2009 London & Southern Counties Regional Championship - Fourth Section - retrospective

26-Mar-2009

It was a real old battle on 'The Talisman' for all 16 bands on the weekend - but the one with the right name managed to take the title.


As with all the other Fourth Section competitions around the country this year, the lowest contest tier in Stevenage only had one real winner – the test piece.

No fault

That was no fault of any of the 16 competing bands, all of which brought grit and determination, and no little amount of talent to the proceedings, but none were able to fully produce a performance that fully overcame all the technical problems in a test piece that was ill suited for its purpose.

Diplomatic

Adjudicator Roy Roe was diplomatic and generous in his assessment of what he had heard on the day, stating that he felt that the qualifying bands in particular had done a very good job on the piece.  That in itself was true, but it didn’t really give an accurate reflection of the overall standard of the contest, which as in other areas was undermined by the choice of set work.

Great deal of credit

Again though – no fault can be laid at the musical doors of the competing bands and their MD’s – all of whom emerged with a great deal of credit for their efforts. But it was little wonder that numbers were down this year as band after band struggled bravely through the three movements, at times with little hope of really reaching a level of consistency that would have made them contenders for a place at the finals in Harrogate.

Roy Roe must have had one heck of a difficult task separating out the bands that eventually came in the top six, let alone 7th – 16th.  It was a question of musical apples and pears – and no band should really feel that they were unduly penalised by the adjudicator for eventually coming where they did – it would have taken a brain the size of Stephen Fry’s to have worked out the not so best from the rest on this one.

Authority

The eventually winners were Battle Town conducted with great authority by Jon Penton.

Off the number 14 draw they made sure the adjudicator had a performance he could use as a musical yardstick as they produced some neat ensemble sounds allied to secure soloists all aided by sensible tempo choices by the MD.

It really was the nearest any band came to really paying the piece with complete mastery – with subtle shadings here and there and a very persuasive sense of style.

Wonderfully shaped

Joining them in Harrogate will be Wantage Silver B, after they had earlier produced a wonderfully shaped musical performance that perhaps had more technical frailties but just about captured the essential musical elements of each of the three movements.

The title could have gone either way for the neutral listening in the audience, but the extra security found in Battle’s performance perhaps gave them the edge. Both were very decent efforts on a very difficult test piece and if both bands get something more to their liking in Harrogate they should be confident of doing well thee.

Performances of merit

Behind the two qualifiers (4BR mistakenly thought there were three on the day, so apologies to Jubilee Brass (Oxford)) there were a number of performances of merit that just lacked that extra level of consistency that would have secured their place at Harrogate without too much debate.

That said, 4BR found fans of Hemel Hempstead, Jubilee Brass (Oxford), Harwich RBL Brass and Kings Lynn in pockets of the hall (and in the bar area afterwards), all of who enlisted persuasive arguments to why their bands should have made the trip north in September.

Question of consistency

To be fair you could understand why in each case, although once again it was a question of consistency that meant that on this occasion each missed out.

Hemel Hempstead perhaps for us had the most forceful argument in their favour with a performance of character and solid solo lines, whilst Jubilee Brass (Oxford) seemed to be heading for a place in the finals only to find their stamina waned somewhat in the final ‘Scherzo’ as it all ended in a bit of a messy lump to close.

Harwich in comparison seemed to get stronger the longer the piece went on and finished with a real old flourish, whilst Kings Lynn just couldn’t really up their game in any of the sections to really make a compelling case to have come higher than they eventually did.

Most people we did speak to however thought the contest was going to be between these six bands, and after sitting and listening to the rest of the field it was hard to disagree.

Oldest problem

Those bands that filed the next six or seven places all fell foul of the oldest problem in the book at this level of band contesting – consistency of execution. 

Encouragingly there were a number of MDs that tried to make the very most of at times, limited resources (we counted just 8 bands with a full compliment of players), and a host were shining beacons of encouragement and non verbal (as well as a few who were very verbal) communication.

Varied tempos

Tempos varied greatly, especially in the final ‘Scherzo’ to accommodate their players ability to play the opening stanza with clarity and style, whilst the almost impossible opening bars to the ‘Nocturne’ may have been invariably nervous and untuneful, but were never the less played with a commitment to the cause that was admirable.

Hard to seperate

It was hard to separate the likes of Bletchington Silver, Letchworth Garden City, Cold Ash Brass, Charles Church Camberley, Royston and Amersham. Each had their merits in their performances; each had obvious weaknesses, faults and errors.

Each had also worked hard on their opening statements in the ‘Prelude’, but as the piece wore on the fragilities arose with increasing frequency. All though deserved the highest praise for battling their way through to the end – the MDs especially. 

Problematic

As for the bands that filled the bottom four places, it was increasingly obvious just how problematic the piece was for them.

Once more though, medals instead of places in the final results table were more appropriate, and each of Milton Keynes Development, Bradwell Silver, Cobham and Hilgay deserved them by the bucketful.

None produced coherent performances that fully mastered the test piece in either of the three movements, but the sense of determination, some excellent examples of quality individual solo playing and periods when the bands captured the sense of style in each section were commendable.

Glad to see the back

It was hard work though – and the bands and their MDs must have known it. They will all be glad to see the back of ‘The Talisman’ for sure. That they took the decision to come and perform here on a piece that they knew would test them to the limit and beyond also deserves a special mention.

Proud

All may have gone home disappointed at their result but all would have been justifiably proud as punch by their efforts.  A contest that had just two performances of real musical note, also had 16 that in their way were all winners.

The Music Panel and Kapitol Promotions though cannot rely on the bands goodwill for much longer to make it here to play if pieces like this are chosen again.  

4BR thanks Ian Morris and Pauline Jones for their help with this retrospective.

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