2007 National Championships of Great Britain - Postcard from Kensington

24-Oct-2007

Happy days are here again? It seems someone has been listening and has given the old contest some HRT jabs.


Although we are a long way off yet from fully reprising the glory days of the National Championships, for the second year in a row here in Kensington there was a sense that the grand old dowager of the British brass band contesting scene is enjoying improving health. 

Perhaps the old girl has benefited from a form of brass band HRT – Healthy Respect Treatment for the long suffering punters from the organisers Kapitol Promotions. In the last couple of years they have taken a number of well thought out decisions about the way in which the day has been run and organised, allied to their Music Panel making some pretty popular choices with the music to be played.

Gurads
Adding a classy touch of glamour - The Coldstream Guards on parade

The result is that a once crusty old contest has had a new lease of life and there is now a healthy and rosy complexion on her face – rather than yet another pretence to camouflage the faults by another application of misplaced rouge. 

Once more there was a decent crowd in to hear all 20 bands – perhaps not as high as 12 months ago (but then again last year the country wasn’t caught up in the English rugby team getting to the World Cup Final on the same day), but still encouraging nonetheless.    

The organisers had also taken the sensible approach of having a break at the halfway point in the contest as well as keeping the post contest hiatus between the last band and the announcement of the winners to a manageable and well-presented 40 minutes. It meant less opportunity for the fatigued or bored to claim a 'cup of tea' band as an excuse for a quick fag and a half of bitter.

In for a listen to Dyke
The hall fills up for Black Dyke

Black Dyke may have known that they hadn’t done enough to take the title this year (then again, nobody could really have expected to beat an inspired Grimethorpe on the type of form they showed on the day). However, they were slickly professional as is their norm and the musical features gave the crowd an enjoyable lightweight mix, whilst still remembering two great ambassadors and players lost to the movement in the past year – Willie Lang and Don Lusher.

Hall
And empties... as Reg Vardy take to the stage

By all accounts the 40 minutes of playing was just enough as the adjudicators were still pondering over some of the minor placings right up until Dyke had played their final note of their presentation. No problems with the winners or the top ten, but just an extra clarification over the bands in the bottom third. Nobody can quibble about having to wait a minute or two more when that care and attention is given by the judges.

Cornets
What a line up of talent: The cornet sections of Cory and Dyke entertain the audience

That said then, it still came as one heck of a disappointment that all we got from the three men in the box was a little speech explaining why they were not going to say anything from Derek Broadbent. We have the greatest respect for all three judges (and they did a super job on the day) but if you are not going to say anything about the performances then why take the opportunity to tell the audience that they are not going to get anything anyway? 

After debutant judge Steven Mead did such a wonderful job at the British Open, wouldn’t it have been great to hear what David King had made of the his day in the box.

A lot of people are now starting to think in much broader terms about the future of our major contests – including Kapitol Promotions here, so the time has surely come to end this short sighted anachronism – it really does sound so patronising to an audience who now expect and deserve more for supporting an event.

The organisers certainly appreciate this now it seems. The programme cost £4.00 and was value for money, well set out and full of information, whilst the study score was also of the same high quality. There was also the added bonus of an appropriate sense of occasion to the presentation ceremony with a classy touch in getting the fanfare team from the Coldstream Guards to add a little bit of glamour before the announcement of the winners (also neatly arranged by G.O. Jones with motifs from the test piece).

Hats off to Kapitol for all that, even if the Albert Hall is still a horrendously expensive place to get a bite to eat and the odd cup of tea.

The test piece proved to be a real winner too. Philip Sparke has long had the knack of giving both the bands and audience something to enjoy (although we doubt if solo cornet and euphonium players will be sending him too many Xmas cards this year after he put them through the grinder early doors) and this year was no exception.

‘Music for Battle Creek’ was a high class work (although the slightly abrupt ending seemed to just leave things slightly unresolved) and the players, conductors and supporters we spoke to about it all gave it a very firm thumbs up. You can’t ask for more than that can you now? 

The overall standard of solo playing was very good indeed with a number of euphonium players really shining, even if not one duet combination really nailed the fiendishly difficult unison cadenza. The symmetry was never quite perfect even in the very best renditions from the top three bands in the results.

Michael Dodd was a worthy winner of the soloist award, but others such as Morgan Griffiths at YBS, David Childs at Cory and Darren Morris at Tredegar pushed him very close. Solo cornet players also played well, with Roger Webster still the daddy, whilst not too many trombone players really nailed their difficult contribution, especially in the last movement Rondo. The one notable exception was Jonathan Pippen of BTM, who was the class act of the slide on the day.

Conductors varied – there was the usual mix of the good, the bad and the ugly – as well as some pretty odd interpretations of the opening statement of the entire piece. Some tried to elongate the first note to such a degree that it made it sound like it was being leant on by 20 stone sumo wrestler. What possessed them to think it would work was beyond us. Getting the cornet or euphonium player to go walkabout for the cadenza or the standing trombones from Brighouse didn’t work also.

Mead
Shirtsleeve stuff: Steven Mead adopts a more casual pose with Whitburn

Some conductors do have very odd ideas at the Royal Albert Hall, although we could excuse Steven Mead from appearing in shirtsleeves given the temperature on stage. Surely it would be better for all of them to just take the opportunity to look, listen and learn from Alan Withington. Six times he has won here in the past decade now – so why not try and find out what he does and implement it with other bands? He is such a class act.

All in all then a fine day, and an enjoyable one too. Things are really looking up for the Nationals at the Royal Albert Hall now and more of this over the next few years and we could very well be seeing the ‘Full House’ signs up once more on Kensington high street.


Iwan Fox

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