2009 Lower Section National Finals - Introduction to Harrogate

22-Sep-2009

If anyone thought they were in for a quiet time of it at Harrogate on the weekend, then think again...


HarrogateAfter all the shenanigans of Birmingham, the quiet, peaceful backwater of blue rinse Harrogate and the Lower Section National Finals.

Horse & Hound

Cream teas, shops for women of a certain age, sales of the Daily Mail by the tonne, the waft of Lilly of the Valley. The last time they had a bit of controversy up here was when Horse & Hound magazine inadvertently printed a picture of a home worth less than half a million pounds on its cover.

Hang on a minute. 

Isn’t this the same Lower Section Nationals that a few years ago gave us the Rhos affair, invariably gets the blood boiling over the choice of test pieces, once had the compere announce the names of the bands in draw order whilst the judges where in the box and nearly had a mutiny on its hands when the audience was told that the judges weren’t going to say a word?

For a minute there, you could have sworn we were going to be in for a boring old time of it.

Bottom dollar

There may not be that intensified pressurised feeling that comes with the possibility of relegation and a trip to the backwaters of Blackpool, as you get at the British Open, but you can bet your bottom dollar not one of the 69 bands will be happy with the prospect of finding themselves at the bottom end of the results table after all the hard work they have put in getting here.

The judges will be under the microscope, but to be fair, over the last few years they have done a splendid job at the contest – with some witty responses (Alan Fernie was great) mixed with the type concise analysis (Kevin Wadsworth was top notch) that leaves no one in any doubt of the reason they came where they did.

Warning

The experienced line up of Roy Roe, David Horsfield, Ray Farr and Robert Childs know their eggs.

A word of warning though – anyone wanting to try a ‘Meady’ won’t get far, and anyway, Bob Childs once had a trial as centre forward for Swansea City. Any MD thinking of over stepping the mark may want to consider the implications to their health first.

Plenty to look forward to then – and this year the choice of test pieces has been made with more awareness to the actual, rather than assumed, playing standards of the qualifying bands – a fairly conservative selection in fact (with a very small ‘c’) given the havoc last year’s choices caused. 

Testers

Still, there are a few testers amongst the quartet of ‘Triumphant Rhapsody’, ‘A Scot’s Miscellany’, ‘Oceans’ and ‘Alta Vista’ – although thankfully, given we are in the heart of Tory country, none of them are quite of the ‘Flog ‘em and hang ‘em’ variety in terms of the banding capital punishment of 12 months ago.

Classic

Vinter’s classic will put the First Section contenders under a stern spotlight for sure – from the ‘Beam, Beam, Deet, Beam’ opening to the bum pinching cornet cadenza that could well signal the start of a triumphant finale for bands that have overcome some of the cleverest and most memorable Vinter tunes every written.

Meanwhile, ’A Scot’s Miscellany’ is the type of cracking piece that Alan Fernie delivers at this level time and time again – full of great tunes, tricky technical passages and a neat balance between wit and pathos.

Goff Richards ’Oceans’ will give the Third Section bands plenty to think about. It wasn’t that long ago that the piece was used at Championship level, and although light and frothy in character (there is even a bit of the ‘Young Ones’ in there somewhere), it may well prove to be at the very top end of the difficulty stakes for the bands.    

The Fourth Section rivals will have plenty to enjoy in Bruce Fraser’s ‘Alta Vista’ – which takes its inspiration from some of the great architectural structures of the American continent. It will take a good band to make it to the top unscathed to claim overall victory, but there is plenty for everyone to get to grips with in trying.

Getting there

The International Conference Centre may not have that fevered atmosphere that can be found at other finals venues, but it is quietly getting there.

The organisers have taken note of the needs of the bands and the back room operation is invariably slick and very professional. There are some added attractions this year, with David Childs providing a couple of jaw dropping recitals, and there is a growing audience in the auditorium too.  

The night time attractions of Harrogate may well feature a cup of Horlicks and a Mill & Boon novel in places, but the pubs close to the hall do fill up with happy players and supporters well into the small hours – and that despite the results!

Harrogate, a quiet backwater? Not this weekend for sure.

Iwan Fox

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