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2017 National Championships of Great Britain
First Section preview & prediction

Eric Ball's 'Tournament for Brass' provides a wonderful opportunity for listeners, conductors and players to enjoy a masterful piece of brass band writing.

Eric Ball
Timeless classic: A youthful Eric Ball...

Following the overwhelming success of ‘Fraternity’ being used as the set-work at the recent British Open Championship, Kapitol Promotions will be hoping that Eric Ball’s ‘Tournament for Brass’ will elicit the same positive response from performers and listeners alike at Cheltenham this weekend.

They shouldn’t be worried.

Written for the 1954 British Open, it’s a wonderful example of the art of ensemble composition for the medium - a beautifully inspired chamber work in construct and exposition.  

Like Thierry Deleruyelle’s modern take on the traditional ‘tone poem’ genre, it’s also a timely reconnection to an era when contest stage musicianship was still balanced in favour of musicality rather than sheer technique - although it remains a tricky prospect for solo performers in particular, even today.

Academic homage

And although Eric Ball is fondly remembered for the simple, refined romanticism of his writing, ‘Tournament for Brass’ was described in the 1954 programme as a work that; ‘…will set no problems for the listener, nor is it intended to explore any particular depths of emotion.’

Rather, and much like his slightly later ‘Festival Music’, it is more a touching, academic homage to the crafted elegance of Mozart and Haydn, with just a little bit of Elgar added to the mix; delicate and elegant, tailored with exquisite detail. It is uplifting music without ever having to become raucously celebratory.  

Rather, and much like his slightly later ‘Festival Music’, it is more a touching, academic homage to the crafted elegance of Mozart and Haydn, with just a little bit of Elgar added to the mix; delicate and elegant, tailored with exquisite detail. It is uplifting music without ever having to become raucously celebratory.  

The opening ‘Trios & Duets’ is a well-mannered ‘competition’ as Ball called it, which poses testing questions of balance and clarity, whilst the central ‘Solos’ (Themes and Variations) offers contrasts of style and expression, tasteful rubato and lyrical freedom.  

The ‘Scherzo’ to close is a ‘light and gay’ compound dance; although it also contains a mysterious interlude featuring a diaphanous solo for the cornet.  The piece closes urgently before ending with a declamatory coda.

‘Tournament for Brass’ poses a fine, transparent challenge to the Championship Section aspirations of both players and conductors alike. Like ‘Fraternity’, it is a deceptively severe test of style as well as substance - and a work that demands a level of insight and respect that will very quickly sort out the best from the rest in high pressure tournament play.

Number 1 draw

The 1954 British Open was the last occasion when the event was won off the number 1 draw - so whoever picks Kelly’s Eye from the red velvet bag shouldn’t be filled with too much despair, as with Paul Holland and Michael Fowles in the box, they should also be confident that the judge’s won’t miss a trick, a misplaced entry or a touch of well-meaning camouflage work either.

whoever picks Kelly’s Eye from the red velvet bag shouldn’t be filled with too much despair, as with Paul Holland and Michael Fowles in the box, they should also be confident that the judge’s won’t miss a trick, a misplaced entry or a touch of well-meaning camouflage work either.

The First Section title has been shared by the West of England and Wales in recent times - with St Dennis claiming the honours last year in splendid fashion.  

In fact, you have to go back to 2012 for the last time the trophy didn’t head south or west from Cheltenham to its new home, although last year the other top-six places were filled by bands from the North West, London & Southern Counties, Midlands (two) and Wales.

St Dennis
Who will follow in the St Dennis footsteps?

The contenders

Who will come out on top this time then?

After such an uplifting result for the nation at the British Open, the Scottish representatives of champions, Newtongrange and qualifiers Bathgate, will travel south buoyed in competitive confidence. 

The First Section title yet to be won by a band from north of Hadrian’s Wall, but in this strong looking pair, led by two experienced conductors, they may have their best chance yet.

After such an uplifting result for the nation at the British Open, the Scottish representatives of champions, Newtongrange and qualifiers Bathgate, will travel south buoyed in competitive confidence. 

It’s been a barren few years for representatives from the North of England (the last top-six place coming in 2012), but a resurgent Shepherd Group and a solid looking Westoe may be dark horses for success.  It’s an Area that has been increasingly punching above its weight in recent times, so a first success here since 2003 may be on the cards.

Strength in depth

The strength in depth of the North West Area is shown by the return of Rainford (who came 9th last year) and champions Pemberton Old Wigan DW - bands with significant records of achievement of late (including at the Grand Shield), and led by a brace of rising conducting stars in Gareth Brindle and Ben Dixon.

Marsden
Can Marsden add yet more silverware to their 2017 collection?

Meanwhile, over the Pennines, the task returning the title to Yorkshire for the first time since 2012 falls to current Area and Brass at the Guild champion Marsden Silver, and the band that did it that all those years ago, Unite the Union. 

With plenty of top flight experience in the ranks and led by two of the most experienced MDs around on the weekend in Alan Widdop and John Roberts, confidence won’t be in short supply for a brace of solid looking contenders.

Welsh pride comes in the form of one of the nation’s most famous names, Parc & Dare, and their north Walian counterparts, and one of its oldest bands, Llanrug.  With four National victories here in the last decade, expectations are high west of Offa’s Dyke, although on this occasion, perhaps tempered with a touch of reality. 

Hit and miss

It’s been a bit hit and miss for the Midlands in recent years (the last victory came with Kibworth in 2006), although in Area Champion, Foresters Brass 2000 and fellow qualifiers Rushden Town they send a pair of experienced contenders led by contest savvy MDs.   

Shepherd
What odds on a North of England Shepherd Group celebration?

Hopes of the West of England once again celebrating victory on Sunday evening are in the hands of SW Comms and Bournemouth Concert Brass. The brace of well led outfits came through an intriguing battle in Torquay earlier in the year, and also had a tasty head to head battle at the famous outdoor Bugle contest. 

That leaves the trio from London & Southern Counties; led by a rejuvenated Area Champion in Kidlington Concert Brass as well as fellow qualifiers Regent Brass and Hitchin. All three have a balanced mix of youth and experience around the stands, and are conducted by a trio of experienced, knowledgeable musicians.

Iwan Fox


4BR Prediction:

A had one to call, as you suspect the vast majority of these bands will not have been faced with a piece quite like this in musical character for many a year (it last surfaced on a national stage at the Senior Trophy in 2003).

Get the style and the refinement right, backed by confident, artistically aware soloists and any of the 17 could well be in the frame. However, if the MDs try and force the musical issue though technical force and dynamic overload, any contest winning ambitions could end up in a deep hole of hopelessness very much of their own making.

Those who may be getting short odds at the banding William Hill bookies could well be Rainford, whilst the likes of Marsden Silver, Unite the Union, Newtongrange, Bathgate and Kidlington could be close behind. 

Our dark horses are Pemberton Old and Rushden Town.

1. Rainford
2. Marsden Silver
3. Unite the Union
4. Newtongrange
5. Bathgate
6. Kidlington

Dark Horses: Pemberton Old Wigan DW and Rushden Town



Regent Hall Concerts - RAF Symphonic Brass

Friday 22 September • Regent Hall (The Salvation Army). 275 Oxford Street. opp. Reserved. London. W1C 2DJ W1C 2DJ


Concert - Grimethorpe Colliery: Wakefield Cathedral

Saturday 23 September • Westmorland St, Wakefield WF1 1PJ


Black Dyke Band - Lucerne Switzerland

Saturday 23 September • KKL, Europaplatz 1, 6005 Luzern, Switzerland 6002


East Anglian Brass Band Association - Fodens

Sunday 24 September • Hewett Academy, Norwich NR1 2PL


Regent Hall Concerts - Philip Cobb & Guards Brass Ensemble

Friday 29 September • Regent Hall (The Salvation Army). 275 Oxford Street. opp. Reserved. London. W1C 2DJ


Stannington Brass Band

September 19 • Stannington Brass Band, Sheffield. 1st section. . . Ambitious and sociable band. MD Derek Renshaw.. . Due to our current player leaving for music college we now require a Solo EEb bass player


Glossop Old Band

September 19 • Needed Tenor Trombone, to join the Band following our 2nd place at the National Finals - Top Chair is available for the right applicant.. The Band will be looking to start their work in the First Section with a full strong team in place..


Glossop Old Band

September 19 • Wanted Strong Cornet Player, to join our Front Row Team following our 2nd place at the National Finals - End chair is available for the right applicant.. The Band will be looking to start their work in the First Section with a strong team in place..


Dave Collins

BA (Hons) (Dunelm) I, FSCO
Composer and Arranger