2008 Spring Festival - Postcard from Blackpool


Blackpool is full of many things - from Tinkerbell to conspiracy theorists in chip shops...

Checking the numbers: Did the numbers add up to the right result in the Grand Shield?
Picture: Ian Clowes

It was appropriate perhaps that on the way back to the hotel following the three sections of the Spring Festival on Saturday evening, that 4BR came across someone who had a conspiracy theory to air about the results. 

Two minutes earlier a bloke dressed as Tinkerbell walked past us without a care in the world on the way to a stag night, whilst in the chip shop near our hotel a disgruntled bandsman lay in wait, ready to pounce on the 4BR Editor to air his allegations that at least two results from the three contests had been ‘fixed’. 


Blackpool is full of nutters on a Saturday night – from people who believe that it wasn’t Lee Harvey Oswald who shot JFK as the aliens had already zapped him with their death ray atomizer gun on the grassy knoll, to semi comatose bandsmen with a blunt axe to grind – both usually whilst you are waiting for a portion of haddock and chips. 

First came the theory from our ever so slightly ‘tired and emotional’ friend that the only reason why the BTM Band claimed second place in the Grand Shield and a qualification place to the British Open was because a week earlier Nigel Boddice had been in the box and awarded Robert Childs and his Cory Band 99 points out of 100 so that they could win the European Championships.

Meanwhile, as he postulated through eyes last seen on Garfield the cat, the reason behind Powerfuel Hatfield’s victory in the Senior Trophy was that adjudicator Peter Roberts and conductor Graham O’Connor had played a round of golf together the week before and therefore Peter knew exactly just how Hatfield was going to play.  

Coup de grace

Then came the coup-de-grace allegation that in his book that made him totally convinced that the Grand Shield had been nobbled:

The last four bands to play on the day – numbers 17 – 20, actually came 17th – 20th in the results! Not even X File agents Mulder and Scully could argue against that one he garbled between hot mouthfuls of chip batter and greasy three week old cod. 

Without wishing to waste any further chip scoffing time on a player who had obviously enjoyed far more pints of beer than he had listened to bands, it somehow summed up the Blackpool: Nothing is ever straight forward here.

Murky waters

Forget the conspiracies though, Blackpool has enough weird and wonderful delights to offer on its own account, before you even have to delve into the murky waters of brass band contest results.

The Spring Festival has now so firmly established itself in the Winter Garden complex that it would now seem inconceivable that it could be held anywhere else on the one day.

You may dislike Blackpool as a place to come and visit (the whole of the 4BR hotel had bathroom suites in 1970’s avocado), but despite the shabby surroundings and preposterous extravagant claims (Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown billed as ‘…the funniest comedian in the world’) its charm still wins through – just.

Martin and Karen Mortimer and their team deliver a very well run event here, despite the rather unhelpful staff this year at the venue. The early morning scramble to get bandsmen tickets was met by the type of stonewalling tactics that would have made the builders of Hadrian’s Wall look as if they had put it up with B&Q fencing, whilst the stewarding at a couple of the contest halls came either from the Cerberus school of gatekeeping or was pretty non existent.

As for the person who was responsible for the spelling of the signage for the Grand ‘Sheild’ – perhaps, less said the better.    

Chippie tea

Still, things got underway on time in all three venues, and despite the unfortunate withdrawal of three bands making the time table just run askew, all the results were wrapped up by 6.00pm and in plenty of time for a chippie tea, as they say in these parts, before a night of debauched celebration or commiseration, depending on the outcome.

It also allowed time to discuss and debate each of the contests long into the night too (although conspiracy theories were off the menu at the 4BR table), and the merits of each of the contests were discussed in full.

There was a general agreement (although not universal) that the best bands had got through, and unanimity that the organisers are now picking excellent test pieces to sort out the bands in each of the three sections.


There was a grumble or two about the need to tighten up the registration process (there are now enough ‘seasonal brass band workers’ coming here for this contest from European bands to upset the local branch of the BNP), whilst it was noted that the wristband scheme worked well in allowing bandsmen who wanted to listen to rivals or friends the chance to do so without having to shell out extra dosh for the pleasure of doing so.

The results are the results of course, but for those with conspiracy theories on their minds, Mark Bousie, who sat and listened to all the bands in the Grand Shield for 4BR, actually predicted the same top seven bands before the announcement of the results as Robert Childs and Peter Parkes – but not quite in the same order (check out the live coverage if you don’t believe us).

Goggle eyed frenzy

Strange that or what? Or was Mark in league with the brass band version of the CIA only to have his results undermined by a ‘Black Ops’ operation by the time Bob and Peter had left the box. Our chip shop friend went into a goggle eyed frenzy when we told him – although that could have been that he had bit on a particularly hot rissole.

We even predicted EYMS to take the Senior Cup and had SWT Woodfalls to win the Senior Trophy, only for Graham O’Connor (who happens to have perhaps the finest contest success rate at the Spring Festival of any conductor in the last 20 years or more) to rob us of the best triple-header since Medusa was a girl.  That can’t have been any sort of a fix because 4BR hadn’t even given them our ‘kiss of death’ in our pre match predictions!

Reason why

No. The reason why the bands won and the bands qualified and the bands came in midfield places and the bands came in the relegation zones was simple. The six very good judges thought that was what they deserved - so that is what they got.

Perhaps that is what we should have told our rather inebriated bandsman before we left the chip shop and made our way back up the Golden Mile to our hotel.

Still, why spoil the fun of yet another drunken person making a complete utter fool of themselves on a Saturday night in Blackpool. Tinkerbell wasn’t alone.

Iwan Fox


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