2007 Butlins Mineworkers Championships - First Section retrospective


Sometimes you have to wait until the very last moment to find something that stands out from the crowd - just like Innovate Skelmanthorpe in fact...

Eleven weeks after Kenneth Downie's ‘Music For the Common Man' had tested the First Section bands at Pontins, this difficult work once again found itself challenging the twenty bands that did battle in the Royal Arthur Suite on Saturday.

Once again, the bands found it tough going with the music being the real winner on the day. A number of bands really struggled with the opening theme, reminiscent of a hymn tune and written to commence at piano leading to mf – far too many bands played safe and came in at mf. It wasn't what the judges wanted to hear and that may have immediately affected their positions on the day.

No such worries though as far as the winners were concerned.  The judges had to wait until the last band of the day but what a winning performance Innovate Skelmanthorpe and John Roberts constructed.

Skelmanthorpe's overall sound and quality of performance was in a different league to anything else performed on the day.  The opening was so effortless yet delicate and having started confidently they grew in stature.  The odd blemishes didn't detract but what John Roberts did, that only a few other MDs matched, was to bring the music right to the fore.  The solo playing was solid and secure as was the ensemble work and it would have taken something catastrophic to stop them taking the title. The two point winning margin could have been greater such was the showing on the day.  Confidence is high within the band and having finished 2006 in good form too look out for them on the contest stage this year.

Second place went to Sandhurst Silver from the London & SC Region.  Fair play to the band and Roger Burke, they really did play well and the MD pulled everything out of his players.  What impressed was the fact that Roger (amongst a few other MDs) gave the music the chance to breathe and evolve, subsequently painting a well shaped musical picture. It wasn't without error, but they thoroughly deserved a place in the prizes.

Taking third place was the United Co-op Yorkshire Band led by Billy Rushworth - and taking into consideration what happened during their performance this was an excellent result for the band.

They started off ok, although there was the odd slip around the stand, but they played with confidence and passion, very much reflecting the desire and commitment that their MD has always shown.  Then, one of the strangest and most bizarre things took place that those present are unlikely to forget for a very long time.  Behind the percussion section were some doors from which two cleaners decided they'd enter the hall.  Quite obviously they had no idea what was going on in the room, had a conversation and decided to leave via a side door.  Not even Ally McCoist or Matt Dawson would have a clue if the incident appeared on ‘What Happened Next?' from A Question of Sport, and it really was like watching something from Morecambe and Wise.

Fortunately, the cleaners didn't make any extraneous noise to disturb the judges, but a number of players of the band certainly noticed, but to their credit, they got on with their job and finished off their performance.  The obvious question was did it affect the overall result?  In short, no it didn't in terms of the overall winners, but they could have come a close second without it. Such is contesting life.

John Maines was another MD who pulled everything he could out of Jackfield Elcock Reisen.  They took time to settle but once they'd got through some uncomfortable moments, they started to play with confidence and looked like they were enjoying the experience.  John knew how we wanted to shape the work and he did just that and for a band that came down from the Championship Section at the end of the year, the result of fourth place was an excellent start to the year and a massive confidence booster.

As with the other contests, only the top four placed bands were announced.  Unlucky not to get a top four spot and a cheque were Bedford led by John Berryman.  The experienced and knowledgeable MD arguably gave the finest musical interpretation of the whole contest - it was just errors that stopped them getting into the top four.  John was clearly aware that the acoustic of the room was one where there was a need to ‘blow-up' and the band did that, but those annoying little basic errors just robbed them of a top four place.

When writing Bedford's remarks, you could easily substitute the name Markham & District Colliery.  Instead of John Berryman, it was C Brian Buckley and once again there was a fine conductor bringing the best out of his band. As with Bedford though it was a case of slips and the odd touches of uncertainty that meant they'd finish sixth but as they were the highest placed Colliery band outside the prizes they took him the CISWO Challenge Trophy for a year.

Outside the top six, (with one or two exceptions) the standard of the performances became very inconsistent and towards the bottom end, there were a few bands that never really got to grips with the music at all. 

GT Group Peterlee played next but last band of the day and they took some time to settle. They coped admirably in the middle sections of the work but struggled again towards the end where the opening theme returns and the final crescendo. Haslingden & Helmshore, Bedworth Brass, Gresley Colliery & Enderby were four bands that never really seemed at home with the music and by the time they started to play with real potential, it was too late on the day to make a real impact on the judges and they had to settle for eighth to eleventh respectively. All had their moments but all lacked the consistency required to match those bands that finished above them on the day. That should come with plenty of hard work in time for the Regionals though.

City of Cambridge, Pontardulais and The Riddings Band had all played in the first quarter of the contest and with the exception of Riddings all were too inconsistent on the day.

Peter Bassano used his common sense with the City of Cambridge Band taking the music at a steady tempo and making sure the band weren't running on empty at the end, but the error count was high, whilst Pontardulais played prior to Cambridge in the number four draw and it was a struggle from the off. We have heard them on better form.

The Riddings Band were very unlucky to draw number one and they gave the sort of performance you want to see from your band when listening to them – a full bloodied, 100% committed performance and even when they lose, you can appreciate they lost in vain, they gave it everything. 

Such an analogy reflects on Brian Grant too. He was so passionate, so committed, determined that the band would walk off stage having given their best and that's what they did.  For sure, it had more than a few uncomfortable moments, but the music was given a chance to flow and our gut feeling was they'd be in the top ten but not in the prizes.

For Shirland Miners Welfare Training Band, this was a baptism of fire. This was somewhat un-chartered territory, but what a brave effort from this young band with many players making their contesting debut.  Marie Smith deserves credit for keeping things ticking along with plenty of energy and whilst the demands of the piece really did push them to their limits, it's a credit that they finished in fifteenth place.  The performance was all part of the steep learning curve that is ahead of them, but they went on stage with a smile on their face and came off with one too.

Ipswich & Norwich Co-op, Foresters Brass 2000, Hopkins Solicitors Blidworth, NW Ellington and Becontree really struggled with the piece and had to settle for sixteenth to twentieth respectively.

Ipswich & Norwich Co-op was a real surprise to us on the day that their performance was so unconvincing.  Having just come down from the Championship Section the expectations perhaps much higher, but it just never came off for them as the piece started poorly and proved and never really got going.

They same can be said for the other four bands as well.  Foresters Brass played number 2 and sounded stretched by the piece, whilst Blidworth and NW Ellington never seemed comfortable and looked relieved to have reached the end of their performance, as did Becontree, who grave a brave if rather unconvincing performance.

It was Innovate Skelmanthorpe's day though and a performance of real stature that deserved to take the title by some margin.  It was a question of saving the best till last – and Skelmanthorpe and John Roberts certainly did just that.

Malcolm Wood


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