2007 National Youth Brass Band Championships - Premier Section retrospective


Malcolm Wood was on hand to witness some cracking playing from the very best Premier bands in the country, as the National title stayed in Wales, but not in the south of the Principality.

Premier league winners: Gwynedd take the top prize
Picture: John Stirzaker

The Premier Section may have only contained five bands but together they provided a competition that was enthralling listening.  The overall standard was terrific - reinforced by the judge's decision to award four Gold Certificates of merit on the day. 

With twenty-five minutes of playing time available, all of the bands opted took the ‘European' approach for their challenge, with Goff Richards' ‘The Aeronauts' as the ‘set test' before tackling an ‘own choice' work ranging from ‘Laudate Dominum' to Peter Graham's ‘Renaissance'.

None of the bands got away unscathed on the set work which Goff Richards composed in the late 1970s after he was commissioned to write a championship test piece for the West of England Bandsman's Festival at Bugle The end result was ‘The Aeronauts' which incorporated his fascination for the world of aviation and reflected the dramatic and romantic aspects of flying. It's been a popular work ever since.

Speaking with the audience prior to the results, adjudicator Alan Morrison highlighted the rhythmical challenges within the piece of which some bands coped better than others. He and fellow judge Ian Brownbill were also looking for plenty of musicality within the work and Alan was full of praise for the soloists.  All of the bands dug deep in a bid to impress the judges and those that did feature show remarkable quality in both arduous works.

Whilst listening to the own choice section, your reviewers mind immediately went back to Richard Evans' comments at the Tameside Open in March about bands finding the most appropriate piece of music to play.

At the end of the day, some of the bands brought off their own choice selections, whilst others didn't, and those that didn't quite nail it hadn't gone un-noticed by the judges, as Alan Morrison pointed out.  

Gwynedd Mon Williams Mathias Seniors were actually the last band to play and at this stage it was looking likely that Greater Gwent would retain their title.  Led by Gwyn Evans, Gwynedd really pulled out all of the stops to take the title.  ‘The Aeronauts' certainly had its wobbles at times but the band held its nerve to produce a fine musical interpretation with some excellent solo work around the stand, whilst in Stephen Bulla's ‘Firestorm' they portrayed a colourful, intense musical picture.

We are the champions: Gwynedd celebrate
Picture: John Stirzaker

Not surprisingly, conductor Gwyn Evans was a delighted man when 4BR spoke to him afterwards: "I can't praise them enough, and they are a great bunch of individuals.  I was very keen to give them a challenge and that's why we performed ‘Firestorm'. Everyone was terrific."

To be honest, it was unfortunate for defending champion, Greater Gwent Youth that Gwynedd played so well, for they too pulled the stops out in a bid to retain their National title.

Greater Gwent set the standard to beat on the day with ‘Variations on Laudate Dominum' and ‘The Aeronauts' where the bands soloists were in terrific form throughout.  The ensemble playing was tight and effective and whilst there were glitches along the way, the band (like all others competing) didn't let it worry them and they just got on with the job in hand. Both of Gwent's performances benefited from the fine interpretations of conductor Russell Gray.

Lynda Nicholson's St Helens Youth Band is rarely out of the frame when they compete at this contest and once again they featured in the prizes.  Prior to a note being blown, the MD got the band to bring their chairs in so they were as close to each as other as they could be and that compactness paid dividends. It was therefore a real shame that they started nervously in both of their performances. 

Totally undeterred, they quickly got into their stride on both occasions as the MD's passion inspired the band. Once ‘The Aeronauts' settled the quality of sound from all corners of the band was excellent, but it was a competition after all and the judges had to make some tough decisions. For their own choice, St Helens opted for Peter Graham's ‘Renaissance' and it was in the latter stages of the performance that they produced arguably the finest playing of the whole contest.  Some wonderful ensemble playing coupled with excellent dynamics was in evidence where the hymn tune ‘When morning gilds the skies' is introduced.  If the band had been able to perform as they did at the conclusion of their performance in its entirety they'd have given the judges a real dilemma,

Rochdale Borough Youth directed by Eric Landon also used Peter Graham's ‘Renaissance', and whilst they finished just outside the top three their efforts were acknowledged with a Gold Certificate.  Such was the standard of the top three that Rochdale can consider themselves unfortunate not to have got closer to taking the title, but both performances were impressive.  The MD knows how to produce quality performances from his charges and he did that once again here, working them hard, and by the end of their performance there was the odd bit of tiredness around the stand.

Northamptonshire County Youth opted for the very challenging Gilbert Vinter work, ‘Spectrum' as part of their contesting performance.  The British Open test piece from 1969 is an extremely colourful and descriptive work but on the evidence of this performance it certainly stretched the band a little bit and some of the musical colours didn't quite come off.  ‘The Aeronauts' benefited from some excellent solo playing, none more so than the band's euphonium player who was excellent throughout.  Northamptonshire were awarded a Silver Certificate of Merit overall for their efforts.

The one thing you can say about the Premier Section though is the standard just gets better and better.  Within these bands are players already playing at the top level and those that aren't are heading that way.  Everyone deserves credit for their achievements on the day and it was a close call in the end that went to Gwynedd.

Malcolm Wood


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