2006 National Youth Brass Band Championships - Community Championship


12 bands took to the stage at the Haden Freeman Theatre to battle it out for the title of Best Community Band in the UK, and it was the great youngsters from Mount Charles that won the day.

Mount Charles made it a Cornish double in the Haden Freeman Hall on Sunday with a programme that benefited from some excellent own choice selections in addition to (what turned out to be a real challenge for many) the set work, Alan Fernie's ‘A Caledonian Journey'.

Mount Charles
Hands up if you think we are the best! Mount Charles celebrate their victory

Twelve months ago the test piece in this section was Gregson's ‘Patterns', much shorter in length, giving the bands a real opportunity to demonstrate their extensive talents through their own choice repertoire.

This year though, it was a different story with Alan Fernie's work lasting around 13-14 minutes, leaving bands with no more than seven minutes to find the right kind of repertoire that would appeal to adjudicators David Horsfield and John Roberts.

It's fair to say that some of the bands found difficulty in finding the right kind of own choice music on the day (one or two going over the required time limit of 20 minutes playing time) and this didn't escape the judges as they made reference to the point in addressing the bands before the announcements of the results.

Congratulations though must go to the adjudicators for taking the time to go through the set work in detail whilst addressing the audience.  John and David gave honest assessments of what they'd heard (and what they were looking for) and it was presented in such an informative way that everybody present will have benefited from what they had to say.

Not one band got away unscathed on the day though, not even the winners.  ‘A Caledonian Journey' might not technically have been the most difficult set test the bands could have played but it still proved to be a challenge with the need to play pianissimo's correctly in the right place.  The fourth movement in particular (Mountain Song) was of key importance in the performance with difficult solo lines for soprano (and well done to them as they coped admirably) and the emphasis on pianissimo playing of which there wasn't an awful lot on the day.

Mount Charles led by Richard Marshall in his first contest as a conductor, retained their title from last year as they were able to find that winning blend that the judges were looking for.

The programme had the insight of the MD who has years of experience of what it takes for a band to find the right type of own-choice music.  The band's bass player Mark Bullock walked on stage to commence Lucerne Song that was well within the bands capabilities before they gave a solid performance of the set work.  The overall effect was of a nice musical sound, sensible tempo's and as you'd expect with Richard at the helm, plenty of attention to detail in the cornet lines, along with good dynamics, none more so than in the fourth movement, Mountain Song.  The final movement (West Highland Line) wasn't as clean and tight as the previous four sections but along with the own choice pieces, more than sufficient on the day to take a Gold Certificate and the overall title.

Sandy Smith's arrangement of ‘Feather Theme' from Forrest Gump featured some nice flugel playing by Jasmin Stevens and that was an excellent addition to their programme.

Not surprisingly Richard Marshall took the spotlight off his winning conducting debut preferring to heap praise on the band for their commitment, enthusiasm and all-round support that makes Mount Charles the successful outfit that it is.

Second place and their highest ever placing went to Chalford and Steve Tubb who were also awarded a Gold Certificate.  Along with the test piece, Steve and the band opted for ‘He Aint Heavy; He's My Brother' featuring some nice tenor horn playing from Chloe Witts and Steve's own arrangement of ‘Mr Blue Sky'. 

Well done indeed: Chalford take a well deserved second place

The band's performance throughout benefited from some outstanding soprano playing from Hannah Godwin who plays in the senior band.  Hannah's efforts didn't go unnoticed either as she was named the Best Instrumentalist within the Section and the comment from David Horsfield that ‘Hannah wouldn't be out of place in a top section band'.

Mount Charles and Chalford were the only two bands that had Gold Certificates awarded too them, but every single band on the day can be proud of their achievements.  They might not have produced performances as consistent to which the judges were looking for when choosing the winners, but all them gave an insight into their musical abilities.

Horbury Victoria led by the knowledgeable Tom Greaterox gave a safe account of the set work having opened with the folk song ‘Seventeen Come Sunday' followed by some fine cornet playing from Charlie Welsh in ‘Sugar Blues'.

Meanwhile, Mark Bousie's Sellers International had the unenviable task of playing from number one in an eleven band field.  The band didn't let themselves down at all with a very competent account of the set work that benefited from some secure cornet playing from Joe Murray who then went on to demonstrate what a fine talent he is through his performance of Londonderry Air before the band concluded its programme with the Conquest of Paradise.

The band's performance won't have gone unnoticed by the watching Phillip McCann and it certainly didn't bypass the judges either.  In addition to awarding a Silver Certificate of Merit, the band was awarded the ‘Most Improved Band in the Community Section' which goes to the band in the section having shown the most potential on the day. 

Mark Bousie was quick to acknowledge afterwards that it was the ‘…best performance the band had given whilst he had been MD - an indication like other bands at the RNCM on the day that the foundations they have built are solid whilst always looking for improvement without never losing sight of the importance of enjoying playing together.

The other Silver certificate went to Peter Collins and Youth Brass 2000 whose performance was enhanced by the horn playing of Tracy Colston in ‘Alloway Tales' and the choreographed ‘Mack the Knife'

Each of the remaining six bands was awarded Bronze Certificates of Merit.

Lions Youth from Sandbach stretched themselves during their programme that seemed to over-run the time limit and they never really reached the heights that brought them the runners-up spot last year.

A Caledonian Journey certainly had its musical moments with some fine playing but the own choice selections just didn't come off as well as they could have done.  Sarah Raisbeck is a talented cornet player but suffered from more than one or two uncomfortable moments in ‘Fantasy Variations', whilst Ben Croombs gave an impressive performance on Marimba of ‘Yellow After the Rain'. By the time the band had concluded Philip Sparke's ‘Tameside Overture' tiredness was in evidence within the ensemble and perhaps one of the solo pieces could have been omitted.

Poynton Youth came third last year in this section but were another band who didn't match their performance from the previous year.  The set work suffered from a lack of consistency throughout and the own selections from Windows of the World never really came off.  The body language of the band's principal cornet looked uncomfortable during her solo spot in ‘Earthwalk' and whilst ‘Drums of Thunder' featured some good percussion work, their own choice selections in the general synopsis by the judges fitted into the category of ‘asking an awful lot of the band'.

Tewitt Youth and Craig Ratcliffe didn't seem to be 100% comfortable during the set-work and their own choice (I Got Rhythm) with the louder music being ok, but finding the pianissimo playing to be a bit of a struggle.

Ted Griffiths and Dobcross Youth opted for some own choice repertoire that they know well, in addition to the set work.  Promoted into the Third Section, the band seemed comfortable with the march Loyal and True, but arguably their finest moment came from Principal Cornet, Alice Nowicki and Principal Euphonium Richard Wooding in ‘All I Ask of You' from Phantom of the Opera – two players who played extremely well demonstrating lots of control and lovely warm sounds throughout.  Towards the end of the test piece though tiredness was in evidence, producing more than a few slips than they would have liked.

That leaves the two Welsh contenders on the day Cwmtawe and Northop Youth.

Cwmtawe chose repertoire that they clearly enjoyed playing along with the set-work.  The ‘Great Escape' and ‘Moon River' were performed commendably but they did find the set work tough going at times.

Northop meanwhile played last band of the day and their highlight was the performance of ‘Stalhimmel' (Grey Skies) that featured some fine ensemble playing. Victory from Cry of the Celts was taken at a steady tempo, and the MD deserves acknowledgment for not over-stretching the band during the test piece.  Placing the cornets at the back in the opening movement was different, but with only one bass player (who did a sterling job) it was never going to be easy.

Malcolm Wood


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