Adjudicators Alan Hope and Steve Pritchard-Jones were not the only listeners who were able to sit back and enjoy a thoroughly entertaining contest in the Fourth Section.
The majority of the 20 bands certainly got to grips with John Golland’s excellent test piece, ‘Prelude, Song and Dance’, to such an extent that the two men in the box really did have plenty to compare and contrast, ponder and finally plumb for in their final analysis.
Sitting through all 20 performances you were struck by the number of times the MDs had to work hard to keep the dynamics of their bands down in the lively acoustic of the hall, but also impressed by the number of times the players quickly responded to their instructions.
Full of good basics
The three qualification performances from Burbage Buxton, Ireland Colliery Chesterfield and Rushden Town were excellent in anyone’s book; full of good basic brass band playing virtues.
Meanwhile, there was a great deal to commend in the performances of the bands that came 4th & 5th especially, with Newhall and Trentham producing well managed accounts that on another day, and most probably at another area contest, would have been good enough to have qualified in some comfort.
Full of merit
Burbage Buxton delivered a winning performance of great merit under the intelligent direction of Steve Critchlow.
The ensemble playing throughout was of a very high class; balanced and warm, full of detail and aided by a first rate percussion section.
They also had a tremendous solo cornet player too – providing the ‘Song’ interlude with a sense of style not bettered on the day.
By the time they brought a lively, but not over excitable ‘Dance’ to a purposeful close, there was little doubt they were going to be the band to beat.
They will be a hefty challenger for the National title itself on this form.
There was also playing of real note from Ireland Colliery Chesterfield under Ian Knapton’s controlled direction.
A neat sense of regality was heard in the opening ‘Prelude’ followed by a lyrical flow to the ‘Song’, and a light touch of frivolity to the ‘Dance’ – complete with the best siren heard all day.
It did have its little clips and blobs, but overall it must have been a hard decision for Alan and Paul to have made to separate them out for the ultimate prize.
Just behind came the impressive Rushden Town, with a bold performance under Martin Dawson that just got a little tired and forced in the final ‘Dance’ to have pushed for the title itself.
That though was the only minus mark you could clearly find in a rendition that was strong on style as well as substance.
Style and substance
For Newhall and Trentham, two performances that didn’t quite have the same overall level of consistency as the podium finishers, but which at times certainly matched them in style and execution.
Kevin Holdgate brought a sense of vibrancy from his Newhall players in the outer movements in particular, whilst Mike Caveney did the same with Trentham Brass.
Just the occasional lapse in concentration and some edgy tuning took the gloss off two polished pieces of contesting work.
Question of consistency
Behind this quintet, it was the age old question of consistency of execution that separated the likes of Pleasley Colliery in sixth to Bestwood Black Diamonds in tenth.
Keith Buxton led Pleasley with a determination that worked wonderfully well to open but just gave the central ‘Song’ a little too much emotive edge, whilst Charles Kitchen and Fairfield also found the central section the most difficult to really control in terms of ensemble balance and warmth of tone.
Malvern Hills, Skegness and Bestwood had their moments when everything fitted nicely into place, only for dislocated tuning and some nasty individual and ensemble moments to just take the shine off well managed efforts.
Noticeable and relevant
Below these performances and the basic banding problems became more noticeable and relevant – although once again the MDs tried their best to keep the dynamics under control and the tempos within manageable reach.
The likes of Kirkby Colliery Welfare in 11th down to Ilkeston Brass in 16th all emerged with more plus points than minus ones, but their performances must have given the two men in the box the hardest of tasks separating them out.
There was a case to place the six in just about any order – the variance in consistency was marked, but the problems that arose were strangely not always in the same place.
As with the performances that came above them, the MDs used their experience to good effect, keeping tempos in control and dynamics in hand – even if it did mean that some tuning issues at the lowest levels did grate the teeth on occasions.
Comparing Kirkby in 11th to Melton in 13th; Ratby in 12th to Ifton in 15th; Moulton in 14th to Ilkeston in 16th, needed King Solomon in the box.
All had extended periods when the ensemble was neat and accurate, the soloists secure and the music had flow – and then almost at a flick of a baton beat things went awry.
For the bands at the bottom of the results table, the performances were full of too many variables to have come any higher than they did, although it was good to see MDs once again marshal their resources (some were low in numbers in the ranks) with a touch of musical knowhow.
There was plenty of youthful endeavour and enthusiasm and a sense that each of the bands were enjoying the experience of trying to bring the music to life – despite the noticeable errors and problems each encountered.
If we were to query one low placing on the day it certainly came with Market Rasen RPC, who delivered a bold and colourful account under Alan Needham’s direction, that despite the noticeable errors seemed to have more than enough about it to have come much higher than 17th.
Whitwell, Corby Silver and Ceramic Brass will know that the piece taxed them about to the limit, but never beyond, and it was good to see each of the conductors, Lyndon Cooper, Nigel Hall and Stewart Thompson encourage and acknowledge the brave efforts of their places both during and after they had played.
Plenty to acknowledge with the winners and qualifiers however, and with the Midlands providing three high quality contenders at the finals in Cheltenham, there is a good chance that the area could be celebrating a National champion come September.