2009 Butlins Mineworkers Championships - Championship Section entertainment retrospective

21-Jan-2009

It was still all up for grabs on Sunday morning as it all came down to the entertainment stakes - and the chance of claiming the 7,000 top prize.


Wise
Right on target: Jeremy Wise hits the bullseye at Butlins

Bright eyed and well fed (the appropriately named ‘Yacht Club’ restaurant did a wonderful breakfast), the Centre Stage Hall was soon packed to the rafters to await the first of the 12 contenders to kick off proceedings on the stroke of 9.30am.  

Shoehorned

And the hall was packed too – with around 1900 or so people shoehorned into seats to enjoy the entertainment, with the added bonus of well placed multi media screens and some slick camera work to bring images and pictures into view for those people sat in the darkest recesses of the auditorium.

Frank Renton was on top form and despite a short hiatus as Philip Sparke and Philip Harper awaited the arrival of the first batch of scores from United Co-op Milnrow, there was a real sense of expectation about the place.

BiC lite

The more cynical observers did suggest that the entertainment leg of the contest was a bit like the Grand Shield version of Brass in Concert (BiC ‘lite’ as someone put it) but in all honesty there was a great deal to enjoy about each of the12 performances that were produced from 9.30am – 6.00pm on the day.

Unlike some of the more OTT excesses at The Sage last year, innovation and inventiveness had been broached with a slightly more conservative appreciation towards audience reaction here. The majority of bands did take risks – but not of the ‘sub prime’ market variety that tend to crop up more readily in Gateshead.

Copied and amended

Some copied and amended repertoire first heard at Brass in Concert in the past couple of years, others polished existing fare or offered a pick & mix approach of a ‘best of’ variety from other leading bands.

Each though gave it thought and intelligence. The slapstick comedy routines were thankfully thin on the ground, and whilst there were a few ideas that didn’t come off, the sense of looking to appeal musically first, visually second, was encouraging.

Grew in stature

United Co-op Milnrow started the day off with a programme that grew in stature. The first couple of items (‘Come Follow the Band’ and the flugel solo ‘Over the Rainbow’) may not have got the pulses racing, but a neat bit of playing on ‘Norwegian Dance’, followed by a touch of classily played Mozart brought things back on track.

The well-choreographed ‘Galop’, complete with members of the Milnrow Village Contemporary Dance Forum engaging in a version of hand semaphore that would have sent a deaf person mental, was slickly done, and the finisher, ‘Credo’ was interesting, different and well played.

If only they could have harnessed this form on the Saturday they would have perhaps enjoyed a better final placing of 9th.

Solid and unpretentious

Yorkshire Imps
were next, with a programme that was solid and unpretentious fare, presented with a fair degree of polish, even if it was as conservative in outlook as a copy of the Daily Mail.

David Lancaster’s third cornet skills may not be up there with the very best, but his arranging ones are, and his neat take on the renaissance inspired ‘La Morisque’ and the Zuluesque ‘Africa’ (complete with visuals) were well presented, even if it was familiar material to source from.

However, Adrian Nurney’s ‘Carnival of Venice’ although well played, could have been carbon dated, whilst Sparke’s ‘Madrigalum’ and Himes ‘Procession to the Covenant’ were also a touch yellow around the edges and a little bland. 

12th place may have been slightly harsh, but they needed to have taken more risks than this on the day.

Uninspiring fare

The contest had still to spark into life after the performance of Thoresby Colliery.

This was pretty uninspiring fare, with items such as ‘Valero’, ‘Caravan’, ‘The Prayer’ and ‘Reunion from Gettysburg’ all pieces that have been tried, tested and played better by other bands on many other stages. 

Geoff Hawley on soprano did produce a bravura account of ‘Flowerdale’, but unfortunately the inclusion of a Bobby Darin karaoke act on ‘Mack the Knife’ was just that – and was not helped by a kit player who couldn’t swing. It was as stiff as Jordan’s newly minted cleavage. 

Despite the MDs efforts to whip up the atmosphere, 11th place was about right – another band that opted for too many reruns of over familiar repertoire.

Gloves off

Desford
must have known that they would have their work cut out to retain their title.

They had delivered pretty well on the Saturday without ever quite suggesting they had stamped their authority on the contest - so the gloves were off.

It must also be said that they also benefited greatly from some hired help too – a total of five players on the weekend.

The rules of course allow for this, but there is something not quite right in the ethos of the contest when Frank Renton is forced to introduce John Barber (Fodens long serving principal trombonist) as ‘Desford’s principal trombone’ in an item that so strongly featured his excellent playing.

Not alone

Desford were not alone (there was very nearly a full band compliment of additional help sprinkled among the ranks – although not the winners or runners up it must be said), but there is a genuine fear that ‘borrowing for borrowing’s sake’ is now getting out of hand in top section banding. 

That said, Desford were classy – not always perfect in the execution, but certainly inventive and always interesting.  

Tom Davoran’s ‘Phoenix Rising’ was a bit out of the Paul Lovatt Cooper school of filmatic candy floss to start, but a clever bit of Eikanger inspired Jelly Roll Morton and Pat Methany led to a classic reprisal of Snell’s arrangement of ‘Anyone can Whistle’, featuring John Barber.

A red hot bit of xylophone work by Emily Cumby on ‘Robbin’ Harry’ – a piece that had been exhumed from the archives and given a fresh lick of sparkle led to Desford’s current tour de force finisher – ‘The Battle of Bosworth’ – played with real brio.

It was an effective pick & mix showcase, put together with a cleverly realised appeal to the broadest of musical tastes. That it won came as no real surprise, for it was up there with the best on the day.

Bar set high

With the bar set at a pretty daunting height, EYMS took to stage in a puzzling array of black outfits with red accessorises that would have had Trinny & Susannah going apoplectic.

It just looked very odd indeed, especially the percussionist who wore a red muffler whilst playing drum as part of ‘Hymn for Africa’ – but it didn’t distract from another encouraging performance under Jason Katsikaris.

Two effectively packaged opening items in ‘American Fanfare’ and the ‘Jubilee’ march set things up nicely, but principal cornet Neil Day didn’t have the best of ‘days’ on the ‘Harry James Concerto’ and the trombone trio, ‘It’s not Unusual’ didn’t really ever sound as if they were going to inspire a bit of Tom Jones knicker throwing from the audience.

The band recovered however with the African interlude (featuring clever accompanying images) and a big old Dean Jones ‘Glorifico’ finisher.

It was an interesting and intelligently staged concert programme, not always 100% secure or effective, but well worth its eventual 5th place.

Encouraging performance

The halfway point was reached with Skelmanthorpe – and another encouraging performance under John Roberts.

An intelligently organised selection was certainly well rehearsed and made the most of the band’s strengths without over exposing the more obvious weaknesses, and whilst it was a touch limited in scope, it was put together with a sense of musical purpose.

’Walking with Heroes’, led to the Herbie Hancock inspired ‘Chameleon’ and Evelyn Glennie’s ‘Little Prayer’. An effective touch of ‘Thundering’ Sousa then led to a rather weak ‘Bare Necessities’ which needed a touch more polish in presentation, before a rousing, if rather tired, ‘Fugue’ from Sparke’s ‘Graduation Day’ rounded things off.

10th on the day was about right (and they did misjudge their timings somewhat) so no complaints to go with a first outing in the top section for 2009 that had more plus points than minus ones.

Musical limb

Carlton Main
could, and should, have gone out on a musical limb more under Allan Ramsay.

There was a great deal of quality about the playing – from Kirsty Abbott’s beautiful, ‘Your Tiny Hand is Frozen’, to a neat bit of musical jokiness on ‘My Sister Kate’ – but it was never going to be enough.

Around the polished gems the march ‘Keighly Moor’, ‘Lezghinka’, ‘Me and My Shadow’ and ‘Peterloo Overture’ were all just too far past their sell by dates – and however well played, lacked the touch of inventiveness and originality other rivals grasped more effectively.

7th place was par for the course, but it could have been a stronger contender if the risks were taken. 

Tried too hard

Hepworth (Cookson Homes) perhaps just tried too hard to ensure that they laid an unbeatable claim to the £7,000 top prize.

Two thirds of their recent Brass in Concert programme was reprised under Ian Porthouse, but given a degree of polish that the sparkling opener ‘Fireball XL5’ took the breath away.

They couldn’t quite maintain that level of brilliance however, and although Rob Westacott shone on ‘Russian Dance’, the Eric Whittaker ‘Sleep’ - complete with lights off and homely images, was played at a decibel level that only someone who had taken two Mogadon tablets in their Horlicks would have been able to snore peacefully through – it was a touch loud to say the least.

That was perhaps their Achilles’ heel on this occasion – the enthusiasm and sense of musical purpose was admirable, and at time simply thrilling, but the lack of dynamic subtlety was their undoing.

’Malaquena’ did become a touch raucous, and although Simon Dobson’s ‘A Little Hymn’ was delicately played, the lack of distinctive intermediate dynamic levels was hurting their cause. The ‘Orgiastic’ romp to finish was all bells and whistles and very exciting - but just re-emphasised the point.

4th place on the day wasn’t enough, and just meant that their hands had been prised off the Warwick Vase by the narrowest of margins.

Self belief

Virtuosi GUS
somehow didn’t quite believe in themselves enough to have come any higher than their eventual 6th place.  

’Summon the Heroes’, ‘A Quick Spin through Moscow’ and ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ were all well played, but somehow lacked total conviction, whilst the trombone trio ‘Temptress for Trombones’ seemed to have been hacked together by someone in welding gear and a blindfold – it really did have that clunking ‘last minute feel’ to it.

That said, a colourful Respighi ‘Epiphany’ and a wonderful piece of cornet playing from 15 year old James Fountain on ‘Brown Bird Singing’ that had such control and tonal clarity, made up for the lapses in self belief and execution that blighted their overall effort.

Honor Blackman

As for Wingates…. If only they could have played as well as this the previous day.

The visual entertainment prize of £1,000, 3rd place on the day and the big old Butlins silver trophy was theirs of course from the time the girls of the band took to the stage for the up beat opening fanfare and ‘James Bond’ taster.

In fact it was as if the band’s flugel player was perhaps auditioning for Honor Blackman’s part in ‘Goldfinger’, such was the shortness of her skirt, but it was all done in the best possible taste as Kenny Everett used to say – just though.

After the men in the packed hall had put their eyes back in their sockets, Wingates went on to produce an interesting and innovative showcase – although they should have made sure the tiresome themes from the film ‘Titanic’ were sunk before the overdue iceberg finished it off when it did.

Playing the piece sent the band well over the generous time limit of 23 minutes playing and 1 minute buffer (they played two seconds short of 27 minutes in the end) and that cost them a place in the overall results.

It did of course mean we got to hear a superb bit of trombone work from Peter Moore (who seems to have grown six inches in as many months) on ‘Wooden Snow’, Lucy Pankhurst’s intriguingly bonkers ‘Mischief!’ and a thumpingly OTT gay old  ‘Innuendo’ by Queen to finish.

All in all, very Wingates - and well worth the entrance fee just for the rise in many an older man’s blood pressure.

Genuine contender

Redbridge
were the last of the genuine contenders to take to the stage knowing that they were in with a chance of overall victory – and 23 minutes later they had done just that – and we do mean just, as they very nearly blew their chances in the very last five or so bars of their programme.

Jeremy Wise had certainly worked out a formula for success with a clever mix of quality items tweaked and moulded with intelligent reappraisal to appeal with their fresh twist.

We therefore got a new slant on the Brighouse stomper ‘All Night Long’ to open, followed by a lovely idea of six trombones and flugel feature on ‘Jesus wipes away my Tears’.

Phillip Littlemore’s up beat ‘Huapango!’ still had enough citrus inspired latinesque flavour about it to sound fresh, whilst the classic Leigh Baker ‘Mr Sandman’ had a new set of comedic variations to appeal directly to those who were enjoying it both for the first and tenth time.

They were certainly heading for a clear cut victory on the day, and with the super singing of Rosie Evans on ‘With one Look’ from the musical ‘Sunset Boulevard’ it seemed the contest was just about in the bag.

Then they very nearly shot themselves in the feet with both barrels of a twelve bore musical shotgun, with the pointless use of lighting effects for the ‘Finale from Rachmaninov’s Symphony Number 1’.

It was a rather obscure orchestral finisher and it very nearly went belly up with some tired playing and the strange decision to play the final few bars with the addition of deep red light spotlights with black background.

As the final chord rang out, a rather puzzled audience refrained from breaking into applause for about 5 seconds as they tried to work out if there was more to come, or if that, was that.

It was, but it was a risk that wasn’t worth taking – and left a deflated feeling in the hall to what had been a classy bit of entertainment playing.

Thankfully, the judges were not too severe on the final faux pas and awarded Redbridge 2nd place – just enough it turned out to win the overall title.

Unengaging programme

That left SWT Woodfalls to round off a long old day, in a somewhat unengaging programme that never quite did what it was meant to do.

Nicholas Childs had decided to bookend a four item set with two extended Paul Lovatt-Cooper works, ‘Horizons’ and ‘Solar Eclipse’ – both of which are enjoyable fare, but cut every much from the same musical cloth.

As such neither worked in the context of only having two other items to separate them.

Ivan Huthcinson was a splendidly authentic razzler on ‘Tico, Tico’ – although on a day when some cornet players again thought they could play a trumpet, here was a top class trumpeter not really needing to showcase his talents on a cornet.

’Sing, Sing, Sing’ however didn’t ‘Swing, Swing, Swing’ – the result, as is invariably the case in brass bands, of a kit player not being able to replicate an authentic Louis Prima or Gene Krupa rhythm.  It swung with the freedom of a dead man on a gallows, and not even the best efforts of the Cory replica Blues Brothers on stools made it sound anything other than flat.

In the end Woodfalls came 8th – a fair reflection of a rather disappointing programme.

Results

With legs to stretch and belly’s to fill by the restaurant closing time of 7.30pm, the organisers did an admirable job with the results. Frank Renton dispensed with the speeches and the fates were announced in reverse order.

Wingates took the entertainment prize and a delighted Emily Cumby was festooned with trophies as Desford’s representative and as the Geoff Dove Solo Award winner.

As for 4BR? We had a top six of Redbridge, Hepworth, Desford, GUS, Wingates and EYMS. That meant we just thought Hepworth would take the title from Redbridge with Desford in third, followed by EYMS, GUS and Carlton Main. 

Obvious potential

In the end it was the judge’s decision that counted and they placed GUS in fourth, Desford third and the close battle for the top prize saw Redbridge just pip Hepworth by the narrowest of margins.

As the Londoners celebrated it was clear what it meant to a band that has in the past promised much but had never quite managed to deliver on its obvious potential. With this win all that could be about to change.

Iwan Fox

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