2008 Midlands Regional Championship - Retrospective: Third Section

13-Mar-2008

A fantastic new venue, fantastic bands, fantastic audience and a fatastic test piece. Old time banding was back in the Third Section and made for a great contest.


Roger Jepson of Matlock
Well directed: Roger Jepson of Matlock takes the silverware

What an improvement on years past. This venue ticked all the boxes and provided everyone with a facility we have cried out for.

Comprising a good size hall with ample seating and lots of natural light, there was plenty of space for the on stage band and a good acoustic – in fact, excellent facilities for all the competing bands, with a large changing area and a warm up room where bands had a full fifteen minutes at their disposal to get their lips in shape. 

Cafe fayre

Outside there was sufficient coach and car parking and a great café – yes, you heard, a café with reasonable fayre at reasonable prices. Mick Veasey, the contest controller, and his team provided slick, yet calm organisation that kept the contest running like the Japanese railway with an average 4 minutes turn round time between performances, which was a staggering achievement. Every detail was considered and competitors and the audience were kept well informed throughout, resulting in everyone getting the most out of the event.

Amazingly, the hall was at least two thirds full all day, and in fact the contest was sold out by lunchtime (it was like the good old days of banding!).  For the results there was standing room only, and in fact for the next day, extra tickets and seats had to be provided, and they were needed.  Brass banding dieing out? Not in the Midlands Area.

Excellent performances

The general standard of the bands was good with some excellent performances making it pretty tough for the judges.  Before the results both adjudicators, Malcolm Brownbill and David Lancaster gave an enlightening overview of the performances and the test piece.

They praised the general high quality of the performances, pointed out some of the pitfalls in the music that some dealt with and others didn’t, and gave particular praise to the percussion sections, who in the main were very good throughout. They also indicated that musicality; precision, tuning and assuredness were the criteria for success.  Demonstrate them all and you win, fail to demonstrate them, and you know the consequences.

There were  four or five outstanding offerings, whilst the rest were not that far behind either. Some went for musicality; some went for precision. The winners gave both in abundance.

Cracking start

Matlock
got off to a cracking start that created atmosphere and a feeling of expectation for the audience. The music had drive and showed lots of dynamic contrast in the quicker sections and the fugue motive in particular was absolutely rock solid in its delivery. 

The link to the slow section was given an extra touch of class by the glock that was accurate and tasteful, and overall the slow movement was flowing with solo lines well played. The high standard continued to a resolute and stirring end and the performance was very well directed by MD Roger Jepson.  Just the odd bit of intonation here and there, particularly in the louder sections when the band was really enjoying itself, but it was musical and precise and a very worthy winner.

Classy

Behind them came Wellington Telford with a solid, perhaps loud start, but which thereafter showed dynamic contrast as a feature throughout. 

All the fast sections were well handled and the percussion section were young and dynamic, but also had the odd lapse of consistency.  The slow section showed off a great sounding principal cornet, whilst the soprano added to the overall performance with a sparkling contribution. This was a performance that had a musical approach, flowing style and good effects and although the ensemble wasn’t always together it was still classy and deserved its final position.

Drive and control

University of Warwick
got off to a decent start and demonstrated drive and control in the quicker sections. The slow section seemed a little stilted but all the solo lines were safe and the band returned to top form in the reprise for a romp to the finish with great dynamic contrasts and a relentless pulse to the music.

A major contributor to this was the timpani player who was top class and the last eight bars or so was particularly exciting.  The soprano and euphonium players gave excellent accounts and a well balanced cornet section was also a feature. Just the odd lapses in ensemble and lack of flow in the slow movement may have cost them a point or two.
 
These three bands will represent the Midlands at the finals, and if they perform at this level they must be in with a chance of doing very well.

Leader of the chasing pack

The leader of the chasing pack was the very highly fancied Shirebrook WM.

Theirs was a performance of solidity and accuracy with good soloists and great band sounds, enhanced particularly by basses and bass trombone. However, in order to achieve the overall accuracy the MD chose (tactically I am sure) to subdivide the entire piece and the end result was a lack of musical flow that just kept this performance out of the qualification places. It was a well conceived tactic that just didn’t quite come off and the band missed out on qualification by the skin of its teeth. 

Very close on their heels in 5th place was WEM Jubilee. Playing off a number 3 draw they delivered a performance of clarity and after a solid start all the quicker sections were played with verve and precision.  The fugue was particularly well organised and the finale section was terrific with a full, balanced sound. The slow movement however caught the band out and little slips and tuning problems kept them away from the qualification places. 

The stars for us were the percussion section and in particular a very young lad whose lightning speed around the equipment and spot on accuracy had to be seen and heard to be believed.  Well done that man!

Bell motive

The last of the top six spots went to Bakewell Silver who got off to a good start, but suffered some rhythmic problems in the first fast section. The bell motive before the slow movement just didn’t come off but the band began to shine in the slow section with excellent contributions from the flugel and horn.

Once that was out of the way you could see and hear the band grow in confidence and they drove to the end with great panache with soaring euphonium playing and a great band sound.  The outcome could have been so different if the first section had reached the high quality of the middle and end.

Outside top six

Outside the top six was a group of bands who demonstrated good understanding of the piece and many good qualities, but also inconsistencies in performance that aided the adjudicators in their decision making.

The first of these was Kirkby Colliery who demonstrated possibly the best band sound of the day. A positive approach led by their dynamic MD, Stephen Berrill, it also featured excellent contributions from the solo trombone and flugel. However, as musical and passionate this performance was, the loose ensemble playing cost them dearly. If in the future this band gets the two elements of musicality and precision in the right balance, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Avonbank (Evesham) came 8th and got off to a relative slow start and must have had extra large moon boots on. They did burst into life at the first quick section and showed good dynamic contrast and there was an excellent link into the slow section which featured fine efforts by the horn, soprano and flugel. However, rhythmic problems and the some slowing of tempo in places gave the adjudicators reasons to punish.

Meanwhile, Rushden Windmill’s was a curate’s egg of a performance that was as good as the very best, but also lapsed into uncharacteristic relatively poor sections.

The start was reasonable enough, and the quick section and fugue motive were well organised and precise.  There was good work by the soloists in the slow section with the solo cornet particularly, but was undermined by some lapses in the accompaniments. Uneven rhythmic patterns towards the end cost dear, and a band that could so easily have featured in the prizes went home empty handed.

Merit

Newstead Abbey Brass
in 10th place produced a performance of real merit. 

Intonation problems in the slow passages gave the adjudicators the chance to mark it down, which is such a shame because everything else (apart from the doubtful start of the very last section) was so good. 

MD Lyndon Cooper inspired and encouraged his young troops with vigour and a smile that would have cheered up the most miserable person, and the quick sections were full of drive, energy and solid rhythm. 

The slower movement featured good solos and controlled ensemble whilst they also had a bass trombone player with a sound that would blow your garden shed down with ease. Yes, the tuning problems were very costly, but this band will put that right, and then competitors, be scared, be very scared….

Next group

The next group of bands sorted themselves out because they suffered the same problems as the higher placed bands but with greater frequency. 

At the head was Stamford in 11th place with a start that was not totally secure and which suffered loose ensemble.  The band produced a good balanced sound, well led by the basses and the MD Martyn Ford produced a reading of quality and a flowing style to the music that made for a good listen.

City of Birmingham also got off to a slow start (they must have borrowed Avonbanks moon boots) then got into the quick stuff with a strange staccato style that strangely was rhythmically spot on.  A good link to the slow movement led to good solo playing, but poor intonation from the accompaniments cost points.  The band played with just two basses, who worked their socks off throughout - so congratulations to them. 

One thing though. Why did the percussion ignore the tam-tam provided by the organisers and insist on using a small gong, then hit it with a beater borrowed from J Arthur Rank? It sounded like a very loud tin tray.  Not a great idea. It did remind me to get my sandwiches out though...

Audley Brass suffered a very unsubtle beginning, which led to an insecure faster movement with some unbalanced sounds. The slow movement featured really lyrical playing from the solo cornet, but tuning issues here were noticeable.  The run in to the end was much better though and the band playing was at its very best. MD Shaun Farrington gave good direction and a musical reading, but that opening cost dearly.

Cautious start

Dronfield CMW
meanwhile got off to a cautious start and the fast stuff was a little disjointed.  There were some good moments in this performance, but the star was the lady percussionist who lived every moment of the performance and led her section to a first class display.

Band number 1 is not the best draw and so it proved for Syston.  They produced one of the most atmospheric starts, showed good pulse and rhythm, good dynamic contrast and the solo parts were played well, whilst the MD Dennis Powell held the music in control.  However an untidy run into the ending and some recurring tuning issues were punished severely by the judges and a very harsh sentence was duly handed out.

Few pointers

The last two bands did make it a little easy for the judges to pick them out and will go away with a few pointers from the remarks to put things right for their next contest outings.

Moulton 77 produced an almost strange jazz like feel to the start, whilst slowed into the fast moving section where the pace was noticeably pedestrian.  The link to the slow movement didn’t quite come off and there were tuning and ensemble issues here and there, but it got better after the slow section and the band did romp home in some style.

Finally, Cubbington and a decent start up to the fugue motif, before it started to get a little loose.  The slow movement felt uncertain and the music lost direction towards the end, although the finale itself was well delivered.

Overall this was a great day out. The contest was a resounding success because the venue, the organisation, the test piece, the bands and the thoughtful and accurate adjudicators all played their part well.  Hearty congratulations to every one involved. 

Mike Kilroy

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