2007 English National Championships - Introduction and Predictions

25-Jun-2007

This weekend sees the second running of the English National Championships. Can it recover from its poor start last year at a new venue? Thankfully there is no football and the weather should be awful….


EnglishAnd so… the second running of the English National Brass Band Championship is upon us, and if ever a major contest needs to be a success then this is it.

Last year all the things that couldn't be controlled conspired against the inaugural event: England's insipid departure from the World Cup on the afternoon of the contest, road closures around the hard to find hall and even some pretty rare scorching hot weather in Salford of all places. The result was a sparsely attended auditorium and a rather subdued anti climactic feel to the whole day. Even the presence of the lovely Melanie Sykes couldn't lift it from what was a rather low-key start.

Encouraging kernels

There were however encouraging kernels of hope with a sponsorship deal in place, a decent test piece and a collective feeling from the competing bands that this was a contest that they felt had something in it for them – and not just the prize money.

The link to the European Championship has proved crucial and remains a central plank in the construction of the English National as a vessel to promote English banding on the European stage. Take that away and the contest loses its purpose.  It has also meant that the contest has a cherry on top of its cake to attract the very best bands. The encouraging news for the BFBB was certainly the late announcement of Grimethorpe to take part this year. Only Black Dyke remain ‘outside' the English National now and the pressure may well build on them to reconsider its position if the contest can flourish and develop as is hoped.

Unanswered question

That though is a question that remains unanswered at present. Much will depend on the success of this years contest both in terms of organisation as well as what kind of crowd it can attract on a day that has been stretched to try and offer value for money and interest. It is a big ‘if' especially as the BFBB is under increasing pressure to show that it can run a major contest well after the disappointment of the Europeans.

The move to Preston, a cheaper venue and one that offers at least three years grace may provide the boost in the number people willing to pay up to £20 for a days entertainment. The involvement of Besson as principal sponsor also shows that it is taking a keen interest in the contests immediate future.

The BFBB should be congratulated for securing both these deals, whilst the innovative approach to qualification to the contest remains a fine idea. The day should run like clockwork thanks to the continued excellence of the organising team behind the scenes.

On the debit side however was the BFBB's terrible handling of the Steven Mead debacle, the continuing lack of long term strategic planning and promotion of the event, and the feeling that after the severe financial ‘hit' that they will need to absorb after the European failure, it cannot afford to lose any more money here. The contest needs to be a success in terms of bums on seats as well as pounds, shillings and pence in the accounts ledger.

Ingredients

This year the ingredients are all in place. A fine line up of 15 bands, another well chosen test piece, good prize money and that all important European qualification place. If that can't get the paying public roused then the contest really is dead in the water.

The decision to have a break half way through the contest should enable those with the need to have a drink and some general sustenance will be well catered for (there should be no ‘cup of tea' bands then), although the additional break of over an hour before the Gala Concert is an idea that could well backfire.  Will the concert attract any new audience to come along to listen, or will it just mean another hour or so in the pub for the players and supporters before they get the result and can go home? It's a risky approach.

The Bands

The bands though should provide plenty of contesting excitement throughout the day.

All 15 (ranked between 3 and 57) come in pretty decent form and although the regional winners for this year's contest are from 2006 (as per the rules), the contest will see four 2007 holders of regional titles in Fodens Richardson, Brighouse & Rastrick, PolySteel and Reg Vardy. In addition, Grimethorpe, YBS, Leyland, Hepworth, Mount Charles and Aveley & Newham have all made it back to London this year, whilst only Mount Charles and Newstead Welfare will not be competing at the British Open in September.

Two bands have already won major contests this year with Fodens taking the Masters and PolySteel the Grand Shield, so there are plenty of bands in very good form hoping to round off the first part of the contesting season with a win.

Grimethorpe Colliery is the top ranked band (3) and has the ability to wipe the floor with the opposition if they play to form. Everyone will be keen to listen out for them on the day to see if they have put the poor showing of Bradford behind them. If it does all fall into place then they will take some catching.

Fodens Richardson (4) is currently enjoying a fantastic year of contesting success. With the benefit of a short break after the exertions of the Europeans and Masters they will surely fancy their chances of repeating their 2006 triumph, and the way they are playing at the moment you wouldn't want to bet too much money on them not doing just that.

The other band many will be keen to listen out for will surely be the 2007 Yorkshire champion, Brighouse & Rastrick (6) who were reborn in Bradford under the direction of Alan Morrison. If they can perform like that here then they too will gain a short price at the Preston offices of William Hill in their efforts to claim the title.

YBS, Leyland and Fairey come next on the ranking list (7, 9 and 10 respectively) and are decent each way bets at the bookies. YBS has been through a lot of rebuilding of late and may well be the outsider of the three to claim a podium place. Fairey's showed plenty of quality under Peter Parkes at Cambridge to suggest they could well force their way into the reckoning if their lyrical approach finds favour in the box here more than it did at the Corn Exchange.    Leyland are perhaps the best placed band to really force the pace and with Russell Gray on inspired form of late in the saddle they could be right up in the mix come the announcement of the results.

Behind them in the weights come Carlton Main, Sellers International and PolySteel (11, 12 and 13) – three bands on fine form of late.  All are pretty evenly matched too with PolySteel showing top notch form up to Blackpool, Sellers excelling there too and Carlton Main really being one of the most improved bands of the year so far. All three could well feature in the prizes if they play to the top of their form.

Next in line are Rothwell Temperance, Reg Vardy and Hepworth (ranked 14, 19 and 20) with Rothwell the band showing the best form of late at the Masters where they were excellent. Another show like that and they could be in with a real shout. Reg Vardy and Hepworth had run outs they sooner forget there, but both are class bands and have more than enough quality about them to feature high in the prize list. Both will be determined to do so that's for sure.

Finally, the three outsiders so to speak, with Mount Charles, Aveley & Newham and Newstead Welfare (23, 28 and 57). Of the three Mount Charles showed quality and form at Torquay and to a certain extent at Blackpool. Newstead were not in the same class there and haven't quite set the pulses racing this year. The same can also be said of Aveley & Newham who are in desperate need of a confidence boosting result after the struggles of Cambridge in particular. It could be hard for them here though.

So it's all to play for with Grimethorpe and Fodens Richardson the two bands to beat on current form. Brighouse and Leyland should have enough about them to push these top two the closest with the likes of Hepworth (Lanson Homes) and Rothwell Temperance up there too.

Plenty of dark horses around but we plumb for an outside bet of Sellers International to make it into the frame.

4BR Prediction:

1. Grimethorpe Colliery
2. Fodens Richardson
3. Leyland
4. Brighouse & Rastrick
5. Hepworth (Lanson Homes)
6. Rothwell Temperance

Dark Horse: Sellers International

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