2006 London and Southern Counties Regional Championships - Fourth Section retrospective


It may have been a bit of a marathon for the man in the box, but it was one heck of an enjoyable amarathon and a fantastic win for Thundersley Brass.

With a field of twenty five bands and a listening marathon of well over six hours we reckon there are not too many people who would have envied the challenge of Chris Wormald's task as he presided over the London and Southern Counties Fourth Section in solitary deliberation.

Quipping afterwards that he did not find it too difficult despite having never adjudicated a contest with more than twenty bands before, the fact remains that there is nothing easy about sorting out such a huge field.

It was a field that also displayed a huge range of ability and Chris was keen to point out that although his job was to adjudicate impartially on the performances of the day he was very much aware that many of the players around the stands would have been of a young age. In point of fact and in line with healthy Fourth Section tradition the age range was as vast as the range of ability and to witness musicians young and old uniting in music that they were clearly relishing proved to be the highlight of the day, regardless of the results.        

In a year when the Second Section area contests have been marred by the controversy surrounding Howard Snell's ‘Images of the Millennium' at least it can be said that the Fourth Section has enjoyed a complete reversal of that situation in the inspired choice of Alan Fernie's ‘Anglian Dances'.

Throughout the day in Stevenage and despite a hall with a temperature that an Eskimo would have shivered in, it was clear that the competitors appreciated the tunes as well as the challenges of the piece. In his expansion of the work from an original suite for youth bands Alan Fernie cannily ensured that each of the short but contrasting movements addresses issues of style, dynamic control, rhythmic fluidity and intonation without forgetting that it must be enjoyable for both bands and audience alike. Certainly the bands seemed to agree that the hours spent in the bandroom were all the more pleasurable for it.

Despite a differential of only one point from the runners up, the victors Thundersley Brass, romped home in some style from a relatively late number eighteen draw. From the opening bars of the fanfare the playing displayed an air of confidence that remained throughout the performance and although the brisk tempo of the second movement could easily have unsettled the lilt of the music the quality of the playing saw it through in some style. No band survived the affecting but testing slow movement without some intonation problems but Thundersley gave a sensitive account with a fine attempt at the dynamics in the Philip Sparke like central passage. A special word for the soprano cornet player here who may have turned his back on the audience but got the desired result! A lively final movement and the warm applause from the audience, now swelled by a growing number of bands people who had already played earlier in the day, was a clear indicator of respect for a showing of impressive musicality.

In a field of twenty five bands the dread of the number one draw has an even greater degree of potency than usual. Waterbeach Brass, our pre-contest prediction for the winner, seemed to take it in their stride however and turned in a performance of real spirit that endured to the very end and earned them the deserved runners up position. An improvement of two places on their creditable fourth place last year puts James Utting and his band firmly amongst the most consistent bands in the London area.    

Watford Town gave a performance of equally enduring character from the number two draw to gain them the fourth prize and a shot at the National title. It was a result that would have been all the more gratifying given that last year saw Watford propping up the table in the second to last spot. The feat of both Waterbeach and Watford in holding their own for the rest of day from their respective early draws marks a massive achievement for both bands.

From the comparatively safe draw of eleven Hungerford Town took the third position and the remaining spot at Harrogate with a performance that reflected the ability of a band that were competing in the Third section last year. No doubt the result will have made some small compensation for the relegation suffered in 2005.  

The standard of performance remained at a high level down to the middle of the results table, following which a greater set of variables were evident from the performances in the lower half of the draw. Finishing in sixth place Letchworth Garden City caught our ear as one of the more rounded bands of the day in terms of both ability and sound. It was inconsistent ensemble that kept them out of the prize winners but the spirit of the music was exceptionally well observed. In similar vein were Chalgrove, improving on their thirteenth showing last year with an eighth position and opening with a bold fanfare, followed by a nicely flowing second movement and a finale that had real rhythmic cohesion. Here however it was the slow movement that let things down, the conductor shaping the musical line well but being restricted by signs of nerves amongst the players.

The same could also be said of Battle who eventually came in seventh place with another performance that was bold and confident, but just had too many little errors throughout to have featured more highly.

From a number five draw Great Yarmouth Brass will be disappointed that their well controlled performance did not earn them higher than tenth from Chris Wormald. A few individual slips did not unduly detract from playing that demonstrated good preparation, careful attention to dynamics and rounded warm sounds in the slower music.

One behind them in eleventh King's Lynn Town were similarly well prepared by their conductor who shaped the music well throughout the performance. It was the last two movements that proved their undoing though with a tentative slow movement and rocky cornets in the finale. It was also the same recipe of a good start, decent middle, slightly untuneful fourth and strident fifth movements for Tadley and Wantage Silver B.

Lifting themselves from last place in 2005 to a middle order fourteenth, Charles Church Camberley started well but rushed the second movement to a degree that robbed it of its gentle Malcolm Arnold ‘English Dance' like lilt. The slow movement flowed nicely at times but the band was unable to sustain the quality whilst the safe tempo of the finale ensured that the notes were heard but lacked any sense of real excitement as a result. Amersham meanwhile just lacked consistency throughout all the movements although they did try to bring the music out of each of them throughout their performance.

For several bands this was a particularly big day as they competed at the Area Championships for the first time. The undoubted stars amongst the newcomers were Harwich RBL who turned in a business like performance that put them in fifth place, just losing out on a place at Harrogate and what would have been a remarkable feat on a fist showing. Broseley Development MK has been set up as a feeder to the senior band that competes at First Section level. For them equal last would have been a disappointment but hopefully they will be back next year and all the stronger for it. Lodden and Oxford Templars found themselves creditable places in the results at seventeenth and eighteenth respectively and it is to be hoped that they will also be back next year to improve on their first attempts.

Royston and Wolverton, whilst not entirely newcomers, have both been away from the contest for several years. Royston can be proud of their ninth place under the direction of Simon Jones whilst Wolverton were no pushover with their sixteenth position keeping them well off the bottom of the table. 

The batch of bands, Jubilee Brass (Oxford), Cobham, Cottenham, Haslemere and Fakenham are lacked consistency to varying degrees, although it would be next to impossible to disagree with the final order that the bands came in from Chris Wormald. Each either had a good opening section followed by a poor second, nice third, untuneful fourth and romping fifth or in some variance of that order. The quality wasn't brilliant, but it wasn't too awful either and each should be quite proud of their efforts as there appeared to be plenty to build on from each of them.           

For our money though the unluckiest band of the day by a country mile had to be Bletchington Silver. Runners up last year and our prediction to repeat that feat this year (but then what do we know?!) Chris Wormald's award of equal last was quite simply unjust in the extreme. Sheldon Barwick's players may not have had the best day of their contesting careers but at least went for broke in the dynamics even if the outcome was not always successful. Frankly there were performances lagging way behind Bletchington that ended up at least half a dozen places further up the field.

No doubts though, Chris Wormald didn't make any mistakes when it came to the qualifiers and his comment that the four top bands would represent the region well in Harrogate is a sentiment we would echo one hundred percent.

Christopher Thomas.  


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