British Open Championships 2003
2003 British Open - Retrospective
If you believe in that sort of thing, then the 2003
British Open was all about numbers.
David King and the Mortimers
Yorkshire Building Society won their fourth title in seven years,
as did Professor David King, who now stands as joint 9th on the
all time list of winners at the Open; they won off the number 10
draw, as they did when they won the title in 2001, and they now
have a series of numerically odd numbered wins that reads 1997,
1999, 2001 and 2003. (Although for some reason their own website
says they won in 1998)
At the other end of the scale, poor old Travelsphere drew number
1 for the third time in six years and found their chances of making
a mark on the contest disappear faster than a Labour majority at
a by-election, whilst Leyland and Besses racked up a total of 25
points from their placings of the last two contests and will now
sit and wait 14 days to see if they drop through the relegation
trap. Numbers, numbers, numbers...
The truth of the matter though was that YBS took the Open title
because on the day they once again showed that they are possibly
the best contest performing band around. You can try and look for
all sort of numerical precedents to explain their victory if you
want, but come results time at Symphony Hall, the name on the lips
of a large majority of the audience was David King’s band.
Nothing to do with the mysteries of numerology - it was great brass
band playing that won the day.
In years to come the 151st Open won’t be a contest that will
linger in the memory banks though - this was a strangely subdued
affair. Much is made that our greatest contest is always a sell
out - and once more the “Full House” signs were put
up in the box office window, but a strange human phenomenon now
seems to pervade the contest. People may buy all the tickets, but
for some reason the Hall is never, ever full. The purchasing habits
of the British public have certainly changed over the years but
the fact of the matter is that the days of packing your sandwiches
and a flask of tea and settling down in the hall to listen to 18
bands for over 8 hours is a thing of the past. People, supporters,
brass band lovers, the general public, whoever, no longer wishes
to sit on their backsides even in plush well upholstered seats and
listen to bands for extended periods of time. David Blaine may be
able to sit in a box for 44 days and even adjudicators may do it
for half a day, but a brass band audience it seems can only sit
still and listen for a maximum of about three performances before
the urge for a cup of tea, cake or a pint of lager overtakes them.
It is a very worrying trend.
The All England Masters Champions, Leyland for instance had to
perform to a hall that was less than half full, whilst for some
bands you could have sent out personal invites. Even for the likes
of Black Dyke, Brighouse, BAYV Cory and YBS it wasn’t more
than two thirds full - or for the results. Selling the tickets is
one thing - getting people to actually go and listen nowadays is
Last year people blamed the test piece, so what was the excuse
this time? Stephen Roberts brass band arrangement (and it was in
his words a brass band arrangement – not a transcription or
realisation as the PC brigade nowadays say) of two movements from
Holst’s “The Planets” was a popular choice, but
just playing two of the movements made for a slightly uninspiring
listening experience. It is said that familiarity breeds contempt,
and although that wasn’t quite the case here, the familiarity
of the original orchestral work made this bland and monochrome in
comparison. The first movement “Venus” subtitled “The
Bringer of Peace” was certainly not a “piece of peace”
for the players - it was a stern technical test for sure, but it
so lacked colour. Brass bands don’t do tranquillity very well,
the sense of inner peaceful luminosity doesn’t suit the medium
and there just isn’t enough difference in the timbres (even
with a huge eclectic choice of mutes on display). A flugel horn
playing a top Bb entry marked piano sounds just like that - it cannot
sound like anything else, so why you ask put it on the flugel in
the first place? Colour? Timbre?
It just sounded as if it was there to test the player to the limit
- and the music didn’t need it. That being said, this was
a very clever and at times thrilling brass band work and Stephen
Roberts should be congratulated for it (despite the numerous errata
- that should have been sorted out by the organisers and music panel,
with him a long, long time before the contest). “Jupiter”
was a fine movement even with the cornets and Glock trying to sound
like a harp at the end, so overall it worked - just. It would have
been better though if there were less bands and a few extra movements.
The conductors should also take a little of the blame as well,
as many thought they had found the secret missing ingredient in
their interpretation that would ultimately unlock the secrets of
what on paper was a pretty straightforward score. Some performances
made the piece sound as if it was Shostokovich rather than Holst,
whilst the sometimes clumsy attempts to change tempo were so obvious
they could have been picked up on Birmingham's airport radar. Sometimes,
just doing what it says on the tin is the best policy.
Back to the contest though. The draw made for good reading for some,
uncomfortable reading for others and almost suicidal reading for
Travelsphere. Being drawn number 1 twice in the last three years
is something, but three times in six years takes the proverbial
biscuit and it was an undeserved slice of ill luck. In the end they
performed well and possibly should have been higher; but when the
Gods are against you.
Cwmaman also picked a rum ‘un as well with number 2 for the
second year running, whilst Fodens Richardson, hoping for their
first win at the Open since 1964 found themselves with the unenviable
task of trying to win from number 3. In the end Cwmaman couldn’t
repeat the heroics of a 12 month earlier and fell sharply to 17th
place; Fodens meanwhile played with the dislocated air of a band
who wanted to win with all their hearts, but whose heads had possibly
already told them that whatever they did, it wasn’t going
to be enough. The numbers came would have made this clear - no win
since 1964 and the number 3 draw having only produced two third
prizes since 1962. Forty years of hurt to overcome next year - the
draw can been a cruel mistress.
The next group of three saw the trio of Ever Ready, Leyland and
Besses, and for one of them it was good news whilst for the other
two the Open of 2003 was to become a painful numerical rather than
musical experience. Ever Ready gave a bold and confident showing
that caught the ears of the judges to come 8th whilst Leyland gave
a real curates egg of a performance. Their “Venus” was
different to say the least - at times stiflingly slow and sectionalised,
whilst “Jupiter” was a corker. It resulted in them coming
14th - it could have been a top six one for sure if they had not
messed about with the first bit. It also meant they racked up 25
points over the two years and will now have to wait with fingers
nails bitten to the quick to know their fate. Besses meanwhile can
also count themselves unlucky after giving perhaps the best performance
at the Open for some considerable time. It was bold and certainly
not bashful, but it never ever lacked confidence under Steve Sykes
and they came home 12th – a couple of places too low for us,
and it resulted in them also gaining the dreaded 25 points and having
to await their fate. Both were unlucky.
The interesting point to note is that there is no real rule at
the contest to decide what bands are relegated in the event of a
tie. Travelsphere Holidays knew they were doomed, but what of the
situation between Besses and Leyland? With Grimethorpe coming back
next year (with a 14th place to their name, so they better play
well) and the New Zealand band, Dalewool Auckland also making an
appearance, it would seem that if the organisers wish to keep the
contest at the manageable numbers they so desire, and ensure that
the contest can start again at 12.00pm and finish at a decent hour,
then it will have to be three for the drop. That means Leyland and
Besses both go. If not, then someone with the wisdom of Solomon
will have to make a very tricky decision.
Yorkshire Imps continued their solid progress of improvement with
10th place off number 7, and once again showed that under David
Evans they are building an impressive future foundation, before
Whitburn took to the stage at number 8 with a hall that was only
half full. For the hardy souls who decided to get a cup of tea and
slice of cake at the cafeteria before the so called big bands of
Fairey, YBS, Black Dyke and Cory took to the stage with their draws
9 to 13, this was one hell of a mistake to make.
Whitburn were top notch and although at the end of the day we had
them down for 4th place, their runners up spot was not a total surprise
to those who had the pleasure of hearing them. Andy Duncan directed
a very broad and detailed account of the piece that benefited from
a tremendous “Venus” that had a fine balance, sweet
tone and a group of soloists who were on the top of their form.
Gordon Jenkins on soprano in particular was outstanding –
every note played with security and with a lovely production and
tone. It gave everything a shimmer and so by the time of a pretty
good “Jupiter” they were ahead of the field by a considerable
margin. It was a marker that very few bands reached or bettered
on the day – so all those who thought it a shock, we have
news for you – it wasn’t.
The meat of the contest though came next. Fairey FP (Music) under
Allan Withington gave a thrilling account of the music, but it was
one that couldn’t have had any more painful slips even if
the stage was greased with lard and topped with banana skins. It
was fantastic music making, but the clips just robbed them time
and again, and with a real moment of waywardness in “Jupiter”
their fate was sealed. 4th place, but you had the feeling the judges
had this one earmarked for the top prize (look at the adjudications).
This was very nearly a quite awesome performance – but on
the day, quite nearly wasn’t enough.
YBS didn’t make the same mistake though. Theirs was a corker
of a performance right from the word go, with Sheona White’s
sound filling the hall in a manner no one quite matched all day,
and with the ensemble playing more than matching the superb efforts
of the soloists in “Venus”. It was those little muted
effects and a quite sublime ending to the movement that possible
did it for them though – again no one quite matched it on
the day, so when it came to the romp through “Jupiter”
it was in the bag. It was certainly beatable, but it was one heck
of a show and for most people in the hall, it was the leader by
a good length and a half – and so it proved.
Black Dyke followed next and opened in a manner that had the audience
at the edge of their seats. It was just too good to last though
and little errors in some of the solo lines just robbed them of
points. “Jupiter” was thrillingly executed, but the
immediate comparison with YBS was of two outstanding performances
– one a little more error free than the other. At this level,
every little mistake costs dearly and Dyke will have to wait one
more year to take back the Golden Shield to Queensbury. It was close
Scottish Co-op under James Scott held their own, but like so many
others on the day found that the mistakes cost them dearly and they
had to be content with 13th place on their return to the Open. The
basis of a very good band was there to be heard though and London
could well see them close in on a top six place.
That left in many peoples eyes (and ears) the final contender for
the title. BAYV Cory were reigning champions, and gave a performance
that on possibly any other day would have taken the title back home
with them again to South Wales. Technically it was nigh on faultless,
but musically at least two of the judges were less than impressed.
Many in the audience too were left scratching their heads –
brilliantly constructed, awesomely delivered, but a performance
none the less that just needed that spark of passionate musical
electricity that YBS had seemed to be the conclusion. They are such
a fine band at the moment that you yearn to hear them test themselves
to the limit. This one seemed just a tad too controlled and refined
and in comparison to YBS it was like trying to weigh up the choice
between a Ferrari and a Mercedes. One will give you everything you
would ever imaginably need in a car, whilst the other is a Ferrari.
We had them a very close second though.
With that there was the usual mass exodus for the doors, and Carlton
Main must have felt somewhat deflated having to play to a hall that
had more empty seats than could be found in a first round Worthington
Cup match. All bands at this level are good bands, so shame on the
audience for voting with their feet. Carlton Main didn’t give
a performance that lived long in the memory banks, but they certainly
didn’t deserve to give it to a less than half empty hall.
They were beaten before they began.
Illinois made history. A decent crowd came to listen and although
they heard a performance from a very nervous band, they certainly
enjoyed the enthusiasm of the players and the MD who wiggled his
butt (as they say in the USA) like a lap top dancer who had just
being given a 20 dollar tip. The band struggled in places to be
fair, and overall you were left with the impression that in realistic
terms this was a good First Section UK band rather than one of the
top 18 bands in the world. However, the experience will have been
invaluable and we should do everything we can to ensure they return
in a few years time. If they continue to improve and encapsulate
the “British” sound of a brass band they will not be
out of place here. They will surely return stronger and better.
Kirkintilloch once more showed that they are now a band more than
at home here and under Frank Renton they gave a solid account of
themselves to come home 11th, whilst the last two bands to take
the stage had slightly contrasting fortunes. Brighouse waited a
long time before they gave a fine performance to come 5th, whilst
Tredegar showed glimpses of real quality to take yet another top
10 place and come 9th. Both played to par in golfing terms.
Brighouse are a totally different band under Ian McElligott than
they were under Allan Withington, and although they may not have
that emblazoned fire power that so marked them out a few years ago,
they now have a beautiful refined air to their performances that
makes them a joy to listen to. The sound of the band is now so rich
and balanced and they have corner men who on their day are as good
if not better than any of their rivals. The MD has moulded them
into a band in his image – urbane and precise and whilst this
can sometimes make them sound a touch bland they are also now amazingly
consistent with the quality of their performances. 5th place was
about right, but you get the feeling they are about to do something
big – London perhaps?
The contest was over for another year and before the announcement
of the results there were some well deserved presentations to those
who had given so much, and those who may well give so much to the
banding world. All that remained was the announcement of the big
prizes. For the record, we had a top six of YBS, BAYV Cory, Black
Dyke, Whitburn, Brighouse and Fairey, but we think most people had
the same or thereabouts. This is the one contest nowadays where
class is so much more easily identifiable.
The soloist award went to Gordon Jenkins for his super bit of sop
work with Whitburn, and whilst that was well received you could
also sense the murmur that there may well be an upset in the making.
Solo prizes rarely are given to players from bands that don’t
make an impression on the top of the prize winners board. That murmur
increased with BAYV Cory coming sixth – they could count themselves
unlucky indeed, whilst Brighouse took 5th place. Fairey had to be
content with fourth, on a day when they could have won it, whilst
the top three started with Black Dyke taking home the Harry Mortimer
Memorial Trophy and £1500.
That just left the top two, and there was an immense Scottish celebrations
with the announcement that Whitburn had come runners up –
the best ever result for them or a Scottish band at the Open and
one that was well deserved. The celebrations themselves at their
hotel were something else we were told.
British Open Champions 2003 - YBS
The winners – no shocks left, and the announcement that YBS
had won the British Open for the fourth time was greeted with almost
universal agreement. Theirs was the one performance on the day that
combined the technical and the musical to the greatest effect –
it was as someone next to me commented yet another “contest
winning performance” – and that is what it is all about.
Our thanks to Martin Mortimer and the rest of his team for once
again making the day go so smoothly not only for the bands, but
for the press and the audience. This is now a very slick operation
indeed and the have taken the running of the Open to new levels
of professionalism – the Hall is superb, the bands are very
well catered for and the audience can’t have anything really
to complain about. Perhaps then they will take the opportunity to
sit themselves in the hall a bit longer then?
Finally, the 2003 British Open belonged to Yorkshire Building Society
and Professor David King. For the fourth time they were crowned
Champions, the second time off the number ten draw but for the second
time they won’t be going to London to try and make it a “Double”
– numbers again eh?