2009 Spring Festival - Grand Shield: Introduction & Predictions

6-May-2009

20 top class bands line up to try and win a place at Symphony Hall in September. The ultimate 'Contest Music' prize awaits then.


The Opera House
Test Piece: Contest Music – Wilfred Heaton

Draw: 9.30am
Commence: 10.30am

 



Just one step away.

 

20 bands line up at the Winter Gardens on the weekend knowing that given the right circumstances (some that they control and others they don’t), two of them will be heading for the British Open in September.

Never has a passport away from a life of drudgery been so keenly fought over since David Blunkitt did his nanny a favour a few years back…

Fortune

It is true that bands need a touch of good fortune to qualify from the Grand Shield, and bad luck stories abound up and down the Golden Mile each year. That said, on a piece like ‘Contest Music’, quality, and real quality at that, will be the thing that counts more than anything else.

As Howard Snell once famously said of it;  ‘Contest Music’ is the Everest of the repertoire, with more causalities found on its treacherous slopes than of any other piece written from brass band.

This weekend, the crampons and hard hats will be out in force and St John’s Ambulance volunteers may be in for a busy time once again. For principal cornet players in particular, trying to play a top C# without the necessary breathing apparatus in place can mean certain qualification death. 

National finalists

The battle for qualification will surely be one of the toughest ever, with no less than eight of the contenders already qualified for the National Finals in London.

EYMS, Flowers, Newstead, Pemberton Old JJB, Redbridge, Reg Vardy, Rothwell and Tredegar have all shown good form already this season in getting to the Albert Hall, but each of them will also want to be seen as true ‘Elite’ bands by getting to Symphony Hall too.

Rothwell's shock

Rothwell Temperance caused a bit of a shock at the recent Yorkshire Area by taking the title, but on paper they are surely the band to beat. Strong, purposeful and committed they were unlucky to lose their Open status a year ago and will be determined to return at the first possible opportunity.

Pushing them hard will be Butlins and London Regional & Southern Counties winners, Redbridge, who are a band transformed under Jeremy Wise, whilst there will be a great deal of interest in Tredegar’s performance after their recent outing at the European’s where they performed the work as their own choice selection.

EYMS and Reg Vardy are two powerful bands on their day, but come to the contest without the ‘Childs’ conducting factor to assist them in their quest for promotion. Frans Violet and Russell Gray though are not bad ‘deps’ are they now, and should ensure that they could be in the mix come the announcement of the results.    

Meanwhile, Flowers are the other band looking for a quick return to Birmingham (and they were unlucky to lose their place after coming 9th last year) and if they play anything like they did at the Regionals in Torquay, it will take a very brave gambler to put their money on them not going through.

More quality

The quality doesn’t stop there though with two rejuvenated bands in Newstead Brass and Pemberton Old fired up and full of confidence after their fine Regional appearances, and then there are two bands that are well worth a bob or two at the Blackpool bookies – Virtuosi GUS and Mount Charles, both of whom have come frustratingly close to making it through to Birmingham in the last few years.

Those in the know also report that it would be unwise to write off the chances of the likes of Wingates, Bactiguard Wire Brass, Sovereign Brass, Aveley & Newham and Thoresby too – all of whom have enough quality in their ranks to push hard for a top six place or more on their day.

Upping their game

Freckleton, Jaguar (Coventry), Kibworth, Yorkshire Imps and Tongwynlais are all more than capable of upping their game too, so it would be a brave man to even suggest that there are ‘also rans’ here in the Opera House come the draw. Just look what happened at the Grand National a few miles up the road a couple of months back.

18 bands will of course go back home cursing their luck, but which 2 will be heading to the British Open is anyone’s guess.

For us though,  the bands with that extra strength in depth in the cornet sections may well be the ones to win through, and so we opt for Rothwell and Tredegar if they hit top form to win through to Symphony Hall – although both will know that the merest hint of fragility could well see the likes of Flowers, Redbridge, Reg Vardy, Mount Charles and EYMS ready to take their place.  

4BR Predictions:

1. Rothwell
2. Tredegar
3. Flowers
4. Redbridge
5. Reg Vardy
6. Mount Charles

Dark Horse: EYMS

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