2008 National Championships of Great Britain - Contest Retrospective

13-Oct-2008

Black Dyke in terminal decline then? The obituary writers will have to set their sights on someone else after this weekend.


Black Dyke National Champions 2008
Full of life: Black Dyke celebrate their 21st National title 
Picture: Ian Clowes


The rumours of Black Dyke’s demise are unfounded then.

Speculation has been rife for months now that the eight year association of Dr Nicholas Childs and the Queensbury outfit was in some sort of terminal decline.  The obituary writers, it was argued, were poised to write their homilies on a record that was no longer living up to the exacting expectations of the bar room critics. 

Elephant in the room

Now the doom merchants will have to cry into their beer and look elsewhere. Like an elephant sitting in your front room, Dyke are hard to ignore. They also have the ability to squash opponents and cynics too.

This will have been the sweetest of victories. After defeat at the English National and a draw that conspired against them to add further conjecture to the mix at the Open, the thought of their Icarus like demise is now seen as folly. 
This particular Black Dyke combination will continue to enjoy their moments in the contesting sun for some considerable time yet.

Kinder hand

Things could have been different if fate had possibly dealt a kinder hand to the reigning champion Grimethorpe – but it wasn’t ever to be after their representative delved into the velvet bag at the draw and picked out number 1. On hearing the news, the hopes of their players and supporters must have dropped quicker than bank share prices on the nearby London Stock Exchange. 

Hat tricks at London are a rare enough feat to achieve without having to become the first band in the entire 108 year history of the contest to do it from the number 1 slot. Grimethorpe were just about dead in the water before they even set foot on the Albert Hall stage.

Anti climax

With the news of the draw trickling out to the expectant (but rather smaller than usual) crowd outside the main hall doors, a sense of anti climax permeated the air, hanging stubbornly like a miasmic cloud of disappointment even before Grimethorpe had played.   

The contest had thrown up an intriguing draw, but one that somehow never set the pulse racing.

Grimethorpe at 1, Fodens at 6, Dyke at 11 and Cory at 14. The occasional listener (and there were many if the sight of rows of empty seats in the hall was anything to go by throughout the day) knew that this particular contest was going to be over and done with by the time it reached its final quarter. They weren’t wrong.

Razor sharp

Grimethorpe gave it their best shot, but despite razor sharp ensemble and moments of sublime musicality, it was always going to be beatable.  Kevin Crockford’s misplaced top C two bars from the end ultimately rang like the death knell on their hat trick chances.

Fate can be a very cruel mistress, but even if they had played later in the day, this performance wasn’t good enough to take the title back home to their particular part of Yorkshire, although 7th place seemed a little harsh.

Dark horses

At this point it would have been nice to say that a full hall remained in place to hear two of the ‘dark horses’ of the contest provide their challenge, in the shape of Whitburn and Tredegar. 

Nobody really left, but there was no full hall either – the old cake tin housed at best, the bums only to fill much less than two thirds of its capacity – at worse, about a sixth. The Albert Hall is still a very special place to play, but without a healthy crowd it has the intimate feel of a Victorian aircraft hanger. 

Both the Scots and the Welsh left their best performances at home.

Whitburn displayed glimpses of their true potential, but couldn’t produce enough consistency throughout the three movements to really make anything more than a midfield mark on the judges.

Steven Mead’s cultured interpretation in the second movement did catch the ear, but too many annoying little errors proved costly and may have accounted for them eventually ending up in 12th place (we had them in 11th).  

Meanwhile Tredegar certainly left an impression on the listener, but one that was tainted by a high error count that undermined their chances of featuring high in the adjudicator’s thoughts.

Ian Porthouse’s approach in finding the underlying musical character of each of the movements was persuasive, and we had them in 6th place, but the errors were noticeable and condemned them to a disappointing 15th.

Both bands will reflect long and hard over their respective fates this weekend. 

Catch fire

The feeling that the contest was yet to catch fire continued with BTM.

A lyrically shaped middle section showcased their quality, but like their appearance at the Open, a poor opening, taken at a strangely prosaic tempo critically undermined them. A decent enough close was too little too late, and they could have no cause for complaint with their eventually placing of 18th.

Four down then and in the adjudicator’s tent the thought could have crossed the minds of David Read, James Gourlay and David King that they were possibly judging on an ever downward sliding scale.

Upped the ante

Thankfully for them at least, both Fairey and Fodens upped the ante – considerably so in fact.

Fairey gave perhaps their best performance under Philip Chalk’s baton. Full of the solid virtues of balance, detail and security, it may have been a little one dimensional in terms of contrast, but it was safe and admirably secure on a day when far too many rivals exposed their own self-made fragilities. 

The outer movements were strong and purposeful, whilst the MD just coaxed that extra touch of class in the right places in the middle section to push them into the prizes.

We had them in 8th, but the hard graft has paid dividends at last for Fairey and the outcome from the official judges of 5th will undoubtedly give them another boost of confidence as they continue their way back to the top echelons of the contesting tree.

Fodens came to London looking for the ‘Double’, and couldn’t have done anything more in their pursuit of that particularly elusive prize.

Garry Cutt again laid out the music with clarity of purpose that allowed the class to flow through in the sound and technique. Glyn Williams was on supreme form on euphonium to make it a personal ‘double’ of ‘Best Instrumentalist’ awards at the majors this year, and his colleagues were not too far behind.

This was playing of the highest order, and whilst it did have the odd moment of unease, the ability to define the detail and exploit the dynamic variances stood them out by a mile. 

Only a performance that had the same quality virtues and just that added sense of razor sharp technical security could beat it, and in the end Black Dyke provided it. Fodens though are some band, and 2nd place was thoroughly merited.

Uneven nature

The uneven nature of the contest returned with the performances from SWT Woodfalls, Mount Charles and East Yorkshire Motor Services.  
 
The two West of England bands had pretty difficult days, although SWT Woodfalls will be the happier of the two in coming home in 16th place to their rivals 20th.

Melvin White’s musical intentions were clearly defined; especially in the subtle shaping of the second movement (which had a near perfect close), but the lack of ensemble security and rather one dimensional dynamic range meant the execution never quite matched the coherent thought process.

That it beat four other rivals perhaps stemmed from that middle section of playing, but after an eventful year they now know just where they stand in the greater scheme of contesting things.  

Meandering

So too Mount Charles, who never quite settled from the start, despite the drive and purpose of the approach, whilst the rather meandering middle section put pay to any chances of coming further up the results table.  

A colourful, pacy final third saw their best playing, but this wasn’t the band that performed so well at Preston, and unfortunately they claimed a double of their own in coming last for the second year in a row.

Decent show

By this time the majority of the sparsely numbered audience had voted for an extended tea break, and as a result missed a decent old show from EYMS under Frans Violet.

Sounding confident and well rehearsed, they set out their stall safely to begin with, developed it with real lyricism in a persuasive middle section, before just sounding understandably fatigued in the final third of the piece.   

On a day when too many bands tried too hard to impress by force of volume, the rather more compact EYMS sound still had enough about it to reach the three men in the tent – and what they heard certainly impressed them.

9th place may have come as a bit of a surprise (we had them in 14th), but they provided further evidence of a band moving in the right direction through adherence to hard graft and application.

High class stuff

The final band before the break was Leyland, and they certainly gave plenty of food for thought for those in the hall who had been thinking more about food for their stomachs for the last hour or so.

This was high class stuff from Jason Katsikaris and his band. Detailed and driven to start with clearly defined motifs, it soon flowed with rich textures and melancholic reserve in the middle movement.

The high tempo of the third section saw a loss of focus at times though – it was messy despite the verve and excitement. That may well have accounted for them not coming in the prizes in the opinion of the judges, but such quality playing and a reading from the MD that simply allowed the music to unfold without artificial enhancement did perhaps deserve a place in the frame (we had them 4th). The evidence of a resurgent top line band though was there for all to hear.

Half time talks

The halfway point allowed time for reflection (as well as refreshments) and two main items of conversation dominated.

The first was the piece itself. Downie’s symphonic ‘Concertino’ was certainly sorting the bands out technical, but the omission of the ‘Scherzo’ (which would have been the second movement of the four) meant the piece never sounded musically complete.

The lack of that musical bridge between the first and the third movements (which now became the second) meant the work had a dislocated feel with an emotional core that was reached far too early and seemed out of kilter to what had preceded it.

What would have been a very fine and substantive work became less memorable through the decision of the organisers to adhere to the desire to opt for quantity of banding numbers rather than quality of musical performances. The piece deserves to be heard in its entirety.

Soprano travails

The second talking point surrounded the travails of the soprano players at the end of the second movement – an open top A pianissimo entry that just one player all day (stand up and take a bow Paul Argyle of Rothwell) performed perfectly – although some got close.

It wasn’t that hard a thing to do at this level - if played with confidence and an ear to the pitch of the chord leading to it. A menagerie of mutes, contortions and nervous implosions invariably robbed the beauty of what should have been a simple final resting chord.  The soprano players union may have lost a few fully paid members after Saturday.  

Scintillating performance

The biggest crowd of the day then settled back to listen to Black Dyke – and were shook out of any post dinner torpor by a scintillating performance. 

This was Dyke at its best: An opening movement of power, pace and precision had immense clarity and contrast, whilst the darkly hued emotion of the middle section was beautifully crafted and delivered, despite the muted end. The tour de force final section provided the band with the chance to raise the bar to a level no other rival could match.

With the audience already going bonkers during the final chord, there was little doubt it was the leader – and by a clear margin. Very few, if anyone, we spoke to thought it could be beaten – and on this occasion the decision of the three men in the box was in total unity with the audience. It was a very deserved and popular victory.

Difficult task

Redbridge Brass had the difficult task of following Dyke onto the stage. With the audience once again opting for the exits, Jeremy Wise battled hard to engage those remaining with a performance that veered from the excellent to the mundane.

The second movement in particular caught the ear, whilst the third perfectly summed up their hit or miss execution, that never consistently matched the cohesive musical thought process of the MD. 17th was a par result.

Fluctuating

Much was expected of Kirkintilloch after their performance at the British Open, but despite a lovely lyrical second movement and vibrant third, the opening section killed off their chances – fluctuating greatly in quality and clarity.

A performance that grew in stature (we felt it may just have nudged into the top 10) couldn’t quite overcome the handicap of that poor opening and they returned north placed 13th.

Last contenders

European Champions Cory were perhaps the last realistic title contenders, and after a superbly constructed opening movement they seemed on course to take the title back home to Wales.

The darkly textured second, near faultless in execution, raised further expectations amongst their supporters. However, a wobbly close just took the sheen off and despite a powerhouse finale full of detail and drive, it just couldn’t raise itself to the level of Dyke and Fodens, both of whom thrilled rather than substantially impressed with their delivery. 3rd place was a just reward.

Ebb and flow

Once more the ebb and flow of departing souls meant Aveley & Newham had to perform to one of the smallest crowds of the day.

A slightly disappointing performance was too uneven in execution to have come higher than its eventual 14th, but there were moments, however fleeting, when the real potential quality of the band came through – especially in the subtle musical shaping of the second movement. The band remains a work in progressive rebuilding.

Proving a point

After their disappointing exit from Birmingham last month, Rothwell Temperance came to London with a point to prove – and by heck they did just that.

This was Rothwell at their best – immensely solid and unpretentious, the qualities of hard work, intelligent direction, safe delivery and bold assertion on show from start to finish. 

It was also a bit lacking in finesse maybe, but on a day when artistic merits came a cropper far too often, the intelligent approach of playing to strengths and not having to worry about potentially damaging weaknesses certainly caught the ear in the box. 

It certainly had the potential to spring a surprise, and although we didn’t have them in our top 10 (12th in fact), the judges certainly did and the band can be justifiably proud of themselves in coming 6th.  
 
Pleased
 
Reg Vardy will also be very pleased with 11th place (we had them a touch higher in 9th).

A performance that mirrored much of Rothwell in execution, featured a darker, more melancholic middle section, that had stylish solo contributions and took the risks in exploring its emotional core. 

The solid outer movements were just a little dynamically bland, but there was a confidence about the playing that wasn’t misplaced and bodes well for the future.

Artisan approach

The third artisan approach in a row came from Virtuosi GUS, and as a result they claimed the final top 10 slot in the results table.

It was assured playing from start to finish, with some fine touches of class from the solo lines. The slightly reserved emotion on display in the second could have been exploited more perhaps, but the solid work in the first movement in particular made sure that the rather tired ending didn’t lose them too many valuable points.

Share price

Desford on the other hand lost points like city banks losing share price value.

Far too many errors in the opening movement was followed by an almost Gordon Brown like recovery plan in the second, only for their rising stock to be sunk once more by an uncharacteristically uneven third.   It was a disappointing performance from a band that has been on such good form for the majority of the year, and the end result was a slightly harsh 19th place. 

Rousing finish

That just left the one band to play, and Carlton Main delivered a rousing close to a contest that needed a good finish. 

A confident, vibrant opening may have been a touch scrappy but it certainly had the required sense of style, whilst the middle section saw Russell Gray pull at the heart strings.

It veered at times to the sentimental rather than darkly melancholic, but it was a sublime mix, despite the occasional fragilities. A thumping old finale set the seal on a performance of purpose and spirit and one that certainly made an impression – a major impression in fact in the box.

4th place was a great result for the band (we had them in 7th) and they will have celebrated long into the night knowing they had secured their place back here in twelve months time.

Dead speculation

It rounded off an enjoyable contest, and all that was left was the long wait for the results. 

When they eventually came, rumours and speculation were dead, replaced by the hard facts of contesting success.  Black Dyke and Dr Nicholas Childs – Champions once again.

Iwan Fox

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