2009 European Brass Band Championships - Set Work retrospective


Cory's title was on the line in Ostend, but they took a leaf out of a certain boxer's book to deliver a two round knockout punch...

Directing the knockout punch: Cory MD Bob Childs in control

More pictures of the set works section at:

Amid some of the most harmonized vocal celebration in the European contest’s history, Cory delivered a two round knockout in defence of its European title in Ostend that made Ricky Hatton’s defeat at the hands of Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas look like it was caused by a lucky bump to the head.


Not since 1990 has a band administered such a comprehensive thrashing of its opponents: The win had echoes of the European contesting hegemony enjoyed by Black Dyke, who in those early days, were almost an omnipotent banding force at the event.

Having had to wait 28 years for their second European title to arrive, there is a feeling that in the next few years, Cory could well be just as an impassable juggernaut at the contest too.

‘We are already underway with our planning for 2010,” Bob Childs told 4BR. “… and have already asked a leading composer to start work on a new own choice piece for the band.”

Shiver of anxiety

Given that the ink on Peter Graham’s ‘On the Shoulder’s of Giants’ has barely dried, you could sense that despite retaining their title less than 24 hours previously, a future hat trick of titles was already in their minds. That news will have sent an ominous shiver of anxiety rushing through the bandrooms of Europe.

Pound for pound

On the weekend, Cory gave notice that it is clearly the best band on the contesting globe – one that it hopes to conquer at the World Championships in Kerkrade in the next couple of months. With six major contesting honours to battle for in 2009, the band has already bagged two with an alarming degree of sweeping subjugation.

The odds of completing a remarkable Grand Slam of the Welsh, European, World, Open, National and Brass in Concert titles have shortened from a possibility to a real probability. There may be a few bands in certain parts of the world that may disagree, but Cory is now the undisputed best pound for pound outfit on the planet – and not even Manny Pacquiao may want to take them on in the contesting ring.


The foundation of their victory came on the Friday, with a stunning performance of a highly enjoyable set work from Jan Van der Roost – ‘From Ancient Times’.

Cory benefited from a good draw – 8th out of the 11 bands and following on from Eikanger before them.

Two performances, almost from diametric ends of the contest spectrum saw these two remarkable bands head the field after the first day.

Contesting limb

As is their artistic desire Eikanger went out on something of a contesting limb and delivered a memorable musical performance under the baton of Bjarte Engeset (who one seasoned observer remarked, looked like the Bram Tovey of the fjords).

As with the Englishman, Engeset is built like a middleweight boxer too (with the same slightly crooked nose), but can also delight with the sheer artistry of his ring craft. The audience reveled in a reading of lyricism – all sweeping lines, beautiful phrasing and graceful climaxes. The power was held in reserve, but when it arrived it had a thudding finality. It was a performance out of the very top drawer.

Waiting in the wings

As it unfolded Cory remained in the wings of the massive Kursaal complex (4BR photographer Ian Clowes remarked afterwards that the band was remarkably focused on the job in hand backstage).

With the audience still buzzing from the Norwegians effort (and the turn out on both days was a real credit) the defending champions coolly took to the stage (Bob Childs neatly sidestepping the verbal banalities of the MC – who made Don King sound like Shakespeare) and proceeded to lay out their credentials.

By the time they had finished, the job of retaining their title was half done, with a quite clinically brilliant display of virtuosity.

There was just a hint of a slow start as the basses found their feet, but thereafter it was stunning playing. The ensemble in particular was error free, whilst the team of soloists put together a series of cadenzas that made for the central focal point of the work, that were packed with an artistic élan that no other band came close to. By the time they changed up a gear and went into overdrive in the final reprise they were ahead, and were never to be threatened again.

Lovely rendition

The day had begun with a lovely rendition from the Swiss of Treize Etoiles that benefited from a reading of cultured sensitivity from James Gourlay.

Nothing overdone, no rough edges, crafted soloists, and beautifully shaped ensemble – it was perhaps the most refined playing of the entire weekend.

In the end it came 5th, but they had served notice that they were on top notch form under the inspired Scotsman – and so it proved 24 hours later.

Much expected

Much was expected of the Austrians this year, and once again Oberosterreich they showed that they are a quite remarkable brass outfit.

The debate still rages about whether they are first and foremost a fantastic brass ensemble rather than a very good brass band, but on the Friday they showed that whatever you think of them, they are still some outfit.

Just a middle section that perhaps required more tonal warmth was all that separated them from the top two on the day, and with a quite remarkable soprano player delivering the horrendously difficult (and exceptionally high) part with a degree of nonchalance that made your jaw drop, the audience knew that they were very much in the mix for the following day.

Speaking to Garry Cutt after the announcement of the results (he was in the box with Franz Cibulka, and Jan Hadermann) the Foden’s MD expressed his opinion that the trio felt that they had heard one very good performance (Treize Etoile) up to the break (after band number 5) but were still hoping to hear a definitive performance thereafter. They got two (Cory and Eikanger) he added, with another top notch effort too (Oberosterreich). 

Length or two

It was hard to disagree, and whilst there were fans of Tredegar and Whitburn, in truth they were a good length or two behind in overall class from the reigning champions and their Norwegian rivals.

In fact it was Brass Band Rijnmond who caught the ear of the judges to come 4th with a performance that seemed to lack consistency and became overwrought and excitable to close.

Despite reservations from the hacks and scribes in the press box (which made the assembled journalistic reptiles look like the muppets of Waldorf & Stadler on the balcony at the side of the hall) their bravura playing under Ivan Meylemans certainly resonated in the box – especially from their classy soprano player.


meanwhile, could perhaps count themselves unlucky that their accomplished performance (despite the odd little moment of uncertainty) didn’t come higher than 7th.

Detailed and subtly shaped by MD Ian Porthouse it held its form right through to the lip sapping end, with their young soprano player in particular having a memorable day. It was an impressive effort, which we had as high as 3rd rather than their eventual 7th place.


Fellow Celts Whitburn could also scratch their heads in wonder after their solid and musically mature performance failed to feature any higher than its eventual 10th place. They also had a few uncertainties too, but overall it was a stylish rendition, lyrically moulded by Russell Gray and delivered with confident execution.


As for Grimethorpe?

No complaints in coming 9th after a performance that begun promisingly enough but unravelled in alarming fashion in a miasma of red raw excitement. And raw it was too in places as dynamics became increasingly optional and the band resorted to blasting their way to the finish.

It certainly left you breathless by the sheer power of it all, but the lack of refinement was palpable and the look on the MDs face as he left the stage summed it up. By all accounts they had the mother of all rollickings…   

Best delivery

That left the trio of the Danes of Lyngby Taarbaek, the French of Aeolus and the home band of Festival Brass.

The Danes maintained their recent record at the contest in delivering their best on the set work in a performance that the judges found to be 6th best on the day. That seemed a little generous to others it must be said, as despite the brave individual contributions the ensemble playing lacked focus and warmth.


The French meanwhile delivered a bravura account full of, well, Frenchness. Artistically shaped by the MD and his players, it lacked consistency in approach and execution but was nonetheless strangely persuasive.  We had them 8th, the judges 11th – a bit harsh.

Tub thumper

A highly enjoyable day was rounded off with a real tub thumper from the home town band of Festival Brass in a performance that certainly had the audience on its feet (and to their credit they stood more often than at a church service for all the bands efforts) even if it did cry out for a bit of restraint. It was big, brash and bravura – and found itself in a slightly fortuitous 8th place. 

That was that then – and all that was left was to ponder the possible fates over a pint or two of the local brew in one of the many hostelries around the hall.

For the bands, the contest was at its midway point and there was still a lot to play for. Unbeknown to them, Cory had already placed one hand on the famous trophy and was pulling it back towards the Principality…

Iwan Fox

To read what happened on the own choice works the next day, go to:


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