2007 Butlins Mineworkers Championships - Second Section retrospective

25-Jan-2007

It may have taken a bit of finding for our intrepid reporter, but even though the Lakeside wasn't the greatest of venues it did provide a pretty great contest.


Listening to 17 second section bands in Skegness on a wet and windy Saturday in January sounds far from appealing, especially when the venue is the very hard to find Lakeside at the Skyline Resort. However, after a quick scout around and a few questions to the ever obliging Redcoats we were all ready and sat in our seats in plenty of time for the first band to make an appearance.  

The Lakeside was not the greatest of venues it must be said: There was a faint smell of stale beer (although that could have been us), whilst the lighting was muted and rather lacking in illumination.  The bands meanwhile had to perform seated on the same floor level as the audience, so that watching (although not listening) became a bit of a chore after the first couple of bands.

However, all that was put to once side after a few performances from the well matched bands of the set work, ‘Kaleidoscope' by Philip Sparke. This was an excellent test piece based on five variations of the Swiss song, "Das Brugger Lied" and as a result the music was enjoyed by both audience and the players alike. A special mention must go to the supporters, for this was a fantastic turnout for the bands – a full hall amost of the day that made it one of the best lower section contests we have been at for a long, long while.

The spirit of the competition was typified by the initial theme that is introduced by the back row cornets - how often do we see Championship section bands moving exposed parts to other players? Not here - all bar one band left the theme on the back row. More often than not it was out of tune or lacked rhythmic pulse, but congratulations to MDs for leaving the parts with the indented players. Incidentally, the eventual winners, Delph, were the only band to move the parts to the front row but didn't really need to as ultimately it didn't make any difference to the  final result.

In the end the top three bands, Delph conducted by Phil Goodwin, Kippax Band directed by Keith Wardle and the third placed Carlton Brass under Walter Ritchie made the job for adjudicators Alan Fernie and Peter Roberts an easy one. In sorting out the other 14 bands though they more than earned their money.

There were two primary reasons why these three bands took the top spots on the day. The first was that all three had confident and stylish principal cornet players: The second was they were all directed intelligently by their respective MDs.

While these Musical Directors saw the 5 variations each as a component that complimented the kaleidoscope of colour, form and shifting musical patterns that when put together encapsulated Sparke's wonderful piece of music, others chose to present each variation as a singular, colourless episode without any true relation to what had been presented in the initial theme. That said, all brought something to the music, but some were looking through black and white musical lens rather than full blown colour.

Sparke's music also troubled many bands in other ways.  Variation 1 with is dotted rhythms caused problems for most bands on the day.  Too many took the staccato quaver too literally and this made placing the following semiquaver almost impossible. Variations 2 (no more than a transition) and 4 (Ballad) were often insecure and in the case of the Ballad, had as much passion as you can muster in a cold, drafty, seaside chalet – at Pontins perhaps?

The waltz in Variation 3 left many flat-footed whilst Variation 5 and its Moto Perpetuo saw many come a cropper either by trying to play it too fast or by changing tempi as the tongues got tired.

In the end it was the top three bands that met these musical challenges and really produced quite excellent performances, but credit must also go to Wansbeck's Ashington who came in fourth, The Harborough Band in fifth and The Egham Band in sixth who all got more than just the basics right on the day.

First on stage were Yiewsley and West Drayton conducted by Christopher Cole who shouldn't be too disappointed coming in 9th overall. Playing off number 1 is never easy and the band sounded a little nervy in the earlier sections but certainly improved as it progressed.

Wansbeck's Ashington followed them on stage and immediately grabbed your attention with some strong percussion playing. There was lots of stylish brass playing though and they finished with a fine old romp to the final bars. In the end, 4th place was a fine result from such an early draw.

The Harborough Band were certainly coming here to improve on last years 10th place and they certainly set out their stall with the percussion section showing the previous band on stage how to adjust to the hall. It perhaps suffered stylistically in places but some fine solo work, especially from the solo horn ensured they would end higher up the prize list come results time. Fifth was a fine result.

After coming 6th last here in the first section City of Coventry would have been confident of putting in a decent performance here having dropped a section. However, even with a fine display from their principal cornet player, their performance suffered too often with balance problems and general insecurity to really threaten the better bands on show.  12th place was about right.

The fifth band to take the stage was Unity Brass FMUFS with their MD Robert Boulter, splendid in his pink and purple spotted shirt. His colourful attire certainly helped his players focus on their task. This was an interesting and understated performance and full credit to the conductor for making the most with limited resources.  11th place was the result but it could have been slightly higher.

Betteshanger took to the stage next but their performance resembled the untidy fashion to which they took their seats. In the end the band set up was all over the place and made for a performance that never really got off the ground – this really was a bit of a strange one, as it appeared no one knew exactly what was expected of them. Fifteenth was a fair result.

The eventual winners Delph were next to play Philip Sparke's work and immediately they impressed with ensemble clarity and detail that hadn't been heard until now. With a fine set of soloists and Rebecca Godwin especially impressing from the principal chair, Phil Goodwin's vibrant interpretation found themselves take the top spot that they would hang on to for the rest of the competition. It was fully deserved.

What got into the minds of Hitchen Band's MD and soprano player? If there's one way to impress adjudicator Peter Roberts in certainly not by blasting your proverbials off! This was just reckless playing at times and we wondered what on earth had got into the band as it could certainly play this piece. A bad day at the office was justly rewarded.  17th and last was spot on.

Chinnor Silver did very well especially as they were such a young band. Enthusiasm and plenty of smiles, but they couldn't hide the fact that they did have a few problems especially in rhythmic accuracy. 13th was about right.

East London Brass on the other hand suffered with quite a few tuning problems which was a pity as they had such a good opening and maybe 16th place was a touch harsh.

Cawston got better the more the piece progressed. It was a bit stodgy in places and the percussion section was out of kilter with the rest of the band at times, so 14th place was about bang on the money come the end of the day.

Carlton Brass were excellent value for their podium place. What a great sounding band they are too with a fine bass and trombone section. It was a solid and well thought out performance and on another day may have just got closer to taking the top prize.

Shirebrook were going along so well, but for some reason they simply missed the boat on the waltz. Which for some reason seemed to be taken in 2 in a bar. Perhaps it was us, but the band seemed mesmerized for a few minutes and then snapped out of it and came good again. Strange that, and it must have been noted in the box too as they came 8th – it could have been higher.

Kippax had no such problems all the way through the piece and produced an excellent all round performance that pushed Delph all the way to the winning line. It was inspired stuff from the MD, and just perhaps the tempo and scrappiness in Var 1 prevented them taking the top prize. A super percussion section and great solo cornet were real stars but so too were the rest of the band in a very high class performance.

Egham meanwhile had lots of style but lots of little errors too and after a decent enough opening it seemed to be a performance that was going to push for the very top. They also had a quite fantastic bass trombone player who was a credit to his profession and was way better than just about any we heard all weekend. Those little errors though were costly and 6th place was about right.

Frickley South Elmsall just suffered from the MD trying to possibly do too much too early in the piece with an over stylized opening section. Thereafter there was lots to admire, apart from the over enthusiastic percussion team who were very good otherwise. Perhaps this was then reason they came 7th and not a little higher as it had all the ingredients in the right place even if the musical mixture ended up being a touch on the rich side.

Finally, Lewis Merthyr who started so well and ended brilliantly but somehow lost interest a little in the middle when it all went a bit flat and nondescript. A pity that because the MD certainly gave the music time and space and allowed freedom for his soloists to shine. If only they could have just kept things going in the middle sections it would surely have come higher than 10th.
 
Overall though there were only three bands in the hunt for the top prizes here, although that doesn't detract from some pretty fine efforts from any number of bands that came below them. This was a high class contest and all the bands could take something away from here after performing with real credit. Delph were excellent, and so to were Kippax and Carlton Brass, whilst any band in the top 8 could be confident of taking fine form into the Regionals later in the year.

Anthony Banwell

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