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2003 Butlins Mineworkers Championship

Skyline Resort , Skegness
29th/30th November

One of the most horrendous results of the calamitous Miners Strike of 1984/1985 was not just the great loss of jobs, but the destruction of the social and cultural infrastructure that bound together nearly all the mine working communities.

Forget the sugar coated disneyfication that was “Brassed Off” – what we are talking about is the wanton, but somewhat forgotten closures of reading rooms, libraries, Miners Institutes that gave educational and welfare grants, amateur dramatic societies and local history groups, as well as brass bands. In real life, working class men and women didn’t grin and bear it, or put on their band uniforms to go to rehearsal. No, whole working class families suffered deprivation not only from loss of employment, but loss of self respect and the loss of opportunity to better themselves through schemes such as the Derek Ezra Scholarships and CISWO Welfare Schemes. This was the spiteful, venomous bile that Mrs Thatcher injected into the veins of the communities – no jobs and no futures was the mantra. Within five years the industry had been reduced to a rump of pits a seventh the size it was prior to 1984, and as a result, the cultural infrastructure disappeared too.

That the Mineworkers Brass Band Championships themselves survived until 2002 was something of a miracle. They began in 1962, when the initial winners of the Championship Section were Carlton Main Frickley conducted by Jack Atherton. In those days, bands were only allowed to enter if they had a direct link to the mining industry in that at least 50% of the playing membership had to be persons employed in the coal mining industry. In those days, the mining industry was the backbone of industrial Britain, a class of people that Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once said was one of the three groups no PM should ever provoke (the other two were the Treasury and the Vatican).

The terminal decline ended in 2002 with the last CISWO Contest held in Blackpool, and the future for a once proud occasion seemed bleak indeed. However, Butlins – a company with a long association with working class communities through their holiday resorts stepped in, and more importantly have stumped up a lot of prize money to attract the bands back to a contest that holds a proud place in the history of the banding movement.

2003 therefore sees the rebirth of the contest in a new form – the Butlins Mineworkers Festival, and this initial year has attracted 42 bands from all over the country to the Skegness Skyline Resort. It may not have the grit and grime of Blackpool, but it does have an impressive set up in which the contest can take place and a management headed by Steve Walker who has a background in brass bands, and who has some ambitious plans for the future.

There has of course been some disquiet in banding circles that despite the big prizes on offer, bandsmen and women will still have to pay £12.00 to get into the Resort itself each day, but on closer inspection, and with clarification from the organisers, the truth behind the scare stories isn’t as bad as it may at first seem. The organisers have tried to encourage the bands to stay on the site itself – with respect to Skegness, the town itself isn’t quite the Las Vegas of the East, so with a cost of £35.00 per person for the weekend for a four share chalet, it would have made sense for the bands to take the opportunity to stay on site, as the £12.00 daily fee doesn’t apply to residents. That bands haven’t is a little short sighted, so those who stay in the town (where we think there won’t be much in the way of entertainment) will have to pay to get in. For their £12.00 though they get to use all the facilities such as the free cinema, swimming pool, the chance to hear Tony Fisher and even Orville the Duck etc, from dawn till 12 midnight, so it is still a pretty good day out, and the bus driver doesn’t have to pay for parking! Band Secretaries should have made more detailed enquiries it seems.

As for the contests themselves, although the numbers are not as great as the organisers would have initially hoped, 42 bands it still a good starting point, and with £5000 up for grabs for the winners of the Championship Section, somebody will be going home happy come Sunday night.

The Mining Industry may have declined and almost disappeared, but unlike coal there seems to be a market for brass bands in the 21st Century. If only Mrs Thatcher had the sense to realise that nearly twenty years ago.

The Championship Section

Just five bands will compete for the Championship Section title and the chance to win the first prize of £5000. That is the equal biggest top prize in brass band history (the other time was the one off Harry Ramsden Fish and Chip Championships a few years back). Given that second prize is £2000, third, £1000 and fourth £500, just one band from Desford, Carlton Main, Ever Ready, Newstead Welfare and Thoresby won’t be getting something back for their efforts. Good work if you can win it then.

The contest itself is split into two parts, with a set work (a rather pointlessly over cut “Les Francs Juges”) testing the bands on the Saturday and then an entertainment programme to be performed on the Sunday. The aggregate marks of the two will decide the winners.

Both Carlton Main and Ever Ready seem the best prepared to tackle the two parter, fresh as they are after competing at Spennymoor last week. Ever Ready will be full of confidence after coming third and winning the entertainment prize there, whilst Carlton Main certainly didn’t disgrace themselves either. Both are good bands and with plenty of quality around the stands, they should fancy their chances of battling it out for the big prize.

Meanwhile those perennial masters of mystery, Desford will come looking to add a few bob to their coffers as well, although what shape and form they bring to the contest is anyone’s guess. On their day they can be very good indeed, and if they play to the form they displayed in London at the National Finals they will certainly be contenders. What their current entertainment form is though, is something of a real mystery. They do concerts and gigs all round the world, but what they have up their sleeves we will have to wait and see. They do have some very classy players to showcase though.

Both Thorseby and Newstead will be looking to do well – and although both have not competed in either of the two big set work contests at Birmingham or London this year, or at Spennymoor, they are very solid outfits and could well make a concerted effort to upset the apple cart. A good show on Saturday could leave them both going for it big style come Sunday and the Entertainment leg. They may both well spring a surprise or two.

The competing bands:

Carlton Main Frickley
Desford Colliery
Ever Ready
Newstead Welfare
Thoresby Colliery UK Coal

4BR Prediction:

A small field then, but one that has enough quality about it to guarantee two high standard mini contests. Ever Ready are the favourites for us – Spennymoor was a huge boost and should set them up with enough entertainment ammunition to overcome any small points deficiencies they may have from the Saturday set wok. We take them to win. Desford we think will show that they have enough about them to push them close, whilst Carlton Main should also be hard on their heels. Newstead and Thorseby should battle it out not to miss out on the prize list, with Thorseby just edging it for us.

1. Ever Ready
2. Desford
3. Carlton Main
4. Thorseby
5. Newstead Welfare

First Section

13 bands will be battling it out for the chance to win the top prize of £875. Second place will net £750, whilst third will get the bands £625 and fourth £500. Good returns indeed. The contest is in traditional format with just a set work to be overcome on the Saturday in the shape of the great old war horse “Rhapsody in Brass” by Dean Goffin – perhaps the only brass band work composed in the Libyan desert.

The Welsh seem to be out in force with Ammanford Town, Pontardulias Town, Treherbert and Tylorstown Valley Lines making the long trip up from the old South Wales coalfield, whilst the 2003 First Section National Champions, Horden BHK (UK) Ltd Band will also be looking to add another impressive first prize to their already very successful year. Joining them from the North East will be Westoe (STHCT), Pride Valley and Easington Colliery, whilst Yorkshire provides Barnsley Building Society and Riddings. The Midlands area are represented by Shirland Miners Welfare and Gresley Old, whilst the Scots will be represented by Newtongrange.

The competing bands:

Ammanford Town
Barnsely Building Society
Easington Colliery
Gresley Old Hall
Horden BHK (UK)
Pride Valley
Shirland Miners Welfare
Tylorstown Valley Lines
Westoe (STHCT)

4BR Prediction:

A close run one this for us, with a number of good solid bands more than capable of winning and winning well on their day. The test piece should not hold any terrors for the competitors, although the third movement is more tricky than you expect, especially if taken at too high a tempo – sop players will certainly earn their money on this one.

Horden of course are the National Champions, a prize they won on fine style under Wilf Beddell in Dundee, but they slipped up somewhat in Pontins a few weeks back when they could only manage 6th place under Peter Parkes no less. None of the bands that beat them that day are here this time, so they should feature close to the top of the pile once more.

Newtongrange are the other band to keep an eye out for though for us. Long time Championship Section contenders in Scotland they have been demoted due to the vagrancies of the Regional results, but they still retain a healthy core of experience and at this level it should hold them in very good stead. Close behind them we think will come the group of Welsh bands with Ammanford in good form of late, as are both Tylorstown and Treherbert. Gresley came 8th at the Nationals and Riddings 7th, so they cannot be discounted whilst Shirland are always a band worth looking out for. Both Pride Valley and Easington will want to show that after their disappointing showings at the Regionals when they came 7th and 8th are behind them.

We go for the experience though, and a two way fight between Horden and Newtongrange for the top honours, with Gresley next and a close old scrap between a Welsh trio of Ammanford, Tylorstown and Treherbert making up the top six. Shirland are our Dark Horses.

4BR Prediction:

1. BHK (UK) Horden
2. Newtongrange
3. Gresley Old
4. Treherbert
5. Tylorstown
6. Ammanford

Dark Horse: Shirland

Second Section

Another hard one to call this, with ten bands having a crack at Philip Sparke’s very tricky “Triptych”. None of the bands on show here made it to the National Finals in Dundee, and only Snibston who came 12th and Strata Brass who came 16th were at Pontins. The form guide is a little patchy then.

Snibston also won the recent Wigston Contest, whilst Hopkins Solicitors Blidworth Welfare were runners up to them there. Apart from that and it is a bit of a mystery to us with Lewis Merthyr 8th a few weeks back in Treorchy, whilst GT Group were 6th at the Wilkinson Contest. Armthorpe Elmfield were 11th at the Yorkshire Regional Championship, Frickley and South Elmshall were 5th that day in the same section. Rockingham are a bit of a mystery as they are here after a regarding issue that has been sorted out by the Yorkshire Regional Committee and Shirebrook Miners Welfare came 17th in the Midlands Regional earlier in the year. It’s a bit of guesswork then.

Given that some bands have been playing in National contests of late, we would think they may just have the edge …. then again. We therefore on the grounds of knowing no better opt for a top six of Snibston, Blidworth, Strata, Rockingham, Frickley and GT Group with Felling as the Dark Horse. You never know, we may be even close.

The competing bands:

Armthorpe Elmfield
Felling Brass
Frickley and South Elmshall
GT Group Peterlee
Hopkins Solicitors Blidworth Welfare
Lewis Merthyr
Shirebrook Miners Welfare
Snibston and Desford Colliery
Strata Brass

4BR Prediction:

1. Snibston and Desford Colliery
2. Hopkins Solicitors Blidworth Welfare
3. Strata Brass
4. Rockingham
5. Frickley and South Elmshall
6. GT Group Peterlee

Dark Horse: Felling Brass

Third Section

10 bands will be out to impress the judges in the Third Section, where they will have to get to grips with Peter Graham’s neat and musical “Dimensions” – a real good test for the bands. The top prize is £625, whilst the other podium places get £500, £375 and £250.

Two of the bands on show made it to the National Finals in Dundee, with Loghgelly coming 12th and Wansbeck’s Ashington coming 16th, whilst none made the long trip to North Wales to compete at Pontins. Recent form has seen Loghgelly come a fine fourth in the Borders Entertainment Contest, whilst Shirland were runners up at Wigston. Apart form that the others have been pretty quiet of late although Ynyshir can always be relied upon to put in a decent showing. Crofton came 9th at the Yorkshire Regionals, whilst Dearham were 8th in the North East. Leicester Co-op were 16th in the Midlands, Maltby were 7th in Yorkshire and Whitwell, 13th in the Midlands.

Another shot in the dark then. Loghgelly for us by a head followed by Wansbeck’s, Shirland, Leicester Co-op, Ynyshir and Dearham. Crofton are our Dark Horses. We live and die by our predictions!

The competing bands:
Crofton Silver
Heton Silver
Leics Co-op Snibston, Charnwood
Maltby Miners Welfare
Shirland Welfare Training
Wansbeck's Ashington Colliery
Whitwell Brass
Ynyshir Welfare

4BR Prediction:

1. Loghgelly
2. Wansbeck’s Ashington Colliery
3. Leics Co-op, Snibston, Charnwood
4. Shirland Miners Welfare
5. Ynyshire Welfare
6. Dearham

Dark Horse: Crofton

Fourth Section

And finally to the best section of the lot – the Fourth, with the added bonus this year of a real corker of a test piece, Peter Graham’s “Haslemere Suite” which was used at National level a couple of years back. Just the seven bands taking part, but with prize money that reads £500, £375, £250 and £125 there will be some pretty good pickings for the bands who can master a difficult but enjoyable test piece.

Two of the bands on show made it to the National Finals and out in good shows there as well, with Grange Moor coming third and Dinnington Colliery coming 11th. Pontins saw Kirkby come 9th, whilst other than that it has been pretty quiet on the contesting front. Dearne Valley just missed out on a trip to Dundee when they came third at the Yorkshire Regional Championships, whilst Thurcroft came 8th at the same contest. Trimdon came 12th in the North East, whilst Kirkby were 6th there.

All in all then a pretty good line up with two bands for us that stand out. Grange Moor should if they play to form come out on top, with Dinnington and Dearne Valley close behind. Kirkby and Thurcroft should by close on their heels with Creswell making up the top six. Our dark horse is Trimdon.

The competing bands:
Creswell Colliery
Dearne Valley Brass
Dinnington Colliery
Grange Moor Brass
Kirkby Colliery Welfare
Thurcroft Welfare
Trimdon Concert Brass

4BR Prediction:

1. Grange Moor
2. Dinnington Colliery
3. Dearne Valley
4. Kirkby Colliery Welfare
5. Thurcroft Welfare
6. Creswell Colliery

Dark Horse: Trimdon Concert Brass

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