2007 British Open Championships - Postcard from Birmingham

20-Sep-2007

The 2007 British Open was very nearly perfect - from the thrilling climax of the contest to the 4BR Editor going partially deaf...


There was something subtly different about the British Open this year. 

Perhaps it was the trendy new design of the well produced programme (good value at £4.00 and not full of profitable but boring adverts as has been the case with others events of late), or the equally impressive study score (perhaps a tad expensive at a tenner, but then again some of the money went to the Mortimer Trust).

Percussion
Now just listen to this will you? YBS percussionist Sarah Burns makes her point

Perhaps it was the fact that the judges decided to speak to the audience (a welcome and appreciated response, made better by the fact that Steven Mead didn’t just go through the motions) or that the audience didn’t decide to take extended tea breaks just when a ‘lesser’ band took to the stage.

Maybe it was the fact that there was a sense of optimism about the place, from the well chosen set work, to the commitment of future support from the sponsors and the fact that the BBC had taken the time and money to send a camera crew up to record the event for a future BBC 4 programme. The organisation was impeccable as always, the hall staff were courteous and sympathetic to the odd request for a quick nip out to the loo and back without showing your ticket and it was even acknowledged that the judges had enjoyed the benefit of a quick pre contest run through the test piece by a decent band.

Camera
In our sights: The BBC seek out Nicholas Childs

Then there was the excellent decision to try and keep percussion movement down to a minimum with set positions for the major bits of exotica at the back of the bands (with Ray Payne once more doing a sterling job making sure things went smoothly). The presentation ceremony was slick and well managed even if there was only a couple of the Mortimer Trust Awardees present and it is always nice to be able to speak and photograph the winning band on the stage after the contest without being ushered off by an over enthusiastic jobsworth. The Open looks after the press very well indeed.

Perc
Hmmmmm! Do you think the judges really listen to us. Rothwell's percussionist may be thinking just that

The British Open may have been entering its 155th year, but there seemed a sense of revitalisation about the whole event. Even the Brass on Sunday Gala Concerts went well enough too whilst the main contest finished at a pretty respectable hour.

That is not to say everything was quite perfect of course.

Even with an 11.00am start there was still surely a need for at least one comfort break or perhaps even two, to help both the judges and especially the audience. When you hold a contest in a venue such as Symphony Hall with its persuasive immediate surroundings it would make the whole day more enjoyable if a extended break was provided, say halfway through to allow people to go off and have a nice lunch or enjoy their sandwiches on the canal front before returning refreshed to enjoy the second half of the entertainment.

Around band number 5 there was a noticeable drop in the number of bums on seats in the hall (it was around 12.30pm) as people opted for lunch over another performance of ‘Visions of Gerontius’. It was a touch unfair on the likes of Scottish Co-op, Reg Vardy and even the usual crowd puller of Brighouse & Rastrick, whilst later in the day the same thing happened around band 12 and Carlton Main, Hepworth and PolySteel.

Hall
Time for tea: Given the choice too many people are still opting for a lengthy cuppa or three

Given that audiences are becoming more choosy about who they listen to even at a major event such as this (by all accounts it was a sell out but even for Black Dyke and Cory it wasn’t more than 80% full) then perhaps something can be done to allow them a chance for a break but then still entice them back in. 

The only other little gripe concerned the award of the Best Soprano and Best Soloist Prize, which perhaps may be better undertaken by an independent judge in the open than the three men confined in the box.

Roberts
The top man: Peter Roberts picks up his soprano prize
Picture: John Stirzaker


Not wishing to cast any doubts over the choices of Peter Roberts and Richard Marshall this year (both of whom were excellent), but there is a growing sense that they are something of a ‘consolation’ prize. An independent judge, just concentrating on these two aspects of all the performances could perhaps be able evaluate the contributions from individual players from other bands, not just the ones from the top couple in the prize list – and there were some excellent contributions this year, especially from tuned percussionists in particular.

Talking of the judges it was great to see a new face this year with the selection of Steven Mead to adjudicate alongside William Relton and Geoffrey Whitham. Remember all that nonsense about him being in the box for the English Nationals? Didn’t hear a single murmur here did we now and the vast majority of people 4BR spoke to about the results felt the lads had done a wonderful job this year. 

Marshall
The best on the day: Richard Marshall takes the Best Soloist Award
Picture: John Stirzaker


Back on stage and the bands did themselves proud, with not one really weak performance from any of the 18 bands on show. 18 is still a few too many for us (we would like to see at 16) but there was little to complain about from any of them, even the ones who didn’t quite follow the exact instructions on the score.

Perhaps Kenneth Downie was being a bit too kind to the bands and cornet players in particular in allowing the escape clause of the principal cornet or bumper up taking over some of the solo lines responsibilities, but then again, that’s contesting for you. A special mention though to Gary Wyatt, third man at Desford who was the pick of the small bunch of lower solo cornet players who played his part as written – and quite brilliantly too.  

Elsewhere it came as something of a surprise that the euphonium players had such a quiet day (although come London they will be quaking in their boots) whilst it was also nice to hear the bass trombone get a bit of glory too. The standard of soprano cornet playing and tuned percussion was exceptionally high, although the same couldn’t be said of the horn playing, which was variable and the timpanists, many of whom went bonkers to often and obliterated many bands efforts.

As for the MDs, it was nice to see most refraining from trying to milk the applause from the audience for every last player they cared to stand up in the band at the end of their performance – although one or two still do it despite the fact that some hadn’t played that well. The screaming banshee supporters who used to make their presence felt here a few years ago are thankfully missing too, although they seem to be replaced by a few gormless individuals who wish to try and make their mark before their band has even taken to their seats to play a note.

One final thought. Did we get to hear the National Anthem this year or was the 4BR Editor cocking a deaf’ un. If we didn’t then great, if we did ten apologies for not noticing – I dare say old Brenda wouldn’t have minded too much, given that she couldn’t make it here again this year.

Iwan Fox

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