2006 European Brass Band Championships - Introduction to Belfast


4BR looks forward to the 29th European Brass Band Championships and the delights of the fine city of Belfast.


The 29th European Brass Band Championships make a welcome visit to Belfast this year, the most westerly venue of the European Union to hold the event.

After the troubles and tribulations of Groningen in Holland last year it is reported that everything has been going well in preparation this time and with a magnificent venue in the shape of the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, that can only bode well. We really hope so, not only for the national organizational team headed by the excellent Joe Cassalls, but for EBBA too, who cannot afford for it to become a sloppy poorly presented occasion for a second year in a row.

Belfast offers a great opportunity for the brass band message to help invigorate a small but vibrant movement here in Northern Ireland, as well as its friends in Eire. If it succeeds here then it bodes well for future expansion in the likes of the Lithuania and Estonia, Germany and France. There is a lot riding on this. 

As usual there is a great deal going on, although the centerpiece will undoubtedly what promises to be a fantastic Championship Contest. It all starts on Thursday with a Gala Concert and the Final of the European Composers Competition.

The three finalists come from Ireland, Sweden and Belgium. Gareth Downey has been a bass player with the Laganvale Band since 1995 and with the Northern Irish Territorial Band since 1999. He is currently the conductor of the Laganvale Band and is studying for a Msc degree in Management and Business Research from the Open University.

Joel Engstrom hails from Torsby in Sweden and has studied composition with the likes of Mats Larsson Gothe, Berit Palmquist and Tom Brevik, whilst Kevin Houben from Peer in Belgium has an extensive CV of achievement. It should make for a very interesting opening night, especially as the compere is the well known wit and raconteur, Farnk Renton and the featured soloists is the excellent Alan Morrison. 

On the Friday comes the official bits and pieces before Ian Wilson, the composer of the Championship test piece,  ‘Seascape with High Cliffs' talks through his work before the bands tackle it later in the night.

Saturday starts with the B Section contest at 9.30am (so not too late a night for the lads from 4BR – yeh, yeh…) before the eagerly awaited Own Choice selections will be performed in the afternoon.

The Gala Concert will round the day off with the usual long list of announcements and results. It is good to report however that the Gala Concert is sold out with all 1800+ tickets snapped up. Black Dyke will be the featured band in the first half of the concert where they will bring their usual slick mix of presentation and performance to the occasion. Richard Marshall and Brett Baker will be their featured soloists, whilst the center piece offering will be a tremendous aural and visual feast as they give the World Premiere of Carl Davies' music to the famous chariot scene form the original 1920 silent film version of Ben Hur. The film itself will be projected onto a massive screen in the hall, whilst Nicholas Childs and the band get their whips out and crack around the musical amphitheatre. Great stuff!

The second half of the concert offers something completely different with Ryan Gray, the talent young euphonium player who recently reached the semi finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition being featured along with a number traditional Irish musicians on pipes (the Irish pipes are played by the use of the elbow to push the air through, unlike the Scottish variety) and percussionists. It all sounds like it will be great fun before the serious business of the announcement the results. 

With that all out of the way, the bands, players, supporters and any one in need of a drink can enjoy the European Party at the Hall before the early start on the Sunday morning for the Bandsman's Service at Sydenham Salvation Amry and the final Farewell Concert which will feature the Eikanger Bjorsvik Band and the European Youth Brass Band back at the Hall.

Meanhwile if you have any spare time, Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, with 340,000 inhabitants is a vibrant and lively city, where visitors have been welcome since the days when Béal Feirsté (meaning "The mouth of the river Farset") was not more than a small settlement.

Queens University

Established as a port in the 12th Century it was in the latter part of the Industrial Revolution that saw the town develop into one of the world's great industrial manufacturing centers. In addition, the city became an important administrative and educational center as well, whilst it also retained its ‘darker' side with a fair old splattering of pubs, tobacco factories and whiskey distilleries.

Famously of course, it was the place were the Titanic was built in the great Harland and Woolfe Shipyards, and whilst these have now shrunk to a fraction of their former glory, there is still an immense pride about the cities place in the industrial history of the world. 

In the education sphere Belfast features three universities: the Queen's University in the South of Belfast, the University of Ulster, Jordanstown Campus in the North of Belfast, and the Art College in the city centre. Although very much a busy and international capital city, the countryside is never far away with numerous parks and the banks of the river Lagan are ideal for strolling and relaxing. There is plenty to offer for those in search of the nightlife too with theatres, the Grand Opera House, many art exhibitions and events on all throughout the year.

Many other strands of Belfast history are within touching distance. Inside the beautifully carved stone and ironwork of St George's Market near the waterfront, a vital artery of city life flourishes again. This recently restored Victorian masterpiece is the last reminder of the great markets area of Belfast, where, for hundreds of years, the smells of fresh, country produce mingled with the cries and sharp wit of the vendors. They still do with a Friday morning market offering a brilliant variety of foods. For those of you looking for something more lasting to take home as a reminder of your time in the city, then Lisburn Road is chock full of designer outlets to relieve you of your cash.

And that's the key to Belfast history - it's alive. From the city's great literary heritage, rekindled at the elegantly restored Linen Hall library with its priceless collection of books to living history of a different kind - the buzz that hums around countless, beautifully preserved city pubs, such as The Crown Liquor Saloon in Great Victoria Street, the world's most exquisite Victorian pub.

Whatever its scale, history here still has the power to touch. The great exhibitions at the Ulster Museum reveals the bigger picture of Belfast's heritage but at Culturlann, the Irish arts centre in the Falls Road, and Fernhill House in the Shankill, you get the people's story too. And while you're in the area, join the crowds of tourists queuing to be photographed at those world-famous Troubles icons, the political murals. In Belfast, history is all around you.

The contest itself will take place at the superb Waterfront Hall, which is a fantastic part of the new developments that are springing up all over the city. It can accommodate up to 2245 people, so hopefully it will be packed to the gunnels for the contest, which has created a great deal of interest in the small but very enthusiastic brass band community as well as the general public.

It promises to be a great weekend of music making in a city that promises so much for you to enjoy. So listen to the bands and then enjoy what the city has to offer from the atmosphere of the famous Crown Liquor Saloon to the Clonard Monastery, Belfast Zoo to the Odyssey Complex for kids.

4BR will certainly be enjoying themselves and will bring you daily updates as well as our usual live coverage of the contests and other events throughout the weekend.


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