2006 North of England Regional Championships - Championship Section retrospective


Reg Vardy made it yet another win at the weekend, but if they were being complacent this one gave them a bit of a nail biting finish to contemplate.

There are those that will say the North of England Regional is one of the most predictable championships in Great Britain. To most outside of the area there's no one to challenge the supposed dominance of Reg Vardy Band and so it's always a case of who is going to come second.

Reg Vardy
Which one's the biggest then: Reg Vardy take possession once more of the winners cups

Well that hasn't always been the case, with Fishburn and East Yorkshire Motor Services taking the title within the past 10 years. This year's championship may on paper looked as if it had gone to form, but the reality was that it was a much tighter affair with no band performing to their best in a contest that really didn't seem to come alight as previous encounters have.

For the second year running Reg Vardy with Ray Farr were drawn number one and although they produced a musical performance there were individual slips and untidiness, which on reflection by some of the more thoughtful of RV's players, had them worried. An atmospheric start, good balance and big sound seemed to lay down the foundation for a winning performance.

Reg Vardy
And a serious shot for the press please? Reg Vardy celebrate in style

Yet when the tempo and dynamics dropped from movement 3, the errors crept in, soloists one moment were secure and the next slipped up with minor clips. The finale with the battle of the creatures in movement 8 was very descriptive, a great bass end really getting to grips with the glissandi and they and the percussion team won their respective section prizes. A very effective finale and overall a nicely crafted performance, but the door was left open.

Having to follow Reg Vardy at the areas is always a bit daunting, that after the Lord Mayors show etc, so pity Kirkbymoorside Town, returning to the Championship Section for the first time in many years. The comparison between them and Reg Vardy was immediate. They didn't have the dynamic control or the balance of the inner instruments and their overall sound was mellower and not as bold. There were problems with tuning and some soloists struggled. Sometimes the tempos went awry, slow one moment and then quickening, but they certainly found some raucous monsters, before tiredness crept in. However, to put this into context, and those who read the letter in 4BR last week will know the background, for a ‘family' band with 22 players who've only ever played with this band, they certainly didn't disgrace themselves and a seventh place finish will give them confidence for the future. An experience that they, and especially the younger members, will never forget.

Fishburn last qualified in 2001 when they won on ‘Jazz', the last time Reg Vardy didn't qualify. With Russell Gray at the helm this year, and after a shaky start they soon got into their stride. Some beautiful soprano playing from Mal Usher and secure cornet from John Gill won their respective individual prizes. Soloists on the main were confident and probably the best set of the whole competition.

Well done mate: Fishburn enjoy the moment of second place triumph

There were however, tuning problems and some general untidiness in some of the quicker movements especially the triplets near the end, marked at I1 for those of you with a score (and there were plenty of them in evidence). Another musical performance from a band riding high after their Scottish Open success and it was good enough to take them back to London.

BHK (UK) Ltd Horden are at the moment kings of the rumour mills in the North. So many stories and rumours have been flying around over the last couple of weeks some thought they might not even turn up.

Not quite a stroll in the Parkes: Horden just miss out under the Major

As it was, they flew in a couple of players from Willebroek, brought back Major Peter Parkes and hoped that these moves would consolidate their third place from last year. As it emerged it didn't pay off. It was too much of a bitty performance, never coherent, just swaying from the excellent to the poor. A louder start than the others, the baritone immediately having tuning problems, then into a great movement 2 with great soprano playing from Bert Van Thienen. Then it fell into the tuning traps of the middle movements  and the ‘whispers' were all in unison which spoilt the whole effect. The creature battle was more handbags at twenty paces, weak sounding and in-effective and the percussion team lost their way in the finale. Fourth was right but in other company would have been further down the pecking order.

EYMS brought in Jim Davies for this years challenge and in some respects it was a return to form that has been expected from this ensemble. The musicianship was certainly different from the others and indeed there were elements of this performance that were not heard in others. Here's one example: In movement five there are muted horns, euphs and basses over tam tam and rolling bass drum. You could still hear these whilst in others the percussion was overpowering, overdoing the crescendo to forte. These little things would have probably won some points but once again as in the others, tuning and clips would have lost them as many points in return.

Some of their creatures would have scared the willies off a Tyrannosaurus Rex but after the battle and ascent they were tired and the ending rushed with the final rall not staring until the third last bar instead of the sixth. Some in the hall had them in the top two for the musical interpretation. but third was the outcome.

Harrogate has over the years produced some memorable performances during their rise through the ranks. Sadly this was one to forget with too many errors and problems with dynamics and tuning. The band didn't sound up to it yet they and David Lancaster had certainly put in the preparation and were using every trick in the book to bring out the best in their performance. It just wasn't their day, although someone thought it great as they let out a spectacular cheer of triumph from the hall as the band finished.

Last years runners up were Tavistock Chester-le-Street Riverside Brass (can we have short names again please?) but this year was an untidy mixed bag of a performance. There were parts that were musical and hugely enjoyable but others that were cringe worthy. One percussionist hit the wrong bell, the xylophone was out of tempo with cornets in the semiquaver in movement two and the tuning went awry. The Whispering Gallery must have been huge in their imagination as we could hardly hear them, but we certainly heard the soprano over the creature's battle, the first time during the day. Sixth was probably right in the final outcome.

Barrow Shipyard was not on song at all. The piece was just too difficult for them with all the errors of the bands above, only magnified considerably. A period of rebuilding and consolidation in the First Section is what is required if they intend to challenge at the top and after this performance the sooner the better. At least they turned up and had a crack and in our book that always deserves credit. By doing so, they can compare themselves with the other bands see what's wrong, what needs improving and then start the hard work of improving.

Finally on stage were Greggs' Bakery and the man-of-the-moment Duncan Beckley. No title today but a fifth place was Greggs' best result in this section. By this time we were getting used to all the slips and tuning problems, so there's no use going over them all again. Nevertheless a performance that was a surprise to most in the hall, and probably to the band as well gave them a confidence boost for the future. And not a pasty in sight.

The cheers that greeted Reg Vardy' s win were more of relief than elation and the celebrations for five in a row would have gone well into the night. Fishburn were well content with their second place and the individual prizes. EYMS will be disappointed that their performance didn't find favour with Derek Broadbent when some in the hall had them in the top two.

It wasn't a classic contest by any stretch of the imagination. Certainly on other days the standard has been higher and will be in the future. In the short term however, the bands will have to knuckle down if they are to challenge for top honours. From the outside it seemed that in some cases there was a lack of preparation for the piece. Were there other priorities for Reg Vardy, or were they just confident?

Whatever the reasons one day it will backfire with spectacular results and they will have no-one to blame but themselves.

Steve Jack


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