2006 Welsh Regional Championships - Introduction


They may be back to losing ways at the rugby, but Wales still has the habit of producing winning brass bands at six nations level (OK, three) - or does it?

The Brangwyn Hall in Swansea will see 51 bands take to the stage this weekend in what promises to be a keenly fought over series of contests although they won't be distracted by a Grand Slam rugby team this year.

Although the Welsh Region is one of the smallest in terms of the number of bands taking part, it remains one of the strongest in terms of what its bands achieve on the contest stage year in year out. That gives the Welsh a great deal of pride - but it is also the case that the Welsh are never happy either. If you are looking for a parallel then just look at what has happened with their rugby team.

The European question has been the big talking point during the past twelve months in the Principality and it wasn't until recently that it was sorted out in some shape or form.  Now the Welsh are back in the fold, but it would appear that it will be some years before they will ever be in the position to host the Europeans. That is a pity as they currently have one of the finest concert halls in the world right on their doorstep in Cardiff Bay. 

It would though be Wales without some sort of dark introspection and it gives the Welsh much of their character. That and the ability to organize committees. The latter isn't a bad trait though as it comes in handy here in Swansea where the Championships are usually very well run.

Championship Section:

Back to the bands though and in the Championship Section, the continued good form of the best bands in London means that for the third year in succession at least one extra Welsh band will qualify for Kensington.
That is much to do with the continued strength both domestically and nationally of the BAYV Band who came 3rd at the Albert Hall last year. Their success has certainly rubbed off on the other top bands here as well, with Tredegar, so often their main rivals showing a great deal of character to overcome a poor 12 months or so and bounce back with two recent important and confidence inducing wins.

The there are the likes of Cwmaman, Tongwynlais, BTM, Beaumaris and Burry Port all having upped their own form in the past year or so. There isn't much to choose between these and Tredegar, although there is something of a gap to BAYV. All these bands can, play very well indeed on their day (as many have shown outside Wales as well) so it should make for an intriguing fight for the two qualification places.
Welsh bands have a pretty good record of late at the National Finals, with at least one of the qualifiers coming in the top six in the past nine years including five podium places past five. Add to that one win, two runners up spots and a third place since 2000, and you can see why the contest here is a good one.

First Section:

The First Section here is made up of a number of bands all of whom seem to be comfortable at this level but struggle to make any mark when they move up to the top tier. You have to go back to the twin wins of Northop and Point of Ayr in 1993 and 1994 for National wins, but there has been an impressive level of consistency with the qualifiers when they get to the Finals.

Last year's representatives came 5th and 10th not bad, but in five out of the last seven years at least one band has been placed in the top six, including three podium places. It is hard though to see any of the bands here really going on to win at Harrogate, but you never know as there is some talented MDs bringing on talented players. Not this year perhaps but possibly next then.

Second Section:

The Second Section bands have done a bit better over the years Ammanford won the National title in 2001, and there are a few good old Welsh names on the trophy from years gone by. However since that Ammanford win there has only been the one top six place from the bands up from the Principality. Nothing really to shout home about. Last year the two qualifiers, RAF St. Athan and Deiniolen came 12th and 16th respectively and came back home with their tails between their legs somewhat. Hopefully things will be a bit better this time, but the bands will not be looking forward to playing this test piece for sure.

Third Section:

The Third Section though has proved to be less successful than the Second Section over the years and you have to go back to 1992 for the last time a Welsh band traveled back over Offa's Dyke triumphant. Beaumaris were the band to do it that famous day, but none since.

This has reflected the problem in Wales that in reality there has not been much of a difference between the bands in the Fourth and the Third here in terms of overall playing standards.  That may have changed this year with at least a couple of bands here more than capable of making a mark at the Finals, but it would be about time. Last year's representatives Newbridge Celynen and Newtown Silver were on paper two strong bands, but even they could only manage 5th and 18th respectively. 

Fourth Section:

Right at the end of the scale there is great news in the Fourth Section, where this year the field includes two new faces. This is as much to do with the fine work of the bands themselves and of the Regional Committee who have with the co-operation of the area associations been making a real go of encouraging these bands back into the contesting fold at the two contests of Ebbw Vale and Treorchy in particular. It has been hard work, but now it is starting to pay off, and other Regions should take a leaf out of the Welsh book.

The standard in the lower sections is also improving as well, with the Fourth Section sending bands to the finals where at least one of them has come in the top six in each of the past seven years, with a win in 2000 as well. Last year was a touch disappointing though with the two qualifiers, Llywdcoed and Royal Oakeley coming home in 10th and 11th place. Hopefully this years qualifiers can do a bit better than that.

It should make for a great weekend in Swansea. The North Wales bands invariably send down a very strong contingent who return back North with more than a few prizes tucked under their belts, whilst there is a bit of a resurgence in the West as well.  With no distraction form the lads in red on the rugby pitch to get over excited about, the hall may be fuller than usual and all that doom and gloom may be forgotten for a short while.


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