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Reports & Results: 2017 Scottish Championships: First Section

Newtongrange Silver and Bathgate qualify for Cheltenham having conquered the demands of 'The Land of the Long White Cloud'.

Newtongrange
  Newtongrange Silver were triumphant in the First Section under MD Andrew Duncan

As the rather forlorn Scottish rugby team was being unceremoniously battered at Twickenham, their players may have experienced the same feelings a number of the First Section performers were going through when faced by Philip Sparke's 'The Land of the Long White Cloud' in Perth.

Thankfully, the ten contenders emerged with a great deal more credit for their efforts than their oval-ball counterparts, even if on this occasion, much like at English rugby's headquarters, their musical opponent certainly came out on top.

Few disagree

Adjudicators Dr Brett Baker and Steve Pritchard-Jones couldn't have had have the easiest of times in the box (something they confirmed later), although few in the audience who had listened to all the rather varied performances would have disagreed with their eventual results, which saw a brace of well-managed accounts from Newtongrange Silver and Bathgate claim the Cheltenham qualification spots.

Theirs was a sympathetic summing up of what had been a contest that shone a realistic light on the current level of Scottish First Section banding — although it was also one that could have easily applied to just about any region around the country.

Carefully worded

The Black Dyke trombonist's carefully worded pre-results analysis revealed a great deal through what it didn't say as well as what it did.

Few would argue with his observation that it was 'a great piece' — although in saying that they 'didn't have to write 'tuning' very often' — rather confirmed the impression that they were perhaps preoccupied by writing about other more noticeable fragilities instead. The amount of unforced errors and mistakes that racked up penalty points was all too obvious.

The 'passionate' and 'energetic' playing was rightly complimented, but by highlighting that they were surprised by the amount 'safe playing' in respect to dynamic contrasts also told its own story. For the most part this was a damage limitation exercise for the bands: It said a great deal about the hard work put in by the MDs that they emerged with honour intact.

Future honours

Future honours could well be on the cards for the newly crowned champion Newtongrange (who won the title for the third time in the past five years), although for the time being any celebrating was put on hold as they were due to return to the rehearsal room within 48 hours to start preparation for a forthcoming concert and their Senior Cup appearance in Blackpool.

Their spokesperson Harold Wells told 4BR: "It's been a brilliant victory, but we have a job coming up in the week and we want to put in the foundation work for Blackpool as soon as possible.

Andrew Duncan has instilled such a great deal of self-belief in the band that we don't want to lose any momentum. I'm sure we will have time to celebrate, but even now we are looking towards the future."

Stylistic

Another band looking towards a highly encouraging future will be Bathgate, as under Anne Crookston they produced a performance rich in stylistic character to secure their first National Finals appearance since 2013.

That solid showing, tarnished only by some noticeable minor ensemble errors, but topped by a super bit of soprano playing by 'Best Instrumentalist' Richard Tobin, was only eventually beaten by the more secure overall rendition by Newtongrange, which MD Andrew Duncan moulded with persuasive musicality aided by some splendid solo lines — notably 'Best Horn' award winner Joanne Frier.

More variable

Behind the top-two came Granite Brass from Aberdeen with a solidly portrayed account under Bruce Wallace, with the remaining top-six places filled by slightly more variable accounts from Johnstone, Lochgelly and Newmilns & Galston.

The remaining contenders did rather experience more trouble, but showed that although tested to the limit, they were never completely overwhelmed.

And unlike the Scotland rugby team which are unlikely to break their losing streak on English soil that stretches back over 35 years anytime soon, on this form both Newtongrange and Bathgate could well end the nation's barren 25 year First Section record at Cheltenham come September.

Andrew Duncan has instilled such a great deal of self-belief in the band that we don't want to lose any momentum. I'm sure we will have time to celebrate, but even now we are looking towards the futureHarold Wells

Results:

First Section:

Test Piece: 'Land of the Long White Cloud' (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: Dr Brett Baker and Steve Pritchard-Jones

1. Newtongrange Silver (Andrew Duncan) — 190*
2. Bathgate (Anne Crookston) — 188*
3. Granite City Brass (Bruce Wallace) — 186
4. Johnstone (Martyn Ramsay) — 184
5. Lochgelly (Paul McKelvie OBE) — 183
6. Newmilns & Galston (Alan Cameron) — 182
7. Dunaskin Doon (Chris Bradley) — 181
8. Coalburn Silver (Gareth Bowman) — 180
9. Clackmannan & District (Alastair Orr) — 179
10. Annan Town (Andrew Holland) — 178

*Top two bands qualify for National Final at Cheltenham

Awards:

Best Instrumentalist: Richard Tobin (soprano) — Bathgate
Best Horn: Joanne Frier (Newtongrange Silver)



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Ian Holmes

BA (hons), PGDip (RCM), ARCM, ALCM
Conductor, piano accompanist and educator