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2018 Butlins Mineworkers Festival
Preview & Predictions

4BR Editor Iwan Fox looks forward to a weekend of keen contesting battles in Skegness as Butlins and the UK banding movement continues to enjoy their early season symbiosis.

Bultins
The financial sun shines on the brass banding movement at Butlins

Butlins continues to invest heavily in the UK brass band movement. Meanwhile, players, supporters, families and friends continue to spend even more of their cash in return at their bars, restaurants, arcade machines and fast food outlets.

It’s become a mutually beneficial symbiosis: Plenty of big cash prizes and entertainment provided on one hand, cash tills ringing like hyperactive celestes on the other.  The second weekend of 2018 will see the biggest contest pay outs of the year as well as the first hangovers.

Weekend experiences

The Butlins bean counters know they are onto a good thing. The Mineworkers Festival has become one of their ‘weekend experiences’, the likes of which see brass bands followed by Ibiza Legends, Soul and DJ attractions and even a 1980s three-day soiree featuring Jason Donavan.  

It’s all about heads on beds, beer in bellies and families kept happy. 

And they don’t half do it rather well - from the Bavarian Stompers to a Black Dyke re-union band (helped by Brian Eggleshaw and his excellent team).

The Mineworkers Festival has become one of their ‘weekend experiences’, the likes of which see brass bands followed by Ibiza Legends, Soul and DJ attractions and even a 1980s three-day soiree featuring Jason Donavan. 

Robin
There's something for everyone at Butlins

It goes some way to explaining why less than three weeks after Christmas, over 80 bands will be hoping to start the New Year by replenishing bank balances with bumper contest pay days.

It’s all about heads on beds, beer in bellies and families kept happy.  And they don’t half do it rather well - from the Bavarian Stompers to a Black Dyke re-union band (helped by Brian Eggleshaw and his excellent team).

None more so of course than the eight Championships Section contenders (the same entrants as last year) who will be chasing a share of a record breaking cash bonanza topped by a £10,000 first prize with an extra £1,000 each for coming top in the test-piece discipline and for giving the 'Most Entertaining Performance'.

Borrowing

Someone could start the year £12,000 to the good, whilst podium finishers can also pick up £5,000 and £2,500. No wonder some of them are hoping that they win enough money to pay for the ‘deps’ in their ranks.  

‘Borrowing’ has become endemic in top-flight banding. It may also explain why despite the riches on offer, Butlins still doesn’t attract the nation’s highest ranked outfits. 

Youth
There was even Engand versus Germany last year in the youth contest  

It seems more than a little unfair that some bands here will take to the stage handicapped by their own good governance and communal pride. Others it seems simply look at the net profit margin.

Something needs to be done to stop an increasing trend before it totally undermines the integrity of the contest.

It seems more than a little unfair that some bands here will take to the stage handicapped by their own good governance and communal pride. Others it seems simply look at the net profit margin. 

With so much great entertainment on offer (there is also a cracking Sunday of youth and ensemble contesting), the prospect of some keen battles in each section and the chance for bands to lay down a marker to rivals for the forthcoming year, little wonder Butlins’ investment in brass banding continues to pay off.

Iwan Fox


Virtuosi GUS
2017 Champion: Virtuosi GUS

Championship Section:

The same eight bands line-up this year as last - headed by defending champion Virtuosi GUS. 

And with the ‘own-choice’ triptych on the Saturday followed by the entertainment discipline less than 24 hours later all will have to be on fine form if they are to have any hope of filling the imposing Warwick Vase silverware up with celebratory Butlins bubbly.   

Munching mince pies

The music judges, Ian Porthouse and Paul Holland (both days), alongside Kevin Wadsworth and Paul Andrews (entertainment) will quickly know which contenders have spent the last few weeks munching mince pies from those who have been on more disciplined pre-contest diets.

‘Contest Music’ and ‘The Year of the Dragon’ take some playing at any time of the season, let alone the second weekend after the festive break, whilst ‘Concerto No 1’ by Marcus Venables is no easy option. 

Picking an entertainment set that doesn’t feel like a rehash of old ideas or something thrown together like a plateful of Boxing Day bubble & squeak is also a tough ask.

Picking an entertainment set that doesn’t feel like a rehash of old ideas or something thrown together like a plateful of Boxing Day bubble & squeak is also a tough ask.

Hopefully then we will get to hear plenty of good quality test piece playing and entertainment sets from bands that haven’t overtly relied too much on imported excellence to take the honours.      

Heading the betting

Virtuosi GUS and Flowers head the betting once again (they have won the title the last seven times between them), although an enigmatic Desford could just be in the mood to return to winning ways here for the first time since 2010. 

Jeremy Wise has rejuvenated Redbridge over the last few months, whilst Friary Guildford continues to be an increasingly impressive championship contender under Chris King.  At their best Woodfalls are more than capable of claiming their first Butlins title, whilst Jaguar Land Rover and Haverhill can easily provide something of impressive interest on the eyes and ears over the two days.

4BR Prediction:

It’s hard to see past Virtuosi GUS or Flowers (both having the benefit of Brass in Concert sets to quickly polish up) if they play to the best of their form, although Desford (who can certainly dish up something memorable if they’ve had the rehearsal time) could just pip them.

Redbridge and Friary Guildford are two bands certainly moving in the right contest direction and will surely be snapping at their heels, whilst Woodfalls could be a good each-way podium bet. Jaguar Land Rover and Haverhill may be the outsiders on paper but Dave Lea and Paul Filby are experienced MDs with fertile contest imaginations. 

The risk/reward strategies will be interesting to hear on the own-choice selections on the Saturday for certain. Will anyone go for ‘Contest Music’ knowing of its treacherously exposed writing, or will they opt for the relative safety (and we do mean relative) of the Sparke classic or the unknown qualities of ‘Concerto No 1’?

The risk/reward strategies will be interesting to hear on the own-choice selections on the Saturday for certain. Will anyone go for ‘Contest Music’ knowing of its treacherously exposed writing, or will they opt for the relative safety (and we do mean relative) of the Sparke classic or the unknown qualities of ‘Concerto No 1’?

Then we have the entertainment. Will the Brass in Concert ‘free from artistic restriction’ recipe work here or will it be something a little more familiar to tickle the taste buds?

We’ll see and hear on both days, but whoever comes out as a winner we hope will be calculated by a simpler methodology than last year. Then the algebraic concoction had Band Manager’s trying to find the number of Carol Vorderman on their mobile phones.

It should be a close one at the top, but we just go for Flowers from Virtuosi GUS and Desford, with Redbridge, Friary Guildford and Woodfalls close behind.

1. Flowers
2. Virtuosi GUS
3. Desford
4. Redbridge
5. Friary Guildford
6. Woodfalls

Dark Horses: Jaguar Land Rover and Haverhill


Winners
2017 Champion: Skelmanthorpe

First Section:

If you are the type of person who likes to get their money’s worth at a contest then head to ‘Reds’ on Saturday morning and enjoy 25 bands performing Peter Graham’s ‘Renaissance’. 

At under 10 minutes in length it provides a bite-sized chunk of transparent musicality well within the scope of all the competitors.  

And whilst the ‘Promised Land’ it speaks about could well be 2019 Championship Section status if the best here can carry good form into the Areas in a few weeks time, for the time being its more about the ability to shine a familiar light on solid technique, warm ensemble timbre and measured dynamic contrasts if they are to get their hands on the prizes.

It could be a difficult task then for Martin Heartfield and Nicholas Garman in the box, as they could be presented with a fair old number of well directed performances from very evenly matched bands. 

It could be a difficult task then for Martin Heartfield and Nicholas Garman in the box, as they could be presented with a fair old number of well directed performances from very evenly matched bands. 

4BR Prediction:

This really is a difficult one to call before a note is blown, with so many contenders in with a real shout, including five of last year’s top-six of Skelmanthorpe, Stannington, Oldham (Lees), Eccles and Hebden Bridge.

They should all fancy their chances once more, whilst Blackburn & Darwen, Enderby, Foresters Brass, Rushden, Strata Brass and Sandhurst could well be in the mix too. 

It really is an early season ‘finger in the air’ one to guess which way the contesting wind blows with this one.

1. Blackburn & Darwen
2. Oldham (Lees)
3. Skelmanthorpe
4. Stannington
5. Rushden Town
6. Eccles Borough

Dark Horse: Sandhurst Silver


Second Section
2017 Champion: Pemberton Old Wigan DW B

Second Section:

In 2005, ‘Variations for Brass Band’ caused havoc around the country as the Second Section Area test-piece. It will be a surprise if it’s lost any of its elegant bite in the interim.  15 well-matched bands in the Royal Arthur Suite will find out if they need to take a post-performance tetanus injection on Saturday.

There is little doubt that Vaughan Williams’ work remains a quite wonderful piece of writing; 11 variations richly scored with middle band timbres and textures, subtle dynamic (the first ff doesn’t appear until Variation 4) and stylistic nuance (simply ‘alla polacca’ or ‘arabesque’ for instance) as well as tempi variants (nine different markings from 60 to 132) that would test the best Championship Section contenders here to the full.  

All that and the work ends with one of the most sustained and exhaustive pieces of dynamically imposing ensemble writing you can imagine (with just a single accented note). 

It may be masterfully crafted in form and function, but so too is a bear trap.  Hopefully it won’t result in a contest triage system being employed by judges Paul Andrews and Alan Morrison to pick a winner. 

It may be masterfully crafted in form and function, but so too is a bear trap.  Hopefully it won’t result in a contest triage system being employed by judges Paul Andrews and Alan Morrison to pick a winner. 

4BR Prediction: 

Despite its obvious difficulties this 60 year old classic should still inspire the best musical intentions in each of the 15 contenders.

These include last year’s winner Pemberton Old Wigan DW B Band and podium finisher Crofton Silver, who should both fancy their chances alongside Haydock, Whitworth Vale & Healey, Besses Boys and Eagley. Our dark horse is Ifton Colliery. 

1. Haydock Band
2. Eagley
3. Pemberton Old DW Wigan B
4. Whitworth Vale & Healey 
5. Crofton Silver
6. Besses Boys

Dark Horse: Ifton Colliery


Third Section
2017 Champion: Shirland Welfare

Third Section: 

Once more into the breach for those inspired by the story of the second Monarch of the House of Lancaster and King of England from 1413 to 1422.

This is music to stir the loins of any true Englishman (even though he was born in Wales); rousing, patriotic and never anything other than glorious. It’s Laurence Olivier in Technicolor manning the barricades and cocking a snoot at the Frenchies.

Written by Vaughan Williams around 1933/34 and intended for the Abinger Pageant, 'Henry Fifth' is also music very much of its brass band age - deftly scored and structured, not a bar wasted in meaningless triviality; a bit like the bloke himself.  

That it remained forgotten for so long (Howard Snell discovered it in the British Library and gave the first revived performance with Desford in 1980) remains a mystery, although its provenance as a masterful gem does not.

The four connected sections take their thematic material from both English and French folk songs; The ‘Agincourt Song’, ‘Magali’, ‘Reveille vous Piccors’ and the ‘Earl of Oxford’s March’ to close.   
 
It demands control of balance, dynamic and tempi as well as an appreciation of a tempered nobility of style that is rarely heard in banding today.

It will take some playing, with Kevin Wadsworth and Anne Crookston sure to enjoy themselves in picking a winner at the Crazy Horse venue on Saturday morning. 

It demands control of balance, dynamic and tempi as well as an appreciation of a tempered nobility of style that is rarely heard in banding today. 

4BR Prediction:

With half of last year’s field of keen looking rivals returning, including winners Shirland Welfare, top-six finishers Dodworth Colliery Miners Welfare and Dronfield and the consistent Amington, this could well be the most closely fought contest of the weekend.

Add into the mix the likes of City of Norwich, Emley and Stalybridge Old and the £2,000 first prize could see a battle for glory that would have made Agincourt look like a walk in a French park.

Once more into the breach then…

1. Dodworth Colliery Miners Welfare
2. Dronfied Genquip
3. Stalybridge Old 
4. City of Norwich
5. Amington
6. Shirland Welfare

Dark Horse: Emley


Fourth Section
2017 Champion: Crystal Palace

Fourth Section:

It’s a question of mastering the basics of good brass band playing in the Fourth Section, with Holst’s ‘Second Suite in F’ providing a great musical taster ahead of the Championship main course in the Centre Stage venue on Saturday morning.

It’s a piece that has been about a long time and has always done a fine job in sorting out the best from the rest - from the Australian Nationals to Pontins.

Written in 1911, it’s a slice of Edwardian England that couldn’t be bettered if it came with a walrus moustache and Jack Hobbs hitting a cover drive to fence at Lords. The six tunes are compactly packaged into four contrasting movements, each with a timeless sense of character, wit and whimsy.  Mark Walters and Allan Holdsworth should enjoy themselves in the box. 

The opening ‘March’ is light and breezy - all Morris Dancing folksy swagger, whilst the beautiful ‘Song without Words’ flows with increasing lyrical intensity.  

‘Song of the Blacksmith’ is a curious amalgam of rather unexpected major and minor tropes that underpin a playful sense of militaristic purpose, before we close with the fairy dance fantasia of the Dargason - inspired by dwarfish ‘Welsh sedony’ dancing (wouldn’t that be great on ‘Come Dancing’ on Saturday night).

It’s a fine choice and one that should bring out the best in the 11 bands - but only if the MDs can control their dynamic and tempi choices. Too fast and too loud and Holst can sound like Honegger, the Morris Dancing turning into Ibiza clubbing. 

‘Song of the Blacksmith’ is a curious amalgam of rather unexpected major and minor tropes that underpin a playful sense of militaristic purpose, before we close with the fairy dance fantasia of the Dargason - inspired by dwarfish ‘Welsh sedony’ dancing (wouldn’t that be great on ‘Come Dancing’ on Saturday night).

4BR Prediction:

Six of last year’s contenders return, and are joined by five others all keen to make an early season mark on a piece that should serve them well ahead of the Area challenge.

Former champion Sale Brass could be the band to watch out for (despite last year’s result), whilst Sherwood Forest Brass also has an impressive record to maintain.  Thurcroft Welfare, Deepcar Brass, Maltby Miners Welfare and Banovallum Brass make up our top-six picks alongside our dark horse of Stamford Brass.

1. Sale Brass
2. Sherwood Forest Brass
3. Thurcroft Welfare
4. Deepcar Brass
5. Maltby Miners Welfare
6. Banovallum Brass 

Dark Horse: Stamford Brass  



Regent Hall Concerts - RAF Wind Soloists

Friday 19 January • Charlton House. Charlton Road. London. SE7 8RE SE7 8RE


The Brighouse & Rastrick Band - EYMS Brass Band at Hull City Hall

Saturday 20 January • Hull City Hall. 67 Carr Lane,. Kingston upon Hull HU1 3RQ


Black Dyke Band - Morley Town Hall

Saturday 20 January • Morley Town Hall, Morley, Leeds LS27 8DX


Wantage Silver - Gary Curtin

Saturday 20 January • Reading Central Salvation Army RG1 7JR


The Hepworth Band - Soprano Sarah Ogden

Sunday 21 January • Christ Church, Sude Hill, New Mill, Holmfirth HD9 7BL


Frampton on Severn Silver Band

January 19 • We are a friendly non-contesting band in Gloucestershire looking for players, in particular cornets, baritone and basses. We play at many local events and bandstand jobs, and practice on Tuesday evenings just off Junction 13 of the M5.


Shipston Town band

January 18 • We currently need a Kit percussionist, horn and Bb Bass as we prepare for the forthcoming Midlands Area at Bedworth in March. We are graded Section 4


The Corsham Band

January 18 • Having now been promoted to the 2nd Section for the forthcoming Contest season, the band are now looking for a back row cornet player, 2nd or 3rd, to join our team


Alan Fernie

DRSAM, Dip.NCOS
Arranger, composer, adjudicator, conductor