2007 Butlins Mineworkers Championships - A debutants perspective


Peter Bale was making his debut at Butlins Skegness on the weekend - an experience he thought he would never make, and one it seems he may never forget...

Having last taken part in a contest in the early 70s (on bass trombone with the then Coventry Festival Band) it was a whole new experience preparing for Butlins and an appearance with Becontree in the 1st Section. 

Auspicious start

Things did not get off to a very auspicious start due to the weather, which caused the cancellation of trains in the London area, meaning a re-arranged meeting point, and eventually departing an hour later than planned.  The extra traffic, coupled with an in-car navigation system that seemed determined to take us down every narrow lane it could find, preferably one with a railway level crossing cutting across it, made the journey considerably longer than anticipated.

Eventually arriving at Butlins, memories came to mind of family holidays to Pontins when the children were small: the problems of trying to find where to pick up the key the set collection point was closed, and one of the other bands was in full flight on "Music for the Common Man" the general lack of signposts and maps, and the seemingly endless trek from the chalet to the main hub of activity.  These distances did seem to shorten a little as the weekend went by, although lugging a BBb bass around doesn't exactly help!

First experience

Having given up on finding a key, and dumping the gear in one of the other chalets, it was off to "Centre Stage", just in time to hear the final chords of Polysteel's programme wafting through the doors.  Then it was the first experience of the ever exuberant Redcoats, fully living up to the image portrayed in the TV reality show, as they tried their best to get people to get into the party spirit, coupled with music that seemed to grow progressively louder as the evening went by, making any form of lucid conversation increasingly difficult.

Brass Band Aid Celebrity Band

The same venue hosted the Brass Band Aid Celebrity Band, and for once the title did not contravene the Trade Descriptions Act, as a veritable galaxy of stars took the stage.  Starting off with Andrew Duncan's march "The Big Blow", written for the world record attempt planned for Saturday, there was little indication that they had just come together with no prior rehearsal.  The amplification was a little off-putting at first, especially during the solo items, although it was apparently needed to allow those at the extremities of the room to hear properly.  Richard Marshall's "Virtuosity" (performed on trumpet) and Glyn Williams' "Rule Britannia" were amongst the highlights of a varied programme which seemed to finish all too soon.

The schedule in "Centre Stage" ended with the current "Bucks Fizz" with "Making your mind up": in retrospect, it may have been better to have "made your mind up" not to stay, as they were but a pale reflection of the original, with the amplification set at a level that made it almost impossible to make out any words.  Still, as Alan Fernie remarked in conversation on the Saturday, at least they had used live musicians and good ones at that rather than backing tracks!  It was then time for a tour round a couple of the other watering holes, discovering what passes for disco music these days, and becoming frustrated that, as soon as a tune was played that was familiar, it was cut short and something else took its place.

Breakfast in Burger King

Saturday morning, and a trip to the shop to buy a paper and coffee, which had inadvertently been left behind breakfast in "Burger King" and the anticipation of the draw.  Number 8 it was for us, meaning a suggested rendezvous at the venue at 11, and the chance to hear the first band in the 4th section.  A reasonable number were present in "Centre Stage" as Welbeck Estates Brass opened proceedings with Ray Steadman-Allen's suite "The Journeymen". 

Having changed and joined the rest of the band at the "Royal Arthur Suite", it turned out we were too early, and were getting in the way in the assembly area, so it gave a chance to size up the opposition in the form of City of Cambridge, interestingly enough under the baton of Peter Bassano, an erstwhile colleague of our conductor, Dudley Bright, in the Philharmonia Orchestra.  As we moved into the warm-up area and registration we at least had some idea of the characteristics of the venue, which allowed a lot of detail to come through.  As for the performance itself, we came off the stage fairly happy that we had done our best, even though the adjudicators felt our best was not good enough, putting us in last place: still, in the words of the song-writer, "The only way is up"!  After a somewhat unexpected photo call, it was back to the chalets to change before trying to catch a few other bands.

Edwin of Northumbria

Talking to friends in the Flixton Band, they spoke well of their piece, Keith Wardle's "Edwin of Northumbria", and we arrived just in time to hear nearly all of the winning performance from the Heyl Band, albeit from the foyer.  It is an interesting work, very accessible, and one which could very easily be programmed in a concert, but one which clearly benefits from steady tempos to produce the right style.  Time to listen to just one more performance, this time from inside the room, and then it was off to catch the start of the Championship Section.

"Northern Lights" is not one of Philip Wilby's most accessible pieces, although the acquisition of a study score helped a little in understanding what it was all about.  The original version was distinctive in poignantly featuring a recording of the Black Dyke Band of 50 years ago, and the emergence of "Deep Harmony" in the revised version did not somehow have anything like the same effect.  Only hearing the first couple and the final few performances, none of the bands really seemed to bring out the subtleties of the writing, although there was some good work from a couple of the sopranos and bass trombone players.

Off to Reds!

3pm, and time to head off to "Reds" they do like their snappy titles at Butlins! for the Big Blow.  Arriving at the venue, having already registered the previous day, and with music in hand, it was up the stairs to join the other 60 or so bass players in time for the last couple of run-throughs under the benevolent leadership of Frank Renton.  Before the record attempt itself, various organisers and participants were interviewed, including Doug Yeo of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New England Brass Band, who handed over a cheque representing money they had raised through cd sales.  The performance itself was surprisingly musical and stayed remarkably together, and also gave many players the chance to sit alongside some of the legends of the brass band movement.  Confirmation was given that a record had been set, although the final number had not been ratified before our departure.

Fish and Chips

Some welcome fish and chips in "Finnigan's" helped fill in the gap before the Prize Presentation, which saw "Reds" pretty packed, with all seats taken and many standing.  Unfortunately it was also very noisy, despite frequent requests for quiet, and the announcements were often hard to pick up.  Although one can see their desire to give the Prize Presentation a bit of added pizzazz, the playing of music as people came forward seemed to be a mistake, as it merely added to the noise and made it harder to identify the next winner.  Eventually, all the Prizes were announced, photos were taken including the occasional interloper gate-crashing another band's celebration picture! and the Adjudicator's Remarks sheets were handed out, although without positions being included it was some time before everyone knew exactly where they had come in the order of merit.
Royal Marines

The evening entertainment in "Reds" was provided by the Royal Marines, who displayed their versatility by fielding a big band, corps of drums, dance band and their version of the Blues Brothers, including a couple of fine vocalists who really came into their own in the second half.  To someone "of a certain age", the big band programme was all a little relentless, lacking the light and shade of former days, but in discussion with Captain Tony Smallwood in the interval he explained that he was conscious that they only had a 40 minute slot, and it certainly met with the approval of the majority in the room.  After participating in "St Louis Blues" during the first half, the augmented corps of drums brought the house down with a "Stomp" style presentation, with various utensils coming into their own, and fine work by the pair on the dustbin lids!  The dance floor soon filled up as the dance band took over, complete with an interlude led by their version of "The Village People" after all they were "In the navy"!

Grimestein Oompah Band

Come 11.30, it was time to move to "Jaks" for a first experience of the renowned Grimestein Oompah Band, led by the inimitable Stan Lippeatt and with Peter Roberts on top form.  In an exceptionally crowded room, their music and audience participation gloriously un-PC as it was went down a bomb, with willing and not-so-willing "volunteers" being co-opted as prospective tuba players (for the ladies) or Lancaster bombers (for the men).  A special word, too, for the bar staff, coping well under pressure, but really rushed off their feet.

Sunday morning, a lie in and then a stroll down to the draw, with Redbridge in the dreaded number one slot.  Having decided on a full breakfast, delays in serving meant a bit of a rush to "Centre Stage", and for once one was glad of Frank Renton's introductions, meaning it was possible to catch the programme itself from the start.  The hall was fairly full from the off, and any vacant seats were soon snapped up.  Having heard the first four bands, it was unfortunately time to head for home, happily with a less eventful journey
than that on Friday night.

Overall Impressions

Overall impressions then?  It was good to take part in such a well-organised gathering, meeting up with many friends and making fresh acquaintances, as well as matching faces with internet user names and names previously only encountered on music title pages.  All those who work behind the scenes so efficiently deserve our thanks, and the Butlins staff themselves went all out to make everyone feel at home.  From a professional perspective, it was interesting to see the security team deal with one late night incident of which there seemed to be very few in such a way that fellow bandsmen around were unaware that there had even been a problem. 

It was strange to suddenly come across snippets of music, as bands rehearsed in some of the most unlikely venues, and to see players variously dressed in their stage and walking-out uniforms.  It was a little surprising how little chance there was to hear more bands, and maybe better personal planning in the future could remedy this, but taking part in The Big Blow was not to be missed.  Roll on next year, and in the meantime those phrases from "Music for the Common Man" which keep coming to mind will no doubt gradually be replaced by "The Wayfarer"!!!


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