2008 Pontins Championship - Postcard from Prestatyn

29-Oct-2008

Pontins may be showing its age, but there was still plenty to enjoy on the weekend - even the sight of a severed hand in the gents toilets...


Martyn Evans
What Pontins is all about: Martyn Evans and grandaughter have a smile for the camera
Picture: Niki Stirzaker

Trying to shake off the after effects of Pontins is always like trying to rid yourself of a particularly virulent cold. It takes time and something a bit stronger than plenty of orange juice and a box full of Nurofen tablets. 

It’s the price you have to pay for making the long journey up to North Wales and entering into the Pontins spirit. The older you are the harder it is to shake off too. 

Despite the annoying number of withdrawals (some understandable, one as late as the day before) the Pontins atmosphere this year was still one of friendly enjoyment. Given that the event was celebrating its 35th anniversary, it was also appropriate that the entertainment was familiar too.

Charcoal! Charcoal!

The amazing Bavarian Stompers once again brought the house down with their mix of Yorkshire/Black Forest humour. A couple of the lads are getting on a bit now and are perhaps old enough to remember the Third Reich, but with the infusion of a bit of new blood, their familiar routines (…charcoal! charcoal!… etc) may be close to the knuckle, but still get 500 or so alcohol enhanced bandsmen and women on their feet swaying as if they were having a fine old time in a Mönchengladbach beer keller.  Pontins wouldn’t be the same without them.

On a slightly newer front, the British Army Brass Band seem to have got themselves a permanent spot for the next 35 years if they want it too.

Excellent entertainment

On the Saturday night they provided excellent entertainment to a packed Fun Factory Ballroom, with quality soloists, slick band playing and a well rehearsed finale that wouldn’t be out of place at Brass in Concert in the next few weeks. They fully deserved the plaudits, a few warm pints of beer and the boost to the funds with the on the spot CD sales. 

All that and they produced another fine effort at the conclusion of the Second Section on the Sunday too, although even some of their more hardened lads wore slightly grey complexions after enjoying a hard old night of Bavarian fun and games.

Doctors and Nurses

Getting into the swing of things here is what it is all about, and the age old tradition of Saturday night fancy dress remains as strong as ever.

This year there were Cornish pirates from St Dennis, Russian Sailors and the obligatory doctors and nurses – much to the delight of testosterone fuelled lads. Some blood pressures really did need to be watched closely after a few young ladies sauntered past like extras out of the Benny Hill show.

The prize for the best fancy dress of the night though undoubtedly went to the Crofton band player dressed as a surgeon – complete with blood splatter, stethoscope, and severed hand on a tray. The ghoulish trick though was further enhanced by the hands ability to move around like something out of the Adams Family. It was quite brilliant, although the sight of him trying to have a pee in the gents was odd to say the least.

Feeling its age

Back to the serious stuff and the contests themselves gave a reminder that even an event that has supported the banding movement so well over four decades is feeling its age.

The prize money and financial support remains excellent, as does the choice of test pieces and the organisation here, but the numbers still seem to dropping away, like distant family relatives no longer willing to make the long car journey too see an elderly aunt once a year.

This year 73 bands took to the stages – still a great figure, but one that tells a story. 

Story

Despite the excellent prize money, the top section still fails to attract the top bands. The contest is in effect a third tier championship event, whilst the First Section is a reflection of the dogs dinner that the First Section nationally has become.

Still, there were 35 bands in these two sections, so quantity rather than utmost quality prevails. The worry remains in the lower three. There were just 11 bands in the Third Section, 13 in the Second and 14 in the Fourth, despite the best prize money on offer all year. A few years ago these were full to bursting point.

Why fewer numbers?

Rules on registration have been relaxed, pre draws introduced, sympathetic test pieces chosen, and still the numbers are down. So why the lower number of competitors?

Robert Morgan and Philip Watson of the BFBB were on hand all weekend, so it will be interesting if they can possibly offer some thoughts on how the contest can boost the numbers once again. Falling numbers of contesting bands are both their problems. 

Pontins is Pontins. The world outside Prestatyn on a late October weekend may have changed over the past 35 years, but there is still something refreshingly familiar about the place that still has the ability to draw you back year after year.

Giving back

After 35 years of giving a great deal to the banding movement (although they do get a great deal back in beer sales it has to be said) perhaps it’s about time more bands thought about supporting the old place in future.

If you can put up with the weather (mild by usual standards this year), Pontins still has plenty to offer – especially prize money. There can’t be too many bands out there who wouldn’t welcome between £1,800 and £2,500 in their bank balances.  

Perhaps bands are getting choosier about where they compete, but despite the fine turn out of North West outfits and the long journeys from Scotland, West of England and London in some cases, the plain fact is that numbers are falling.

If Pontins is to remain for another 35 years, now has come the time to ensure its survival. For all its foibles and oddities, it deserves all of our support.

Iwan Fox

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