In all sorts of ways, London & the Southern Counties is catching up and even overtaking other banding regions.
The sense of optimism that has been shown through the improvement in the playing standards over the past few years, was certainly confirmed in many of the sections on an enjoyable weekend in Stevenage – notably the Championship Section.
Now there are at least three rising contenders tugging on the coat tails of Redbridge, the impressive leaders of the pack.
For the first time in a long while, there was a greater depth in quality to the top section here than in at least a couple of other regions.
After Friary Guilford’s win in the First Section at Harrogate last year, the region will also send more than just single each way bets to Cheltenham too.
It may be asking a great deal to hope for victory at the Albert Hall, but the Lower Section Finals should be a different matter – there are good odds on at least a brace or more of potential podium finishers.
Not only was there a great deal of good playing to enjoy, but the standard of conducting at the various contests was a bit of revelation too.
Jeremy Wise continues to beat an elegant path to the Albert Hall, but elsewhere there was real talent to enjoy in action from Richard Ward at Zone One, to the likes of Mark Ager and Jayne Murrill in the First Section, the experienced musical sense of Stephen Tighe and Melvin White in the Second, the energetic Kevin Woodger in the Third and Ian Stewart’s bravura enthusiasm in the Fourth.
They were not alone either.
Away from the music, Dave Hobbs and his team have turned the rather nondescript surroundings of the Arts & Leisure Centre at Stevenage into a ‘must visit’ brass band contest that is slickly run and very welcoming.
The backroom support is excellent, with bands ushered on and off stage with the minimum of fuss. Even the provision of the results is now so speedy that it is posted up on the regional website before 4BR could get a sniff!
It’s a splendid effort from a splendid, hard working team.
And although the acoustic in the Main Hall remains a problem, the bands have become accustomed to it and the successful MDs use their noggins to take edge of the extremes of the dynamic range. If only some other MDs at other regional venues would have done the same this year.
The Gordon Craig Theatre continues to offer a compact, dry sounding auditorium that although not ideal for the bands themselves, is almost perfect for the man in the box.
Dennis Wilby for one didn’t miss a thing - good, bad or indifferent – and there was plenty of good individual playing on show, especially from the masterful Martin Britt on soprano with Redbridge, who really was a class part on the weekend.
Things have certainly changed in London, and although they may still be the last region to declare its champions, it certainly isn’t the region that brings up the rear in any other way.