2009 North West Regional Championship - Championship Section retrospective

3-Mar-2009

Fodens created their own bit of history on the weekend, but the contesting Gods didn't smile on everyone...


Fodens trio
A smile from the Gods.... Fodens celebrate another record win
Picture: Ian Clowes


More Championship pictures at: 
http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_championship
http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_presentation_champ

Sometimes the contesting Gods smile upon you… and sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes you can feel as if you have been gifted a degree of contesting serendipity - sometimes you leave feeling as is you have been kicked in the contesting goolies with a hobnail boot.

Celebrating

Fodens will have left the Winter Gardens on Sunday night not only celebrating the fact that they had equalled the record of CWS (Manchester) of winning four titles in a row, but also knowing that come the announcement of the results they had enjoyed a beatific grin or two from the man above.

Leyland on the other hand will have left with that type of feeling in the pit of their stomachs usually felt after getting a good shoeing at the bottom of a rampaging All Blacks rugby ruck.

Both however, will know exactly why.

David Read gave a quite outstanding forensic analysis of what he was personally looking for in the performances of 'Salute to Youth' from the 11 bands on the day.

Circumstances perhaps allowed him the time to do so (we were waiting for the end of the results ceremony in another hall), but it was still an admirable decision from our most experienced judge.

No stone unturned

No one would have left the Winter Gardens not knowing exactly what he was looking for on this occasion. No musical stone was left unturned – and at times his criticism was trenchant. 

From the rhythmic variances of the second bar, to the quality of tone throughout the dynamic range, the ability to play with sensitivity and cantabile style in the ‘Romance’ to the need for a ‘free’ sense of relaxation in the third.

He touched upon triplet measurement, contrary motion, canonic accuracy, baritone links and internal balances. He was not boasting when he said that he felt that he knew more than most just what Gilbert Vinter wanted with this piece and he wasn’t being pedantic either.

Honest assessment

This was, as he himself said, a very honest assessment based on what he heard. Some will of course have disagreed with his decision (4BR included), but it was transparent and consistent.

”Only two quality performances” he said. “Too much mixed ability playing”, he added. “Little to chose between the bands that came third to sixth’ he concluded.

It won’t have made some bands any happier of course, but they can’t complain that the man in the box hadn’t opted for the usual platitudes and not told it as he felt it was.  No wonder David Read is the best judge around.

Top drawer

What did of course take his fancy was the playing of Fodens.

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09_nw_fodens

Their performance wasn’t perhaps Fodens at their thrilling best – there were a few too many minor smears and blips for that, but it was still playing out of the top drawer.

Garry Cutt’s decision to once again allow the music to flow from Vinter’s specific score instructions ensured that all the basics were in the right place and the quality of the band and its soloists shone through.

The pick was undoubtedly Mark Wilkinson, who was outstanding, especially in the ‘Romance’ - but there were other notable contributions too.  The clarity of the technical work was displayed without recourse to bombast or dynamic overload, whilst the shaping of the musical phrasing was done with Vinteresque subtlety.

It was not unbeatable for certain, the little clips saw to that, but it was a performance of undoubted class from all concerned – and that was more than enough to take the title for a 16th time. 

Early marker

Wingates had set the early marker, with a performance that in retrospect contained many of the rhythmic insecurities David Read talked about. The second bar of the whole piece set the tone – a very deliberate statement of rhythmic intent, and one not wholly accurate.

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_wingates

It illuminated Andrew Berryman’s approach – very clear and precise, but at times a little too deliberate and stilted in its search for clarity.

A lovely middle section seemed to set the band up to post a qualifying marker, but a sloppy ending (the last two bars were needlessly slowed for little musical effect) just took the gloss off. It was a ‘nearly’ rendition, and as David Read accurately pointed out, one that could have come as high as third or as low as sixth – 5th was about par for the course.

Championship quality?

Roberts Bakery
followed with a performance that was not of true Championship Section quality. 

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_roberts

Too many basic problems with technical issues and musical shape meant it never felt at ease, or Vinteresque in style – it was hard, harsh and too often, not very good.  That it came 9th told you much about the two bands that finished below them on the day.

One of those was Timperley in 10th place, who fatally lost all their focus by having to wait for close on five minutes as the security staff in the Opera House tried to close the doors to the hall by means of shouting into their walkie-talkies. 

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_timperley

By the time they finally managed the task, Timperley’s musical minds had wandered, and what followed was a highly disappointing performance from a band that could and should have done much better. No wonder MD Mike Fowles looked unhappy as he left the stage. 

The other band to finish lower than Robert’s Bakery was Poulton –Le Fylde directed by Gareth Westwood.

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_poulton

This also wasn’t of true championship standard – reticent and lacking in conviction, devoid of solo and ensemble security and never having the depth or quality of tone to produce warmth or vibrancy when required.

All three of these bands were, for varying reasons on the day, nowhere near to playing the piece with true championship authority.

Five notches up

Back at the other end of the results table, Fairey will have taken great heart from their performance – one that was about five notches up the scale from their rather average rendition of the piece at the RNCM a few weeks back.

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_fairey

Phil Chalk had obviously learnt his lessons and with a revised assessment of tempi and dynamic approach the playing benefited enormously. Solid soloists (especially a fine bit of sop work from Nick Walkley), clarity to the technicalities and a subtle shading of the musical line by the MD meant that it was always going to be in the mix, and second place was well merited.

Fairey could be a band to watch out for later in the year, especially as they have a MD not hampered by hubris. He is a conductor of growing impressiveness and so is his band.

Colourful and exciting

So too Pemberton Old, who delivered a colourful, exciting, but somewhat uneven performance to clinch the second qualification sport by the narrowest of margins.

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_pemberton

It was hard to disagree with David Read when he stated that the bands in third to sixth could, on another day, have come in any other order – Pemberton, Wire, Wingates and United Co-op Milnrow, all had their moments, but overall, lacked the clear stamp of quality of the two bands that finished above them.

Congratulation though to Mark Bentham, who seems to have rediscovered his old zestful musical spirit. This was a typical Bentham performance in fact – full of life and detail, perhaps a touch heavy on the effects, but solid, secure and cleverly emphasising strengths rather than illuminating weaknesses.

It was a well constructed too, full of confident playing, and whereas rivals didn’t quite play to the top of their form, Pemberton did - especially a very neat and unobtrusive percussion team.

As a result Pemberton head for London for the first time since 1907 – no wonder they were celebrating long into the Blackpool night. 

Close on their heels

Close on their heels came Bactiguard Wire Brass, with a performance that rounded off the contest in fine style.

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_wire

Technically there were too many little moments of unease from start to finish for it to have come any higher than a well merited 4th place, but stylistically it was up there with Fodens on the day.

MD, Paul Andrews allowed the music to flow with no pretence to effect or misplaced sentimentality, and the phrasing from the team of soloists was first class. This was true Vinter – detailed and witty, bold but not overblown, tasteful not saccharin coated.

If they could have just reduced the error count they may well have booked a place at the Royal Albert Hall, but they will have left Blackpool a very happy band nonetheless – and deservedly so.

Uniteds

As for the two Uniteds – Milnrow and Crewe?

Both will have been very pleased we are sure with their final placings, but take away Leyland (and we will come to that in a moment), and they were in effect the best of a distinct second tier of performances on the day.

Milnrow were neat and tidy (very much a musical image of their MD, John Ward), but whilst the technical approach was mostly secure, the musical one seemed to cry out for a sense of heartfelt emotion – especially the ‘Romance’, which did seem to be lacking a degree of warmth. 

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_milnrow

It was one of those performances that pass you by – and just a bit more conviction (and perhaps understanding of Vinter’s intent) could have see them come higher. It was OK but nothing more.

The same applied to Crewe too – OK stuff from start to finish, but nothing really to write home about (except perhaps the rather brainless bass trombone playing which so spoilt the balance.  He should have listened to the chap at Wire Brass who produced a quite wonderful sound and who enhanced rather than detracted from the ensemble sound).

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_crewe

Jef Sparkes did all that was required and his band just about did the same, but you felt that many of his younger charges perhaps didn’t fully understand the composer’s musical intent. It may seem a touch harsh, but this sounded almost bland – a cardinal sin on Vinter’s music.

The Leyland question

That left the question of Leyland. And a question posed by Jason Katsikaris that didn’t find an answer he would have liked in the box.

http://www.pbase.com/troonly/09nw_leyland

It was a highly inventive, colourful, sometimes excitable performance bubbling with character. It was certainly Vinter, but Vinter with a very individualistic twist – and that was perhaps its Achilles heel.

We liked it a great deal, and so did many people in the hall (and quite a few who we spoke to but didn’t actually hear it). It certainly took risks (the lyrical interlude in the ‘Relaxation’ was milked – very nearly dry) but it reeked of preparation and precision.

For David Read however (and remember that he is a man with Vinter running through his musical veins in terms of first hand experience) it wasn’t what he wanted, and the subjective nature of adjudication meant that as a result, it failed to impress on his preferences.

Harsh

8th place was harsh, but it was also perhaps understandable given that the adjudicator was more than honest enough to give a detailed presentation of the reasons behind his decision making. Contesting can be a cruel business at times, but that is what makes it so compelling.

The contesting Gods can indeed smile on you. For Fodens they did that’s for sure.

But it is always handy to remember that they can also lay a well placed size nine boot to where it hurts most too. Leyland will have that particular imprint on their minds for some time to come.

Iwan Fox

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