In his summing up before the announcement of the results, Duncan Beckley explained that he gave a pep talk at the draw, reminding bands that all that they needed to do was play the basics correctly.
That was particularly the case with, ‘Le Carnival Romain’: just follow the basic instructions of the score to get the music out of it.
However, he did add the rider: If bands were unable to play the notes then there would be problems.
And there were problems - a whole host of them during a contest of fluctuating standards, which although containing no outstanding clear cut winner, did have a trio that put a defined margin between themselves and the rest of the field.
Most bands found the opening difficult - even as early as the second bar in fact, and despite the sterling efforts of a host of euphonium players, too many were let down by sloppy accompaniments.
Duncan pointed out that it was essential to maintain a steady tempo in the ‘salterello’, as he felt too many bands had started off the ‘Allegro’ at a speed they were unable to sustain.
Even with the assistance of a scribe to ensure he could fully concentrate on what was be heard in the box, he added that such was the variable nature of a number of performances that he needed to refer back more than a few times to separate out the minor placings.
It fell to Staines Brass under Melvin White to open the contest, and they will have been disappointed with their performance, which was probably not helped by the late withdrawal of one of their bass players.
It certainly had its good points, with controlled euphonium playing and solid work from the trombones, but the ‘Allegro’ sounded rushed and some insecurity in the soprano was a foretaste of a problem that would affect nearly all their rivals to some extent.
East London Brass, drawn 3, certainly lit up the hall with their vibrant account.
Jayne Murrill and her First Section debutants brought out the excitement in the music, maintaining a brisk tempo in the ‘Allegro’ despite the occasional nasty blip or two.
A warm-toned euphonium was supported by a sensitive accompaniment, although disparities between cornets and horns and some muddiness towards the end detracted little from the persuasive overall effect. It just left the door open for it to be beaten.
It was Haverhill Silver, directed by Mark Ager who did just that, thanks in part to a crisp opening and effective trills from the horns that were without doubt the best of the day, and whilst the euphonium solo was divided between two players, the second being the more secure in the rising scales, it was neatly blended.
They also set off at a fair lick in the ‘Allegro’, but unlike other rivals, they showed they could sustain it, with clean articulation, particularly with the repeated quaver foundation notes.
A dropped mute could have proved unsettling, but no-one seemed unduly concerned, and with a real sense of vibrancy they romped to the close to snatch the title by a hairsbreadth from East London.
Bedford Silver claimed the final podium and qualification place, in no small part to being able to build on the superb euphonium lead they were given in the aria.
The ‘Allegro’ was generally crisp and clean, although the final section just ran away from them a little to end in a bit of a scrappy bundle.
It was well deserving their trip to Chelthenham.
For Jersey Premier Brass to undertake the journey from the Channel Islands to Stevenage each year (and to the Finals on a regular basis) is a great achievement, and their efforts were rewarded with a well deserved 4th place.
They opened brightly with clear trills, if somewhat above the written dynamic, and also benefitted from a strong, full toned euphonium.
There were odd blips in a generally clean ‘Allegro’, but with the soprano missing at one stage and timpani rather aggressive, it all became a little too frenetic to close.
Kidlington Concert Brass was looking for a good result following their relegation, and in the end were placed 5th.
Their ensemble was generally secure, although there were discrepancies between euphonium and accompaniment.
At times the soprano was not very clear, whilst a couple of small breaks, robbed the ‘Allegro’ of its intended flow.
Egham produced a workmanlike performance to secure 6th place, despite occasional untidiness and slack ensemble, whilst the euphonium seemed to play through the rests in the solo, whilst Horsham Borough, who played after the comfort break, rallied after an uncomfortable start to go on and produce a rendition of neat touches and detailed musicality to end 8th.
Behind these and the standard became much more variable.
Soham Comrades reading was marred by unevenness from the opening trills to the rather stiff aria, although the band maintained a careful eye on the dynamics in the ‘Allegro’ to close with a real rousing flourish.
Meanwhile, Alder Valley came 10th with a performance beset by poor intonation despite some notable individual contributions (notably the soprano and euphonium), whilst Ipswich & Norwich Co-op’s rather steady approach was balanced if a little stodgy in pace to end in 11th.
Cawston’s performance to come 12th, was hampered by gaps in the percussion which detracted from some solid ensemble playing form the rest of the band whilst Epsom & Ewell’s uneven account started poorly, picked up as it went along in the flowing aria, before rather spluttering its way to the finish in a very hit and miss ‘salterello’.
Fairlop’s rather safety first performance was in need of much more flow in places (and was one of many that relied on an over accentuated quaver rhythm) to end in 14th, whilst St Albans City got off to a brisk start and featured a nicely controlled euphonium, before the ensemble lost cohesion and compactness and it became a bit over robust and raucous.
Finally, Yiewsley & West Drayton, whose reading was rather scrappy throughout, with tuning problems that detracted from the solid ensemble work that all too rarely shone through.
Overall however, three worthy qualifiers for Cheltenham on what was quite a tough test for all the bands, highlighting the importance of getting the basics right.
Lastly, the Derek Stillwell (Luton Band) Memorial Trophy awarded each year to the outstanding cornet player went to Keith Hutchinson, formerly of Enfield and currently at Horsham, whose dulcet tones had added so much to their performance.