2008 Midlands Regional Championship - Retrospective: First Section

13-Mar-2008

A huge field but still the same problems - not many found their sea legs in Bedworth - apart from the qualifiers of course...


Hathern
Hathern hit the right notes

Much has already been said about James Cook – Circumnavigator and its suitability as a test piece at First Section level. As in Yorkshire the week before, the simple fact of the matter in Bedworth was that the substantial field of eighteen bands found it to be a mightily treacherous voyage indeed. 

For some it was a case of sea sickness all the way, whilst for others the ship had hit Davy Jones’ Locker before the voyage had progressed at all.

Unscathed

What we were left with was a very select group of contenders that managed to capture the motion of the ocean without falling prey to every pitfall along the way. It’s fair to say though that not one band emerged from the voyage totally unscathed.

In Kevin Wadsworth and John Roberts there could hardly be two adjudicators more familiar with the score. Both had prepared and conducted the piece in Yorkshire the previous weekend with John Roberts still flushed from the success of guiding Skelmanthorpe to victory. Kevin Wadsworth’s association with the work goes back to his playing days at Black Dyke where he learnt it very much from “the inside”.

Judges credit

It was to the adjudicator’s credit that one particularly refreshing aspect of the day’s proceedings was their detailed (not to mention witty) chat with the audience prior to the results. It was beneficial for all present to hear them clearly define what they had listened for from the competing bands; namely strict adherence to the markings of the score coupled with a sense of the vivid atmosphere Vinter creates in what is, after all, a highly pictorial piece of writing.

Winning performance

The winning performance came late in the day with Glossop Old emerging victorious from a number seventeen draw. There were few in the audience that would have doubted Glossop’s performance as one of the strongest of the day; it was stamped with authority from the opening bars, displaying a confidence that was absent from all but a few bands in the section.

Despite the understated conducting style of Jonathan Davies (no histrionics on display here) the band responded in impressive fashion with sound displays from the soloists and a solidity of ensemble that whilst not perfect (no band could lay claim to that) got as close as anyone succeeded in doing. A three point winning margin was clear evidence of the esteem in which the adjudicators held the performance.

Phoenix in ascendent

Phoenix West Midlands Brass
continue to be a band in the ascendancy and playing last in the first half of the draw, were the very clear winners of the first session. For a band that is enjoying its initial taste of First Section contesting this was a performance of astonishing confidence.

Directed with charisma and dynamism by David Maplestone (he could be clearly heard egging his players on from our position five rows from the front) the band turned in one of the most vividly atmospheric readings of the day, with impressive attention paid to dynamic contrast and balance. 

If we had a gripe it would be the fact that the band’s enthusiasm just occasionally got the better of it in terms of edgy sound, but there is no taking away the band’s deserved achievement of runner up and another trip to Harrogate.

Hathern delight

With three bands qualifying from the section it fell to a delighted Hathern to take the final place in Harrogate. Commencing the second half of the draw at number ten Hathern’s was a performance that hit most of the right notes (quite literally compared to some). Despite that however, for us it didn’t always quite settle with tempos inclined to waiver.
 
It was David Newman’s truthfulness to the score that ensured it caught the adjudicator’s ears though and captured not only a trip to the final but a marked improvement on last year’s eleventh position for the band.

Missing out

In fourth place and just missing out on a trip to the final it was another First Section debutante in the form of Carlton that succeeded in achieving a highly impressive transition to the higher level. From this point in the results it is fair to say that the quality of playing was considerably more variable with Carlton’s strengths lying in astute direction from Walter Richie, an admirable attempt to capture the atmosphere of the score and an excellent contribution from the band’s solo cornet player. 

The band sound did tend to the brash at times and there was some occasionally shaky ensemble on display but this was a brave attempt that more than proves Carlton’s capability of competing at this level.

Crashing

Lying in fifth and sixth positions respectively Foss Dyke and Wigston both gave performances that had moments of quality whilst not quite maintaining that level of consistency throughout. In the case of Foss Dyke it was a pleasure to have them back after the band’s enforced absence last year and John Davis shaped the music particularly well in a performance that merited its placing for its musicality. 

Garry Sleath and Wigston started well despite suffering a tam-tam crashing to the floor in the early bars and again the music was well shaped. Ultimately though there were too many insecurities in the playing to secure a higher placing and for our money sixth was not far off the money (we had them seventh).

Experience

In eighth place Jackfield (Elcock Reisen) had the benefit of the experience of John Maines to guide them through and made a bold, confident start. The early voyage captured the motion of the waves well with all parts heard (so few bands managed to produce the right balance on the day) but after such a promising start things became far too brash with intonation straining all too often as a result. In the end it was a case of so near and yet so far.

In our opinion Foresters Brass 2000 and Pete Collins can count themselves unlucky for their ninth place. For such a young band they produced playing of impressive control and a maturity well beyond their relatively tender years. In short this was intelligent music making and a fine attempt at the spirit of the music. 

They were not the biggest sounding band of the day and maybe this held them back to some degree with the adjudicators but Foresters are a band we will be listening out for with interest in future contests.

Early marker

Gresley Colliery
and Langley occupied the tenth and eleventh positions with Gresley in particular throwing down a reasonable early marker from a number two draw. We had them in ninth position but even with Simon Lenton on principal cornet there were too many cracks in the playing to figure higher in the final analysis. 

Langley and Cliff Parker were one of numerous bands that hit the music more like an articulated juggernaut than a sailing ship and paid the price in tuning issues as well as lack of all round subtlety despite decent contributions from the soloists.

Bad day at office

For Kevin Steward and Hopkins Blidworth Welfare it was simply a bad day at the office. Sadly the ship started taking in water from the opening bars and it was a pretty rapid descent to the bottom from there on in. It was all etched on the player’s faces throughout and whilst a seemingly lofty twelfth place might have come as a surprise to many in the audience it must have been a mighty relief to the members of the band.

In thirteenth position Towcester Studio had the unenviable task of playing number one. Huw Thomas did his level best to steer the ship smoothly and whilst the soloists put up an admirable attempt, ragged ensemble and poor tuning plagued the performance all too often.

Tuning problems

At the other end of the day, playing last and with tuba ace Ken Ferguson in charge, Ibstock Brick Brass also suffered from tuning problems, shaky ensemble and hesitant solo contributions although old hand Ian Partner on first baritone ensured a clean start to the fugue, something not even the best bands on the day managed consistently.

Head scratching

And so we come to one of those head scratching moments that we sometimes encounter in contest results. On home turf it was inevitable that Bedworth Brass would have vocal support in the hall. What was by no means inevitable following the band’s performance however was that they would wind up in fifteenth position. 

It has to be said that Stephen Tighe took chances with certain of his tempi, the opening voyage being considerably more spacious than many on the day for one example. It was presumably for this reason that the adjudicators marked the band down but in doing so the quality of the playing appears to have been overlooked; the standard was simply head and shoulders above many bands occupying considerably higher positions. The band will live to fight another day but it was certainly a strange one.

Final three

Bringing up the final three places, Tintwistle, Shirland W.T. and Brackley and District did not find the going easy although in the case of Marie Smith and her young Shirland team it was an attempt full of spirit and on another day might have found itself a little higher up the rankings.

A tough proposition for the competitors the piece turned out to be then, but Gilbert Vinter always knew how to test a band without compromising the quality of the music. Perhaps it was no coincidence that James Cook’s ship was named Endeavour, for if there was one thing that was not lacking in Bedworth it was grit and determination. 

On the day that grit and determination was not always enough but ultimately three worthy qualifiers will represent the Midlands in Harrogate come September. We wish them the best of luck.

Christopher Thomas

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