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Report & Result: 2021 National Championships of Great Britain: Section 1

Kingdom Brass and MD Ian Porthouse are triumphant as they claimed the First Section honours in Cheltenham by an Arkle distance.

Cheltenham
  Kingdom Triumphant at Cheltenham

The uplifting warmth of joyful musical achievement witnessed in the Third Section on Saturday morning was balanced later in the day by the sobering chill of realism felt at the conclusion of the First Section contest.

Despite a fine winner in Kingdom Brass and the battling efforts of the prize-winners such as Sandhurst Silver and Medway, this was an event that laid bare the effects of the 18 month long Covid-19 break and more tellingly perhaps, the true level of First Section banding on its return.

The case for a radical overhaul of the Championship/First Section could not have been advocated with any greater clarity than by 'Connotations'. The earlier announcement of 'Spectrum' as the 2022 Area test-piece only added to the dilemma now faced by regional committees.

Great credit

Great credit though should go to the fourteen bands that took to the stage.

Edward Gregson's seminal work would have been a severe test at the best of times and on the best of form, but after a break that has so obviously denuded development of top section potential, it bared its middle-aged teeth and took huge chunks out of collective confidence.

It was good to be back of course, but this was no stepping-stone on which to base future top-flight aspirations.

With perhaps a couple of exceptions these were bands that should put aside any thoughts of promotion and remain at First Section level for at last another year to bolster their musical strength and long-term wellbeing.

The evidence was heard out time and again in a litany of unforced errors, rhythmic inaccuracies, poor intonation, technical limitations, solo nerves and even missing entries.

Arcane rule book

That they may not be given the choice given the arcane rule book regional committees must adhere to, seems ludicrously self-defeating.

Whether anything can, or will, be done over the next few months remains to be seen, but as we said at the time, even the winners may have celebrated with Irn Bru rather than Tennants Extra on their long journey home.

It was also a sobering experience to be one of the judges (Steve Sykes had reported a Covid-19 positive test result and was not replaced).

Sheona Wade was generous and encouraging in her assessment of the solo playing heard (and there were some fine efforts on the cornet and euph cadenzas in particular), but her nuanced highlighting of ensemble accompaniment troubles was telling.

Alan Morrison's summing up wouldn't have been out of place at the High Court; clear, concise and starkly observed; 10 bullet points that covered the opening four notes to the closing coda via each variation requirement.

"I don't want to be too critical," he said with loaded inflection, before adding. "But no band got through unscathed".

You knew at this point any defence barrister would have quickly advised their client not to pursue an appeal process.

"Not one got it all right," he went on. "Some in some parts, others in others. It wasn't the easiest of contests to judge because of the inconsistencies."

What he said rang very true — and especially what was left to interpret between the lines.

Clear winner

He did however state that there was "quite a clear winner"- and few who heard Kingdom Brass as the penultimate contender would have disagreed. In the racing parlance of these parts they were an Arkle distance ahead.

That said, the adjudicator's immediate written remarks backed up their later findings. "Overall, a performance with lots of quality moments and some excellent soloists. Some nice bass playing too!" wrote Sheona.

Alan, also brought the same realistic analyse to bear. "Some super playing here with a performance that lit the room up. Not without its uncomfortable moments though but so well directed and musically portrayed."

Tough test

Kingdom's celebrations filled the hall for a considerable time after the results were announced, with their MD, Ian Porthouse in the thick of them as he warmly congratulated his players as well as receiving what felt like honorary 'Scottish' musical citizenship in return.

"I've really enjoyed making the trip up over the last few weeks," he said. "The band has worked so hard — and especially as we all knew this was going to be a very tough test-piece to play.

'Connotations' is a great piece and leaves nowhere to hide. We need to play more music like this as it can only benefit bands at this level. I'm delighted to have won and I'm sure the players are going to enjoy their long trip home!"

Deserved podium finishers

This was little doubt that was going to be the case, whilst there would also have been a few sore heads to contend with on Sunday morning from the players and supporters of Sandhurst Silver and Medway who claimed deserved podium finishes.

David Johnson and Nigel Taken also used their considerable experience to mould musical performances of common sense virtues, helped by some great individual contributions along the way.

John Storey of Sandhurst Silver and the British Army took the 'Best Instrumentalist' award for his control and composure on euphonium, whilst he would surely have been pushed for the individual accolade by Medway's classy principal cornet Elaine Williams.

Both were the little gemstones that flickered with undeniable top-section quality in performances that emerged with great credit thanks to their MDs understanding of the score.

Idiosyncrasies

On their coat tails came Roberts Bakery, who very nearly forced their way into the prizes, but perhaps just offered a few too many little interpretive idiosyncrasies under Paul Lovatt-Cooper.

Elsewhere, intonation problems perhaps just tarnished the more traditional virtues of Unite the Union as they ended fifth, whilst what seemed like mechanical misfortune and some late over enthusiasm curbed the chances of Jackfield ending higher than sixth.

Behind them hard working efforts from the likes of Tylorstown and Blackburn & Darwen (who many neutrals fancied for a higher placed finish), as well as the contrasting interpretations from Brunel, Knottingley and York saw them battle for the top-ten honours alongside the likes of Ripon, Newstead and BTM.

Sobering conclusion

Few would have had cause for complaint where they eventually came, and although Connotations may well suggest more than one way of looking at something — on the evidence of this contest it only came up with one rather sobering conclusion.

Every band will know just how much hard work now lies ahead as they contemplate 'Spectrum' or even 'Contest Music' over the coming winter months.

Iwan Fox

We need to play more music like this as it can only benefit bands at this level. I'm delighted to have won and I'm sure the players are going to enjoy their long trip home!Ian Porthouse

Result:

Test Piece: Connotations (Edward Gregson)
Adjudicators: Alan Morrison; Sheona Wade

1. Kingdom Brass (Ian Porthouse)
2. Sandhurst Silver (David Johnson)
3. Medway (Nigel Taken)
4. Roberts Bakery (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
5. Unite the Union (John Davis)
6. Jackfield (David Maplestone)
7. Tylorstown (Gary Davies)
8. Blackburn & Darwen (Daniel Thomas)
9. Brunel Brass (Daniel Hall)
10. Knottingley Silver (Kevin Belcher)
11. York Railway Institute (David Lancaster)
12. Ripon City (Mark Sidwell)
13. Newstead (Jim Davies)
14. BTM (Jeff Hutcherson)

Best Instrumentalist: John Storey (euphonium) — Sandhurst Silver

*Adjudicator Steve Sykes had to withdraw prior to the contest due to a positive Covid-19 test.

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