2008 Yorkshire Regional Championship - Retrospective: Championship Section

5-Mar-2008

Brass banding in its most elemental form - the Championship Section just about had it all...


Black Dyke
We've won our cup back! Black Dyke celebrate their regional championship win

This really was a brass band contest in its most elemental form: 4 hours or so of absolutely riveting battle; intense and committed, on numerous occasions musically inspiring, at times quite stunningly brilliant. 

You had to agree with adjudicators Peter Bassano and David Read – there were five or six performances here that were more than worthy of a place at the Royal Albert Hall. The top three in particular contained playing of such quality that they could have walked away with just about any contest, let alone a regional event, if they performed anywhere else in the world except St George’s Hall on Sunday night.  At times it really was as good as it gets.

Memorable

Black Dyke were memorable winners – their first since 2002, with a performance of such authority and style that it left you breathless; Grimethorpe very nearly their equal. Carlton Main was musically inspired to claim third place, whilst Rothwell delivered with such calm assuredness of purpose to claim the final, priceless qualification spot.

Someone had to miss out, and Brighouse, drawn 1, will have returned to West Riding knowing that they could have done nothing more in their bid for glory. Anywhere else this year and their performance may have won, let alone qualified for Kensington.

Meanwhile, Marsden took sixth place with a performance David Read described as very good indeed – and it must have been for it beat some pretty good efforts into the minor placings.

Both David and Peter must have sat back in the tent and revelled in the opportunity to compare and contrast the best performances of ‘Festival Music’, especially as both stated that not one band on the day had approached the work as if it had been written last week, by a Wilby or a Sparke.

That comment was made to highlight the style of the writing, rather than to denigrate the composers in question, and it was illuminated further by an excellent précised analysis by Peter Bassano prior to the announcement of the results.

Best speech

Somehow he managed to fit the history of religiously inspired medieval music, Eric Ball’s vocal musical foundations, chord structures, Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, 1950’s musical education and the acoustic of St George’s Hall into one of the best five minute speeches heard at any time at a brass band contest. It told you everything you wanted to know and why.

David Read was left with the very nice task of just adding the cherry on the cake so to speak – and did so with his usual perceptive style. We are sure David’s wife will have forgiven him for celebrating their Golden wedding anniversary in a box in Bradford, although we are equally sure he will have to treat her royally in the coming weeks as a result! The occasion demanded that our top adjudicator judge it, and Mrs Read very graciously relented. We all owe her a bunch of flowers. 

It was also very difficult therefore to disagree with their decision. The top five bands stood out from the rest of a high class field by sheer dent of their overall quality and the excellence of their conductors decisions not to mess with the intentions of the Mozart inspired score. As some one once said - it takes a very special kind of musical genius to ruin Mozart – and thankfully on Sunday few were on display. 

Outstanding

What was was plenty of quite outstanding individual contributions to bands performances – from top to bottom of the prize list. The art of lyrical cornet playing rose from the dead with the usual suspects such as Roger Webster, Richard Marshall (who took the Best Soloist prize) and Kirsty Abbotts all on superb form, but others such as Alan Hobbins at YBS, Steven Wilkinson at Brighouse and David Hale at Rothwell (who played the main slow melody contribution on 3rd man) all quite stunning. 

The standard of horn playing too was excellent, whilst it was a pleasure to hear a host of euphonium players deliver authentically understated contributions, leaving the whooping and the hollering pyrotechnics at home for once. David Thornton was the undoubted pick of the day and deservedly won the Eddie Noble Adjudicators Award, whilst others such as Michael Howley at Brighouse, Michael Dodd at Grimethorpe, David Belshaw at Carlton Main and Mark Bousie at Pennine all on the very top of their game.

Soprano players had generally a very good day too, although some will have wondered why their conductors asked them to hold on for dear life to the final note of the first movement like an illegal immigrant on the back of a Ford Transit at Tilbury docks. Again, the usual suspects were all on top form, but a special mention for David Bird at Carlton Main, Mark Smedley at Hepworth, the young unknown lady  at Marsden and especially Bert van Thienen at Black Dyke, all of whom were quite excellentl.

Alex Ferguson

The big Belgian had been booked months ago by Nicholas Childs to play at Bradford in agreement with regular sop Paul Duffy, whom the band see as the long term replacement for the departed Peter Roberts. The personable 19 year old is being nurtured by the MD a bit like Alex Ferguson did with Ryan Giggs when he first appeared on the football scene – and look what became of him. It may have raised a few eyebrows on those who look for the smallest of changes at Dyke as a signal of potential implosion, but this wasn’t one of them.

It was also nice to see Paul enjoying the winning celebrations with the band and receiving a genuine hug of appreciation from the MD and his short term replacement on the stage with the cup.

Breathtaking

Drawn last of the twelve there was real pressure on Black Dyke to start their contesting year on a high after finishing 2007 with the Queensbury prize cabinet bare. 

In the event they delivered a breathtaking rendition of the test piece – technically nigh on faultless and musically nigh on unbeatable. The MD drew rich responses from his players, both soloists and ensemble, and captured the subtle nuance of the Mozartian style with such telling effect.  It was playing of the very highest quality, delivered in impeccable style, all with that added sheen of inspired direction.

So too Grimethorpe, with a performance that was inspired by a wonderful piece of direction from Allan Withington. The quality of their ensemble balance, the precision of the execution and the understated lyricism in the middle movement of their main soloists was just about as good as it gets – until Black Dyke came along that is.

They will of course be disappointed, but perhaps the difference on the day was that Grimethorpe’s performance did contain a number of little minor blemishes, the tinniest of scratch marks on the top of a Chippendale table top. The overall construction was a still thing of great beauty and stature but it wasn’t as ultimately perfect as its makers would have hoped.  

The two point winning margin was perhaps a touch flattering, but Grimethorpe will know that they were beaten by a band on the very, very best of form on the weekend – not that it will make them any happier of course! 

Romantically inspired

There was little doubt that these two performances were the very pick of the bunch, but Carlton Main was not that far behind.

Russell Gray’s romantically inspired interpretation really made an impression, especially in the second movement where he pulled every last ounce of emotion from the score. His players were on top form – especially Kirsty Abbotts who was sublime. The rather speedy opening ‘Overture’ may just have been in need of a slightly more tempered approach at times, but overall this was playing of a very high quality from start to finish, and a trip to the Royal Albert Hall was fully deserved. 

So too Rothwell in fourth, with a performance rich in purpose, robust ensemble and solid solo contributions. Dave Roberts once again led by example with an acute sense of his bands strengths and weaknesses. It was intelligent musicianship from the conductor and his players – nothing overstated or over played, lots of good sense and musical understanding.

They very nearly let it slip in the final three bars, which were a mess, but up until then it was playing of considerable substance that once again showed what a consistent band they are at this level.

Rue draw

Brighouse will be rueing the draw perhaps after a performance that again signalled the change of musical direction that the band is going in. They now produce a wonderfully rounded sound, allied to a strong line up of solo players and precise execution.

Alan Morrison’s direction and interpretation was clearly defined and despite the odd moment of discomfort it was a performance that held the listeners attention and appreciation. They were unlucky that only two additional qualification places were up for grabs as on this form they would have been strong contenders for the national title itself.   

Sixth placed Marsden will of course be delighted with their result although it may give MD Glyn Williams a bit of a headache to overcome next year as both Bradford and Blackpool are due to be run on the same day. That’s a problem for another day though.

Here they were compact, cohesive and solid – a non nonsense approach that appealed in the box, and one that certainly sounded well rehearsed even if the execution wasn’t in the same class as the bands that eventually came above them. The reading though was spot on – with well chosen tempi, just the right sense of rubato and a tight rein on the accelerator in the finale.

That was the judges top six, and as we said, it was hard to disagree with them. We opted for Black Dyke, Grimethorpe, Carlton Main and Brighouse as our top four with Rothwell in fifth and Hepworth in sixth. Behind them it was close with our ear taken by YBS, then Marsden, Imps, Pennine, Stocksbridge and Hatfield.

Grimace

David Read and Peter Bassano eventually opted for Pennine Brass in 7th place and in retrospect you could see why. Ray Farr set out a neutral reading that asked only as much from his charges that he knew that they could give. Whilst it didn’t always come off as expected (there were too many little nasty moments that did detract) overall it was a performance of substance and merit even if the trombone tuning at one point made Ray grimace!

YBS could perhaps count themselves a touch unlucky, as there was little wrong in Morgan Griffiths’ approach to the score. He set out a broad and lyrical account that seemed to be going very well until the frailty in some lines started to become ever more noticeable.

A superb piece of cornet playing from Alan Hobbins was a delight however and there were fine contributions from flugel and horn too, but a hit of tiredness and the odd rough edge here and there cost them dearly.

Artisan

Unfortunatley Hepworth’s artisan approach to the piece didn’t find favour in the box. A well crafted and obviously well prepared account just lacked that hint of deep seated sheen that the top five bands had on the day and it sounded a touch over cautious at times in comparison. You admired it for its aesthetic construction (it was perhaps one of the cleanest accounts of the day) rather than its emotive musicality and that meant that it couldn’t register higher than its eventual 9th place.

The bottom three bands will have perhaps known that they were to find themselves there come the announcement of the results after they delivered enjoyable but noticeably flawed performances.

Chinese

Yorkshire Imps and Jim Davies (resplendent in a great red tie) were going along well enough, nothing more nothing less, unless a very strange Chinese inspired moment of duet playing undermined their chances of coming any higher than 10th.  Stockbridge’s robust and at times forceful account was also solid and unpretentious, but the safety first approach to dynamics in particular meant that the essential lightness of much of the writing was lost and they could have no cause for complaint at coming 12th.

Finally Hatfield who although not struggling, never quite got to grips musically with the piece despite solid ensemble and solo lines – it sounded rather hard work and against the quality of rivals on show they were never going to come any higher than they eventually did.

Vote loser

Prior to the announcement of the results there were the usual presentations and speeches (including a rather strange one from the local Mayor, who surely lost more votes than he gained with his understanding of the brass band movement).

No complaints really from anyone at the end result and no complaints about the standard of the fare that they had listened too either. Elemental brass band contesting as good as this is something for everyone to savour – especially if you are Black Dyke it seems.

Iwan Fox 

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