2009 North of England Regional Championship - Postcard from Darlington

24-Mar-2009

From bungee jumps to impressions of Methodist ministers - Darlington has a great deal to offer on a visit...


Crane
Up, up and away... Not a pastime for those wanting a quiet life in Dalrington on Saturday...

Judith Chalmers may not have brought her wizened old cricket ball complexion to these parts for an edition of ‘The Holiday Show’, but Darlington is a lovely old place to come and pay a visit to.

Outside in the town square on the Saturday morning was a great farmer’s market with the type of stalls that get you parting with a few quid for items that you don’t really need, but take a fancy too nonetheless.

150 feet high

Meanwhile, slap bang outside the Dolphin Centre, rising 150 feet into the sky, was one of those bungee jump contraptions that look like a cross between a cherry picker crane and a medieval trebuchet catapult.

For a couple of quid you could be hoisted on high to be chucked out, tethered only by a flimsy bit of elastic band. They did a roaring trade in thrill seekers, depressed players and suicidal MDs after some performances in the hall opposite, although rumours that at a couple of conductors had paid to see if they could get either of the two judges to be ceremoniously thrown out without the aid of a tether were just a little short of the truth.  

Alan Hope and his team of helpers run a very slick operation here – although this year with their desire to show the visiting Peggy Tomlinson from Yorkshire just how good they were, it all went a little peetong on the Saturday – from the moment Ray Farr lost his baton in one of the cracks on the stage, to a broken microphone, the light on the judge’s box not working and Alan Hope misreading the year on one of the results!

Thankfully, these were little niggles that were overcome with a great deal of humour, and by the Sunday everything was back to being run like clockwork. There is always a warm and friendly atmosphere in the hall at this contest, and it was encouraging this year that quite a number of fellow players were taking time out to come and listen to the music being played.

Lost twin

Even the Mayor (who looked like Alan Hope’s long lost twin brother) enjoyed himself – making a vote winning pledge of support for the contest to come back to the town for years to come. That wouldn’t be a bad thing either, as the venue may not have the glamour of some other halls around the country, but it does a fine enough job, and with the main hall carpeted, and the tent only 20 odd feet from the stage, the acoustic isn’t that bad at all.  

Peter Bates was excellent as the MC, Ray Payne once again provided his brilliant percussion service to all the players from the bands, and it all finished at a very decent hour to get back to the hotel and enjoy a pint and a chat with friends.  

To spend a few hours chewing the cud with David Read, Richard Evans and Scot Meikle from the Easington Colliery Band was a delight – informative, funny, thought provoking and very enjoyable. Some of the stories will have to remain closed until the Brass Band Official Secrets Act is repealed though!

Sermon

Read
Sermon on the mount? David Read tells it as it was to his assembled congregation in the First Section 

David was on good form at the contest too – delivering a sermon to the masses (this was when the stage microphone broke down) like an old Welsh Methodist minister before the announcement of the results of the First Section – script in hand, score on the music stand in front of him, crowded audience crammed into the pews hanging on his words like errant miscreants at a Sunday morning service.   

The overall standard of playing may have been a bit disappointing this year, but the region does have an encouraging number of bands who sound very much as if they are on the up – the area will send some competitive outfits through to the finals. 

Things are looking up here, despite the small number of bands competing in some sections – something that means that the need for a realistic re-grading of bands is needed as a matter of urgency. That though can be done with ease, if the desire to maintain the feel good factor here is to be further enhanced.

Then all they need to do is get Judith Chalmers along to enjoy it all for herself.

Iwan Fox

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