Music that is easy on the ear but not so easy to play, would be a fair summing up of what was a highly enjoyable, but also very enlightening contest.
Age has not wearied the challenges of ‘English Folk Song Suite’ – which remains a quite remarkable test of brass band basics.
Host of quality
Thankfully, in the heartland of England, we got to hear a host of very solid, well constructed performances, the qualifiers from which really did bring out the bucolic essence of light clarity and subtle tenderness in the wonderful composition.
The 24 bands certainly gave it their best shot with intelligent direction from the MDs in the very best bands a welcome feature.
Even those performances that didn’t quite manage to overcome nervousness to produce rather inconsistent accounts, nevertheless displayed a refreshing appreciation of style – keeping the music flowing.
Those who opted for the more ‘heavy-handed’ approach were penalised by the judges.
The overall standard was pretty good, and in their excellent pre-results summing-up, both Mike Kilroy and Peter Bassano were full of praise for the efforts of all the bands.
Neither missed a trick. All will have known just why they came where they did even in this massive field of fluctuating comparisons.
Burbage Buxton was a clear winner.
A lovely account under Steve Critchlow, full of melodic control and rhythmic accuracy was a cracker and deservedly took the title.
Each of the three movements complimented each other perfectly. It was one of the best performances of the test piece we have heard this year on our travels.
Not far behind
Not far behind came Ireland Colliery Chesterfield conducted by Ian Knapton, with a boldly coloured performance that was solidly put together and played with brio and enthusiasm.
It just lacked the subtle nuances of the winner, but it was a performance of rich technical merit and musicality.
The other qualification places also went to bands that displayed an engaging combination of technical efficiency and descriptive musicality.
Newhall, conducted by Kevin Holgate and Cleobury Mortimer Concert Brass directed by Mike Amplett, brought out the lightness and sense of fun from the score in the outer movements, and whilst there were fragilities in the middle section, it never robbed the music of flow and purpose.
All four bands should do well at Cheltenham on this form.
Little to choose
With such a large field to compare and contrast, there was little to choose between many performances.
The bands that eventually occupied the remaining top ten places could have come in any order, although Trentham Brass, Melton and Malvern Hills District couldn’t have played any better to just try and force their way into the qualification spots.
These were fine accounts that could well have forced their way into the podium prizes at just about any other Area.
Behind them, the inconsistencies started to show more readily, with lapses in intonation and noticeable unforced errors tarnishing performances rich in style and atmosphere.
The cluster of bands that started with University of Warwick in 8th to Thoresby Colliery Youth in 15th all had their moments.
The MDs will know just what went wrong and why – and it was good to see so many of them not falling back on misplaced volume and pace to try and create excitement.
Nerves played their part in forcing little errors and clips, but overall, the likes of Bestwood Black Diamonds, Stone Town, Moulton 77, Market Rasen, Syston and Corby, will have left Bedworth better bands for this experience. So too their MDs.
Towards the bottom third of the results table and the ability to compare and contrast the performances must have caused both Peter and Mike a massive headache.
Overall there was little doubt the contest fell into three distinct levels competency – although even those who did eventually end in the lower reaches produced performances where the plus points certainly outweighed the minus ones – and by a fair margin at times.
Coleshill, Kirkby and Ratby Co-operative produced the most secure accounts (blighted just too much by poor intonation), whilst Burbage Silver, Pleasley Colliery Welfare and Ifton lost cohesion as they tired.
There were evident difficulties with Whitwell, Skegness and Audley, although a mention must be made of the on stage encouragement displayed by the MDs, Simon Gresswell, Stan Lippeatt and Ian Turner, all of whom allowed the players to express their musical intentions despite the obvious nerves and technical problems they encountered along the way.
The Midlands will send four very competent qualifiers to Cheltenham, but more encouragingly, the contest showed that there are many more bands with a great deal of potential in the region.