2009 British Open Championships - Postcard from Birmingham


Wiggle and tickle, RSI and even the usual results controversy causing a bit of debate - what more could you ask for at a British Open...

What it's all about: Brisbane XLCR play in the Open goldfish bowl
Picture: Ian Clowes

For more pictures of the 2009 British Open:

The 2009 British Open was a contest to remember – although for some it will be for the wrong reasons.

Mead spanner

A superb test piece, a number of outstanding performances, a study score that was well worth every penny, audience numbers up – it was all going along so well until Steven Mead threw a spanner in the works.

There will be many who will agree with many of the points made by Whitburn’s conductor, but few who will agree about the manner in which he initially did so.

His argument for generational change is very persuasive, but it was initially delivered at the wrong time, and certainly, the wrong place. Martin Mortimer’s diplomatic skills were tested to the full on the stage after the results.

Questioning adjudication competence is a minefield of potential liability too – and perhaps this particular argument would have had more resonance if he had decided to shoot from the hip if his band had claimed the result he believed they had deserved.

He has gone and done it now though, so good luck to him, but the day when there will be open adjudication, by five judges with the top and bottom mark disregarded to give an average placing seems to be a long way down the British Open line. Even Steven Mead maybe approaching pension age when that comes around.

The Archers
Stars in your eyes: The Archers of course
Picture: Ian Clowes

Plenty to enjoy

Still, before it all went a bit peetong, Birmingham offered us plenty to enjoy.

It’s not often you can drive into a city centre past a lap dancing club called ‘Wiggle & Tickle’ which finds itself next door to a solicitor’s office advertising help to claim for RSI hand and wrist injuries. Could they be linked in some way?

For those with a little less excitement on their hands there was always the chance to walk down Birmingham’s version of Hollywood Boulevard  and admire the stars – or in this case, the one in honour of that most British of institutions – The Archers. 


Given all the pre contest talk about the potential travails of the soprano players lot, it was also nice to report that the appropriately named Piccolino’s Italian restaurant did a fine trade just around the corner from the hall. On the contest day, the soprano players union had plenty to be proud off – not one member let the side down.

Back at the hall, the audience lapped up the entertainment – even the odd wiggle and tickle from some of the MDs, who still believe that the term ‘performance’ applies to them and not their bands.  Some of the excruciating posing was of X Factor crassness.

Sole man: One Brighouse player seeks solitude and perhap a saucepan
Picture: Ian Clowes

Culinary colour

Still, there was some thoroughly enjoyable spectacles too – from James Gourlay singing his way through the National Anthem with Desford, to the percussion player from Brighouse nicking a well used saucepan from his missus kitchen to add a touch of culinary colour to their performance.

No wonder the composer Hermann Pallhuber told 4BR how much he enjoyed the day when we spoke to him after the results – somehow you can’t imagine the good banding folk of Austria letting themselves go to quite the same extent.


The test piece ‘Titan’s Progress’ held the attention from the word go – a great mix of Mahler bombast and subtle corrosive wit, and it was encouraging to see the hall pretty well two thirds full all day.

In fact there was just the one real evacuation of souls after Brighouse & Rastrick had played. Poor old Carlton Main was faced with an auditorium that had the atmosphere of a graveyard and just as many live bodies – no wonder they came 16th.

The organisation behind the scenes was slick and professional as usual (although they too are in need of  younger assistance). Even with a long test piece and 18 bands to manoeuvre on and off stage, the contest ran to time – the early start helped and the break was welcome at the halfway point.

Gold men
Three wise men? There were three other judges on show in Birmingham on the weekend
Picture: Ian Clowes

Warm appreciation

At the end of a long day the results ceremony was neatly packaged with the awards to Peter Graham and Marie Fawbert Smith warmly appreciated. So too were the presentations to the Harry Mortimer Memorial Trust recipients, and it was a nice touch to see James Scott present the awards.

What the audience really wanted though was to find out who won.  David Read didn’t give the game away, although his assertion that adjudicating is a difficult business if anyone wanted to try it, was rather overstating the bleeding obvious. 

Of course it is – that’s why the contest organisers ask our most respected and experienced judge to do it.  

Still, it was good to know that it was not all wiggle and tickle in the box. As much as some people urge change, that would just be taking things a little too far…

Iwan Fox


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