2008 Action Medical Research Championships - Retrospective

16-Feb-2008

There was a feast of entertainment for everyone to enjoy at Blackpool last weekend - with Rochdale once more coming out as champions.


There are only three things you can do when attending this contest - sit back, relax and enjoy everything that unfolds before your eyes and ears.  

Once again, 14 of the leading youth bands in the UK descended on a gloriously sunny Blackpool to provide a real musical feast, that just made you smile in appreciation of the lengths that are gone too to put a brass band entertainment programme together.  You can’t help but have admiration for each and every person that goes out onto the stage at the Spanish Ballroom.

The overall standard this year was simply terrific with bands from Macclesfield and Telford joining the competition and savouring the atmosphere for the first time.

Inspiration

Where the bands get the inspiration to devise such brilliant ideas as creating scenery for a train, or a door to open so an MD can walk through is anyone’s guess. However, that fearless approach to trying something – dare we say it – innovative – makes this contest such a pure delight.

Themed programmes were once again popular and very effective. Some set themselves up in big band formation and played that style of music (which made it remarkable given the nearest any of them would have got to it before playing it in their bands would have been by listening to their grand parents record collections).

Others went back to the Second World War and a nostalgic look back at the past (perhaps even further back the generational line there then!).  Each did it wonderfully well, although it did highlight the basic formula to success - the ability to be consistent in both musical and visual elements as well as trying something that little bit different. 

Contest organiser Gary Walczak is all in favour of new and innovative ideas. That meant that on a couple of occasions we had players playing the piccolo, violin and trumpet, although none were at the detriment to the overall brass inspired presentation– each instrument was included for a purpose, and all of the bands asked for permission to make sure it didn’t ruffle any feathers. 

If you want to try something different, and you’re not 100% sure on whether it would be acceptable, just ask – Gary and his team are the most open minded chaps in the banding world – and they’ll tell you if its OK or not.

Secure future

Whilst the competitive element remains on the day, the players revel in being part of something so special.  Of course they want to do well and be successful and not let anyone down (and no-one does) and that makes them all winners. That may sound like a well worn cliché, but it’s true.

The judges, Simon Kerwin (Music) and Peter Roberts (Entertainment) really did have the difficult decision of putting the bands in order of merit whilst heaping praise in their remarks where appropriate and giving encouragement too with guidance where required.  Peter also made the point that his approach to judging his category on the day was as though 'he was a member of the public paying to be entertained' - straight honest talking from the Yorkshireman as was his point about encouraging players to smile whilst on stage and look like they are enjoying the experience.  It's not easy to do, but vaild nonetheless.

Rochdale Borough Youth have set the benchmark here over the past three years, and they did it again this year to make it four in a row. They are some band under conductor Eric Landon, but he knows, there are bands after their crown. 

Youth Brass 2000, Sellers International and Beaumaris continue to lift their game to mightily impressive heights in a bid to wrestle that title from the Lancastrians, and they are getting closer and closer to their rivals each year.  As it was, it was these four bands that stood out from the rest in the challenge for the title.

Rochdale Borough Youth were simply terrific and thoroughly deserved their victory. Once again their programme contained moments of inspirational genius (and they weren’t on their own either on the day with regards to inspired moments) that came off big style. All you could do was sit there and say - ‘That’s just brilliant.’

Special ability

Eric Landon is the youth band equivalent of Richard Evans.   Somehow, he has that special ability to find a winning formula that adds that element of surprise to musicianship of the highest quality. Together it is an almost unbeatable combination. 

Having been drawn to play last to play, Rochdale opened with ‘Coronation Scot’, complete with players holding scenery and bass drums acting as the wheels to the great locomotive, whilst Eric stared things in motion with a blow of an authentic GWR guards whistle.  That energetic opener led into ‘Daisy, Daisy’ featuring the excellent Ben Wright on euphonium and Matthew Hindle on bass, a bicycle and some old fashioned romance – the nostalgic picture had real impact.

To change the mood completely, Sullivan’s evocative ‘Lost Chord’ was performed with a real sense of reverence.  The climax of their programme though came when percussionist Nathan Mills was featured playing ‘I am the very model of a modern Major-General’, from ‘Pirates of Penzance’ on xylophone and glockenspiel. 

Nathan, aided by a screen, alternated between the two instruments and each time his appearance changed between a smart uniform and pink frilly number. 

The quick flash changes were so slick and effectively done and the playing was just as good too that it came as no surprise that it went on to pick up the prize for ‘Best Soloist’ of the day.

Finally, to close, the march, ‘Entry of the Gladiators’ including principal cornet, Nosheen Sattar sparkling on a few bars on the piccolo.  It was all high quality stuff and the overall winners honours were not in real doubt, despite the fine efforts of those other bands. When those results came, they added prizes for the ‘Best Bass Section’ and ‘Best Back Row Cornets’ to that soloist prize, and to top it all, an invitation to perform at the premier senior entertainment contest, Brass in Concert on Saturday 15th November. They won’t be out of place there either.

Big band style

Youth Brass 2000 set up in a big band style formation and made a huge impact with a programme that had so much to admire about it. 

The playing was tight and precise throughout from the moment they hit the ground running with a ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ which was full of pizzazz.  The up-beat mood continued with Simon Kerwin’s arrangement of ‘My Favourite Things’ and ‘Gee Officer Kruppe’, that incorporated musical snippets from ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Sabre Dance’ too.

In contrast, Sarah Lenton, the band’s principal euphonium player, demonstrated what a fine player she is with an accomplished performance of ‘Softly as I Leave You’, and having demonstrated such good dynamic control in the march, ‘Entry of the Gladiators’, the band concluded their programme with an impressive piece entitled ‘Around the World’.

Increasing impression

Since entering this contest in 2005, Sellers International have finished 13th, 8th, 4th and now 3rd, and under Mark Bousie they continue to make an ever increasing impression in the youth contesting arena,

The MD’s attire certainly made an impression as the band really went for the jugular with an inspired pantomime theme. 

With everyone dressed up for their matinee performance, and with all the ‘Oh yes it is, Oh no it isn’t’ out of the way, the MD appeared from out of a book cover in true Richard Evans style to say ‘Oh yes it is’ and on with the show.

Mark was dressed as a cross between Dick Whittington, an ‘Olde England’ Lord Mayor in his regalia, Ronnie Corbett in some of the classic ‘Two Ronnies’ sketches and a posh Oliver Twist.

Sellers were one of the few bands to go for the humour element as well. It was slapstick at times but as Kenny Everett used to say, it was done ‘all in the best possible taste’- even with a cow in the march, ‘Blaze Away’. 

Visually, the most entertaining item for Peter Roberts was ‘O Fortuna’ complete with a pantomime villain weaving his mischievous magic and slicing a women in half before everything returned to normal.

It was clever, clever stuff, but the musical side of their performance just needed that extra touch of finesse. They were not far away from the top two – with the promise of even greater things to come in the future.  They rounded their programme off with a super number from Peter Meechan aptly named ‘Curtain Call’ and the players and MD could look back with great satisfaction with their efforts. 

Tribute

Beaumaris Youth played late on the day and resplendent in period costume, opted to pay tribute to Remembrance Sunday and the Royal British Legion. 

Opening with a polished interpretation of Sousa’s ‘Semper  Fidelis’ that won the prize for ‘Best March’, another gem came with the portrayal of the hymn ‘O Valiant Heart’,  featuring a very talented young cornet player with a delightful tone – you could practically hear a pin drop in the hall, it was gorgeous stuff.

The band’s soprano player Graham Bushell, was on super form and his performance throughout brought him the prize of the ‘Best Soprano’.  Paul Hughes’ band closed with ‘Keep Smiling Through/We’ll Meet Again’ and just like Sellers, they’d performed to a very consistent level throughout and fourth place was richly deserved.

Consistent

Wardle High and Lee Rigg can never be discounted on the contesting stage as their win at the National Youth Championships last year testified. 

Once again, Lee pulled every ounce out of his band during their themed ‘Around the World’ musical tour, which included music from India, Britain, France, Africa and China before wrapping everything up with the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, ‘America’ and ‘Somewhere’ from ‘West Side Story’.

What stood out, in addition to the choreography for the ‘Can Can’, was the consistency of the playing, which was neat and tidy in its execution from start to finish.  It was an impressively consistent overall performance.

Reward

Poynton
revisited old ground with ‘Cry of the Celts’.  4BR has heard Andy Hirst’s band do this before and although the entertainment factor wasn’t very prominent (they came 11th in this category), musically, it was very well performed and was rewarded with third place in terms of music and sixth overall.

Enderby Youth had the unenviable task of following Sellers on stage and performed very well indeed.  They opened with ‘Has Anyone Seen Ma’ma?’ complete with snippets of ‘Trumpets Wild’,  ‘Mozart’, the march ‘BB & CF’ and vocal accompaniment, that unfortunately wasn’t always aligned to the sound of the band.

It was their flugel player who was the star of the show though with a delightful rendition of ‘The Way we Were’ where the soloist displayed excellent control and technique throughout.  The band closed with a piece called ‘Visions’, that had plenty of choreography with the ensemble moving from the stage, onto the ballroom floor and back again.

Musically though it didn’t quite have the impact the band was looking for but they showed plenty of promise and were rewarded at the results ceremony for being the band judged to have ‘Most Potential’. Watch out for them next year.

Second World War

Finishing in joint seventh place with Enderby was Elland who focussed on music from the Second World War years. 

This was great entertainment throughout (reinforced by Peter Roberts’ placing of sixth place in this category) with the band all dressed in wartime costume. The music varied from ‘Colonel Bogey’, ‘Nightfall in Camp’, ‘633 Squadron’ and the ‘Bugle Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B’. 

Every item was carried out with full enthusiasm and total conviction from the West Yorkshire band and we are sure some of the players must have raided their grandparent’s attics for some of the fantastic props and costumes!

Entertainment

Saddleworth’s Boarshurst Youth came second here last year but didn’t quite make the same impression this time around.  Focussing on an ‘entertainment’ themed set they appeared to take time to settle and it was in their closing numbers, ‘Ghostbusters’ and Bach’s ‘Toccata in D Minor’ where they excelled the most.

Debut

Congratulations must go to Telford Youth who were only formed last September and delivered their first ever contest performance here. 

Wayne Ruston’s band thrived with Heather Fury catching the eyes and ears on cornet in ‘Share my Yoke’, as did Jake Devine and Jonathan Mercer on tuba in a cracking interpretation of the ‘Radetzky March’, which was more like ‘Radetzky Goes Tubas’. Wayne Ruston is an excellent band trainer and the band seems set for a bright future under his leadership. They will be another to watch grow and develop here over the coming years we are sure.

Two bands appearing on the day started off in identical fashion with the first two pieces. 

Tewitt and Dobcross both walked into the hall playing ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’, before their cornet soloist’s played ‘Georgia on My Mind’.  Both were excellent.

Tewitt also included in their programme the rare Rimmer march ‘The Wizard’ and also a piece from David Lancaster entitled ‘Bright Star’.  Dobcross’s Americana orientated offerings also included a fine performance of ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans’

Terrific

As with Telford, warmest congratulations go to Louise Renshaw’s Macclesfield Youth who also made their debut at this event after two years in existence.

They were terrific with music linked to dancing.  Everyone looked as smart as a bright new penny too with the ladies in elegant dresses whilst the band’s principal cornet got the chance to walk onto stage as though he was walking onto the dance floor with the MD. 

The real star of the show here though was Tom Gilbertson on bass trombone in ‘Mini the Moocher’. What a star performer! 

Finally, Colin Duxbury’s Stockport Schools deserve nothing but praise for their efforts.  The band’s flugel horn soloist was in great form in ‘Marianne’, whilst there was some lovely playing in ‘Irish Blessing’ and the cracking Rimmer march, ‘The Arabian’.

Army Band feature

Whilst the results were being co-ordinated and after eight hours of contesting, the British Army Band with guest soloist, Alex Kerwin, gave a short but enjoyable concert.

Once again, this year’s event was notable for its slick and professional organisation.  The back stage team do a terrific job putting everybody at ease and 4BR has been asked to thank those behind the scenes who welcome people on arrival and put them at ease and make them all feel part of the day. 

It’s the sort of thing that we never see, but it’s appreciated by everybody and Gary Walczack his wife, Monica and the huge team, work tirelessly to make things run smoothly.

Money raised

Around £5000 was raised from the players in the bands and the audience and overall this event remains a highlight in the packed banding calendar.

Next year it celebrates its 25th anniversary on Sunday 8th February, but this year it again demonstrated that the future of our movement is in good hands.  If you’ve never been, make a note for next year - you won’t be disappointed by what you see or hear. 

Malcolm Wood and David Tinker

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