When David was first crowned King: a look back at the Open
of 1997 - ref art002
The 145th British Open was a strange contest. Not only was it
held in January, four months after the intended date due to the
death of Princess Diana and it’s morbid aftermath of hagiography,
but it was also the first time the event had been held outside Manchester
in the whole of it’s long history. It meant that whoever won the
title would have the dubious distinction of holding the prize for
the shortest period ever, whilst Marple, the reigning champions
could justifiably call themselves British Open Winners for a little
longer than most people expected.
The venue for the contest was Symphony Hall Birmingham, a change
from the acoustic disaster of the previous year at the Bridgewater
Hall, Manchester that gave audiences and adjudicators alike a headache
from the reverberation and lack of facilities. As sublime a contest
stage could not have been invented for bands with near perfect acoustics
due to the state of the art architecture and facilities that included
a warm up room and spacious changing rooms for the bands. The Hall,
wasn’t going to let the contest down for sure.
The test piece was Michael Ball’s clever and deeply absorbing Whitsun
Wakes, a homage to a banding past that thankfully we will never
be returned to, but should never be forgotten, whilst the men chosen
for the task of finding the winners were Bill Relton, James Williams
and David Read; a safe if rather uninspired trio of experience.
There was a feeling that somehow the mistakes of the previous year
in both venue and possibly result were not to be repeated, and Mrs
Mortimer had made sure the banana skins were going to be kept to
The day started with the draw, and the numbers game which is so
much a part of band contests began to unfold. Much is made of the
draw at major contests for there is a belief, however mistaken,
that an early draw means disaster. With fifteen of the seventeen
bands already in place, two draw numbers were left in the sack,
and one of those was the dreaded number one. As I said, there is
a lot of superstition held about the draw, and much of it is complete
hogwash. The truth about the number one spot however is hard to
repudiate. Just once since the War had a band playing first taken
the crown, and with just two discs left in the bag, one of the representatives
from either Besses O’ th’ Barn or Yorkshire Building Society was
going to be left with the task of explaining to their band and conductor
that statistically this wasn’t likely to be their year. Their representative
stuck his hand in the bag and drew out number……. 11. His sense of
relief was palpable, just as the sense of doom was on the face of
the rep from Besses.
And so to the contest itself....
Besses opened the day with the Queen, although for many, myself
included, this ritual has become one of the last anachronisms of
contesting we could do without. After a short break we were off
and the first of seventeen performances of Whitsun Wakes was given.
It must be said however that the premier was a disappointment,
with Besses taking the Wakes of the title a little too literally.
It was an uninspired start from both band and conductor alike and
you could sense the bands disappointment at the draw had been brought
to the stage. In the end they were placed last but one, and in retrospect
they were possibly lucky to get that.
With the next group of four bands however the contest came to life.
First up were NSK RHP Ransomes under the baton of Brian Grant. For
some time this band had been making good progress and this was undoubtedly
shown in a performance of real merit and class. 194 points and the
early leadership was just reward for a rendition that adjudicator
William Relton wrote was, “stylish and commendable.” Tredegar were
next up under the direction of James Scott and immediately gave
notice that the runners-up spot of the previous year was no fluke.
A strong committed performance with excellent soloists gave them
192 points and sixth place. Many thought if the draw had been kinder
then they would have been placed higher. But that’s contesting for
On to the stage came Brighouse in their Caesarean purple and gold.
Not for the first time, Alan Withington conducted with a verve and
style that had many in the audience shouting themselves hoarse at
the end of their performance, but many had seen but not heard a
great show. Too many slips and the propensity to blow too loud for
the music had cost them dear and they had to be content with tenth
place. Next up, CWS Glasgow with Howard Snell still striving to
win his first Open title after so many close calls over the years.
This year he gave the audience and adjudicators alike a performance
that would at any other time would be enough to walk away with the
title – but again the Gods were against him. Perhaps it was the
draw, perhaps the judges didn’t like the subtleties of his interpretation
or just the one or two tiny slips from the band were enough to deny
him again. Whatever the reason, 197 points was not enough and the
Scots went home again, this time with third place. Funny ol’ game
Desford up next, but over the years the Open had not been a happy
hunting ground for the boys from Coalville and this year was no
exception. A pretty ordinary show and fifteenth place. Band number
seven were Grimethorpe, and a performance out of the top draw from
the Brassed Off superstars. Peter Parkes had something to prove
to many of the detractors who thought him slightly over the hill
for the big ones, but a show that recalled memories of past triumphs
gave Grimey a well-deserved fifth place with 193 points.
So we had listened to seven performances and unknown to us all
we had heard the bands that would take third, fourth, fifth and
sixth places already. What was strange was that by the time four
other bands had appeared on stage the contest was over.
Eight and nine were a disappointment with Whitburn and Sellers
giving the type of shows that could be described as “not too bad,
but not too good either”. Twelfth and thirteenth were a fair return.
The next two however, were in a different league all together.
Williams Fairey were a band that hadn’t tasted success at the Open
since 1993, when Peter Parkes had taken them to victory. Now they
were under the control of James Gourlay who’s musicianship and style
had won the band and himself many admirers. They were going to be
the band to beat – and so it proved.
Whitsun Wakes was a piece that demanded a lot from a band and its
conductor. Essentially it was a test piece in traditional format,
with a statement of the theme at the beginning, sections of differing
speed and dexterity leading to a central beautiful chorale and then
to a series of difficult quasi cadenzas from cornet, horn, flugal
and sop and baritone a little later. A big finish and that’s your
lot. Hard yes, but not nearly as unplayable as Masquerade, the piece
that last saw Fairey take the crown.
So Fairey’s gave the performance of the lives and ended up with
198 points and one and a half hands on the Shield. Eight performances
to go, and only a perfect rendition (which everyone knew was impossible)
or a show that would be as close to perfection as the 1970 Brazilian
football team could beat them. Guess what? On came Yorkshire Building
Society and played like Pele, Rivelino, Jairzhino and the rest and
proceeded to win the Open with a performance that could only be
The playing was outstanding, with the soloists Peter Roberts on
soprano, Iwan Williams on flugal, Sheona White on horn, Nick Hudson
on trombone and Morgan Griffiths on euph giving virtuoso performances.
David King conducted like only he can, whilst the star was undoubtedly
Ian Porthouse on solo cornet, who played quite brilliantly and walked
off with the soloist prize for his outstanding contribution to a
near perfect show. 199 points and victory. Everyone thought it was
good, but nobody, especially those who had just heard Fairey’s thought
it could be that good. It was, and it was enough to win the title.
What followed confirmed that nothing could better it. Fodens and
JJB Sports were very good, but in comparison sounded just like ordinary
bands, whilst Marple couldn’t repeat their victory of fourteen months
previous and sunk to a disappointing eleventh place, behind JJB
eighth and Fodens ninth. All were eclipsed by what had gone before.
The last few bands tried hard, with Cory playing well enough for
seventh place, Rothwell claiming a lowly fourteenth and Rigid Containers,
who had the misfortune to follow YBS on stage taking last place.
What would they have done to have swapped places with Besses at
the beginning of the day?
It was a strange victory in that by the halfway point in the day,
the contest was over and done with. The draw, the thing that everyone
thought would play a major part in deciding the fate of the trophy
seemed to be the only thing that rebelled, and when the statisticians
looked at the results some odd things appeared. Pairs of performances
won the day, with the bands that played 10 and 11, 2 and 3 and 7
and 8 filling the top six places. Odd possibly, but thoroughly deserved
none the less.
So Yorkshire Building Society took their first Open victory with
the highest ever points total. What would have happened if their
representative had had the misfortune to draw the number one disc
out of the bag some eight hours earlier was something we can only
imagine? Who said the draw was important.
145th British Open Order of Merit
January 17th 1998.
1 Yorkshire Building Society. ( D. King ) 11 199
2 Williams Fairey. ( J. Gourlay ) 10 198
3 CWS Glasgow ( H. Snell ) 5 197
4 NSK RHP Ransome ( B. Grant ) 2 194
5 Grimethorpe ( P. Parkes ) 7 193
6 Tredegar ( J. Scott ) 3 192
7 Cory ( J. Wise ) 16
8 JJB Sports Leyland ( R. Evans ) 14
9 Fodens (Courtois) ( N. Childs ) 13
10 Brighouse and Rastrick ( A. Withington) 4
11 Marple ( C. Cutt ) 15
12 Sellers Engineering ( A. Morrison) 9
13 David A. Hall Whitburn ( R. Adams ) 8
14 Rothwell ( T. Wyss ) 17
15 Desford Colliery ( F. Renton ) 6
16 Besses O’ th’ Barn ( D. Broadbent) 1
17 Rigid Containers Group ( J. Berryman ) 12
The adjudicators awarded points to the top six bands only.