2008 Midlands Regional Championship - Retrospective: Second Section

13-Mar-2008

An attention grabber right at the end saw victory head for Coventry in the Second Section on a piece many took too lightly...


City of Coventry
Cooper of Coventry: Steve Cooper holds the silverware

There won’t be too many bands around the Regional’s this year that can lay claim to a winning margin of four points; but that is exactly the feat that City of Coventry and Stephen Cooper achieved in sealing Second Section victory at Bedworth’s Civic Hall. 

Entertaining contest

In a highly entertaining contest eleven bands battled it out for the two qualification spots on offer whilst Kenneth Downie’s Three Part Invention was clearly a piece that the contenders enjoyed getting to grips with; even if, as David Lancaster pointed out prior to the results, it offered little for the bands to really “get their teeth into”.

It was a comment that partly alluded to the stark contrast with Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s The Dark Side of the Moon, David Lancaster having co-presided over the Midland Third Section contest the previous day. Lovatt-Cooper’s work has been immensely rewarding to prepare for many of the Third Section bands involved in this year’s contests, whilst at the same time giving them more then enough to chew over.

Too lightly

Those Second Section bands in Bedworth that took Downie’s outwardly quirky Three Part Invention too lightly however did so at their peril; on the day there were precious few performances that captured the contrasts between the Prelude, Romance and Caprice with the imaginative style that was needed to tickle the fancy of David Lancaster and John Roberts.

Early marker

One band that succeeded in throwing down an early marker though was Bilton Silver (Rugby), benefiting from the experienced direction of Brian Clarke. Ten o’ clock was an early start off the number one draw for Bilton but there was a good deal to commend in the playing. 

Whilst the Prelude was not without its lumps here and there, the Romance showed both poise and attention to dynamics. The band found a lively style in the Caprice and if it had not been for those bumps returning from the opening movement this was a performance that could have forced its way a little higher up than its eventual fifth place.

There was one particular player in the ranks of Bilton that deserves a special mention. The band’s young timpanist might not have had legs long enough to reach the pedals but boy did he play well…a star in the making we reckon.

Cautious opening

Following Bilton on stage, Stourport-on-Severn got off to a rather cautious opening although confidence did slowly grow as the Prelude progressed. It was very clear in the Romance that the players were putting real effort into making music of the notes and although it did not always quite come off the effort continued into the Caprice. Here the style was not quite light enough to rank the band with the best of the day but sixth was a creditable result for a performance that showed no shortage of endeavour.

Playing off number three, Leicestershire Co-op and Graham Jacklin made an immediate impression. There was a confidence about the Prelude that we had not so far heard, with time changes seamlessly handled and impressive dynamic control. Warm sounds in the Romance were coupled with a real feeling for the flow of the music and whilst the Caprice got just a little heavy handed at times, there was a spirit about the playing that for our money only the eventual winners were to better. 

We had them second although ultimately the band had to be content with third; one off a trip to Harrogate.

Encouraging start

Sharon Stansfield’s Long Eaton Silver Prize was another band that got off to an encouraging start. Here though it was consistency that proved to be the undoing. Throughout the performance there were touches of quality on display but a slightly heavy Romance did not quite achieve the necessary lightness of touch whilst occasional lapses in ensemble threatened to disturb the flow of the music. 

The Caprice built up to an exciting conclusion whilst not quite achieving the rhythmic stability of the best on the day and the final outcome was seventh place. Long Eaton continues to show great promise though and the band is likely to be a real contender next year.

Flashing blue light

The draw for fifth and sixth fell to West Mercia Constabulary and Arrow Valley respectively and for David Bishop-Rowe and his team the flashing blue light was needed on more than one occasion. A shaky opening in the cornets recovered to some degree although the performance continued to be dogged by too many clips, scrappy ensemble and a rather heavy handed approach to the Romance resulting in eleventh place. 

Andy Culshaw steered Arrow Valley through early nerves to a Caprice that had a good deal of spirit but here it was the Romance that once again let things down. Heavy dynamics and intonation issues did not go unnoticed and resulted in eighth place.

Close

Harborough
and Chris Groom must have been pleased with the relative comfort of a number seven draw and turned it very much to their advantage to secure the runner up spot and a trip to the finals. Chris Groom’s careful attention to the score was instrumental in the band’s placing and although not the cleanest performance of the day, the players captured a good feeling for the capricious nature of the third movement in particular. 

We had them third behind Leicestershire Co-op but it was always going to be a close run thing.                         

Dazzled

Rob Boulter initially dazzled the audience with a shirt louder than any band on the day, before directing Oddfellows Brass to a very creditable fourth place from the number eight draw. The Prelude did not quite settle, although by the Romance the band had found its feet with warm sounds and a good feeling for the musical line. The Caprice moved along very nicely indeed and although the percussion threatened to take over at the end it was a lively and exciting conclusion.

For Daventry Brass and Porthywaen, the numbers nine and ten respectively were the order of the day with both band’s finishing positions corresponding exactly with their draw numbers. It is fair to say that neither band found the going easy. For Daventry nerves seemed to play a big part with individual entries lacking in confidence, obscured rhythmic detail and unsteady tempos. For Porthywaen there were fewer individual errors but intonation issues caused problems throughout, most noticeably in the Romance.

Attention grabber

And so it fell to the last band to turn in a performance that was going to grab the adjudicator’s attention from the opening bar. Confidence in the Coventry camp was running high (“it’s a winning draw” Steve Cooper had quipped with us beforehand) but the goods still have to be produced on stage and that is exactly what the band did. 

Blemish free it was not but there was immediately a sense of style on display that after ten other performances made the piece sound as fresh as if hearing it for the first time; relaxed in the Prelude, flowing in the Romance and whimsical in the Caprice.

Four points was quite a margin but David Lancaster and John Roberts were unanimous in their praise for both band and conductor; there were few in the audience that would have argued we suspect.

With City of Coventry and Harborough going forward as the Midlands representatives in Harrogate then, it brought the curtain down on an engaging Second Section battle that set the scene for plenty of discussion in the bar and the prospect of an intriguing Championship Section showdown to follow later in the afternoon.

Christopher Thomas

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