2008 North of England Regional Championships - Championship Section: Retrospective

1-Apr-2008

Reg Vardy came to the contest facing contesting hell - they left though in seventh heaven.


Reg Vardy
Fill me up! Nicholas Childs gets ready to taste the winner's champagne

The Reg Vardy Band is used to winning titles here over the years, but such was the pressure that they would have felt in coming to the Regional Contest this year that their seventh consecutive victory was perhaps the sweetest they have tasted for some considerable time. 

Before they took to the stage on Sunday afternoon there were many people who felt that their six year reign as undefeated North of England Champions was about to come to an end. 30 seconds after they had played, any thought of them being beaten was confined to the dustbin – this was as comprehensive a one point victory as you are ever likely to see at any Area contest.

Coup d' etat

The reason why so many people were genuinely questioning the end of their domestic dominance was clear – in the last couple of years the band has been in a pretty deep trough of disappointing contesting form. The time was ripe for a coup d’ etat.

However, the band had responded by taking a hard look at itself and went back to asking Nicholas Childs to take them. The Black Dyke MD has of course directed Reg Vardy successfully before here and his presence, and the sense that the band had to find form or face the real possibility of not competing either at the Open or the National Finals for the first time since 2001, saw them deliver a high class performance that had the stamp of winning authority about it from the first note to last. 

Refined style

That it eventually won by just a single point mattered neither here or there – they were a good length or two ahead of the rest of the field in what was a decent championship section contest.  The first objective for the 2008 season has been achieved – now they must try and regain their place back at the Birmingham.

Adjudicator David Horsfield spoke of the need for the bands and MDs to keep a flow to the music, something he felt was ‘paramount’ to achieving the necessary sense of refined style. 

Many he opinioned, failed to realise this, whilst he also pointed out that he felt that a number didn’t quite achieve the sense of regal majesty in the ‘Overture’, the lyrical qualities in the ‘Romance’, or the sense of building excitement in the ‘Impromptu’ either. Not so the winners, which he believed delivered an excellent performance. It was hard to disagree.  

Freedom

Nicholas Childs gave Reg Vardy  the freedom to express themselves with a lyrical reading of the score that crucially didn’t meander away from Eric Ball’s intentions. 

The opening ‘Overture’ was purposeful, fluid and accurate (despite an odd moment here and there in the cornet section), whilst the ‘Romance’ was carefully crafted and featured some wonderful solo cornet work from Jim Heyes on top man which deservedly won him the ‘Best Principal Cornet’ award.

Added to the security of Tom Glendinning on soprano (which won him the soprano prize) all built on a solid bass foundation (which won them their individual award) it allowed the MD to just give enough leeway for tasteful rubato in both solo and ensemble lines, although the decision to use two flugel horns at the expense of a fourth solo cornet did seem superfluous.  

The ‘Impromptu’ was skilfully handled and so by the time the neat soprano trill led to two balanced pre curser chords to the last note, the seventh consecutive regional title was in the bag and they had once again revealed the type of commanding form that some felt had been lost for good. This was the best performance we have heard from them for a considerable time.

With Reg Vardy’s victory in little doubt after they had played from the number 5 draw, the only other question that had to be resolved was who would join them at the Royal Albert Hall in October.  

Difficult

That was significantly harder to answer both before and after the final band had taken to the stage as there was a fair old battle for second place.

It was eventually clinched by EYMS conducted by Bob Child’s with a performance that never quite lived up to it’s rich early promise off the number 1 draw.

The opening ‘Overture’ was full of quality, with neat cornet filigree work complimenting a sturdy bass led foundation, tasteful percussion (which gave the trio of players the individual award) and some neat ensemble contributions from the middle of the band. A lovely end to the section promised so much, but the following ‘Romance’ didn’t get off the best of starts and despite periods when it regained composure it never felt totally secure - summed up by the soprano moving late in the last bar to resolve the final chord.   

The MD then tightened the reins considerably and with admirable fortitude they responded in the ‘Impromptu’, with a return to secure technical work and tasteful solo contributions which brought them right back on track and just gave the enough of a buffer to repel the challenge of Felling and Fishburn, who were closer to them than EYMS was to Reg Vardy come the announcement of the results.   

They will head to London again, but they will have known that on the day they were well beaten by a better band. The potential is certainly there to catch them again, but merely showing rich promise won’t be enough.

Rich promise

A band that certainly did show rich promise and more was Felling, who deservedly took third place (much to the obvious delight of their young lady band rep who nearly wet herself with unsurpassed glee in accepting the prize on stage) under the baton of the impressive Graham Tindall.

Theirs was a performance that reeked of hard work and detailed preparation, and an MD who had the confidence in his players to do exactly what he asked of them. It was solid, unpretentious stuff and mirrored the conductors understated approach to the job in hand.

Third place was fully justified, and although they were obviously delighted with the end result, it could on another day have pipped their rivals. The opening ‘Overture’ was neat and precise, the ‘Romance’ solid and secure, whilst the final ‘Impromptu’ may just have needed a touch more rhythmic pulse but was so well controlled right to the end.  Felling has come a long way in a short space of time, but they certainly haven’t reached the end of their musical ambitions quite yet on this impressive form.

Scoreless

The final challenger for a London qualification place was Fishburn under the direction of the scoreless Russell Gray.

Once more the Scotsman laid out a persuasive musical account, full of nuance and tasteful lyricism, but where the approach paid major dividends with both Carlton Main and Whitburn, he never quite had the personnel on good enough form here for it to work as well as it had done with those two bands.  

It did started brilliantly in the ‘Overture’, but a nasty ending to the movement seemed to undermine collective confidence and although the lyrical romanticism was clearly defined in the middle movement the number of small but annoying little errors and slips were starting to rob the musical picture of it’s high gloss finish. The final ‘Impromptu’ was fluid and rhythmic but also scratchy and scrappy and by its end it was a performance that never quite met its ambitious objectives.

Some way behind

The top quartet of bands were a significant margin ahead of the rest of the field and it was difficult to disagree with David Horsfield final placings, although we just had Felling ahead of EYMS for second spot.
The rest however was some way behind, with Tavistock Chester-le-Street the best of a disappointing bunch. 

Their 5th place was clearly marked after they delivered a well thought out account from Ian Robinson that just lacked for technical security in solo and ensemble and perhaps needed a slightly deeper, more resonant bass led sound. The MD’s reading of the score was a major plus point, but the lightweight sound meant that the ‘Romance’ in particular never quite had the necessary depth of emotion, whilst the final ‘Impromptu’ was in need of a darker hued sense of menace. 

The remaining three contenders found ‘Festival Music’ tough going.

Tough going

Westoe Brass certainly had their moments when Derek Broadbent’s well chosen tempi and understated stylistic approach seemed to work, but too often there were basic structural problems that undermined their efforts, such as poor middle band tuning and a tendency for the pick ups in the ‘Romance’ to be played as triplet semi quavers.  The ‘Impromptu’ saw them deliver their best playing, but by then it was too late to make any more of an impression on David Horsfield in the tent than it did.

Big band

So too RMT Easington Colliery under the scoreless Norman Law. The decision to set the band up in almost ‘big band’ formation with a near straight line from second horn to solo trombone was a strange one for us. The opening ‘Overture’ seemed so out of balance as a result, although the players focused their sound in a well delivered ‘Romance’. 

The high error count though cost a number of valuable points, and there was an awful moment in the ‘Impromptu’ when the cornet section went completely out of kilter, and despite a great recovery job by the MD and players (especially the solo cornet) it ended in rather downbeat fashion. 

That just left Harrogate with a performance that never really got to grips with the musical or technical hurdles of the piece. As hard as David Lancaster tried to coax something of merit from his young band an ever increasing catalogue of errors consigned them to 8th place – and no complaints we feel.

As for the winners though, no complaints either. Reg Vardy came to the contest knowing that not only was their reputation was on the line, but perhaps even the sense that they were still the undisputed top dogs of North East banding.

They left though with both unwritten titles suitably and deservedly enhanced, whilst the written title was inscribed on the Boosey & Hawkes Champions Cup for a record seventh consecutive time.  Reg Vardy could well be back in contesting business.    

Iwan Fox

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Brett BakerBrett Baker
BSc (Hons), ARCM, PG Dip

Rath clinician, conductor, teacher, adjudicator, editor