2007 London and Southern Counties Regional Championship - Introduction

12-Mar-2007

We have said in the past that it is easy to dismiss the level and standard of banding in London and the Southern Counties. That may have been true in the fairly distant past, but not now it isn’t.


StevenageSpring is always in the air when the London & SC Counties take place in Stevenage in late March.  The dark nights have practically disappeared, the weather hasn't been bad at all and people have a real spring in their step.

With the exception of the Midlands, this region contains the largest number of bands in the UK – 80+ make the pilgrimage this year (a couple have withdrawn) with the hope of making it to the National Finals.  All of the bands here will all dream of becoming a National Champion, but in truth it's more likely to happen in the lower sections (it has before this Millennium). Bands continue to make an impression on the National map, but pound for pound against some of the heavyweights from the other regions they have found it hard to land some knockout punches.

Once again, the Gordon Craig Theatre will be in use throughout the weekend within the Leisure Centre as will the Main Concert Hall, although it is still a sports hall in anything but name. It still serves it purpose well though.

Dr Nicholas Childs makes his first sojourn into Championship Regional judging this weekend where he'll be in the box for the Championship and First Sections.  His knowledge and expertise on both pieces is unquestionable and he will have taken Black Dyke and SWT Woodfalls on Isaiah 40 on the two previous regional weekends.  Also joining Nicholas Childs over the weekend will be Philip Harper and Steve Pritchard-Jones and the Regional committee must be congratulated for taking the progressive option of using three young (they are in relation to some we know) and talented musicians who are currently still playing in the contest arena themselves.

There were sure to be a few eyebrows raised with Dr Childs's appointment (would he be asked to judges in the North West Championship Section?) but it shows that the Region is thinking ahead. The so called ‘conflict of interest' argument holds no weight – and all the bands should appreciate the opportunity to be judged by a man who knows what it takes to win National titles as a conductor (as well as close on 20 regional titles) in the past decade. The same applies to Philip Harper too.

Championship Section:

There was some kernel to the truth about London based starting to close the gap on the very best bands in the UK in the past few years, but in the past 12 months they seem to have regressed – whilst two have disappeared from this year's contest – although not for good it is hoped.

Last year the two representatives made little or no impression at the Royal Albert Hall – there have only been 4 top 10 places since 1989 in fact, and last year Aveley and Staines came 11th and 18th.  Nothing really to shout home about eh? They are better bands than black and white results suggest however, and in 2006 Aveley made it to the British Open. The Albert Hall remains a success free zone though, and it about time something changes.

The region could well be sending their two strongest bands this year, but it is no reason for unmitigated celebration – with Staines and Alliance pulling out. London can do with all the strength in depth it needs. It should be an interesting contest.

First Section:

This could be a really good fight to the finish with a number of bands in the mood to do well and secure a finals place at Harrogate.  Bedford under John Berryman and Sandhurst Silver with Roger Burke at the helm both faired well at Butlins and then you've got Ipswich and Norwich Co-op, KM Medway and what about Jersey?  The Channel Islanders keep making waves (excuse the pun) through the sections and they deserve to be mixing it at this level.

Eric Ball's ‘Sinfonietta – The Wayfarer' is proving to be a very stern test of musicianship around the country, and we think it could well take more than a few scalps here too. Whoever gets trough will have deserved it.

Second Section:

Philip Harper has the task of picking the winners on Saturday morning in the Main Concert Hall with some evenly matched bands ensuring a closely fought contest.  Only twice though in recent years have bands gone on from here to make it into the top six at the finals with fifth places in 2005 and 2004.  Norfolk Wherry Brass will be intent on matching Jersey and continuing to rise through the sections whilst Egham, Epping Forest, Yiewsley & West Drayton amongst many will all be dreaming of booking their hotels for North Yorkshire on Saturday night.

'Carnival' is proving to be a very tricky work to overcome this year – it may sound a touch dated, but that isn't a bad thing for today's bands. It asks lots and lots of questions of style, balance and precision – something modern bands tend to overlook too often. Philip could fid himself having plenty to think about.   
 
Third Section:

The qualifiers from here have not done too badly down the years and the sixteen bands will be looking forward to this one.  Some bands will come knowing they need a good result to ensure they don't drop into the Fourth Section whilst some a promotion and life in Section Two.  The likes of Fulham, Stantonbury Brass, Epsom and Ewell, E.P.B, could well be the ones battling it out for those cherished final places and don't discount the likes of Thundersley and Waterbeach, both up from the Fourth Section.

Darrol Barry's ‘Prelude & Jubilate' is proving to be a popular test piece – a real test indeed in the opening section and them allowing the bands more than enough leeway to show their best steps in the ‘Jubilate'. It has been sorting the wheat from the chaff pretty well so far and we don't think that will chance here.

Fourth Section:

The last National Champions in the Fourth Section to come from the area were Potters Bar in 2004, but in six of the last nine years bands from here have come in the top six at the Finals.

Last year the qualifiers, Thundersley, Waterbeach and Watford finished 13th, 14th and 22nd respectively and all of them from having played within the first five bands of the contest. That was a great effort.

This section tends to be a marathon though with 23 bands this year giving Steve Pritchard-Jones plenty to ponder over. He should enjoy the experience, although we think he will be exhausted by the end of it. Let's hope he has plenty of comfort breaks to refresh the mind – and perhaps the bladder! Steve is making a real reputation for himself as a top line judge, so the bands here should get a detailed hearing and won't have much to complain about come the announcement of the results – That won't stop a few though we think!

The weekend should be one to enjoy then, and although the venue isn't the greatest one to ever hold a brass band contest, it is functional and offers good facilities for players and supporters alike. The organization here is first rate and a real credit to the entire Regional committee – it does run like clockwork from first band till last.

London may not be enjoying its most successful period in terms of trophies won at the National Finals, but it still has a great deal to be proud of. 83 bands for a starter.   

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