2007 North of England Regional Championship - Postcard


Darlington has had a bit of a make over to bring the old Dolphin Centre up to scratch - bu the old fashioned values are still very much in place it seems.

Those with good memories or better still a good internet browser may remember that last year we commented on the decline in numbers at the North of England Regional Championships. Sadly this year the trend continued with only 42 bands taking part. Also, within the last few months a number of bands have gone to wall, and more are in serious trouble.

Even ‘Casualty's' Harry Harper couldn't save these and the most notable demise has been BHK (UK) Horden who only a few short years ago won the National First Section title and were bound seemingly for greater achievements in the Championship Section. It is not to be.

Not quite short, back and sides: A young perc player has had the chop

It seems that there are in particular shortages within the bass departments in the region, with the number of bands only mustering three players pumping out the foundation work for performances far outnumbering those with full complements. This does seem to be a national problem but with the small number of bands competing it was more noticeable in these contests.

Nevertheless, the weekend's contests took place in the newly refurbished surroundings of the Dolphin Centre. The change from last year's building site is evident as soon as you enter, with the reception all IKEA inspired open plan - spacious and light. The staircases have been made wider, full of glass panels, enhanced by huge skylights that have been built into the roof letting in the natural light.

The back rooms have been converted so that weddings can take place, so that if some unfortunates were wed over the weekend they could have been accompanied with a nice ‘Pavane' or ‘Burlesque' from the Second Section (although thinking about it, some of the tempos taken by bands would have been more suited to Olympic sprinters or Rolf Harris doing his Jake the Peg with his wooden leg!).

Unfortunately Darlington decided not to convert the sports hall into a state of the art auditorium so we are left with the usual dry acoustic where bandsman struggle to hear each other on stage (and we are speaking from experience). So until a more affordable venue and one with the facilities required becomes available, we're stuck with the Dolphin, which next year celebrates holding these championships for the 25th time.

It may sound a bit churlish to complian after so much taxpayers money has been spent on it (and spent tastefully it must be said), but it would have been nice if they did perhaps consider the requirements of organisations such as brass bands etc.  The architects seem geared towards multi- purpose facilities that can cram people in to enjoy functions and conferences, but not concerts.  

Other problems occurred with access for spectators and bandsmen alike. In the old days you came up the central stairway and were faced with the ladies selling tickets and programmes. To the left of them was the door leading into the sports hall and to the right was a corridor running along the back of the sports hall. At the end of the corridor was the central hall where registration took place and bands congregated to change, as well as a second door out of the sports hall.

This corridor has now been blocked off to public access as it now leads to the kitchens thus leaving only one entrance in and out of the sports hall for the public to use at this event. It was difficult when trying to get in or out in between bands but between contests after the announcement of results, it was chaos, with a long (and potentially dangerous) logjam. Queues built up both sides and you also have to bear in mind that the staircase has been moved right in front of the door so it's not inconceivable that an accident could have occurred.

Bandsmen had to enter via the side entrance, the ‘Bull Wind', but still some bands came in the old route and were promptly sent back down the stairs and outside to the new entrance even though a letter had been issued from the region explaining the new arrangements.

So there are problems that need to be sorted out before next year. On the other hand, in the hall itself, things seemed to run pretty smoothly with a stage crew setting out layouts based on bands written instructions rather than a few souls entering in shirts sleeves and then going back off stage to collect instruments and jackets. It saved a lot of time and worked well.

There were the usual little stories to be found like Alan Hope joining the Peter Bates School of Sartorial Elegance by producing a pair of brown soft trainers/comfort shows in the style of Peter's comparable white ones. When Peter announced this out from the stage, he immediately changed into shining black leather shoes but not before we got photographic evidence.

In three out five sections if you drew 3,4 or 5 you were guaranteed a top three place and three times in the draws number one was left in the bag to the very end -  and we can't remember that ever happening before.

In the contests stage there was a lovely little of history created when the great, great nephew of the great, great Jack Mackintosh, Matthew Howard  made his contest debut - but not on the cornet, but on drum kit with Carlisle St Stephens.

Howard's Way: Matthew Howard sets out his kit

Meanwhile, one percussionist showed how much he enjoyed watching those old biblical epic movies by playing tubular bells with two of the biggest wooden mallets ever seen at a contest in the style of the slave master on a Roman galley slave ship. Ben Hur would have been knackered at the pace he took and certainly deafened by the whack he gave the bells!

A Mohican appeared in one percussion section (must remind Becky to try this look at our band!) and one band showed how popular ‘Carnival' was (or not depending on your reading) by producing a true original yellowed copy of the music. It was like seeing an Egyptian artefact unveiled for the first time in a thousand years. 

Ray Farr
Mine, all Mine!! Ray Farr seems to want all the liquid glory to himself!

To be fair, apart from this choice, we didn't hear a bad word about the choices of the other four tests, so an 80% success rate in choices from the test piece committee isn't bad at all. We were told however that one young lady was going to strangle 4BR writers for the description of ‘Carnival' (something about ‘only a twisted woman could write this' to paraphrase') so I quickly showed my British Bandsman pass, pointed in the direction of the ‘Lord Mayor of Holmfirth' David Tinker who was there for 4BR to cover the section and made my escape! Womens Lib in Darlington – whatever next!

But by far the most important aspect of the weekend to many, were the new bar facilities which were given a special thumbs up by those who tested them in the name of science, the Michelin Good Food guide, banding drunks anonymous, etc. etc.

Even Ray Farr found a large drinking container to supplement the Dolphins profits with (allegedly the championship trophy) and gave his unqualified recommendation on sampling whatever was in the silver chalice. Those with good captions to the photo can send their answers to ‘Blue Peter' where they will be subsequently ignored as our Editor has already phoned his answer in and won the £500 first prize.

Steve Jack


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