2009 Pontins Championship - Postcard from Prestatyn

28-Oct-2009

Are bands growing tired of Pontins. Hopefully not, but there is only so many times you can listen to the Bavarian Stompers.


Whisper it quietly; but has Pontins become boring?

Surely the effects of the credit crunch can’t have come to this: a distinct lack of atmosphere, fun and revelry in the Lunars Bar on the Saturday night.

Grown tired

After the years of fun and games, fancy dress and the Bavarian Stompers, has the banding community grown tired of its annual trip to Prestatyn?

If the lack of numbers this year was anything to go by, then perhaps it has. The years of largesse, larger, lads in fancy dress and loads of bands has gone. Pontins was positively anorexic. You could actually walk up the bar at 11.30 at night and not have to wait 5 minutes to get served.

After 36 years, time has caught up with the event. Just 14 bands took to the stage in the Harry & Margaret Mortimer Championship, just 10 in the Fourth Section; a total of 66 bands made the trip to North Wales this year, and not too many of them stayed on camp.

Face lift

The proposed £5 million facelift needs to be more than a cosmetic botox inject if the Prestatyn site is to once again throb to the beat of fun seeking brass bands in October each year.

Unfortunately, the championships have been heading this way now for some times now, despite the fine efforts of the organising committee to draw bands to a tired venue at a time when finances are tight and players are scarce.

Two thirds of the bands in the top section fielded deps (including Cory’s trombone star Chris Thomas playing for both Tongwynlais and Wantage and what seemed like half of Foden’s band on parade) and still two dropped out.

Dep issue

The dep issue has now become a bit of a farce and perhaps may be better addressed by the organisers paying for a pool of 10 players on various instruments to be used by all the bands on the day of the contest.

Still, the prize money remains attractive and the organisers are bending over backwards to make the rules as open as possible to help the bands compete. All this and still the bands are not coming.

No date was formally announced for 2010, but with work starting on the rebuilding in the next few months, where the contest will be held next year is anyone’s guess.

Hopefully here, but holding a contest on a building site (the main hall, bars, restaurants, café, pool are all set to be ‘developed’) won’t make the old place any more attractive for players or families alike. 

Benefit

That would be a great pity as Pontins has done so much to benefit the banding movement.

This year there was still much to enjoy – the British Army Brass Band for instance provided wonderful entertainment to a packed main hall on the Saturday night.

James Scott had picked a challenging set of test pieces for the bands, who on the whole responded with some pretty good playing in return.

This year there was a new work from the pen of the talented composer Ben Tubb for bands in the Fourth Section, two respected young musicians in the box in the Third (Mark Wilkinson & Glyn Williams), a good mix of test pieces and slick organisation to help the bands.

Zimmer frames

Even the Bavarian Stompers managed to put their zimmer frames to one side and get the crowd going once more too.  The problem was, it all felt like an end of an era – a weekend that was now a shadow of its former self. 

Some anomalies remain however. It still wouldn’t be Pontins though without bands having to perform whilst the drayman unloaded 30 barrels of best bitter backstage in the middle of the Championship Section, (Sovereign Brass deserved a medal for keeping their concentration amid the crash, bang, wallop of renewed supplies), or the hardy souls in Lunars Bar having to wrap up like Captain Oates listening to the bands as they waited for someone to turn on the heating.

Charm

That’s all part of Pontins charm – and has been for the past 36 years – a bit of chaos. 

The problem is that bands now expect more for their money in return. The annual Pontins blow out no longer holds a candle to a weekend say, in Butlins in January, or for the same price, the delights of Prague or Amsterdam, where you can get cheap beer and slightly more risqué entertainment than a group of middle aged men in lederhosen (or just that, if it turns you on). 

Hope springs eternal

Hope springs eternal then, and for one moment there was the thought that the event was being televised, but the van outside was preparing for the qualification rounds of a snooker tournament. That said, the bloke inside it said if you thought banding was in serious trouble, then snooker is on its deathbed.  

The good news is that there is a real desire for Pontins to once again return to its glory days; the organisers are determined to refresh the contest environment.
 
All that was missing was that sense of that old Pontins atmosphere that has shone so brightly over the years.

36 is no age to start saying we are all too old to enjoy it all again.

Iwan Fox

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