2006 Lower Section National Finals - Second Section retrospective


Alan Fernie's Gothic Dances provided lots of problems according to the composer for just about every band on the day. And he should know - he was in the box.

Alan Fernie's 'Gothic Dances' was the test-piece at the Harrogate International Centre on Saturday afternoon and evening as the Second Section bands fought it out for the title. With 16 bands in the line-up, representing the eight regions, competition was predicted to be close and so it turned out, with the top five bands each separated by a point by adjudicators Graham O'Connor and the composer himself.

Photo: John Stirzaker
Cornish celebration: St Dennis enjoy that winning feeling 

Cornwall's St. Dennis won the day with an authoritative account of the music under Brian Minear. A performance built on a solid lower band, St. Dennis' effort was enhanced by tasteful solo playing throughout the work and it left Messrs. O'Connor and Fernie in no doubt that it was going to take a good band to beat it, despite the number four draw.

St Dennis
Young dancer: St. Dennis euphonum player Kimberely Bazeley goes all Gothic

We didn't have St. Dennis in our top-four prediction (we actually it sixth), but the competition really was very tight at the top and nobody could argue against it being a worthy winner in the end.

Peter Christian's Bollington, representing the North West, was one of many performances that benefited from a tasteful opening by the solo euphonium. It also featured an excellent performance by Matt Shaw on bass trombone, which earned him the Best Soloist award of a 1,000 voucher. Closer attention to the quieter dynamics may have seen Bollington taking the title itself, but second place was an excellent return for them.

A load of Bolls: Bollington's cornet section lead the band into second place

Newbridge (Celynen) was one of the pre-event favourites and it demonstrated many of its fine qualities under conductor, Paul Holland. Unfortunately for the Welsh contender, the variations in tempi from those on the score were always going to prove costly with the composer in the box and the resulting third prize will be one that will be looked upon with disappointment.

Photo: Steve Jack
Reach for the stars: MD Paul Holland tries his best but can't get better than third place

City of Discovery gave an excellent reading under Bruce Fraser, which might have finished even higher but for a number of small slips and some tiredness toward the end. Fourth was a fair return for the Scots, though, and the long journey back to Dundee would have been all the more enjoyable for the success.

Red alert: Audrey Bird and Melanie McGregor take control for the Scots

Foresters Brass, which represented the Midlands, played last and gave a show that we though might just have been a few places higher. Peter Collins led the band with great authority and gave the music plenty of time and space, which, for us, was a great plus point. The band settled for fifth, but on this form, even better results are surely just around the corner.

In the spotlight: Forresters Fiona Casewell makes sure she plays the Bb with the first valve

Scottish contender, Barrhead Burgh, was the first band to make an impression with the judges under its conductor, Chris Bradley, from the number four draw. The band's performance was built on the strong foundation of an excellent bass section and only occasional lapses in ensemble prevented a placing higher than sixth, the conductor creating a vivid Gothic picture that was matched by few on the day. Sixth place was about right for us (we had it fifth).

Right signals: MD Chris Bradley points the way for Barrhead Burgh

Just outside the prizes, Grange Moor, winner of the Yorkshire qualifier under Duncan Beckley, proved that it can stand its ground in any 2nd Section company. Another band that benefited from a good opening from the euphonium, it suffered from a bit of scrappiness in the 1st movement, but it bore all the hallmarks of control and good balance that we have grown to expect from the conductor.

Jersey Premier Brass won last year's 3rd Section at Harrogate and it wasn't far away from the frame again, coming in 8th place, although if there was a prize for sartorial elegance over the weekend, the Channel Islanders would have won it hands down. Another good show from Tim Pritchard's band that just tired a bit towards the end and had one or two more clips than would have been expected.

Andy Warriner and Blackpool Brass took 9th place and that was a fair return for a performance that showed many good features, including excellent dynamic contrast and one or two cracking soloists. A bit more space for the music to breathe could have benefited it in a couple of places, but there is plenty to build on for future performances.

Wansbeck's Ashington and Nigel Steadman had the misfortune to draw the number two ball out of the bag, but it didn't seem to bother the boys from the north as they got off to an excellent start. A couple of slips may have prevented a higher finish, but there was much to commend the performance, not least the excellent solo cornet who enjoyed a terrific day.

One performance that didn't find favour was that of Lockwood Brass under the experienced John Roberts. Having got off to a cracking opening from the accomplished euphonium, Lockwood's contention grew in stature as it progressed, with very few lapses along the way. The eventual 11th place would have been a major disappointment after a relatively trouble-free journey. We had it at the top of the podium.

Gary Davies and his Tylorstown Arriva Trains will regret a few crucial mistakes that seemed to keep appearing throughout the performance. However, it was a well-shaped reading by the MD and there was plenty of good work from the soloists, notably the flugel, who was one of the best on stage during the day.

Denham Hendon was another band that benefited from a good performance by the MD, with good solo work from, amongst others, the soprano and horn. Unfortunately, the error count was fairly high, and the resulting 13th place was about right for us. Nevertheless, this is a band that showed many signs of a brighter future ahead.

Lympstone South West Telecoms and Charles Fleming drew the short straw and the early draw may have affected the band's confidence slightly, with a number of errors in all three movements proving costly in the end. There were good attempts at the quieter dynamics and given a bit more luck, we can expect to see the band further up on its next outing.

Yorkshire's Meltham & Meltham Mills, under Stuart Fawcett, had some really nice moments in its performance, especially at the opening of the slow movement, but a relative lack of dynamic contrast and some over-blowing towards the end may have contributed to the lowly placing, which was about right for us.

Coming in at 16th place, Hopkins Solicitors Blidworth and its conductor, Geoff Hawley, found Alan Fernie's piece tough going at times, although it seemed to find its best form in the last movement, with a more faithful approach to the score than many bands, especially in the rubato section.

Alan Fernie and Graham O'Connor were a credit to their profession at the end, leaving everyone in the audience in no doubt that they knew what they were looking for in the bands' performances, although it can't be very often that the word B****cks' has been used in an adjudicators summary, albeit in a light-hearted and not inappropriate manner.

A good contest, though and the top five or six bands can be proud of having put in great performances, any of which could have taken the title on a different day. That is not to demean the achievement of St. Dennis and Brian Minear, who were most definitely amongst that leading group and must have had a fantastic journey back to their Cornish home.

Kenneth Crookston


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