2006 Midlands Regional Championships - Third Section retrospective


Pleasently surprising was the veridct of our man at the Third Section on the weekend here. Had he been on the Burton ale or was he listening closely to a pretty good contest.

The Third Section performances on Saturday were genuinely, pleasantly surprising.  Across the board, all bands had something positive to offer, and not having heard bands from this Section for many years, it was clear the overall standard had improved significantly. 

Gilbert Vinter's ‘Entertainments' was a good test indeed. Semi-quaver runs, high technical demands (especially for soprano) and an even higher degree of confidence required for the solo entries, gave all bands plenty to think about.  Alan Hope said in his remarks at the end of the performances, that he and his adjudicating colleague, Geoff Whitham, had not expected a ‘white-knuckle ride' with regard to bands' playing ability, but that each band had put on a good show.   Doubts expressed in the band press about the ability of bands in this section to play this piece had been well and truly scotched.

Ultimately, the first band on stage, Long Eaton, held on throughout the day to win with a truly excellent performance. But then again you knew it was going to be good when the National Anthem was played with a broad and full sound from bass to soprano, and with better phrasing than would have been the case from many a band from a higher section. 

Long Eaton is a band clearly cruising above their weight. As the eminent Mr Whitham remarked just before the results were given, "…it was good enough to have won the Yorkshire area", and a rye chuckle and ripple of applause spread around the hall of the Belvedere Park Club.

Long Eaton's performance gave a well-attended audience precisely what Vinter would have wanted – entertainment.  Full of excellent ensemble playing, good dynamic contrast, just the right tempo in each of the three sections (which some other bands really didn't do), and an air of confidence no other band quite got to grips with, it deserved the three point gap.  Intonation too was very good and helped enormously with the overall band sound.  We particularly liked the sop performance and the principal cornet solo at the start of the second movement.  Both players produced a lovely sweet and confident sound - the cherry on the icing of a delicious cake.  Oh, and dare we mention, a performance delivered by the only female conductor in the section, and one of only two lady conductors the whole weekend; perhaps that explains the unique subtlety Long Eaton achieved.

Second placed Leicestershire Co-op Snibston Charnwood's rendition, was a little under tempo in places we felt, particularly in the first movement which seemed a little laboured and sticky.  But as with Long Eaton, the band sound was excellent. It was only disrupted by a mobile phone going off with what has to be one of the silliest tunes ever devised, and seemed to take an age for the idiot to turn it off. Why, oh why do we continue to show such complete lack of personal responsibility, and utter disrespect for our fellow bandsmen and women.

The start of the second movement was a pure delight (no phone to ruin it) and no doubt helped to keep Leicester in the prizes.  We saw a lovely moment when the young lady sitting 4th (man) was looking so intently towards the principal cornet during the opening bars of the second movement, clearly mesmerised by the quality of playing.  It was a breath of fresh for us that Leicester closed their performance not with an overblown harshness, as some other bands had done, but with a nicely balanced, controlled double forte that remained in tune.  The slow tempi and the lack of synchronization between the percussion and the band in several places left us thinking Leicester were perhaps a little lucky to be placed quite this high though.

Only one point behind Leicester, Moulton 77 had potentially the unluckiest draw (13), but made very good use of it.  Our great sympathy though was with the sop player from Arrow Valley band (drawn 12) who bravely stayed on stage being called upon to deliver her performance a second time – always a very difficult thing to be asked to do. 

Moulton had a nervous start but quickly dispelled any lingering nerves.  Showing excellent dynamic range, they were careful not to overblow in the louder passages.  The second movement again was fair but didn't quite match the blend and balance shown by the winners.  Working on this could make Moulton a real force.  A dragging tempo in the third movement didn't help either but their ability to keep control shone through.  A good performance but nervous entries let them down a little but there's real potential there for Harrogate.

Just missing out on the finals was City of Birmingham, and on this performance a band positively re-emerging after some disappointing results.  We had them in with a real shout and it would be justified for them to feel disappointed not to have made it to Harrogate, but for us the tempi employed were the crux of the matter. 

Movements one and three needed to be light, bouncy and to move well, but these were too ponderous for our taste, and clearly for those of Mr Whitham and Mr Hope.  In their favour though was their sound and use of dynamics, both of real quality and of a section, or even two, higher than their current standing.  The excellent musicality of the second movement undoubtedly gave City of Birmingham their well-deserved fourth place.

At this point the surprise for us was Avonbank (Evesham).  This band, having experienced some real problems in the recent past, acquitted themselves well.  It's fair to say we hadn't placed them quite this high but their soloists really turned it on, on the day.  The principal euphonium showed poise and deliverance in the syncopated rhythmic passage in the first movement – one of the best of the day in fact – and a moment of real atmosphere created by the solo cornet at the start of the second movement was only disturbed by….yes, you've guessed it, a mobile phone going off. We sighed resignedly, and contemplated once again the stupidity of our fellow man (or women). All credit to Avonbank that they kept their nerve to give a good performance without becoming ruffled.

In 6th place came Arrow Valley, and we thought they would feature in the prizes.  Drawn off number 12, they were amongst a clutch of bands playing at the start of the second half who were a class apart and were knocking on the door of Long Eaton.  The opening to the first movement was strong and bold and very well controlled throughout and we soon found ourselves nodding with approval as the basses particularly gave a good solid foundation.  A subtle and sweet cornet sound commenced the second movement but nerves showed a little and the tuning suffered in the 12/8 section and it fell away slightly.  

The third movement showed Arrow Valley at their best.  The muted passages were first class, highlighting their real skill for quiet playing and they contrasted this with a well-managed sonorous and sustained ‘orchestral' sound in the grand march.  Just a few clips and jittery moments meant they didn't quite reach the top two but they would have been worthy finalists.

West Mercia Constabulary Band clearly meant business as they took the stage.  A member of the audience sitting close by remarked, "They need to smile more; they all look too serious" and we could see what he meant, but then again surely the principal cornet's spiky hair-do couldn't have been in the regulation Police manual?  Spiky hair-do aside, he led a bold start leading to a strong euphonium solo passage.  Dynamics were good throughout and everything was kept in good control save the percussion, which was a touch behind on occasions.  The tempo was good too, nice and brisk and exciting in movements one and three.  Their tuning wasn't quite as good though and was the reason for their 7th place; but to be fair we'd still placed them higher, probably 4th.

The Northamptonshire contingent, Rushden Windmill, had many of the qualities needed – playing together, keeping in tune, but the dynamic contrast was sadly lacking; it was all a little bit the same.  With that element included, they would surely have figured higher.  Matlock too could have shown more shape in their offering, even taking account of their strong solo lines, which at times were a little too strident.  They weren't helped, however, by the now intrusive rattling of glasses by bar staff at the Belvedere, and that came from the bar that was closed!  We were beginning to think that the ringing of a phone had been cunningly introduced by a successor of Vinter, because we now had a land line phone ringing from the bar area too.  What joy.

An early draw at number 3 wasn't kind to Kirkby Colliery Welfare.  Although they made great attempts with the dynamics and tuning, they were often not together, and with their very smart percussion jackets, we'd hoped for a better rhythmic feel and consistency. We particularly liked the principal cornet and soprano, who played with real panache. 10th was about right.

Playing straight after Long Eaton was going to be unkind to any other band in the section even if it had been Leicester Co-op, Moulton 77 or City of Birmingham.  Syston's was a ‘safe' display but tuning wavered on occasions and there were a number of nervous entries.  The bass sound was a touch thin and needed to offer more support especially in the second movement where they attempted to capture the mood well.

The surprise of the day though rested with the students from University of Warwick's Brass Society.  We were simply aghast at finding out how low they'd been placed, having written comments such as "good bold opening phrase", "nicely controlled tempo which keeps moving well" and "lovely solid bass foundation that makes the band's sound so much better", 12th place seemed very harsh indeed.  In fact looking through the notes again, it's hard to see a critical remark made on the day other than "a shade inconsistent".

The biggest problem for Newhall was wandering tempi. The first movement definitely slowed up after a nice brisk start and the second was rushed without allowing the soloists time to make the most of the tranquil music on offer.  When they were given a window of opportunity, they showed they could have helped the band reap greater reward.  The penultimate performance from Malvern & Hills & District similarly lacked the poise needed for a higher placing. With the band providing good support, soloists tended to rush; perhaps this was just an off-day for Malvern this time around. It was much the same too with Bakewell who also just lacked that sense of poise and clarity when required and it wa a rather non descript performance in the end.

Mr. Adjudicator inadvertently coughed at the start of Fairfield's account, and as we were sat close to ‘the box' we couldn't tell whether the opening notes were good or not.  After a few seconds we detected a nice light touch which wasn't helped by the percussion being a little adrift. The euphonium player set the standard for the soloists with a confident solo line, but the band didn't really sparkle like some of the other contestants.  Whitwell's confident start we had marked as one of the best on the day, but sadly this didn't last and the performance fell away quickly.  A little more care and control could have seen them be the surprise of the day, but 17th was unfortunate and they would have been disappointed not to have improved on last year's result.

Messrs Whitham and Hope were genuinely impressed by the standard of playing throughout the Third Section contest.  Long Eaton will have been especially delighted with the comparison made with bands from Yorkshire (though Mr Whitham was careful not to mention which section the comparison was being made with; did he really mean the Championship section?)

On this performance, a clear three points ahead, Long Eaton will be a tough act to beat on the national stage at Harrogate in September. We wish them well, along with Leicester Co-op and Moulton 77, for their endeavours against the winners from Yorkshire and the other areas of the UK.

Kevin Whittaker


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