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

26-Mar-2009

Can London be turning into a one horse race? If Redbridge continue to play like this it may be some time before anyone else will beat them...


Redbridge
The right Redbridge Sparke: The judge hands over the Championship trophy once more to the winners

2009 might only be three months old, but for Jeremy Wise and the members of Redbridge Band it has already been quite a year.

Formidable

The band’s record in the London and Southern Counties Regional is of course a formidable one, with victory only once having eluded them in the last seven years in 2006. It’s a record that since the turn of the millennium, only Reg Vardy can better with seven consecutive wins…until last weekend that is. 

Since then however, the Redbridge bandwagon has remained as steady as a rock at Stevenage, safely seeing its way through the departure of Melvin White, the winning interregnum of Rob Wiffin in 2008, and now, Jeremy Wise, with so far inspirational results.

Early milestone

That inspiration found an early milestone at Skegness, when they cruised to what was undoubtedly its most influential victory since entering the Championship Section back in 1986, in capturing the Butlin’s title and banking a cool £6000 at the same time. It makes Redbridge 4BR’s highest contest earners of 2009 to date.

It’s hardly surprising then that the band will have headed to Stevenage with a dose of confidence unlike anything it had taken with it before, and it showed within the first half a dozen bars of ‘Salute to Youth’, as they turned in a performance of stature that was to ultimately mark it out as a very clear victor indeed.

Notable

One of the most notable factors to come out of this year’s contest was the gap that now appears to have opened up between Redbridge and Nigel Taken’s Aveley and Newham - latterly the traditional prediction for runner up at Stevenage.

The quality differential between the two old sparring partners doesn’t appear to have as great for a long time.

Door open

From an early number two draw, the Aveley players knew that the qualification door had been left open, subsequently to be grabbed with both hands by Zone One Brass, as the Albert Hall locals booked a short walk across the road from the Royal College of Music in October.

It’s been on the cards for a few years though and with Zone One having come close previously, with a third place finish in 2007 it fell to the band’s new conductor, trombonist Richard Ward to steer the band to a richly deserved runner up spot in the wake of Paul Archibald’s recent move to pastures new at the Guildhall School of Music.  

Short straw

Following on from the First Section contest in the Gordon Craig Theatre, it was KM Medway and Melvin White that drew the short straw, getting proceedings off the ground with a nervy, rather unsettled performance that was marred by a high tally of individual slips.

Melvin White tried valiantly to shape the ‘Romance’ and maintain flow of the music, but 5th was a generous reward on a day when things didn’t quite click for the band.

Cracks

Aveley and Newham
started with true ‘Resilience’, with a good clean opening from the cornets and horns and generally confident solo entries throughout the first movement.

It was in the ‘Romance’ that the cracks started to show however, with a shaky opening entry from solo horn that seemed to set a few nerves jangling. A fine contribution from Derrick Kane on euphonium helped to steady the ship as Nigel Taken directed a well judged final climax to the movement, but despite a well chosen tempo in ‘Relaxation’, occasional lapses in ensemble detail left the impression that the band might not have done quite enough to guarantee its place in the final.

Idiosyncratic

Taking to the stage at number three and earning a creditable 4th place, Clacton on Sea Co-operative’s performance was not without its idiosyncrasies as the accelerando’s following the initial cornet and horn flourishes seemed to run away to the point that the trombones were positively laboured in their response.

Ensemble tended to the loose in ‘Resilience’ although there were also passages of quality in the ‘Romance’ that will have been noted by Philip Sparke in the box.

’Relaxation’ fared better as the band appeared to grow in confidence, but come the results 4th place really served to act as an illustration of the substantial gulf between the top three bands and the rest of the field.

Meaning business

Zone One
gave the impression of meaning business from the very first bar and despite the undemonstrative conducting style of Richard Ward, delivered a disciplined, assured account of the work that also succeeded in capturing the character and essence of the score.

The band’s solo horn player was the first of only two on the day to deliver a totally secure opening to the ‘Romance’, with the movement unfolding in impressive style, underpinned by good individual contributions, notably from the band’s solo cornet player who was to be awarded the prize for the best cornet player.

Things just rocked a little at the opening of ‘Relaxation’, but the tempo allowed the detail to come through with impressive clarity leading to an exciting yet controlled conclusion. The band might not have matched Redbridge in sound, but in musical presentation, it was impressive stuff indeed.      

No repeat

The longstanding relationship between Catherine Underwood and Kidlington Concert Brass has resulted in one appearance at the Albert Hall in 2001.

There was to be no repeat this year however, although the band demonstrated a solid sound and commitment in ‘Resilience’, but a tough day for the band’s soprano player just took the edge off the overall impression.

The ‘Romance’ was harder going, with moments where it creaked to some degree under the strain, but as always with Kidlington, there was also emotional warmth in the playing.

‘Relaxation’ was not blemish free but progressed to a spirited conclusion. 9th was the result, although we had the band a touch higher up the table.

Rather strident

Championship Section debutantes City of Cambridge gave a rather strident performance, that although finding some shape in the ‘Romance’, tended to the ragged in coming 10th.

Familiar face

Meanwhile, Phil Bailey and Wantage Silver, with the familiar face of Lyndon Baglin drafted in on solo euphonium, started confidently and although not perhaps giving the most elegant of performances, were rhythmically tight through ‘Resilience’.

The ‘Romance’ lacked a little fluency at times, although the band clearly attempted to capture the warmth of the music, whilst ‘Relaxation’ motored along at a brisk pace with Lyndon still managing to sound majestic in his sound, despite a couple of clips in the central section.

7th was about right for us and will see the band stay in the Championship Section next year.

Prime draw

With a prime draw of eight, all ears were on Redbridge as most in the hall were talking of Zone One being the leaders to this point.

The band’s sound immediately stood out as the biggest and roundest of the day, with a solid start and impressive character on display throughout ‘Resilience’.

After a good initial entry from solo horn, ‘Romance’ was finely shaped, with a breadth and warmth that no other band was quite able to match. The well judged tempo of ‘Relaxation’ resulted in tight ensemble with expressive euphonium playing from Jane Brill in the interlude. All in all it was a performance of strength and assuredness that despite the qualities of Zone One, immediately sailed into the winner’s position with four bands left to play.

Propel

For the four remaining bands in question, none was able to propel itself towards the top of the results table and Kensington in October. 

Melvin White’s second band of the day Staines, was to find itself in 12th position although that was a touch harsh for us after a performance that did suffer from inconsistency but also had moments of quality, particularly in the ‘Romance’.

Newly promoted Ipswich and Norwich under Robin Norman were to finish 11th with a feeling of fragility about the playing that never quite recovered from an error strewn ‘Resilience’.

Milton Keynes Brass (Broseley) under the experienced direction of Paul Fensom, finished an impressive third last year but was unable to find the same quality this time around to finish 8th and a trifle lucky for us at that.

Fortunate

The last band of the day Bedford Town, pushed itself two places up the table from last year with a 6th place finish, although this was again a touch fortunate for us after a performance that although finding better form in ‘Relaxation’, was another that suffered from waywardness in the opening two movements.

Disappointed

We suspect that Philip Sparke might just have been a touch disappointed, as we were, with the standard in the Championship Section as a whole, but in terms of the top three places alone, there are few clearer cut results than this one.   

For Redbridge it’s an onward march to the Grand Shield and ‘Contest Music’ in May, when Jeremy Wise and his players will hope to carry on in the same vein and push for a spot in the British Open come September.

For Zone One Brass though, this was a day that will linger in the memory for a long time to come, and marks a contesting coming of age that has been waiting to happen. There will be some very interested ears listening in when the band takes to the stage in Kensington come October.

Christopher Thomas   

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