2008 North of England Regional Championships - Second Section: Retrospective

1-Apr-2008

Dick's Barton were the special agents in the Second Section as they booked themselves a place at Harrogate once again.


Dicks Barton
Special Agents: Dick's Barton take the Harrogate ticket and title

If there was one slightly disappointing section on what was a very encouraging weekend of banding here in Darlington, then it was the Second Section contest on the Sunday morning.

Not that it was any worse than many of the other regions around the country this year, but once again Kenneth Downie’s delicate and cultured composition found both the bands and their conductors out.

‘Three Part Invention’ has been something of a throwback this year – a lower section version of ‘The Belmont Variations’ if you like – a piece of small ensemble writing that needed a totally different approach to balance, dynamic and tempi contrasts as well as a lighter tonal palette. Very few bands in the country, let alone here, have been able to do that, and as a result the piece has been rarely mastered.   

Top left to bottom right

It was something that Peter Roberts alluded to in his short but very precise remarks at the end of the contest. “Too many bands played from the top left hand corner to the bottom right without really trying to find out more what was written in between, “ he told 4BR. “That’s OK in many ways, but there was so much great writing in between that was missed. It’s a great piece and although the outer movements were generally well played it was the middle movement that won and lost the contest.”

Never a truer word spoken. Nearly all the bands delivered creditable accounts of the ‘Prelude’ and the ‘Caprice’, but in all honesty just the one or two really captured the right elegance and Bach inspired sensitivity of the middle ‘Romance’.   

Romance

For Peter, the band that did just that was Barton Town, conducted by Richard Evans.    

The outer movements were generally well played, despite a number of nasty little moments that did spoil things at times, but it was the ‘Romance’ that set them apart. Richard Evans gave the music a lovely flowing pulse, with just enough sense of rubato and lyricism, without ever stopping the musical flow or becoming over indulgent (a trap too many MDs fell into). 

Where rivals played the ‘Prelude’ and ‘Caprice’ better, none really came close to matching the sense of style and quality of execution of their ‘Romance’. As soon as Peter mentioned that off the stage you knew there was only going to be the one winner.

Barton is a band very much on the up it seems, and with the added quality of the MD they sounded a good outfit in the making – although on this occasion not quite at the very best of their form.

The little errors came from the word go just about, but with stylish intent the opening ‘Prelude’ was well enough handled. The ‘Caprice’ too was stylish if error strewn, but it was the ‘Romance’ that showed their qualities off best.

Beautifully paced with balance (a super bass end deservedly took the individual award) and nuance, it was lovely stuff and despite the odd little blip it stood alone amid some rather strange interpretations from other sources. Barton will know though that they may have just got out of jail on this occasion, if not free, but with a hefty fine. Come Harrogate though they still sound like a band to fear.  

Competent

Joining them there will be Murton Colliery who delivered a competent account of themselves and the music immediately after Barton.

The MD took to the stage without a score and despite the odd moment in each of the movements when the reference point may have come in handy to help his players, it was a pretty good effort all told.

The ‘Prelude’ was solid if just in need of a little less harshness in tone, whilst the ‘Caprice’ was vibrant, colourful and with a neat sense of style and purpose. The ‘Caprice’ though was dour and lacked flow – a pity really as the sense of style was certainly captured in the outer sections. Perhaps it was more of a safety first approach given the obvious pitfalls that laced the score, but overall it was enough to just give them the nod over third placed Dearham.

Missed out

The one band for us who could leave the contest wondering how they missed out was the band that came 5th – Houghton Brass, who delivered perhaps the most consistent performance of the day under the baton of Mark Bousie. 

There were problems in each of the movements, but nothing as marked or pronounced as their rivals above them, so it came as a bit of surprise that they missed out in Peter’s deliberations, especially as the middle movement was neatly delivered and certainly captured the sense of Bach inspired style. With a well crafted opening and secure end it seemed to have done enough to at least qualify. That’s contesting for you though – we had had them as winners in fact, just ahead of Barton and Murton, so shows what we know eh?

Trio

Third place on the day went to Dearham who completed the trio of prize winners by taking to the stage straight after Murton – so perhaps the comparisons in the performances were much clearer to make. 

A mix of young an old the opening ‘Prelude’ was lively and vibrant, if a little scrappy too, whilst the ‘Caprice’ was full of life, colour and excellent contributions, especially from the euphonium player John McCloughlin who took the individual award as ‘Best Euph’. The ‘Romance’ never quite settled though and despite further well placed solo contributions the ensemble at times was muddy and lacked focus – and that meant Peter just couldn’t give them the extra few points that would have made a trip to Harrogate.

Mention

The final band to get a mention off the stage was Barrow Shipyard who set the early marker off the number 2 draw.

A youngish band with just the three bases it’s chances of coming any higher were perhaps undermined by some rather strange tempi choices – especially in the ‘Prelude’, as both the ‘Romance’ and the ‘Caprice’ were very much text book readings.

We don’t know quite why the MD did it, as after a bright opening statement the tempo bordered on the stately. The lack of flow was at odds with it being a ‘Prelude’ and sounded even stranger when the final coda saw a return to the bright and breezy opening tempi.   Elsewhere the ‘Romance’ was perhaps a touch indulgent too, but the ‘Caprice’ was excellent. A bit of an odd one – but strangely still rather interesting.

Grew in stature

With Houghton coming in fifth the final top six placing was taken by Cockerton Prize Silver with a performance that grew in stature as it went along – although it did start from a messy ’Prelude’ that undermined the chances of them coming any higher. The ‘Romance’ didn’t quite come off with tuning issues always a major problem, whilst the ‘Caprice’ was their best playing by far and rounded things off with a real flourish.

These six bands did stand out from the remaining three on the day. As we have said, we had Houghton for us – due mainly to its overall consistency as our winner, with Barton, Murton, Cockerton and Barrow behind. The man with the power to send bands to Harrogate had it slightly if importantly, different though.

Picked themselves

The bottom three bands picked themselves.

York Railway Institute opened the contest with a rather messy old performance that although vibrant and enjoyable just had too many structural problems and nasty little blips and blobs to have pushed for a higher place up the results table.

It perhaps didn’t help their cause that there were only 71 people in the hall when they started playing too (the clocks going forward perhaps caught a few sleepy heads out), although the band must be congratulated for managing to extricate themselves from their bus (the doors were playing up and they couldn’t get out by all accounts!) and make it to the stage to play bang on the marked starting time. 

It wasn’t a bad performance, but if they could have just stopped the little errors it may just have come a touch higher.

Some player

The same could also be said of Ferryhill under Sue Norris. The opening statements to each of the movements seemed to struggle, but on each occasion it improved as it went on with Lenny Potts on soprano in particular making the most of his chance to shine. 

Some player this chap. By all accounts he started life as a Bb bass player and over the year’s has moved up the band to soprano – what a lip he must have, and he was great value for his prize winning efforts. The band though couldn’t quite match his delivery and although the final movement saw them play at their best they can’t have had too much to complain about in coming where they did.

Finally then Durham Constabulary and a performance that certainly had its moments – good and bad, but just lacked for overall consistency. The good moments were on display in each of the sections, but were just undermined by nasty errors, the odd misplaced entry and a bit of tiredness in the final romp for home.  
  
Not a great contest then – but not a bad one either, and a reflection of what has been the case at all the other regions around the country this year on a deceptively difficult set work.

Dick’s Barton, special agents will head for Harrogate once again knowing that they have more to offer, whilst Murton will also know that they can still improve as well. That could signal two very strong challenges indeed. 

Iwan Fox

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