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2019 British Open Spring Festival
Previews & predictions

4BR Editor Iwan Fox looks ahead but not down on the thrills and spills of the trio of Spring Festival qualification contests at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool this weekend.


It's no laughing matter getting to Symphony Hall... 

Blackpool Tower is 125 years old this week. 

Opened to the public on 14th May 1894 it stands as a skeletal beacon enticing people from afar to a seaside town that holds the promise of a weekend of thrills, celebrations and occasional heartbreak. No wonder it’s the ideal place to host the British Open Spring Festival each year.

This is the 99th time that the event has taken place, although its only since 2001 that it’s been held at the Winter Gardens, having had a somewhat nomadic existence before then, including the Belle Vue Pleasure Gardens and Free Trade Hall in Manchester and the Albert and Victoria Halls in Bolton.

And it’s not just the Grand Shield, Senior Cup and Senior Trophy contests where there is a sense of jeopardy and nervousness to be found.  

Walk of faith...

High up in Blackpool Tower is the ‘Walk of Faith’ attraction where hardy souls can tip-toe lightly on a 2 inch thick glass floor as they peer nervously down to the tarmac 380 feet below to see etched on the Comedy Carpet, Bruce Forsyth’s famous catch phrase; “Nice to see you to see you...nice!” 

High up in Blackpool Tower is the ‘Walk of Faith’ attraction where hardy souls can tip-toe lightly on a 2 inch thick glass floor as they peer nervously down to the tarmac 380 feet below to see etched on the Comedy Carpet, Bruce Forsyth’s famous catch phrase; “Nice to see you to see you...nice!” 

Make of that what you will as a contesting metaphor, but for the 20 Grand Shield bands looking to gain one of the two qualification places at the British Open, they will be hoping that it is a prophetic sign of the welcome that will be extended to them via the judges in the box in the Opera House for an appearance at Symphony Hall in September.



2018 Champion: Hammonds

Grand Shield
The Opera House 
Test Piece: Fraternity (Thierry Deleruyelle)

Draws: 9.00am & 12.50pm
Commence: 10.00am

Camborne Town (Kevin Mackenzie) (F)
City of Hull (Stig Maersk) (F)
Filton Concert Brass (Tom Davoren) (F)
Friary Brass Band (Chris King) (S)
Hepworth (Dr David Thornton) (F)
Jaguar Land Rover (Brad Turnbull) (S)
Milnrow (Dennis Hadfield) (F)
NASUWT Riverside (Prof Nicholas Childs) (S)
Oldham Band (Lees) (John Collins) (S)
Pemberton Old Wigan DW (Ben Dixon) (S)
Rainford (Gareth Brindle) (F)
Redbridge (Jeremy Wise) (S)
Reg Vardy (Russell Gray) (S)
Rothwell Temperance (David Roberts) (F)
Skelmanthorpe (Martin Heartfield) (S)
St Dennis (Darren R Hawken) (S)
the cooperation Band (Michael Fowles) (S)
The GUS Band (Chris Jeans) (F)
Thoresby Colliery (Ian McElligott) (F)
Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs) (F)

F: First half of draw
S: Second half of draw

As has been said many times before, the Grand Shield contest remains one of the hardest to win in the banding world - and perhaps the only one where coming second can elicit scenes of joy every bit as euphoric as that of the winners who lift the magnificent trophy in triumph. 

Getting to Birmingham is hard earned and well deserved.

This year the competitors will have to impress on a test-piece that will surely have brought a great deal of musical satisfaction in preparing. Performing it under pressure though is another matter all together.

Uplifting emotions

Thierry Deleruyelle’s ‘Fraternity’ was first used as the set-work at the 2016 European Championships and has quickly become a firm favourite with players and listeners alike. Despite it tragic inspiration, it’s a work of uplifting emotions; evocative, descriptive and telling. 

It is also one that demands huge musical respect. Play it without a sense of restrained reverence (especially towards it conclusion) and its narrative musical arc can be crassly broken.

As a number of exceptional bands have found to their cost at major contests since it was first used, evoking a historic sense of communal loss in bringing out the bodies of 1099 dead miners isn’t one that can be accompanied by self indulgent triumphalism. 

The closing ‘Fraternal Prayer’ isn’t the place to bring your hands together for musical ‘High Fives’ either.  

It will take a very good band with a conductor with an intuitive appreciation of style as well as substance to eloquently capture the moods of foreboding, focussed industry, devastation, despair and communal hope to secure their place at the British Open. 

The closing ‘Fraternal Prayer’ isn’t the place to bring your hands together for musical ‘High Fives’ either.  

So who will get through?

This is always such a difficult contest to predict, and this year is no exception (the draw may play a part, but in the last decade 10 bands in the first half and 10 in the second have qualified), with the two relegated outfits from the British Open in Rothwell Temperance and Scottish Champion, the cooperation Band, more than capable of making an immediate return.

Both have won here before (Rothwell in 2009 and 2015, cooperation in 1988) and in conductors David Roberts and Michael Fowles are led by MDs who know just how to bolt together high class performances. 

That said, so too are a host of others; from Kevin MacKenzie at Camborne to Robert Childs at Woodfalls, whilst a number are certainly on the upswing of extended competitive success, including Area champions Friary Brass and City of Hull as well as fellow London qualifiers GUS Band, Reg Vardy and Pemberton Old Wigan DW.

Then there is the Dr Martin (and North West First Section) winner Rainford and the Bolsover champion in Hepworth, not forgetting the promoted bands from the Senior Cup led by the ambitious Oldham (Lees). Where ever you look in fact there is a good each-way bet for a potential qualification place - from the West of England pairing of Filton Concert and St Dennis to a rejuvenated Redbridge and NASUWT Riverside and beyond.

So difficult to call, but if they can just temper their robustness and still play with the confidence and clarity shown at the Yorkshire Area earlier this year it could be Rothwell as the band to beat.

Who could join then at Symphony Hall could be one heck of a scrap, led perhaps by the Scots of the cooperation Band.

NASUWT Riverside, Woodfalls, Friary and Reg Vardy are quality bands that have also shown solid form here in the past few years and could well fill the remaining top-six places, with dark horses in the shape of GUS Band, Pemberton Old, Hepworth and Filton Concert for the top ten. 

4BR Prediction:

1. Rothwell Temperance
2. the cooperation Band
3. NASUWT Riverside
4. Friary Brass
5. Woodfalls
6. Reg Vardy    

Dark Horses: GUS Band, Pemberton Old, Hepworth, Filton Concert


Oldham
2018 Champion: Oldham (Lees)

Senior Cup
Empress Ballroom
Test Piece: Symphonic Music for Brass Band (Paul Huber)

Draws: 10.45am & 1.30pm
Commence: 11.45am

Ashton-under-Lyne (Philip Chalk) (S)
Aveley & Newham (Alan Duguid) (S)
Blackburn & Darwen (Daniel Thomas) (F)
City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) (Christopher Bond) (S)
Dalmellington (Nigel Boddice MBE) (F)
Derwent Brass (Jack Capstaff) (F)
Elland Silver (Daniel Brooks) (F) 
Goodwick Brass (Matthew Jenkins) (F) 
Hatfield & Askern Colliery (Stan Lippeatt) (F)
Jackfield Brass (David Maplestone) (F)
Kingdom Brass (Ian Porthouse) (S)
Kirkintilloch (Leigh Baker) (S)
Llwydcoed (Chris Turner) (S)
Lydbrook (Glyn Williams) (F)
Newtongrange Silver (Andrew Duncan) (F)
Northop Silver (John Doyle) (F)
Ratby Co-operative (David Purkiss) (S)
Roche Brass (David Johnson) (S)
TCTC Group (Jef Sparkes) (S)
Wantage Silver (Paul Holland) (S)
Yorkshire Imperial Urquhart Travel (Garry Hallas) (S)

F: First half of draw
S: Second half of draw

Although the lineage of the Senior Cup contest has been interrupted by an extended break from 1982 until 2001, it still retains a fascinating sense of history - all the more so as the original trophy was recently found tucked away in the back of the trophy cabinet of the Cockerton Band, the last winners to be presented with it in 1981.

Preliminary discussions are currently underway to see it presented once more at the Spring Festival for the 100th anniversary in 2020, but for the time being this weekend’s winner won’t worry too much if they have to fill its replacement with celebratory Prosecco.

Polished gem

They will have to do so by tackling a polished gem of a work by the Swiss composer Paul Huber. 

'Symphonic Music' was commissioned as the set-test for the 1979 European Championships. It’s a powerful, romantic symphonic study (approx 10 minutes in duration) of scholarly rigour and structure; its tonal language and sense of increasing drama allied to moments of suspended reflection and elegance. 

There is no narrative inspiration, yet the composer combines an air of mystery and unresolved tension throughout – from its opening bars which build with questioning apprehension to a fleet-footed ‘Allegro agitato’ and which in turn contrast with elements of lyricism as it builds towards its ferocious dissonant climax.  

Play it well and it is a thrilling work that amply rewards excellent ensemble cohesion, regulated pace and finely delineated balance - elements that modern day brass bands find increasingly difficult to master in an era of sugar coated pyrotechnics and bluff effect (although it does have a hint of 'Star Wars', 'Night on a Bare Mountain' and 'Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' about it in snippets) 

Making sure clarity is heard in the booming acoustic of the Empress Ballroom could be crucial. 

Much then to look forward to as the 21 bands try to claim one of the four Grand Shield qualification places on offer.

There is no narrative inspiration, yet the composer combines an air of mystery and unresolved tension throughout – from its opening bars which build with questioning apprehension to a fleet-footed ‘Allegro agitato’ and which in turn contrast with elements of lyricism as it builds towards its ferocious dissonant climax.  

As for a winner?

If you thought the Grand Shield was a hard contest to predict, this one may be even more difficult.

There are solid looking outfits from all corners of the UK; from former British Open contenders Ashton under Lyne to former British Open winners Yorkshire Imps.

On recent form alone, Northop Silver could be a band to listen out for. They were excellent value for their Albert Hall qualification at the Welsh Area whilst Ratby, who just missed out in the Midlands and 2018 Senior Trophy winners Wantage are also bands very much on the up.

The same could also be said of Llwydcoed, TCTC Group, Lydbrook, Elland Silver, Hatfield and Kingdom Brass - all more than capable of securing their place in the Grand Shield.

Don’t be surprised however if other names are read out come the announcement of the results.

4BR Prediction:

1. Northop Silver
2. Ashton under Lyne
3. Ratby Cooperative
4. Kingdom Brass
5. Wantage Silver
6. Llwydcoed

Dark Horses: TCTC Group, Lydbrook, Elland Silver, Hatfield & Askern Colliery


Wantage
2018 Champion: Wantage Silver

Senior Trophy
Spanish Hall
Test Piece: Triumphant Rhapsody (Gilbert Vinter)

Draws: 10.15am & 1.10pm
Commence: 11.15am

Burry Port (Ceri John) (F)
City of Bradford (Lee Skipsey) (S)
Drighlington (Neil Robinson) (S)
Easington Colliery Brass (Jonathan Fenwick) (S)
East London Brass (Jayne Murrill) (F)
Ebbw Valley Brass (Gareth Ritter) (F)
Eccles Borough Brass (Mareika Gray) (F)
Laganvale (Metal Technology) (Keith Anderson) (S)
Marsden Silver Prize (Andrew Lofthouse) (S)
Roberts Bakery (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
Shepherd Group (Richard Wilton) (F)
SPAL Sovereign Brass (John Durrant) (F)
Staffordshire (Craig Williams) (F)
Strata Brass (Jonathan Bates) (F)
Thundersley Brass (Melvin White) (S)
Tylorstown (Gary Davies) (S)
UNISON Kinneil (Raymond Tennant) (S)
Unite the Union (John Roberts) (F)
Vernon Building Society Poynton (Ryan Watkins) (S)
Verwood Concert Brass (Kevin Smith) (S)

F: First half of draw
S: Second half of draw

A classic test of inherent musicality awaits the Senior Trophy bands taking the first steps towards the British Open in the ornate surroundings of the Spanish Hall.

'Triumphant Rhapsody', was the fourth of Gilbert Vinter’s major 1960s works, and was commissioned as the set-test for the 1965 National Championships. It has since been used throughout the banding world both as a popular test-piece and own-choice selection.

Based on the exploration of major and minor second intervals (it was originally to be entitled, 'A Matter of Seconds') it remains a hugely inventive, free thinking composition, despite its formal composition structure.  

Pathos and wit

It also remains a great pity that Vinter was asked to change the title (it was felt to be rather flippant for such an occasion) as it’s a wonderful exposition of innovative craftsmanship; combining both pathos and wit in equal measure.  

Over half a century since it was written its cross rhythms and dissonant balances remain fresh to the ear, the harmonised chords of seconds and sevenths giving tension to the music as it builds to its glorious breakneck finale.   

It may be 54 years of age, and everyone with any knowledge of brass banding knows how it’s supposed to sound, but it’s still a demanding test. 

Treat it with a level of disrespect and it can bite you on the backside and send you packing. Get it right though and it comes to life as fresh as it was when it was first heard.   

It may not be a rhapsody but it will certainly be triumphant for one band.

Over half a century since it was written its cross rhythms and dissonant balances remain fresh to the ear, the harmonised chords of seconds and sevenths giving tension to the music as it builds to its glorious breakneck finale.   

As for a winner?

All 20 contenders (with a mix of 13 Championship and 7 First Section bands) will fancy their chances here - from Burry Port Town to Verwood Concert Brass, although on current form it could be City of Bradford that heads to Blackpool as the favourite to claim the title.

Bubbling with confidence after another fine showing at the Yorkshire Area, Lee Skipsey’s band may take some beating.

However, the likes of VBS Poynton and Marsden Silver may push them for a podium slot, with East London Brass, Ebbw Valley and Staffordshire not far behind. The trade union backed duo of Unite the Union and UNISON Kinneil could be the best bet dark horses alongside Eccles Borough and Jackfield, although keep glancing back for Cheltenham qualifiers Burry Port and Laganvale.       

4BR Prediction:

1. City of Bradford
2. VBS Poynton
3. Marsden Silver
4. East London Brass
5. Ebbw Valley
6. Staffordshire

Dark Horses: Unite the Union, UNISON Kinneil, Eccles Borough and Burry Port.  

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The Fairey Band -

Sunday 22 September • Boarshurst Band Club. Greenbridge Lane. Greenfield. Saddleworth OL37EW


Enderby Youth Band - Mike Fowles, directing training weekend concert

Sunday 22 September • Lutterworth College Main Hall. Bitteswell Road. Lutterworth. Leicestershire LE17 4EW


Enderby Youth Band - Mike Fowles, directing Youth training weekend

Sunday 22 September • Lutterworth College. Bitteswell Road . Lutterworth LE17 4EW


Foden's Band - Mike Lovatt

Sunday 22 September • Stoller Hall, Hunts Bank, Manchester M3 1DA


Kettering Citadel S A Band - NeXus Youth Choir (S A West Midlands)

Saturday 28 September • The Salvation Army, . 66, Rockingham Road, . Kettering, Northamptonshire, NN16 8JU


Foss Dyke Band

September 22 • We are looking for a horn player, 2nd Euph, 2nd Baritone and a Cornet, and finally a Bass player to complete our line up for the 1st Section next year. Great bandroom feeling, under new MD Ian Scott. Come and give us a try, you will be made most welcome.


Stannington Brass Band

September 22 • A rare opportunity has arisen to join one of Sheffield's leading bands with a vacancy for an EEb TUBA player to complete our bass section. We have a good band room atmosphere and a calendar of interesting concerts and contests


Frampton on Severn Silver Band

September 21 • We are a friendly non-contesting band in Gloucestershire looking for players, in particular cornets, baritone, euphonium and Eb bass, but all welcome. We play at local events and bandstand jobs, and practice on Tuesday evenings just off J13 of the M5.


Derek Renshaw

ABBA Member
Conductor, Band Trainer and Adjudicator.


               

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