2007 North of England Regional Championship - First Section retrospective


Brilliant Felling take the honours on their Wayfarer trip to Harrogate.

The First Section opened Sunday's proceedings and it was a contest we were looking forward to as Eric Ball's ‘Sinfonietta' is a neglected gem and one of the personal favourites for this reviewer ever since he sat at the Albert Hall all those years ago when Dyke and Major Parkes took the National title.

No Felling down! Felling Band celebrate their win in the plush new Dolphin Centre

You may not have realised that the adjudicator for the this contest, Alan Morrison, had also played that day with the old Amoco Band, so it was memories all round for some of us.

You could class it as the third of his ‘spiritual journey' tests, following on from ‘Journey into Freedom' and ‘High Peak', and produces some of his most elegant, and as Alan Morrison noted,  Elgarian moments of sublime writing of the brass band repertoire.

The top three bands stood out and all came together in the contest. Drawn three, and first up defending their title brilliantly was the Felling Band under the talented Graeme Tindall.

Catching the eye: Felling players seem to find something distracting...

The opening was precise and in tune whilst the baritone solo from Sharon Smith whilst suffering from a small clip, did not detract from the overall picture. The second movement ‘Exile' had the standout horn section of the day whilst Stacey Ghent shone on flugel. There was a fine bass sound, cadenzas were well played, and small things like the sound of the gong blending really made an impression.

The  ‘Homeward Journey' started with some well executed playing from the trombones and Bb bass but praise must go to Graeme who directed sensibly, keeping tempos manageable and within the capabilities of the band. Especially noteworthy were those chosen for the quasi scherzo at rehearsal 15 (where cornets start in sextuplets) and the following gaiemente at rehearsal 16. It was a fine performance that fully deserved its reward.

Following them on stage and in the prizes were Lockwood and John Roberts, who will be making their fifth consecutive journey to the finals, although the first as a runner up.

In the pink: John Roberts leads Lockwood to Harrogate - again

The chosen tempos were slightly quicker than others but still manageable and some small problems of tuning in the trombones and some loss of detail were the main detractions from what was otherwise a very secure performance. The standout moment though was the soprano and cornet cadenzas - the best of the day, not rushed and played with security and confidence and with the required ‘brilliance'.

Shepherd Group (Tim Oldroyd) band finished in third place and could have been place higher if it hadn't suffered from a choice of tempos that appeared to be well over the written markings.
The opening allegro is marked crotchet = 126 but at times it was clocking 144 and by the time the pp triplet semiquavers arrived, the detail was lost. The second movement also bowling along with too much motion and this coupled with a trombone solo that was too slurred (almost boozy in manner) spoilt the effect. At the conclusion the final triumphant andante is marked minim=69, but which clocked in at 84 and the final five bars marked minim=80 reached 120 and ruined the percussive elements of the finale. These tempi choices somewhat spoilt what was otherwise a fine sounding band with an excellent bass end that deservedly took the section prize.

Fourth place on the day went to Westoe conducted by Reg Vardy's Stephen Malcolm. The opening seemed quick but otherwise the tempos were spot on and there was plenty of nice detail heard and the internal band balance seemed to be fine.

When are we going to start then...: Westoe prepare for their title challenge

Unfortunately some soloists didn't perform as well on the day and there were some tuning issues especially in ‘Exile' with horns, flugel and trombone all suffering. Moments of overblowing and balance didn't improve things either and an error in the trombone solo added to the problems. The scherzo was ragged in the ‘Journey Home' and yet they produced one of the best and most effective finales of the day. It was certainly a most interesting performance and reading, but the error count was too high on this occasion for them to have featured higher.

Broughtons played last and finished fifth but musically didn't inspire. Alan Exley spent half of the performance eyeing his trombones, pointing at his right ear and you didn't need to be an expert in sign language to guess what the problem was. However it was unfair to single out the trombones as a lot of others were also either flat or sharp as the proverbial pancakes or knives. The solo horn was a redeeming feature but the performance as a whole just felt drab. The ‘Homeward Journey' was more a cross country dash.

Sixth went to an out of sorts GT Group Peterlee who normally are pretty consistent but had a ‘bad day at the office' - especially the percussion which was too loud and brash. Honourable mention however to the baritone soloist, the only one on the day to play without a slip or mispitch – it was top notch playing.

Ellington Colliery suffered due to the number one draw whilst Alan Fernie's musical interpretation suffered with some players who were clearly nervous and sections of the band that wanted to play their own tempos.

Lets face the music and...: Alan Fernie only has eyes for......

It never quite gelled from the word go, and whilst there were parts that held rich promise, there was just too much inconsistency about the it as a whole.

Houghton Brass (Tom Gibson) started well but by ‘Exile' the walls began to crumble. The latter half was musically flat and uninspiring and the opening to ‘Homeward Journey' was ponderous with an over prominent bass line.

Serious business: Houghton's players try their best to enjoy it

Once again a section of a band decided to run away with the tempo - in this case the cornets - who completely lost the beat and in the process lost everyone else. It was another performance that had promise, but suffered with a combination of nerves and lack of concentration.

Finally came Cottingham and Sam Kind who unfortunately just couldn't cope with the test piece. A few years ago they came fourth in the Championship Section but recently they have fallen down the rankings, and also we gather that with in the last few months they have lost a good number of players too.

Whilst diplomacy won't let me report on what we thought of the performance, on reflection we should congratulate them for having the guts to turn up and go down fighting rather than not bother to turn up. A year or two rebuilding in a lower section has done many a band the world of good and the hopes are high for the same here too. It will be a pleasure to report on them back to fighting fitness next year, as they are a great bunch.

As Alan Morrison said in his remarks, he was looking ‘for the basics' and unfortunately no one came away unscathed. It was a ‘juggling act' for him to find the correct placings, basing them as he said,  on consistency of performance. The contest was not a classic and apart from the top two, the quality of performance was not quite up to standard. One expects something better at this level, with at least a couple of bands looking to show that they are ready and capable of making the step up to the Championship Section.  Unfortunately it wasn't in evidence this year. Thankfully the quality of the music made up for the shortcomings and was a welcome return for an underused piece from Eric Ball's pen. So a personal plea to those that pick the test pieces: can we have ‘High Peak' soon please?

Steve Jack


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