National Championships 2004 - Harrogate - Overall Retrospective


4BR takes an overall look back at Harrogate 2004 and declares it a success (with a couple of reservations of course).

Harrogate Conference CentreAudio files

Audio Interview with Philip Morris [WAV 683kb]
Audio Interview with Niki Bland [WAV 1.11Mb]

The 2004 Finals held in sleepy Harrogate provided the sceptically minded amongst us the first chance to experience first hand if private enterprise and brass band contesting could co-exist successfully.  After two full days, the answer appears to be yes.

The Harrogate International Conference Centre provided a secure and compact venue to hold the event, whilst the organisation from Kapitol Promotions, the helpful staff of the venue and the posse of helpers and volunteers meant that things ran smoothly and professionally from start to finish. Credit therefore where credit is due, and if this standard of presentation can be maintained then the Lower Section National Finals may well have a rosy future ahead of it.

That said, there were some furrowed brows to be seen, and for understandable reasons.

As much as there was a consensus that the overall event was a success, there is still a need to make those who are there actually performing, feel an integral part of it. Getting players and supporters of bands to put their bums on the plush seats of the well appointed auditorium when the contesting is taking place is the major problem that must be overcome, and until it is, the event will lack the atmosphere it needs to feel vibrant and engaging. There were far too many occasions during the two days when bands played to less than 100 people in the hall, and since all of them had slogged their guts out both musically and financially to get to Harrogate, the last thing they wanted to be faced with was more empty seats than could be found at a Peter Andre comeback tour gig.

The problem is not as such the need to charge people to come into the hall and listen, but how. Asking bandsmen and women 5.00 a piece in addition to the 3.00 for the programme isn't on the face of it extortionate. However, when lots of families play in bands together (as they tend to do in the Lower Sections) then the amount they have to fork out on the day, in addition to the rather expensive food and drink at the hall, plus, possibly car parking fees, all adds up.

Also, bandsmen and women do like to earmark well earned cash for more immediate enjoyments (a bit like the second movement of Philip Sparke's Fourth Section test piece), so given the choice between the price of a pint of lager or a seat in the hall, the former usually takes precedent. It sounds a little self centred of course, but, you pays your money, and makes your choice.

Wouldn't it have been better therefore for the bands to pay up front for the tickets in the entry fee they had to pay to the contest itself. Making that fee 125.00 instead of the 25.00 we understand it was, would make more sense if the organisers threw in 30 tickets as well. Bands are not going to drop out from the contest for that price and it would have given all bands guaranteed support in the hall when they played. The benefits would therefore have been twofold - the organisers get the extra revenue they needed up front and the bands got a hall full of people to hear them play. It isn't a "something for nothing" approach, but a "something for something" answer.

Kapitol can take a well-deserved bow for their efforts on the weekend at Harrogate, but they are well aware that there is much more that can be done to promote this essential event in the brass band calendar further. The good news appears to be that both Nicola Bland and Phil Morris are aware and responsive to the challenge. 4BR managed to get interviews with them both, and they make interesting listening.

Musically though the weekend was a bit of a disappointment.  As always the bands had made the journey to the Finals with high hopes, but with the exception of about a handful of performances throughout the four sections, nearly all came unable to meet the demands of the set pieces.

The Fourth Section in particular, usually a haven of promise and enjoyment turned into a morass of untunefulness and technical shortcomings. This was not fully the fault of the bands themselves, but the music committee who chose a work that was beyond the scope of the bands on show. Philip Sparke's works are usually the most enjoyable to listen to, but on this occasion it was simply too difficult a test for the bands here. The remarks of Frank Renton were generous indeed, but overall you felt he was just being diplomatically kind.

The Third Section meanwhile was saved by some cracking playing by the winners, Hoover (Bolton) and the majority of the bands who got to grips with Darrol Barry's "Diamond Heritage".  The intricacies were never completely mastered, but the top six were fine shows and there was much to admire.

The Second Section bands certainly enjoyed themselves on Michael Ball's "Chaucer's Tunes", and the leading bands more than did justice to the music, but again the overall standard was down from the last two years and for too many the piece was a little too difficult.

Finally the First Section, which for us was the biggest disappointment of the weekend.   Again it was not perhaps the bands fault, as Rodney Newton's superb piece was written for the BAYV Band, and even they found it a difficult work to master. This certainly was a Championship set work played by the vast majority of bands who were not in any way ready to make the leap to the Championship Section. It was a cruel way for them to find out their shortcomings, but perhaps that is what is needed to day to ensure that only the strongest bands that win have the ability to survive and prosper at the higher level.    It did make though for some pretty uncomfortable listening at times.     

Finally then, well done to everyone who made it to Harrogate, enjoyed themselves and performed as well as they could. The organisers put on a fine event that holds much promise for the future, and whilst the majority bands found it difficult to perform to their potential due to slightly over ambitious choices by the music panel for the test pieces and perhaps because of the lack of atmosphere in the auditorium, a there was still much to admire.   The only cloud on the horizon though is perhaps the rather over ambitious choices made for the Regional Championships in 2005 - if bands can overcome those musical hurdles whatever awaits them in Harrogate next year will be a doddle.

Iwan Fox.


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