2007 Action Research Youth Entertainment Championships - Retrospective

16-Feb-2007

Rob Richardson was on hand for 4BR to enjoy the 14 great performances from the cream of our entertaining youth bands - but was still left scratching his head come the announcement of the results.


14 of the best youth bands in the country gathered to compete for the title of Action Research Youth Brass Entertainment Champions of 2007, and no matter what the result was, entertain was what each and every band did.

Adjudicators James Scott (music) and Stephen Tighe (entertainment) praised the standard of the bands they had heard on the day, with James mentioning that tuning and overblowing had been the two most important factors when judging the bands' playing.

Rochdale
Grin and bear it: Rochdale enjoy that winning feeling
Picture: John Stirzaker


Poynton Youth and Andy Hirst kicked off the day's proceedings in fine style with the upbeat version of Bach's ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor'. The first soloist of the day, a trombonist, then followed with a fine performance of ‘Where E'er You Walk', from George Frideric Handel's oratorio ‘Semele'. Balance between band and soloist was good, but occasional bad tuning in the cornets did detract a little bit. Nice flugel playing in the 1st and 2nd movements of Gaelforce impressed, as did a second flugel soloist in the band's final item, ‘Breakout' from ‘Cry of the Celts'. This last item also featured some excellent cornet playing from the band's principal cornet. Although not finishing high-up in the final results, Poynton did give the contest an enjoyable start.

Tees Valley Youth based their performance around music from the movies. Their programme was the theme tune from ‘Rocky', ‘I Will Follow Him' (featuring a trombone section of nuns), ‘Pirates of the Caribbean' and ‘Riverdance'. This band is lucky to have a great percussion section to drive things along, but much of the music, especially the last item, sounded a touch too hard for the band, who would maybe have benefited from playing music slightly more at their level. The band's cornet soloist did posses a gorgeous sound though, which was used to great effect in the opening to ‘Riverdance'. Lots to work on, but also lots to admire.

Rochdale Borough Youth took to the stage as defending champions, and were to retain their title in fine style. Starting with Liz Fitzpatrick's gorgeous flugel sound in ‘On My Own' from Les Misreables, the rest of the band joined her on stage for one of the anthems from the show, ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?'.

Rochdale
A great fine mess - Rochdale's Laurel and Hardy
Picture: John Stirzaker

‘Another Fine Mess'
saw the band's two euphonium players doing their bit to push the entertainment points up (as well is delivering a very nifty bit of playing), and the band left the stage again to the sounds of ‘The Great Escape'. A costumed tuba quartet then gave a fine demonstration of controlled playing in a quartet version of ‘Blaze Away', before the band's final item, ‘Caravan'. Simply put, this last piece was absolutely stunning.

Starting of with percussive household items (imitating the famous percussive dance group Stomp), the programme ended in a blaze of music, percussion instruments and dancing, all excellently choreographed. The audience loved it, and so did 4BR. This excellent show was awarded the maximum of 100 points by entertainment judge Stephen Tighe, but was it really 43 points better than the last placed band? Discussion of this started as soon as the results had been announced, and are still ongoing. More about this point is discussed further on. This entertainment mark, with a third place in music, helped Rochdale to claim the overall first prize in the contest, extremely well deserved indeed.

How to follow this then? Valley Brass Haydock are a very young band, but produced a well chosen programme which contained some excellent playing from all sections. Particularly impressive was their first item, taken from ‘Four French Renaissance Dances', which started off with crisp fanfare cornet playing and saw the band mastering the technical challenges this piece presents. Another highlight of the band's programme was the faultless performance of the old time classic ‘Bass in the Ballroom' by the band's principal Eb bass player. This nicely put together and well-balanced show was enough for seventh place overall, and a very good sixth in the music standings. A few more years' development could reap great rewards for this band and conductor David Chadwick.

Elland Silver Youth, under Samantha Harrison, showed nice ensemble playing in their first item, before moving into an excellent rendition of ‘Sugar Blues' by a young cornet soloist who, despite being exceptionally small, made a great sound with excellent style and phrasing! This young man will go very far indeed. The day's second rendition of ‘Singin' in the Rain' was nicely played, and a cornet trio played ‘12th Street Rag'. The band ended their American-style assault on the title with ‘New York, New York'. Some uncomfortable playing and tuning problems were in occurrence, but when this band matures they will be a very capable ensemble indeed, and one to watch out for.

Despite being a very young band, the sound produced by Houghton Area in their opening item ‘New Colonial' was at times huge, with the band's deportment excellent as well. This huge sound did sometimes swamp the lovely sounds of the band's cornet soloist in ‘You Raise Me Up', but generally a nice effect effects were created. ‘Pirates of the Caribbean' was next with the obligatory pirate costumes and sword fights, which was then followed by ‘Singing in the Rain', complete with dancer. An enjoyable programme was rounded off with ‘Eye of the Tiger' from Rocky 3, with great driving percussion. However, the players swaying did seem to take away some of the sheen from the playing, and surely this would not have enhanced the entertainment score by much, if anything at all. This band can only improve with age, and gave a very enjoyable performance with much to commend.

Sellers International Youth under Mark Bousie presented a programme entitled ‘The Magic of Blackpool', and from the outset it was clear the band had been working extremely hard on both the musical and entertainment sides of their performance.

SellersTheir opening number, ‘The Big Top', featured clowns and circus performers, as well as some top-quality playing, and deservedly won the award for Most Entertaining Item. The ‘Anniversary Waltz' was nicely handled, and moved into ‘Ghost Train', which had plenty of ghosts and evil things running around the stage – great stuff. This moved into Pete Meechan's new composition for cornet ‘Apex'. An extremely atmospheric piece, the solo line was excellently handled by the band's principal cornet. Then, towards the end of the piece, came something that has never been seen before in an entertainment contest (and possibly will never be seen again). Standing beside a strange looking contraption, the cornet player was promptly levitated around half a metre above the stage by a magician dressed in all black!

This was unbelievable, and the 4BR team still haven't worked out how it was done! The Salvation Army march ‘Goldcrest' carried on the fun, and then the band rounded off their programme with a medley of traditional British songs, a fitting end to a great bit of playing The standard of the band was excellent at all times, and the entertainment slick and professional. Third places in both entertainment and music gave a jubilant band fourth place overall, as well as picking up the awards for Best March, Most Entertaining Item and Best Bass Section.

Boarshurst Youth's programme told the story from the film ‘Brassed Off'. A narrator introduced each scene, with dialogue taken almost word-for-word from the film, and the appropriate music from each section being played, including ‘Death or Glory', a nicely played ‘Concerto de Aranjuez' and William Tell to finish things off. Throughout the programme the band's sound was simply huge, and the players in their ranks would be more than capable playing for higher-section bands. The programming and presentation was undeniably slick, but one could not help feeling that the music did not stretch the band to its limits in any way. If they had picked a more taxing programme, they could have definitely added quite a few more points in the music category. But a very enjoyable show nonetheless, which resulted in 2nd place for the band in the overall standings.

Chris Jeans and Youth Brass 2000 presented Philip Harpers' ‘Beyond the Tamar', and what an excellent show they gave. The band's big sound took the audience by the scruff of the neck from the word go, and the various movements were handled with confidence and style. A particular highlight of their programme was the fantastic flugel playing from the band's soloist in ‘Indian Daybreak', which was accompanied by some nice tabla playing too. The last movement contained some great playing from the lad on drums, which really enhanced the band's performance. Fourth place in entertainment and second in music gave Youth Brass 2000 third place overall, something they and their conductor can be very pleased with.

Enderby Youth's programme was geared towards American music, and started of with some big band music before the band's cornet soloist gave an excellent Sachmo tribute which was enough to win him the Outstanding Soloist award come results time, for a performance of real style and character. In common with several players on the day, this chap is really going to go far with his playing. ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child' and ‘It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing' were the band's next two items, and were well played but sometimes slightly spoilt with the odd loss of tight ensemble and tuning, however throughout the latter some great flugel playing was on show.

Enderby ended their contribution with a musical sketch of the story from ‘Mack and Mabel'. Nice entertaining acting and showmanship, but slightly lacking in music which meant that Enderby had to settle for only tenth place in the music standings, although their fifth place in entertainment gave them sixth place overall. Congratulations to the band and conductor Trevor Hounsome for a great show!

Ex-Kirkintilloch principal trombone Jonathon Leedale led Oldham Music Centre Youth through a programme which included ‘Goldcrest', ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk' and ‘Mr Blue Sky' to finish off. Oldham's playing was generally of a good standard, and a nice feature were the afro wigs and dancing (from conductor as well!) in an arrangement of the Jackson 5's ‘I Want You Back'. The band should not be too disappointed in coming in 14th place, as there was lots to admire and obvious potential for the future. The was rewarded in the results by the award of Band Showing the Most Potential.

Wardle High School's programme was, in technological terms, extremely impressive. A projector screen in the middle of the stage provided the film clips to which the band played the first segment of their programme, including music from ‘Indiana Jones', ‘James Bond' and ‘The Sound of Music', all complete with actors representing the main characters.

‘Under the Sea' from the Little Mermaid finished off the band's programme, which was obviously very well prepared and rehearsed. However, a few major problems hampered the band's chances of coming anywhere near the top of the standings. Firstly, one could not see the band for most of the programme, meaning that any entertainment marks would have surely been hampered. Secondly, the music played did give glimpses of what a good band Wardle is, but did not tax the musicians anywhere near enough to justify a higher music mark than they eventually gained, with no need for any real delicate playing or use of dynamics. An exceptionally enjoyable programme, but one which, in this kind of contest format, simply did not deliver what was needed to gain higher marks in each category. However, it was a joy to see young people enjoying themselves on stage so much.

Abraham Darby Youth started with a rendition of James Curnow's ‘Coronation Fanfare' which had some tight playing from all sections, but a few too many splits to achieve the desired effect. ‘Bandology' also had some moments of unease, but the playing here was of a much higher standard, and featured some excellent dynamic work from the band. The band's soprano player then stepped up to play the popular ‘On With The Motley', and what a performance it was. The young lady in question can consider herself extremely unlucky not to have one both the Best Soprano and Outstanding Soloist awards on the day, as not many soprano cornetists in the UK championship section could have given a performance which of such maturity and style, coupled with a sound that simply lifted above the band. If she continues  playing to this standard and improving, this soprano player will be one of the best in the UK in the future.

‘Hold That Tiger' and Elvis' ‘An American Trilogy' were the final two items in the band's programme, and both were played will with that extra touch of entertainment features where needed. A good band who produced a solid performance, but one which lacked that little bit of sparkle to push it into the top six, eight place being their reward on the day.

Last up were Beaumaris Youth under conductor Paul Hughes, who, in musical terms, really did ‘save the best ‘til last'. Paul is easily one of the most talented cornet players in the country, having served at Beaumaris for many a year on Principal Cornet and also being a regular feature on the contest and concert stage with YBS.

Preferring to exchange blatant self-promotion in favour of encouraging and nurturing the youth of tomorrow, he has moulded in Beaumaris Youth an ensemble of real quality and strength in depth, which fully deserved to win first place in the music side of the contest. Opening their programme with a wonderfully executed opener, the band followed this up with Eric Ball's popular march ‘Star Lake'.

Their programme also featured some delicate duet work by their soprano and principal cornet on Lloyd-Webber's ‘Pie Jesu', slightly tired lips towards the end not detracting one bit from the effect created. Beaumaris was not on the original list of competing bands, but due to a withdrawal were invited to compete at a very late stage. Lack of rehearsal time did result in the band not being able to prepare the ‘entertainment' side of their programme as fully as they would have liked, so the overall result could have been significantly different had they had more time to spend more time on this facet of the contest. Sixth place in the entertainment section meant that Beaumaris ended up being placed fifth in the overall standings come results time.

At the results ceremony, the special awards were the first to be handed out. These were:

Best Bass Section: Sellars International
Best Euphonium Section: Beaumaris
Best March: Sellars
Best Soprano: Beaumaris
Outstanding Soloist: Cornet, Enderby
Most Entertaining Item: Sellars – ‘The Big Top'
Best Stage Deportment: Rochdale Borough
Band Displaying the Most Potential: Oldham Music Centre

Langdon
The Entertainer: Rochdale's MD picks up his award - again...
Picture: John Stirzaker


At the end of an efficient results ceremony, in which points and places for both entertainment and music were separately given out, Rochdale emerged as champions for the third successive time, and were clearly delighted with the result. Boarshurst were second, Youth Brass 200 third, Sellars fourth, Beaumaris fifth and Enderby sixth.

Madness

Despite all the positive points of the day, one huge gripe must come with the points awarded to the bands for entertainment. To have a gap of 43 points between the first and last placed bands if simply ludicrous, and if one looks at the final placings it is clear that the entertainment marks did have a massive outcome on the final result. A gap of ten points between fourth and fifth place?? Madness. Clearly defined criteria were there for the adjudicator to follow, so this may have had some outcome on the final tally of points, but to have a situation where the difference is so huge between bands is one that does not help anyone. This will have to be seriously looked at for next year.

Unhelpful comments

Leaving the situation of marks aside, another massive complaint stems from the written comments for the same section (entertainment). As readers of the site may have noticed, a number of bands and MDs have contacted 4BR voicing their grievances about the unhelpful comments their bands have received. 4BR has personally seen one of these marking sheets, and without naming names; the comment of ‘RUBBISH' (yes, written in capital letters) again helps absolutely no one. Band members like hearing the adjudicators comments, whether it be in rehearsal the week after or on the bus going home, and unneeded things like this can only dent a young person's confidence, something which the brass band movement does not need if it is to continue with sufficient numbers of participants. The MD of the band in question receiving this comment was heard asking ‘How do I tell that to the band?' How indeed.

At the end of the day, this was a YOUTH contest, and although players, MDs and organisational staff do take the event very seriously (and rightly so), young people do need to be encouraged. Who cares if someone's dancing or clown acting was not up to Barnum and Bailey quality? Things like this do nothing but take the fun and enjoyment out of any musical event.

Roaring success

Despite this one sour point, the 2007 contest was a roaring success. The contest's success can be mainly attributed to the huge team of volunteers who give up their time to run the day in Blackpool. Ably led by contest controller Gary Walczak (who also doesn't spend horrendous amounts of time speaking before giving the results out at the contest's conclusion, a welcome relief from 15-minute speeches when hundreds of youngsters are dying to know whether or not they have won!), their sterling efforts mean the turnover of bands is managed with minimum fuss.

Great day

4BR spoke to Monica Walczak, a lovely woman who is one of the main driving forces behind the competition and the wife of contest organiser Gary. She explained that the reason for running the contest is to give the youth players of today a top quality event at which to showcase their talents, paying tribute to the 100-120 volunteers who travel to Blackpool from Rochdale each year and help make the event such a success. Taking in hand the case of Beaumaris Youth's late invitation to play in the contest, I asked Monica if there had ever been any thought given to increasing the numbers of ensembles playing in the contest. She replied ‘we did have 15 bands one year, but the sheer scale of the operation meant that this was simply too many. The fact that with 14 bands the contest can run on well into the evening means 14 seems to be an acceptable limit.' No arguments there.

A great day was had by all, and many positive signs were shown that the future of banding is secure, evidenced by the high standard of playing shown by all competitors on the day. Congratulations to the players, MDs and organisational staff for providing a day of top-quality entertainment.

Breakdown

If the points for entertainment and music are broken down, the following orders can be seen:

Entertainment (out of a possible 100)

Rochdale – 100
Boarshurst – 98
Sellers International – 90.5
Youth Brass 2000 – 90
Enderby – 80
Beaumaris – 78
Valley Brass Haydock – 74
Wardle – 72
Abraham Darby – 71
Houghton – 68
Oldham – 61
Elland Silver – 58
tied with
Tees Valley – 58
Poynton – 57

Music (out of a possible 200)

Beaumaris – 193
Youth Brass 2000 – 192
Sellers International – 191
Rochdale – 189
Boarshurst – 188
Valley Brass Haydock – 187
Abraham Darby – 186
Elland Silver – 185
Tees Valley – 184
Enderby – 183
Poynton – 182
Wardle – 180
Houghton – 177
tied with
Oldham - 177


Rob Richardson

All pictures copyright John Stirzaker

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