2007 North of England Regional Championship - Introduction


There is always a warm welcome and a vibrant atmosphere here in Darlington, but the numbers are small despite the hard work of the Regional committee.

The North of England remains the smallest region in terms of bands competing in the UK but it also remains one of the most vibrant brass band regions in the country. There is a brilliant atmosphere and the most friendly welcome you could wish for at the contest itself, which is very well run by Alan Hope and his team.

However, despite all the pride and genuine commitment to the brass banding cause, the numbers of competing bands is diminishing (there were 58 bands here in 1985), although Alan and his team have done wonders in getting some old and new faces back here this year.

The most high profile casualty this year has been the BHK Horden Band, who were in fact the regions last National Champions in the First Section in 2003.  Rumours have flown around for the reason for their demise, but unless someone can resurrect them they seem to have folded a real shock both to the banding community here and the brass band movement as a whole.  
Others too are not here this year, although hopefully they are only having a temporary absence of leave so no appearances for Langbaurgh, Hetton, Flimby Saxhorn, Barnard Castle, Dalton, Stanhope and Swinton. Hopefully they will all be back, and we are sure Alan and his team are putting in the hard work to ensure that they do. We wish them well.   

Despite the gloomy news about some bands there is still a great deal of fantastic work in promoting the movement going on in the region. Brass Band Aid of course continues to flourish and the brass related course run by Ray Farr at the University of Durham continues to draw students and an ever-growing audience to events and concerts some with pretty challenging works on show. Brass in Concert too has shown in the last couple of years that there is a real wide spread appeal for brass band music making in the region and if the bands can just tap into that genuine enthusiasm at grass roots level then this regions has the potential to explode.

Results wise though 2006 wasn't the greatest of years at the Nationals at all levels although in the Fourth Section there were two fine efforts from Barnard Castle and Barton, so hope (or Alan Hope) springs eternal. 

Championship Section:

Last year the region sent down Reg Vardy and Fishburn to the Royal Albert Hall and there were genuine hopes before the event that perhaps the time had come for one or both to make a real lasting impression given the encouraging results over the last couple of years by both bands.
It wasn't to be with Reg Vardy in particular failing to play to their potential in coming 16th, although Fishburn certainly did in coming 12th. They were not results however to send a cold sweat down the spine of the main bands from the other regions though.  

Reg Vardy will of course be favorites to add to their 29 Regional titles and make it a double hat trick, although others will be keen to put a stop to that. Whatever the result here though the bigger test and the true marker of the bands true position in the banding hierarchy will surely come in October in Kensington. The bands will have to impress Alan Morrison, who knows just what it takes to win on this piece.

First Section:

BHK Horden were the last band to win the National title itself from the area in 2003 and no one has come close since to emulating them  - just the one top 10 finish in fact.  Last year the region sent their two representatives to Harrogate where they found it hard work and could only manage 15th and 17th respectively. Such a small region does have difficult in producing bands to the required standard in many of the sections and whoever makes it this year will also be up against strong challengers from around the country.

The test piece is proving to be an excellent choice and has shown that perhaps British bands have forgotten how to play Eric Ball who would have thought that 25 years ago?  Alan Morrison may have a difficult job on the weekend. 

Second Section:

Nice to report an increase in numbers here to take to the stage although the test piece has been causing headaches around the country more Dorothy Perkins than Helen Perkins at times. What the band here will think of it we will soon find out, but it will sort out the wheat from the chaff for adjudicator Ray Farr. 

Last year the regions two representatives came back from Harrogate in 10th and 11th place not bad, although the region has done pretty well at the Finals over the past couple of years even though it hasn't produced a winner. 

Third Section:

The area has only produced the one podium position at the Finals in the last eight years and two top six finishes since the turn of the Millennium, so it may not have come as a surprise that the representatives this year could only manage 15th and 17th respectively. Just the seven bands here this year, but that won't make the competition and rivalry any less they just need more competition against more bands that's all. Nice to see David Lancaster being used in the box too, and he may have a difficult old task in separating out the small field.

Fourth Section:

Another encouraging line up of bands in the Fourth Section and even though some of the old bands are missing this year there are a couple of new ones too. That's not the end of the good news either as the regions two representatives came a 4th and 6th at Harrogate (although Barnard Castle who nearly came in the podium places are not here).

Hopefully that is the start of better things to come from the very grass roots of the region and with a great test piece that all the bands around the country are enjoying to the full - it could be a cracker for adjudicator Maurice Priestly.

Overall then, even though there are problems with numbers there are encouraging signs too. Nice to see the organisers taking the opportunity to use high class local conductors to pass on tips to the bands as well (Alan Morrison is a local boy even though he now plies his trade in Yorkshire).  That can only be a sign of good times ahead. 


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