they did have some fine moments and the MDs tempos were quite deliberate in their execution. Sherborne was the only band at this point where the bass drum player played the accent on the first note, and the performance was very nervous throughout. That was a shame because if it had settled down and the band relaxed, the overall result could have been different.
Frank Renton walked onto the stage like a man on a mission. Camborne's draw of number ten was perfect for them and as they progressed they became inspired. They didn't start of too well though with the cornets not being 100% at the opening, but when they got into their stride, the performance got stronger all the way through with the MD producing so much positive energy that was communicated to the players. Some slips and clips for sure, but it was a full blooded committed offering that had a wonderful battle section and a fabulous closing section.
With just Mount Charles to come it was in second place for us with just the one band to come…
It was 8.30pm when Mount Charles took to the stage. Although we didn't pick up the bass drum, there was atmosphere in the opening and the music had time to breathe. Although there were clips, it was already evident that this was going to be a performance that would be pushing near the top.
Then we came to a magical Day of Rest and typical of the MD in the way he can get the right ambiance time and time again. Nick Hudson milked his trombone part for all it was worth and although the principal cornet didn't have their finest hour, congratulations go the soprano and horn who were excellent and brought so much into the performance.
Come the end of a fine display, it was definitely a top two show and in the end, the slow movement was the real difference on the night. Adjudicator Geoffrey Whitham thought the performance was magical indeed and it was that little bit of inspiration from Nicholas Childs that was the difference between first and second on the day with Camborne therefore edging out PolySteel into third.
It had been a high class contest with high class performances. The result was in doubt right to the end (just as it should be) and although PolySteel will be disappointed for sure, they can take comfort in the fact that if the two qualifiers play like this at the Finals, a top four place may well be secured and in return an additional qualification place for 2007.
Malcolm Wood and Rob Richardson
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North West Regional Championships
Venue: Winter Gardens Complex, Church Street, Blackpool. FY1 1HU