2007 Leicestershire Brass Band Association Open Contest - retrospective


Chris Thomas was on 4BR duty at Guthlaxton College to listen to the bands at the recent LBBA Open Contest

For those of us whose banding teeth are getting a little on the long side these days (which goes for most of us at 4BR!) but in particular those of us who cut those teeth in the Midlands, the annual trip to the novemberfest that was the Leicester Brass Band  Festival was an event to look forward to. 

Part of the attraction was the fact that the event was held in the auspicious surroundings of the De Montfort Hall, a fine venue for a contest by any standards and for many years the home of the Midlands Area Championships. On a more practical level another reason might have been the proximity of the De Montfort Hall bar which was close enough to the stage to satisfy the post performance thirst of the most athletically challenged bandsman. 

Strategically placed directly adjacent to the hall, the watering hole was so close as to allow the not so subtle sounds of clinking glasses, jovial banter and friendly rivalry to drift gently across the contest stage as some poor band were trying to get to grips with the atmospheric slow movement of their test piece.

In reality though the Leicester Festival was the culmination of the contesting year for a large number of the bands involved; the last competitive outing and an opportunity for a first class social before December’s rounds of carolling and Christmas concerts set in and thoughts turned once again to a new contesting year and rehearsals for another crack at the area championships.

Sadly, the financial pressures of mounting a contest these days are such that the De Montfort Hall is no longer an option as a venue. On a brighter note though the November outing to Leicester still lives on, reincarnated in the form of the Leicestershire Brass Band Association Open Contest and now housed in the surroundings of Guthlaxton College, Wigston.

This is the twelfth year that the Leicestershire Association (check out their informative new website www.lbba.org.uk) has held the contest in this form and there are relatively few Association contests that can lay claim to a full days contesting, spread across two continuously used halls and this year boasting an excellent entry of over fifty bands.

Unregistered bands

Pleasing also is the inclusion of a section for unregistered bands with the two local bands involved in this section, Enderby Concert Band and Ratby Co-operative Youth, launching the day’s proceedings at 9.30 in the Lecture Theatre, the venue for the Fourth and Third sections which were to follow. 

With Steve Pritchard- Jones as the presiding adjudicator both bands presented a fifteen minute own choice entertainment style programme with the ultimate honours going to Ratby Youth whilst Enderby Concert picked up a consolation prize in the form of the award for the best instrumentalist which deservedly went to their kit percussion player.                                   

Fourth Section

The Fourth Section saw the best entry of any of the sections on the day with an excellent turn out of fourteen bands and no withdrawals. Indeed the Fourth and Third sections were the only senior sections to be withdrawal free on the day, a credit to those involved. 

One of the delights of an open contest can be the breadth of music chosen by the bands and this was no where more evident than in the Fourth Section where the top three places demonstrated a choice ranging from the overtly “traditional” to the nearly new. It was Eric Ball’s perennial favourite 'Indian Summer' that played its part in securing third place for Corby Silver and Keith Espin, an excellent result for the south midlander’s and one which will possibly help to make up for a slightly disappointing showing at the Midlands Area Championships earlier in the year. 

In contrast, Trevor Hounsome’s Enderby Youth Band gave an upbeat performance of an equally upbeat piece in the shape of Jacob de Haan’s 'Oregon', placing them three points in front of their nearest rivals to take the runner up spot. In a massive area championship field of twenty three bands at Burton earlier this year, Rolls Royce Derby were desperately unlucky to miss out on a visit to Harrogate by one place. 

Graham Cardwell and his players might just have found victory here particularly sweet then as they captured top honours with an enjoyable performance of rising star Simon Dobson’s excellent 'Lydian Pictures'.

RushdenThird Section

Following on from the fourth section in Harcourt Hall, ten bands competed for the top prize in the third section with the top three places going to bands that played in the first half of the draw. 

Waterbeach Brass and James Utting were stylish recipients of the third prize with their performance of 'A Saddleworth Overture' whilst Verwood Concert Brass’s performance of Darrol Barry’s 'Divertimento' endured from the number one draw to earn David Johnson and the band the runner up prize as well as the instrumentalist award for their solo euphonium player; no mean feat in a strong field. 

The winners by two points were clear favourites for Steve Pritchard-Jones though in the form of Rushden Windmill and a dynamic reading of Goff Richards’ 'The Aeronauts', one of those pieces that is always equally entertaining for band and audience alike.                 

CarltonSecond Section

A 10.00 am start in the Main Hall saw the Second Section bands take to the stage under the adjudication of David Horsfield. An entry of six bands, reduced to five by the withdrawal of Harborough, was the slimmest of any of the sections on the day but did nothing to deter the endeavours of the bands concerned with five highly contrasting choices of piece making for an absorbing contest. 

It was the most local of the competitors, Leicestershire Co-op under Graham Jacklin that drew the short straw of number one with a dynamically controlled performance of 'Suite Gothique' that was at its best in the central slow movement and reached an exciting conclusion but suffered a little from intonation issues at crucial moments. 

Having gained fourth spot in the second section, Graham Jacklin and his band promptly switched halls to take fifth spot in the third section. 

Hitchin deserve credit for deviating from the norm in their choice of piece, the excellent 'Symphony for Brass' by Victor Ewald, a choice that we reckon might well have been influenced by their conductor Martin Hurrell, a trumpet player with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. There was a good deal to commend in the performance although the band was unable to match the sound of the leaders on the day. 

Daventry’s performance of Philip Sparke’s 'Tryptych' demonstrated a lively style and a real sense of enjoyment from the players marred only by occasional lapses in tuning and ensemble but entirely deserving of its third place. 

There was little doubt that the top two places were to be occupied by Carlton Brass and Chinnor Silver although which way round they were to finish could have been a matter of some debate. 

Both Carlton’s performance of 'The Plantagenets' and Chinnor’s of Kenneth Downie’s 'Purcell Variations' were bold presentations although in the case of Chinnor, David Horsfield hinted strongly that it might have been a little too heavy for the acoustic of the school hall, a point that played a part in his final decision. 

It was Carlton and Walter Ritchie that emerged victorious then, the band’s soprano player also taking the instrumentalist prize and continuing a rich seam of strong results for the band.

HebdenFirst Section

An initial entry of ten first section bands reduced to seven on the day saw the first duplication of test piece in the main hall with Foresters Brass 2000 (playing from the number one draw) and Ibstock choosing to play Gregson’s 'The Plantagenets'. 

For Ibstock it proved to be one of those days when things failed to ignite although the predominantly young and exceptionally promising players around the stands of Forester’s, relative newcomers to First Section banding following promotion in 2006, produced some impressive sounds for their fifth place. 

Towcester Studio and Huw Thomas (a busy man, conducting three performances on the day) made a spirited attempt at the considerable challenges of Philip Sparke’s 'Tallis Variations' although the task of maintaining consistency throughout the performance was to prove that little bit too tough on the day. 

Third and fourth positions were a close call for David Horsfield with Bedworth Brass and Stephen Tigue finishing fourth in a stirring performance of James Curnow’s 'Trittico' that just suffered from some tired lips as it approached its conclusion. 

Taking to the stage for the second time, Huw Thomas guided Enderby through a performance of 'Year of the Dragon' that captured some style in the central movement (full credit to the trombone soloist here) but just lacked the necessary precision in the outer movements. 

The top two places were never in doubt, the runner up spot being taken by Regent Brass with an impressively musical performance of 'The Essence of Time', stylishly shaped and directed by Alan Daguid, a talented young conductor with a promising future ahead of him. 

Top of the pile though and deservedly two points clear, it was Dennis Hadfield and Hebden Bridge who emerged victorious with a highly engaging, big boned performance of 'Dances and Arias' that was both exciting and impressively taut. To cap it off the band’s principal cornet player also carried off the instrumentalist prize; a fine days work for all concerned.

AldbourneOpen Section

If the first section winners were a straightforward decision for David Horsfield, the open section provided a good deal more food for thought with none of the bands emerging as a sure fire winner. On a day when every performance had its shortcomings there were a handful of bands that must have fancied their chances of carrying off the first prize. 

Taking to the stage first was Enderby, the only band to brave both the first and open sections on the day. Not much over an hour after the exertions of 'Year of the Dragon', Huw Thomas directed the band in 'English Heritage', a tough ask in the circumstances and one which became clear in the shape of tired chops as the performance progressed. The outcome was sixth position with Foss Dyke seventh and making a welcome return to contesting after a break of a couple of years. 

Their performance of Robert Farnon’s 'Un Vie de Matelot', an interesting if conservative choice amongst the other works heard on the day, will hopefully have given the band encouragement to take into the New Year and preparations for the area championships. 

There were certainly moments to impress in Clacton on Sea Co-op’s performance of Philip Sparke’s 'Between the Moon and Mexico' although ultimately the band were to pay the price for playing that was just too muscular for the modest acoustic of the hall. 

The result was fifth place. In fourth position, Wantage Silver A took to the stage last with a gutsy performance of 'Dances and Arias' under Philip Bailey that certainly had its moments but ultimately did not quite hang together as a whole. In comparison Ratby’s performance of the same work, earning the band third prize was more consistent in its execution, a little restrained at times perhaps, but certainly well prepared by Mike Fowles. 

For our money though it was a performance that could easily have vied for the top spot, the same to be said for Kidlington Concert’s impressive treatment of 'Harmony Music'; a brave choice which grew from a nervy start to generate a real head of steam and displayed some effective detail. 

Catherine Underwood and her players might just have been a tad disappointed to walk away as runners up although they also took away the consolation prize of the award for the best trombone section. 

Top honours then ultimately went to Melvin White and Aldbourne with Philip Sparke’s English Nationals commission, 'Dances and Alleluias'. For us it was a performance that didn’t quite seem to settle although the band’s soloists acquitted themselves well including Kevin Robbins on cornet, with the best instrumentalist prize going to the band’s solo baritone player.

And so came to an end a highly entertaining days contesting, slickly run by the hard working members of the Leicestershire Association Committee and in a venue that seemed to find favour with many of the bands people present. An event such as this deserves to enjoy continued success and on the evidence here is likely to do just that. 

Christopher  Thomas


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