2007 London & Southern Counties Regional Championship - First Section retrospective

22-Mar-2007

Eric Ball certainly tested the bands here to the full, but it will be Broseley and City of Cambridge who will be making their own travel arrangments to Harrogate.


The music of Eric Ball once again challenged the bands here on Saturday afternoon in a contest where there was some fine performances from bands who did well, some who'll have gone home kicking themselves for not having that consistency throughout their performances, and some who were stretched just a little bit beyond their comfort zone.

In addition to the playing at the contest, adjudicator Dr Nicholas Childs gave everyone a real insight into the score - what was required and an assessment of what he'd heard on the day.  Speaking for around five minutes, he was honest and informative and as a bandsman he was sympathetic to the challenges the players faced. In his role as an adjudicator, he had to make those all important decisions though. 

Dr Childs covered numerous aspects of the piece and made reference to ‘modern day test pieces where composers write millions of notes where the players can get away with murder sometimes. But when it comes to Eric Ball's music, it's really transparent'.  The Wayfarer might not be technically the most difficult work but the bands still have to play the music in the way the composer intended.  If they don't, it's not difficult for the judge to pick up on it - as eluded too by Dr Childs in his comments on stage.

Dr Childs knew exactly what he looking for and he admitted that from the start ‘you know how good your expectation is'. The most telling comment of all was that not one band ‘ticked all of the boxes' that he wanted during each performance – the real winner on the day being the test piece itself.

When you get summaries of the contest such as this one (and in the other sections from the other adjudicators) it is appreciated by everybody involved, and you can't ask for anything more – it just reinforces the point that if more such summaries were given, no-one could have any gripes at all.

Acoustically, the sports hall used for the contest is totally lifeless and isn't helped by the heavy black curtains that hang around it.  That said, anyone in the hall can still hear the detail coming through, but the bands have their work cut out - it is tough going to give really convincing musical interpretations.

A number of bands started off well and those who featured managed to maintain the standard they'd set early on, whilst others suffered from inconsistency and were destined not to feature by the time they'd reached the final section ‘Journey Home' that has the taxingly difficult lines for bass and trombone.  Some did well, but nerves got the better of others – a test piece does just that.

From number 1 Broseley Brass MK gave Dr Childs his marker for the contest and in the end it wasn't beaten on the day.  The adjudicator admitted that none of the performances ticked all of the boxes required, but Broseley's was the closest.  Paul Fensom's band delivered a solid account that was beatable if a band had been able to match what Dr Childs was looking for. 


There were clips and a few nerves, but it never really detracted from a musical interpretation whereby the MD was sensible with the tempo's and dynamics required and which engineered a nice lyrical style from the band. They grew in confidence as they went along and the middle ‘Exile' section was passionate whilst there was a sense of real understanding from the MD about the composer's intentions in the ‘Journey Home' section.

The City of Cambridge Band conducted by Peter Bassano played from the number six draw and it was a completely different sounding ensemble than what 4BR had heard at Butlins in January.

Peter Bassano kept everything simple – never pushing the band beyond its limits and the dynamics were effective and the players responded to the MDs direction lifting their level of performance. The ensemble playing was tight and effective on the ear and the slips didn't really detract from the overall picture being portrayed.  It was a fine performance.

Bedford can consider themselves unlucky to have missed out on a trip to Harrogate in the autumn. 

John Berryman's band delivered a very musical interpretation that grew in stature as it went along and it found favour with many in the hall, including us. At the end of the contest we had a hunch they'd be booking their hotel for Harrogate. 

It must have been a close call for Dr Childs on the day between Bedford and Cambridge but whilst Bedford will no doubt have been disappointed to have missed out, they have to be pleased with two good contest results at Butlins and here. John Berryman has had a big impact.

If it hadn't been for a few too many noticeable errors, KM Medway and Melvin White could well have been booking their hotel rooms for September. 

The direction from the middle was effective and brought the music to the fore, but unforeseen errors around the stand proved costly on the day when it came to challenging for a qualification place.  The performance was certainly worthy of a podium place and the band's principal cornet player Elaine Williams (a former BBC Young Musician of the Year from 1980) shone throughout and her efforts were rewarded with the prize of the best principal cornet on the day.

They'll have probably been a touch frustrated on the journey home at missing out but whilst it was only a point behind third place, although it wasn't as polished throughout as the top three.

Ipswich and Norwich Co-op mirrored City of Cambridge Band in being a completely different outfit from that which had performed at Butlins. 

Robin Norman's band played off the number two draw and once their nerves had settled down they relaxed and began to perform with confidence although a few nerves re-emerged in the concluding section.  Having come down from the Championship Section last year, finishing 5th might not have been ideal on the day, but having come 16th at Butlins this was a huge improvement on which they can build on during the year.

Sandhurst Silver continues to perform to an excellent standard.  They've come up through the ranks in recent years and having finished 7th last year, they continue to make progress finishing one place higher this time.

Roger Burke was a MD on the day that gave his band that chance to shine, crafting a musical interpretation but which contained errors that cost them a higher placing. On this evidence they are certainly not a band who is punching above their weight.  They've settled into this section well, took second at Butlins in January against some good opposition and they're a band to keep your eye on.

Outside of the top six, the standard dropped off somewhat with that all important consistency of performance throughout not being in evidence. 

Denham Hendon Brass, Matthews Norfolk Brass and Horsham were three bands that didn't quite have the consistency required on the day.

Denham Hendon Brass started off ok, but then it became a little too aggressive on the ear (for us anyway), didn't pull at the heart strings at all and the journey home didn't really have that desired effect. 7th place though was a decent return.

David Stowell led Matthews Norfolk Brass's first performance here since 2002 and whilst the interpretation was well thought out by the MD, the band couldn't quite fulfil the MD's requirements.  There was plenty of quality around the stand and some good playing, but it wasn't persuasive enough on the ear. Minus the errors it could've challenged for a top six, but they had to settle for 8th.

Horsham Borough will have gone back to Sussex in the knowledge that in the two years they've been in the First Section they've held their own.  Unfortunately, it took to long to settle to make a real impact and when it did and it was fingers crossed that they could continue in the same manner. Errors and touches of tiredness had an impact on them coming 9th.

Regent Brass, Jersey and Northfleet will all have gone home disappointed at not really playing at their best on the day.

Regent Brass set off at quite a lively pace but it lacked the quality required.  They suffered as the levels of stamina waned towards the end and towards the end they really began to struggle and it sounded hard work for them in the final section.

Tim Pritchard's Jersey Premier Brass has made a big impact in this region and nationally over the past couple of years having been crowned National Champions in the Third Section in 2005.  To be in the First Section sixteen months after winning that National title is a tremendous achievement but it's fair to say that they did find life a little tough going and they didn't quite do themselves justice on the day, although the evidence was there that they've enough about them to compete in this section well in years to come.

Northfleet came down from the Championship Section this year and their placing of 12th for their performance wasn't what they perhaps wanted.  There was too much aggression for us and errors and a difficult closing section, where they started to run out of steam had an impact on their place on the day.

That leaves St Albans, Becontree, Stonesfield Silver and Crystal Palace.

St Albans and Becontree played next to one another in the opening section of the contest and they both struggled to really get to grips with the challenges of the piece.  The belief and commitment was 100% but they were both stretched on the day and looked relieved when they'd reached the end of their performances.

Stonesfield don't seem to be able to find the consistency here.  In 2006 and 2004 they came 4th whilst 2005 saw them finish in 16th place.  This year they finished in another lowly position (15th) and they never seemed comfortable at all, although they gave it everything.

That leaves Crystal Palace who has found life very tough going since coming up last year.  It never really gelled for them at all on the day and whilst it was a valiant effort, Saturday is a day they'll want to put behind them very quickly.

So 16 performances of varying quality, with not one band ticking all of Dr Childs' boxes. Those who got the closest were rewarded for their efforts.  Not for the first time (and not one suspects the last either) the music of Eric Ball proved to be a tougher nut to crack than perhaps was anticipated by the bands beforehand with the piece being the real winner on the day.

Malcolm Wood

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