2007 North West Regional Championship - Introduction

28-Feb-2007

There is a belief that the good folk of the North West are a bit more sophisticated than their rivals over the Pennines, but does that mean they breed better bands?


Winter GardensYou'll never settle an argument between the good folk of Yorkshire and Lancashire on who is the most superior.  It doesn't matter what the subject is; from the best fish and chips to the superior county cricket team, let alone get them talking brass bands: it will come down to the only way to agree is to disagree.

In banding terms, the White Rose County has gone into the Regionals with the bragging rights five Championship Section bands going to London tells its own story, from which there are the National Champions and the British Open winner.  That said, the North West can content itself with having four of its bands finishing in the runners-up spots in Sections 1-4 at Harrogate last September.  What they really want though is five bands having all the titles and given the strength in depth here in all the sections its not an improbability that they may well do it in 2007 luck, and the good folk of Yorkshire permitting.

Blackpool is still just Blackpool though.  It will never really change especially as the plan for re-generation centered on a new super casino was lost to Manchester - something that was a real body blow to the seaside town.

The Winter Gardens remains the same as well too - a multi-purpose complex that would benefit from some refurbishment.  It does its job though for whoever hires it and this includes the NW Area and the Spring Festival. It may be faded in glory but it still provides a great venue to enjoy a brass band contest.

This year for the first time in as long as people can remember, the Opera House isn't in use and so the Championship bands are faced with the different acoustic of the Empress Ballroom that's the hall you always see on the television whenever there's a political conference in town.  It's vast and a totally different acoustic to that of the Opera House, but it only really provides a vibrant atmosphere if it is packed to the rafters, and that may not occur even for the best bands something that Yorkshire doesn't have a problem with at St George's Hall.

Championship Section:

This years contest promises to be more than a little interesting with just the two qualification places up for grabs and as always more than two bands fancied to go to Kensington in October.  It won't be easy for adjudicator James Scott that's for sure, but defending champions, Fodens (Richardson), Faireys and Leyland who are enjoying a renaissance under Russell Grey will all be more than optimistic of qualification.  Behind them and intent on making a mark will be the likes of BT, Wingates, Freckleton and Pemberton Old JJB.

The biggest challenge though could well be adapting to the acoustic of the Empress Ballroom as opposed to the Opera House.  How much will that have a bearing on the result may well be in the hands of the MDs who can tailor their approach. Mr Scott is a stickler for dynamics and any overblowing from bands trying to fill the hall with volume rather than a warm brass band sound will surely come a cropper.

Meanwhile the lower sections will delight the listeners with their quality.

First Section:

The First Section should be a great contest full of classy bands all of whom have a chance of gaining a qualification place and more than a handful capable of going all the way and winning. Bactiguard Wire Brass finished runners up at Harrogate last year with United Co-op Crewe also in the mix, so whoever qualifies early on Sunday afternoon will be confident of doing very well in the Autumn. In fact, only once since the turn of the Millennium has a representative from the region come out of the top 10 at the Finals with six bands of the last eight bands to make the trip all coming in the top three. That is some record to maintain for whoever gets through. 

Second Section:

Helen Perkin's Carnival promises to be a work that the bands will have enjoyed rehearsing and the audience will surely enjoy listening too.  This section has some evenly matched bands within it and it could come down to who holds their nerve on the day.  Bollington and Blackpool Brass flew the flag at Harrogate coming home in 2nd and 9th places and although the region hasn't had a National winner since 2000 in the last seven years it has provided 10 top six places from 14 attempts a great record that indicates the strength of the section here over the years. Adjudicator Roy Roe could well have a difficult task on his hands.

Third Section:

The strength in depth continues in the Third Section and at Harrogate Rainford took the runners-up spot whilst Flixton came 5th.  A good number of bands will fancy their chances, but they have to contend with a tricky test piece on which to impress adjudicator Colin Hardy. Over the years qualifiers here have done remarkably well come the finals with four consecutive wins for bands between 2001 and 2004 alone. In fact the lowest placing a qualifier has come at the finals since 2000 is 10th a brilliant record given they have sent 18 bands there. 

Fourth Section:

Finally the Fourth Section where a healthy field of contenders really does show off the talent and vibrant nature of the movement here to the full. Last year Oldham Band (Lees) went to Harrogate and came runners up, whilst the other two representatives came 8th and 17th. Since the turn of the Millennium the region has provided two champions and two runners up, so whoever gets the nod from judge John Maines can hopefully look forward to Harrogate with confidence, although they will have to play well on Philip Wilby's lovely test piece to make it there.

The North West can boast a total of 77 bands on parade on the one day here, whilst Yorkshire can only muster 57 this year. Everywhere you look and listen here you will find a movement that is in good health. There is plenty of talent on show both in the playing stakes and with the baton, and the sense of pride in the achievements of the bands in the lower sections especially is true and warm.

The contest itself is very well run by the North West Committee and you can't help feeling that they have something to be very proud about up here.  Peter Bates and his colleagues do a cracking job and whilst he has the luxury of holding the contest in one multi-purpose venue, it still takes some organizing especially if they suffer the same problems with the snow! It should be a great day out by the sea (if the tide is in) once more.  

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