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2023 National Championship of Great Britain
Preview

All bets are off this weekend, but Foden's may well still be the short priced favourite to emulate their famous predecessors.


All aboard...

There is an apocryphal banding tale much embellished over the years, but still well worth recalling ahead of this year’s National Final.

When Foden’s Band was winning the National title seven times (including two hat-tricks) between 1930 and 1938, it was said that the players used to take bets amongst themselves on the way down from Sandbach to London on which rival would come second to them at the contest.

it was said that the players used to take bets amongst themselves on the way down from Sandbach to London on which rival would come second to them at the contest.

Short priced favourites 

It would be hard to think though that the current members of the defending champion would really want to tempt fate in the same way as they travel down this weekend, especially as they are already most people’s short-priced favourites to emulate the achievements of their predecessors.

The last Foden’s hat-trick came in 1938 under the legendary Fred Mortimer, who led a band of exceptional performers – including his three sons as well as the likes of Charlie Cook, Hubert Shergold and Arthur Webb.


The double hat-trick winners

Parallels

The parallels to the current band are obvious (if not in the number of siblings).  Recently crowned British Open champions under Russell Gray, they are also arguably the best band in the world. 

They are popular and professional, but also know they are not unbeatable.     

However, they also display their dominance with respectful modesty; no bets on rivals, funereal walks onto the contest stage or social media PR hype to lazily inflate the perception of what is obvious to anyone who knows what a world-class elite level band should sound like. 

They are popular and professional, but also know they are not unbeatable.     


The 2022 Champion

Recent history

Harry Mortimer once said that people thought that at their peak, Foden’s could only be beaten “if they fell off the platform” before they played. Perhaps that was the case then, but it is certainly not this weekend.

Recent history also reminds you of that.  You only need to go back a few years to find a band that had National hat-trick history seemingly in their grasp, only for the platform of their ambitions to collapse under them before a note was blown.

Grimethorpe Colliery travelled to the Royal Albert Hall in 2008 in brilliant form and with a third consecutive victory very much within their hands.  Then somebody’s fingers drew out number 1 from the velvet bag.  

Grimethorpe Colliery travelled to the Royal Albert Hall in 2008 in brilliant form and with a third consecutive victory very much within their hands.  Then somebody’s fingers drew out number 1 from the velvet bag. 

They may as well have dropped through the floor of the auditorium and straight into Kensington underground station to take them home. 


The luck of the draw

Fickle draw

Foden’s will be wary then of the fickleness of contest draw fate. 

They last drew Kelly’s Eye at a major event at the 2022 Europeans, whilst their last two victories at London have come off numbers 14 and 20.  The last time they were drawn exceptionally early at the contest was 20 years ago when they came fifth from number 2.  

Even the very best bands in the world need a little bit of luck in getting a good draw.

The last time they were drawn exceptionally early at the contest was 20 years ago when they came fifth from number 2. 

Rivals

Foden’s will also know that there are a number of rivals desperately  keen to stop them adding their names to their predecessors (1932-34 and 1936-38); Black Dyke (1947-49 & 1975-77); Cory (1982-84) and Desford (1987-89) to become a member of a club every bit as select as the Athenaeum just down the road.


Of Men and Mountains

Righting a wrong

To do so they too will have to master the substantial challenges of Edward Gregson’s ‘Of Men and Mountains’,  which makes its long overdue appearance at the contest after being rejected on the grounds that it was ‘too long’ in 1991.

With 20 performances in store (starting at 10.00am) it will still be a long day before the 2023 Champion Band of Great Britain is revealed (and there is a short pre-results concert by Whitburn and Mike Lovatt to enjoy too), but Kapitol Promotions should be congratulated for righting that particular wrong.

Brave or foolhardy soul

There are three very eminent musicians in the box too – with Dr Robert Childs joined by Dr Stephen Cobb and Dr Roger Webster. 

There are three very eminent musicians in the box too – with Dr Robert Childs joined by Dr Stephen Cobb and Dr Roger Webster. 

It will take a brave (or foolhardy) soul to argue against their findings on a work that will test the very best bands and conductors in a way that even the great Fred Mortimer would have relished.

Foden’s will of course be one of the favourites, although the other ‘pre-qualifiers’ will also attract interest from those willing to place an each-way bet on potential podium finishers.


Yorkshire champions

Resurgent Yorkshrie champion 

A resurgent Yorkshire Champion Black Dyke (runner-up last year) is looking for a first National win since 2014, and as shown at the Europeans and British Open they are back to the type of form that could well see the famous silver pot back in the Queensbury hands of MD Prof Nicholas Childs for a sixth time (he also won with Foden’s too).  

they are back to the type of form that could well see the famous silver pot back in the Queensbury hands of MD Prof Nicholas Childs for a sixth time

Impressed

Meanwhile, Cory will not want to finish the year without major silverware to their name as they seek a fifth title led by Philip Harper. Remarkably, they haven’t finished outside the podium places since 2006. 

Flowers impressed many last year in coming fourth (as they did recently at the British Open but without the same end result) and this may be the type of piece that once again suits their bold approach here under Paul Holland. They have a very handy record. 


Ones to watch out for...

Fancied

Hammonds and Tredegar (who filled the top-six places last year) will also be fancied. Both impressed at the British Open - Hammonds off the number 1 slot, whilst Tredegar once again showed their major title winning credentials in coming third.

None of the bands that filled the midfield spots of seventh to tenth in 2022 return to the Albert Hall, but Whitburn and Aldbourne do, with both keen to push themselves into the top-10 or better after coming 11th and 12th at Symphony Hall.

20 year gap

Meanwhile, Leyland returns looking to put behind them a disappointing British Open, whilst fellow North West qualifier WFEL Fairey also hopes to build on their Birmingham result as they team up with six-time winning conductor Allan Withington, the man who also led them to their last title winning success here in 2003.

WFEL Fairey also hopes to build on their Birmingham result as they team up with six-time winning conductor Allan Withington, the man who also led them to their last title winning success here in 2003.

Interestingly, two returnees in North of England champion NASUWT Riverside and the Midlanders of Ratby Co-operative will look to make a mark under the experienced batons of two talented conductors with Foden’s connections of their own – Michael Fowles and Marieka Gray.


Brighouse & Rastrick return

Brighouse return

One band that will surely attract a great deal of support and interest is Brighouse & Rastrick, as the 2017 winner returns after their somewhat contentious absence twelve months ago. 

The partnership here with Prof David King is also renewed as they seek a fourth win together.

Elsewhere, GUS will look to recall former National glories in their 90th anniversary year under Dr David Thornton, as will the cooperation band who once again link up with Belgian euphonium star Glenn van Looy for their first appearance in London since 2019.


Zone One congestion...

Area champions

Two Area champions in Camborne (West) and Zone One (London & SC) are led by knowledgeable musicians in Gareth Churcher and Richard Ward as they seek to make their mark, whilst its great to see a famous old name return (first time since 2019) in the form of EverReady (although slightly tweaked) led by Phillip McCann.

Unlike 1938 all bets are off on this one - but Foden's may still like it that way nonetheless.

Friary Brass will be looking to claim a first top-10 finish as they return led by Nigel Taken (they have been on the cusp on their last five appearances) whilst Llwydcoed completes the Welsh challenge for what is their second appearance (they drew number 1 on their debut in 2021).

Unlike 1938 all bets are off on this one - but Foden's may still like it that way nonetheless.

Iwan Fox


Competing bands:

Royal Albert Hall
Saturday 21st October
Test piece: Of Men and Mountains (Edward Gregson)
Adjudicators: Dr Robert Childs, Dr Stephen Cobb, Dr Roger Webster
Start: 10.00am

1. Aldbourne (Ivan Meylemans)
2. Black Dyke (Prof Nicholas Childs)
3. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof David King)
4. Camborne (Gareth Churcher)
5. Cory (Philip Harper)
6. EverReady Band (Phillip McCann)
7. Flowers (Paul Holland)
8. Foden’s (Russell Gray)
9. Friary Brass (Nigel Taken)
10. GUS Band (Dr David Thornton)
11. Hammonds (Morgan Griffiths)
12. Leyland (Thomas Wyss)
13. Llwydcoed (Joshua Ruck)
14. NASUWT Riverside (Michael Fowles)
15. Ratby Co-operative (Marieka Gray)
16. the cooperation band (Glenn van Looy)
17. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)
18. WFEL Fairey (Allan Withington)
19. Whitburn (Luc Vertommen)
20. Zone One (Richard Ward)

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