2007 Welsh Regional Championship - Postcard

20-Mar-2007

A great weekend was had by one and all in Swansea - made all the better of course by a certain rugby result...


The whole of Welsh cultural life is inexorably linked to the fortunes of its rugby team.

Two years ago amid the hyperbole of a Grand Slam even the audience at the Brangwyn Hall got into the mood of things with more red rugby shirts on display than band walking out jackets and the compere updating the score from Murrayfield as the lads slaughtered the Scots. How times can change.

Waistcoat
Wearing the Welsh passion: Crosskeys percussion team fly the flag 

This weekend there was only pride left to play for at the Millennium Stadium as the English came to town, and even though everyone wanted to see the old foe vanquished, the bar area in the hall wasn't quite packed to the rafters as it would have been if we had more to play for. Still, a win is a win, even if it was a pyrrhic victory (although you could hear the hearty cheer at the final whistle just as the one of the championship bands took to the stage). 

Given that rugby is never too far away from the thoughts of the Welsh it was interesting to note that Geoffrey Whitham who was one of the judges on the weekend, would have made a fine second row forward in his day.

Geoff is a hefty lad, and even now you wouldn't want to come across him in a dark alley. He is even married a Welsh girl too, although as a proud Yorkshireman we think he would have been more at home in the 13 man League game than in the 15 man variety. He would have been a handful though wouldn't he?

Geoff was also able to get away with a neat little joke about Welsh fortunes on the green swathe in Cardiff, although he didn't look too upset when he finally heard what the score was. It was a pleasure to see and hear him in Swansea and he made a number of very pertinent and accurate points about both the test pieces and the standard of the playing he had heard.

Faces
Triumph or disaster: The Brangwyn Hall's organ faces perhaps know a thing or two

So too Lloyd Landry, who is built more in the classic mould of a darting scrum half. Coming originally from West Wales you can imagine his delight at the score in Cardiff. He has been doing musical missionary work in Northampton for many years now, but you can imagine that he would have returned home with a glint in his eye and a smile so wide he could have clipped it over his ears like a false beard after his enjoyable weekend back in his homeland.

He also gave concise and accurate synopsis of the test pieces and performances to the hall prior to the results and there wasn't too many people who could disagree with his results on the weekend a near miracle in Wales given that a group of rugby supporters can name at last 20 players who they believe should play outside half. 

Player
Caught in the moment: Parc & Dare's baritone player enjoys herself

Meanwhile, Peggy Tomlinson, the driving force up in Yorkshire, who told us she had a lovely time in Wales observing how the Celts organise things, also sampled the Welsh weekend for the first time. One thing that Peggy certainly would have been impressed by is the support that the local authority gives the contest. 

The event gains sponsorship from the City and County of Swansea who own the hall, a huge financial support that allows the event to be run over two days at a venue that is hard to beat in the Principality. Yorkshire does get some help in meeting the costs of hiring St George's Hall we understand, but not to the same extent as here something we are sure Peggy will be trying to fix for the benefit of her bands.

For some bands in Wales however there are genuine financial problems especially those who come down from the North of the country (some bands told 4BR that it cost around 2,500 to attend), but it is hard to think of a venue that offers so much in return. Wales has split itself in two before without success and has upped sticks to Aberystwyth too and neither worked. Perhaps a form of generous travelling allowance may help enable more bands from the North to attend, especially as 4BR understands that up to 9 bands in the area have been lost or are unable to attend due to the costs involved.

The thought too may arise of providing a non competitive section to the contest weekend to encourage those bands lacking in numbers to experience first hand what it is all about. Get them to play a short 12-minute programme of their own music, with an experienced judge talking to them afterwards about areas of development etc. Forget about registration, numbers, judging, instruments, etc just get people involved in some way.

Mascot
Don't even think about it....It's a mascot, not a Welsh marital aid for Blaenavon Band.

It has been done successfully at Treorchy (as well as being pioneered over the border in Gloucestershire with excellent results) and with, say three bands each year being asked to play before the commencement of the top section (which ended this year at a very pleasant 6.30pm) it could be done in a very encouraging manner and may give bands that boost of confidence to enter the Fourth Section the following year.

Overall the 2007 Welsh Regional Championships was a very encouraging event. The standard of playing was pretty good in each of the sections (for some reason the small number of bands has meant that the grading in the sections has provided five very definable contests) and the organisation was its usual slick and professional standard. 

The players do enjoy Swansea, although you can tell the blokes who don't wash their hands too well after a visit to the loo, as the stamp mark on the back of their hands given by the stewards to stop the players making a second appearance on stage remains in place well after they have played on the day. They rather look like a contesting version of stigmata as if someone has nailed their hands to their instruments. Don't eat the free peanuts in the bar though.

The welcome to guests in Wales is always warm (we enjoy fighting amongst ourselves more especially after a rugby loss) and it was interesting to see Gaby Kerrmann, Marketing Manager of Schreiber & Keilwerth, sponsors of the Nationals, on hand to present the prizes in each of the sections.

She told 4BR that she had enjoyed every minute of her first visit to Wales, although she couldn't quite understand what all the fuss was about with the rugby (sensible girl) but really enjoyed the bands and her first taste of that culinary delight - the welsh cake although she was surprised to learn that every man she met boasted that their own mother's made the best version in the world. She was also intrigued to learn that Welshmen invariably marry women who look and cooks like their mothers too.

That is more important to any Welshman than any rugby match.

Iwan Fox

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