2004 All England Masters Championships - Introduction and dodgy predictions


4BR looks at the forthcoming 2004 Masters in Cambridge and take a bit of a punt on who we think might well come up trumps on Sunday.

The All England Masters Championship is now in its sixteenth year and ever since it's inception it has been a forthright and progressive contest that has benefited from strong organisation and leadership from Philip Biggs and Richard Franklin, which for the most part has not be reciprocated by the English brass band movement as a whole. 

2004 is a case in point - this time it's the adjudicators who have had their grumble and thrown their toys out of the pram with their decision not to continue with the agreed judging process that has been in place since 1998.  It is true to say that the method of employing three separate adjudicators in three separate boxes did not gain universal approval from the competing bands as well as the judges employed to adjudicate the contest, but it is also true to say that it was the bands themselves who chose it. If there was to be a change then surely it had to come from the bands itself?

The beauty of the Masters has been that the bands have a real input into the development of the contest and as a whole it has been a good thing. In 2003 they voiced their opinions and decided to keep the contest "English", whilst they have also enjoyed the privilege of being able to have control over the choice of test pieces and judges. This year, that somewhat changed and Mr Biggs and Mr Franklin will be keen we feel to return things back to some sort of progressive normality in time for 2005.

We at 4BR have harped on now for far too long about the need for the English bands to sort their "National" contest out, especially in terms of the European Championships, but now there is the added headache of a few grumbling judges. It would spoil a fine contest if the different factions that have been brought together so well by the organisers in the past, start moving in opposite directions.

Still, there is once more a very strong line up of bands at the Corn Exchange this year. The usual suspects are not in attendance (Grimethorpe and Black Dyke have been joined by the restructuring Fairey FP (Music) this year) and there is the added disappointment with the withdrawal at late notice of the defending champions, Leyland. Their non appearance though has highlighted the strange rule concerning "borrowed players" due to illness.

We got it partially wrong when we first enquired (we stated that up to 4 players could be borrowed from a non competing band for the contest), and some confusion still reigns over the rule. If a band provides bone fide medical certificates to the organisers to explain the need for substitute players, then technically they can borrow any number from a band not at the contest or from the band drawn before them at the contest. It's a rule that needs looking at again. The champions may not be there, but plenty of others will be.  

This year we have the reigning European Champions, British Open Champions and US Open Champions, the Grand Shield, Senior Cup and Yeovil winners, the Yorkshire, West of England, Midlands, London and North East Regional Champions, plus three London qualifiers and a British Open qualifier as well. Of the 19 bands here, the highest 4BR ranked outfit is number 1, whilst the lowest is number 66. There may be a few grumbles from the likes of the up and comers such as Hepworth, Wingates and Desford (all of whom are ranked higher than many of the contenders), but their time will come we are assured. It still makes for pretty good set of bands doesn't it?

So, we'll come down to the nitty gritty, and who will win. Even in a field such as this, the contest will break itself into three main parts; those who know they have a chance of winning, those of think they have a chance of winning and those who hope they have a chance of winning. There may have been a couple of times in the immediate past when not actually being placed first by any of the judges still meant a band walked away with the top prize, but with three men in a box this year, it will be consensus rather than statistics that separate the bands. 

The top tier should consist of the likes of Brighouse and Rastrick, Fodens Richardson, Sellers International and Yorkshire Building Society, whilst the bands pushing them hard should come from the likes of Ever Ready (Reg Vardy), JAG Mount Charles, Ransome, Rothwell Temperance, Travelsphere Holidays and Yorkshire Imperial Urquhart Travel. After that, on current form, come the rest.

We will leave it up to you to decide which of the three categories the bands your follow or support come into, but on past evidence the Masters is certainly a contest that divides itself quite clearly into three parts.

The test piece, "Harrison's Dream" is a fine choice, more a test of the entire ensemble rather than just "star" corner men and you get the feeling that more than a few dark horses fancy their chances of making a mark on it. It should though divide the field up by class as both the musical and technical demands are strenuous to say the least. The interpretation of the "sinkings" when time is called on the souls of the drowned sailors by the use of small ghostly bells will also be interesting. It is an integral part of the music and can be chilling when delivered with some sense of understanding (not just bored players hitting a few chime bars). When it does come off it can send a shiver down the spine.   

With all that in mind then it should for us mean a straight fight between YBS, Fodens Richardson and Brighouse for the top three podium places - they all have that extra bit of class to shine on the test piece, with a rejuvenated Sellers International the band to really look out for, pushing all the way. The top six should on current form come from that secondary tier we mentioned earlier, but for us we think Ransome and Rothwell could make it into the top six with a dark horse of Travelsphere who like it here our dark horse.

The results will take place after the usual presentations, which this year include John Berryman receiving the All England Masters Dedicated Service Award which will be presented by Elgar Howarth. Make sure you are in the hall to give a tremendous musician a big and well-deserved round of applause.  

4BR will be there all day providing the usual live coverage, and we are once more involved in the event by sponsoring the Soloist Prize. Best of luck to everyone concerned then and anchors away for the sixteenth All England Masters Championships.

4BR Prediction:

1. Yorkshire Building Society
2. Fodens Richardson
3. Brighouse and Rastrick
4. Sellers International
5. Ransome
6. Rothwell Temperance

Dark Horse: Travelsphere Holidays


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