2007 North of England Regional Championship - Championship Section retrospective


Nobody quite hit the very top of their form in the Championship Section, but that didn't stop Rg Vardy posting their 30th Regional title.

For all of us connected with 4BR, the Bandsman and BBW, we lead a privileged life. We love music in all its forms, be it listening, performing teaching or in some cases composing. We get to go around the country (some even abroad) following our passion for bands, photographing or writing about them and in the process getting paid a little for it (Mr Fox is still saving to buy Cardiff City from the profits of the site you are reading now).

reg vardy
Reg Vardy get their hands on the cup - for a 30th time

However sometimes you can get too much of a good thing and are then left with a feeling of deflation or boredom. Well, having recently worked at the Yorkshire Championships and having heard some memorable performances of ‘Isaiah 40' I can say that I was left a bit down after hearing this areas contest. None of the bands really hit the very top of their form on the day and it was a case of bands not hitting the same heights of what I heard a fortnight ago.

What it actually made for because of this was a tight, error strewn contest and frankly no-one could complain if the points awarded were less than in other areas. After all the man in the box had the perfect credentials and experience of the test piece as he was the one who had won that very Yorkshire contest. Alan Morrison was back on his home patch almost forty years since he had made his debut at the areas (1968 to be exact) in the old Third Section at Bede Grammar School.

During the contest, it became apparent that there were a number of places where bands were going to struggle. Horn players didn't come away unscathed from the ‘comfort my people' solo that arrives after the opening presto. Not one band convincingly coped with the two accels in the last 17 bars and sometimes detail and balance was sacrificed in place of speed and excitement. Normally there are five bands you could guarantee would be fighting for the two places but with the demise of Horden this was down to four.

First up of these were EYMS, and a determined Jim Davies wanting badly to return to what he described as ‘my favourite hall'.

Kismet Kate: Kaye Newiss sends EYMS on their way to London

The opening was uncertain mainly due to the inaudibility of the muted cornets. It didn't help that they faced away to the back of the stage away from the ‘box' where I was sat next to, and the box is positioned right at the front of the audience. The presto was secure and detailed, but as mentioned before, the horns struggled. Then at bar 85, Kathy Newiss entered on flugel - and what a performance she put in; beautiful tone and security in note production, showing a confidence that permeated through the rest of the band.

In fact her opening duet with the solo cornet was played by 4th  ‘man' down Vicki Kennedy, leaving principal Steve Rudholl to keep his powder dry for the later high B flats in the second duet with euphonium Liz Grosvenor. Fanfares ‘calling in the wilderness' were fine but as with other bands any number of combinations of cornet positions proclaimed the fanfare rather than what was written in the score. The finale was notable for the flugel and trombone melody not being swamped by the band and had a real quality in the sound. The ragged percussion in the accels did detract, but they were well in front at this stage, playing off number four.

Following EYMS came last years runners up Fishburn, who suffered it seemed at the opening from what sounded like real nerves. The opening was tentative and unsure with the presto suffering from a huge split on the trombone.

Gray day for Fishburn: Russell can't quite get Fishburn to the RAH

From there on in, the performance fell away and there was some untidiness in ensemble and soloists made a number of uncharacteristic slips. Russell Gray was the only conductor to have his trombones stand and face the box in the final pages whilst the end was fast (too fast perhaps?) finishing an unsatisfactory performance that had promise aplenty but failed to live up to expectation.

The third of the four came next and Reg Vardy, the defending champions, looking for a double hat-trick and their 30th title. The band recently had some changes in personnel, including stalwart Jim Thompson who sadly couldn't attend the contest, I believe, because he just couldn't face the prospect of having to sit and watch his band rather than playing, and his jovial manner was much missed.

Reg Vardy
Not a bad deputy: Jeremy Belton does his bit to help Reg Vardy to another title

That left Colin Dye looking for his own personal 25th win with new playing partner Laura Boyle. Keith Gilfillan had retired from the bass end and Jeremy Belton was to replace Paul Robinson on euphonium who had recently had surgery on a shoulder problem. Surprise then when Paul took to the stage as second euph.

Evidently days before, the second replacement broke some fingers (an accident and not deliberately done by Paul to pinch his place at the last moment!) so Paul agreed to play. It all started well with Laura performing superbly, being the first to hold onto the 18 beat high F and making the most of pp diminuendo. The presto though was a touch loud and some of the balance went awry whilst the bass end was rich in tone but the top end was at times brittle. There were moments of uncertainty in the ‘comfort' movement and the following fanfares were a little ragged. The following Caribbean section however contained some great playing, full of inner detail and was followed by the best ‘Word of the Lord' movement.

Brian Tait made a tiny slip but that was minor when played so expressively and Jeremy Belton on euphonium played like he'd been sitting there for years. But what stood out were the accompaniments. Baritone was excellent and when the cornets entered on triplet quavers, the muted trombones were also heard properly for the first time during the day and the whole effect was quite beautiful.

The finale was again fast and Ray Farr broke ranks with other interpretations by having the final three percussion notes played at pace rather than the long drawn out allargando we've become accustomed to. A fine interpretation but still a performance that could have been beaten.

Last of the four on stage was Tavistock Chester-le-Street Riverside with Ian Robinson at the helm. It was a fine performance that did however suffer from some dreadful tuning and some over the top blowing near the end.

Losing a tuned percussionist shortly before the contest doesn't help and there were some moments of uncertainty in the shed builders department. What wasn't uncertain was the performance of new principal cornet Tina Mortimer who has taken over from the long standing Tony Thompson who now sits second down.

An outstanding performance notable for the expression she put into every solo line deservedly took the individual principal prize. Again lots of detail but sometimes, as during the ‘bossa nova' rhythm midway through the piece the motion tended to get bogged down. It was a good overall rendition that had the audience who had heard all the performances split three ways.

Some fancied Reg Vardy and Tavistock, some with EYMS in second and others with Tavistock even in first. Alan Morrison suggested that no band had performed the whole work and as in his First Section deliberations had to place the most consistent bands. As it was, Tavistock missed out to EYMS for second with Reg Vardy more taking the title. They are being pushed more and more here though which is good news for the region top section health.

Of the other four contenders RMT Easington Colliery performed admirably on their return to the top section, although they didn't have the overall sound of the big four. Tuning was the main problem with one soloist wavering between flat and sharp and there were some messy moments, but the final six pages were played well.

Harrogate and David Lancaster have lost a number of players recently and are in the process of rebuilding.

All smiles: David Lancaster is pleased with his bands efforts

Consequently some tempos were steadier than others, seemingly to cater to the bands capabilities, but we did hear a lot of inner detail. However the band suffered from tiredness near the end and fell away to sixth place. Still, it was a very musical rendition.

Gregg's Bakery (Duncan Beckley) suffered from the number one spot and too many slips and clips. The percussion team lost the plot a couple of times in the finale and it was all a bit too rushed and indistinct and they could have little to complain about coming eventually where they did.

On a wing and a prayer: Duncan Beckley puts his hands together...

Finally, Kirkbymoorside chose really slow tempos that spoilt the whole sense of flow of the work and the band was subsequently not able to adequately meet either the technical or musically challenges Robert Redhead's composition posed.  The final place in the results table was the unfortunate but expected result.

So the Reg Vardy team got their 30th win, Colin got his 25th, and the bass team finally got to keep the trophy themselves rather than have Keith Gilfillan hide it for a year. EYMS proudly showed their second place trophy counting the number of times they had got second place and Jim Davies will be booking his hotel room again in Kensington.

Overall the contest didn't really fire the passions with no stand out performance, as was noted in the points with first place gaining only three points more than the champions in the First Section. This was though an accurate reflection of the standard here this year where as we have said, not one band really played to their full potential. Thankfully that means that there is more to come from the two qualifiers and quite a few of the rest too. Numbers may have been down somewhat, but there is optimism in what was heard.

Over the last ten years that I've covered this area, there have been some good contests, with some truly memorable performances here. Not this year perhaps but you sense that a handful of bands are getting there – and getting there swiftly. Hopefully things will be back to normal next year.

Steve Jack


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