2007 Butlins Mineworkers Championships - Fourth Section retrospective


There were no journeymen on show in the Fourth Section where 12 bands took to the stage and produced a little cracker of a contest, won again by a little cracker of a band...

There was a cracking start to the Butlins weekend with the Fourth Section contest that was held at the Centre Stage auditorium on the Saturday morning.

12 bands lined up to perform ‘The Journeymen' by Ray Steadman-Allen, a descriptive four movement work that held the promise of something for everyone in the pages of its score. In the end it didn't disappoint (and neither did the bands for that matter) and a large audience thoroughly enjoyed the performances delivered by all the competitors, all of whom brought something to bear from the piece.

The piece itself asks just the right questions that you would expect at this level. Technically it was well within the reach of all the performers, although it did ask quite subtle questions of the MDs and their ability to coax differences in style and tempi.  In its way the piece was the latest in a long and enjoyable line of miniatures for brass band that leads back for many to the classic ‘Four Little Maids' by John Carr.

The opening introduction seemed somewhat divorced form the rest of the work however, and you did wonder about its purpose. A nine bar motif that neither set the picture for what was to follow, or for that matter reappeared elsewhere in the piece, it nevertheless caused quite a few problems for the bands, many of whom mistook the Maestoso marking and crotchet = 88 tempo. Some of the bands literally got off on the front foot on their journey before leaving the safety of the front door of the house, whilst others sped out as if they were setting off late to catch the number 22 bus.

The opening 9 or so bars of the 1st movement ‘The Wayfarer' also upset many in that the rather dislocated rhythms took a little while to settle, especially in the solo cornet line.  Thereafter it became progressively easier and although some bands fell foul of the desire to rush the semi quaver/quaver motifs, most made a good fist of it.  The second movement ‘The Pilgrim' saw the bands with the best tonal quality make their mark. Balance was essential in the opening bars here and many found tuning difficult as well as trying to adopt that religious style required. The happy clappy bit (a nod to a new age of worship by the composer it seemed) was better handled but it did allow the judges, Barry Thompson and Bruce Fraser the chance to measure which bands had control of good brass band basics. 

It was the third movement ‘Sundowner' that held the crux of the piece. Marked ‘Lazy' some bands opted for a complete lie back and think of Britain existence with a tempo that would have hardly raised a heartbeat in a DHSS scrounger. Others went completely the other way and a couple sounded as if they had taken a leaf from that chappie who was supposed to be a invalid but was found capable of running a marathon – some really legged it. Most got the feel of it though, with some MDs wiggling their bottoms as if they were auditioning for the latest Renault car advert.

Finally, the last movement and the hectic life of the commuter. Here some bands went for broke and opted for speed over clarity, whilst others just kept something back in reserve and allowed themselves not to run out of steam in the final few bars. Those who took the latter approach tended to be the most successful.

There was very little to choose between the top three bands on the day, and each could have won the title. In the end it was the reigning champions, Thoresby Colliery Youth conducted by Christine Gent that delivered the performance that just edged out Market Rasen RPC in second place with Bestwood Black Diamonds in third. There were also notable performances from Whitwell in fourth, Tewkesbury in fifth and Thurcroft in sixth, although the standard did fall away a little after these.

Tewkesbury was the first band to make an impression off the number 2 draw. Conducted by Nigel Morgan they really did make the difference in the styles required between each of the movements, although they were hampered by a little lack of stamina in the final movement when it became a touch tired and harsh.

Perfect embouchure: Tewkesbury teach them right as they gain 5th place

Complete with mascot to wish them good luck they had plenty of youngsters in the ranks and delivered a fine 3rd movement in partcular that had just the right sense of mid afternoon snooze about it. 5th place was bang on the mark at the end of the day too and they can go back home well pleased with their efforts ahead of the Regionals.

The first band on stage were in fact Welbeck Estates, who although they ended up in 12th and last place come the results can also take a great deal of pride from their performance, especially considering that they were light on numbers and had plenty of youngsters in the ranks. Accordingly it was a touch nervous in places, but MD, Trevor Iles kept things simple and it got better as it progressed. 

We had tipped Thurcroft Welfare to do well prior to the contest, and although we didn't quite give them the kiss of death, we are sure they could have done without our recommendation. Still, Andrew White has certainly made progress with the band in the last 12 months or so and on this occasion they displayed a much more rounded and well-balanced sound.

Studies in concentration: Thurcroft's sop and rep keep their eyes on the job

The up tempo introduction gave way to a slightly untidy first movement but thereafter things got better. It seemed to be heading for the top end of the markings for us, but an untidy last movement just cost them points and they had to be content with 6th place overall.

Skegness Silver found themselves at the bottom of the results table last year, but on their return they showed that they had been putting in the hard graft and picking up some very good players to supplement the ranks. Although in the end they managed to come 11th, they did show that they are moving in the right direction under the baton of Geoff Weeks. Next year should promise more of the same thing and another move towards the prizes.

Royston fielded four trombones (two of which were real young ‘uns) and MD Simon Jones really projected a sense of enjoyment into the performance from his band right from the word go. We may have to lose him a few marks for his dancing technique in the 3rd movement, but he was excellent value in the other three, keeping a tight grip on the balance and volume and allowing his players to express themselves, especially in their solo contributions. 8th place was about right, but there was plenty of good points to note.

Dunstan too should be pleased with their efforts, even though they ended up just outside of the top six. Sue Merrill produced a no nonsense reading of the score that just lacked for a bit of variance in the dynamics. A good 3rd movement was the highlight, but it got a touch harsh in the last movement and that could have cost them a valuable few points. It was a very decent effort though.

Market Rasen RPC certainly upped the ante with a confident performance that was very well led by Alan Needham.

Going in the right direction: Market Rasen's trombone section really do know

We don't know what he said before the band took to the stage, but all of the players had a smile on their faces – and plenty to smile about during the performance too as they produced a cracking show. It got a little untidy in places, especially towards the end, but overall it was a fine show and really deserved to come in the podium places.

Creswell Colliery followed on stage and although they were not in the same class as Market Rasen they too showed lots of neat touches and produced a confident account that just lacked for a bit of control especially in the last movement. Their second movement was their best – well balanced and tuneful, but that last rush hour commuter speed may have cost them a few valuable points. 

Martlesham took to the stage with five troms, but only two basses, and although there was a noticeable balance issue because of this, MD Bruce Eyley made the most of his resources with an intelligent approach. It just got scrappy in the final two movements and fell away a little to end, but they too can take a great deal of satisfaction from their performance here ahead of what should be a first appearance at the Regional Championships.

If you are looking for an MD to make an immediate impression then look no further than Brian Draper of Bestwood Black Diamonds.

Suits You!! Brian Draper cuts a dash into the runners up spot

This year Brian took to the stage splendidly attired with a wonderful new jacket that certainly suited him to a tee.  The test piece also suited his intelligent approach and his band responded in kind with some lovely playing in each of the four movements. Lots of quality playing and subtle changes in style and tempi were the hallmarks of this performance, and they perhaps could count themselves a touch unlucky that they didn't end up as winners on the day.

Whitwell Brass also produced a very well managed account throughout their performance under the direction of MD David Fretwell (who unfortunately couldn't match Brain in the sartorial elegance department with a tie that only reached the fourth button of his shirt).

Two bright young ladies: Whitwell's horn section do their stuff

An up tempo introduction led to a well managed first and second movement and just as we thought this was going to be a real cracker they seemed to miss a chance to really nail the contest in the third movement which was a bit tame and lack lustre and a fourth that just fizzled out towards the end. Still it was a fine show and fourth place was just about right on the mark.

Finally then the winners – Thoresby Colliery Youth. Theirs wasn't the most exciting performance of the day, but it was certainly the most complete. Full of well balanced and tuneful ensemble sounds and some wonderful little cameo slots from the main soloists it had all that you required and a bit more from the score. Christine Gent simply allowed the music to flow, confident that all the hard work and good teaching had been done in the rehearsal room. So it proved and there wasn't a single moment when things went even remotely awry.

Young and talented: Thoresby's youngsters take it all in their stride

At Fourth Section level it is all about getting the basics right – and Christine Gent and her band did just that. It was a performance of consistency and merit and showcased some remarkably talented young players to the full. A hat trick next year is surely not beyond them whilst a qualification place at Harrogate will be next on the agenda at Burton upon Trent in March. Don't bet against the doing just that.

All in all this was a fine contest – well matched bands all producing something for the adjudicators and audience to enjoy. Each one of them will leave a better band because of this experience and many should be confident that they have the foundations in place to enjoy further success in 2007.

Iwan Fox.


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