2007 Lower Section National Finals - Introduction to Harrogate


It may not quite be the mecca of the North but Harrogate is starting to appeal to the brass band fraternity...slowly mind you.

HarrogateAnd so once more the brass band contesting circus troops off to yet another venue. This time its Harrogate, and despite the old place not really being a banding hot bed (for that matter it may not be a hot bed unless the legions of blue rinsed matriarchs who tend to inhabit the place have a hot water bottle or two under the duvets) it is starting to become something of a pleasant fixture in the calendar. 

The Lower Section Finals have now been here since 2004 and despite misgivings about the actual venue, the town does provide a very agreeable spot for a weekend away. There is something to do for those who don’t want to listen to bands all Saturday and Sunday (which is a bit of a drawback given that the Conference Centre auditorium could do with a few extra bums on seats for the contests) and so young and old alike can spend a few hours wandering around the shops or even add an inch or two to the waistline at Betty’s tea room without worrying about whether or not their soprano cornet player has gone walkabout with a bout of debilitating contest nerves.

The organizers have long term plans it would appear to keep the contest here (unless someone else can come up with a better alternative – remember Preston or Torquay though) and that isn’t a bad thing. The Conference Centre may be a touch on the soulless side for those of an artistic bent (imagine having to spend a day there listening to a dental conference or something), but it does offer just about all a brass band contest needs under the one air conditioned roof.  A bit more support from those actually taking part though would be ideal, and would surely turn it into a real bubbling hub of contesting fever.

An all day ticket of £10.00 seems to be a good deal for those who want to go in and listen to more than just a couple of bands in the one section and although it would be even better if some sort of weekend family ticket could have been introduced for two adults and two kids under 16 say, there are some concessions available according to the promoters.  Perhaps giving the bands a few freebie tickets would also be a nice way of helping to fill up the place a bit too.

Kapitol Promotions are certainly making the event much more viable as a stand alone contest (rather than being one subsidized from the London Finals) and are moving it in the right direction, but it is taking time and the players especially are still a touch sceptical about having to pay out money as participants to listen to their own contest. It’s getting there though, and the back stage organization is slick and welcoming, whilst the appointment of a varied team of judges and some interesting music is also a encouraging move too.

Hopefully there won’t be any problems over the judges speaking this year and the men in the boxes are all experienced chappies with strong opinions too. The inclusion of two gents from the Armed forces should at least ensure that they are on time and have shiny shoes.

With so many bands to accommodate there are two early starts to each of the days – 9.30am in fact, so some bands will be up at the crack of dawn to try and wrinkle out the last problems to their performances. Saturday sees Sections 3 and 1, whilst Sunday the bands in Sections 4 and 2 will take to the stage. Given the start times and the proposed timings of the test pieces it shouldn’t end too late, although there is still a fair bit of percussion equipment to move around (Ray Payne though will once again do a fabulous job we are sure).

The four set works offer something for everyone (especially those who like the Ben Hur stuff) and although testing are well within the capabilities of bands who have worked hard at getting the basics right. The First Section piece ‘On Ratcliff Highway’ is the most intriguing of the four.

Harrogate also tells us a great deal about the current state of health of the brass band movement too. What we hope to see and hear will be 72 bands all full to the brim with a cross section ages and gender, playing decent music to a very high standard.  It won’t of course quite be that utopia, but the signs are still encouraging that playing standards are improving whilst the average age of bands is getting lower and the mix of gender and ethnicity getting more varied.

Plenty to enjoy then with music that should appeal to players and listeners alike.

4BR will be there once more giving our ‘live’ coverage (or as quick as we can get our correspondent to run down the winding runway from the hall to the foyer) and we will be producing our podcast with interviews, opinions and music clips too. Keep an eye out for us and say hello, and come and see what we thought of your performances!

Harrogate here we come.


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