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The Grand Shield 2001 - Runners and Riders

We give the rundown on the competing bands at the 81st Grand Shield... and our prediction of the result!

Saturday 5th May
Empress Ballroom
Winter Gardens, Blackpool

Saturday 5th May sees the running of the 81st Grand Shield Contest - in our humble opinion, the hardest brass band contest of all to win. As we can at this very moment hear a thousand voices shouting "Bloody Rubbish", we had better explain ourselves.

The three big British Contests usually have just a small elite group of bands that can, and usually walk off with the top prizes year in year out. (Some clever dick will now proceed to reel off the names of Marple, City of Coventry etc at the Open - but you get our drift). The Grand Shield however has no elite group, with the possible exception of the odd band now and again that stands head and shoulders above the crowd - but even that is not usually enough to guarantee success. No. To win the Shield you require skill, talent, a good conductor, a damn good draw and a huge dollop of luck - as the field you will be playing up against will be formed of bands that in every way but none, will just about be exactly the same standard as yourselves from solo cornet to Tam-Tam player. (We had to get that one in!)

This year is no different, with 20 bands that in reality you couldn't prize apart with a fag paper and a test piece that all of them will be more than capable of doing a good show on. Never mind Monsieur Ballisat's bonkers re-write, this is going to be a neck and neck race to the finish, with the top two getting the invite for the Open.

So here's our rundown of each of the runners and riders and our very, very dodgy prediction of who we think will fill the podium placings.

Ashton-under-Lyne. (M. Evans)
5th place last year capped an impressive trek to the top section for the band from the North West, and since that time the band has steadied itself impressively in a tough area. Last place in the Area's though was a set back and they may find that this year's contest may be a little more difficult to make a mark in. Outsiders.

Aveley and Newham. (N. Taken)
One of the most improved bands in the country during 2000, with impressive performances at London (7th), Pontins (3rd), Yeovil (1st) and finally the Regional Championships 2001 (1st). It's that type of form that makes them out to be one of the favourites, and with a good team of soloists around the band, "Epic" should suit the Londoners well. One to look out for we think - although they have a pretty ordinary record at the Shield over the years. Contenders.

B.T.M. (G. Pritchard)
The young band from South Wales came 4th last year and have continued to develop and mature under the sensible direction of Gareth Pritchard. If this progress has been cemented then they can be a real threat as they have some very fine individual soloists throughout the band. However, they were very disappointing at Pontins late last year (17th) and came only 6th at Yeovil in a pretty mediocre field. The Areas weren't much kinder (7th) although they did play better than the result showed. Possibles.

Besses o' th' Barn. (G. Pritchard)
Mr Pritchard's second or first band - whichever way you want to look at it came a very close 3rd last year and have continued to make steady rather than spectacular progress in the top section. 8th at Yeovil this year was disappointing but they played very well at the Area (6th) and beat three of their rivals in this contest to boot. Some quality solo players should see them around and about the top six, but where exactly could well depend on the amount of detailed preparation having only 50% worth of MD amounts to. Contenders.

British Telecom. (M. Fowles)
Another band that has gone through the mill somewhat over the past few years but that has now got back onto its feet. The loss of Peter Shaw on solo cornet to Fairey's will be a big blow though their recent 5th place at the North West Area was a very good return to form and fortune that last year saw them drop out of Pontins. Mike Fowles is a good safe pair of hands and although they may not repeat the 2nd place of 1998, they could well feature in the top half at least. Outsiders.

Bodmin. (S. Sykes)
Up until the end of 2000 this really was a band to look out for at any contest, but 2001 has been something of an almighty anti climax for the Cornish band. After narrowly missing out in 1999 for a qualifying place the band seemed to be on the road to further success after retaining their Yeovil title in 2000 and again qualifying for the National Finals in London. However, 15th place there and a disappointing 3rd at Yeovil this year heralded a poor 6th place at the Areas, where they fielded two soprano's on the day. Now an outsider, but could still feature given a bit of luck.

The 2001 Areas in the North East saw EYMS return to form after a fallow period in the late 1990's. The band created by Bob Childs had won prizes by the bucket full up to that point, and had a 6th place at the Shield in 1997 but latterly they had struggled somewhat due to a lack of players and some chopping and changing of the man with the baton. However, Alan Morrison took the band to Pontins last year where they played well off an early draw to come an unlucky 12th and continued the improvement with a lovely show on "Jazz" that gave them second place and a trip to the Finals. Alan's not at the helm though, so we feel it could be a midfield place this time around. Outsiders.

Ever Ready. (R. Farr)
Should by anyone's account be one of the favourites for the title, especially with Ray Farr at the helm and an array of talented corner men to call on. However, they haven't had much luck impressing the men in the box of late with 13th place in London followed by 7th at Spennymoor (amongst some strong company) and a very disappointing 3rd at the Area where they felt they played well but overblew it a bit. 5th here in 1998, but 16th in 1999 shows they can be a bit unpredictable. Didn't compete last year so they should be going all out to get an Open place. Contenders.

Fishburn. (I. Robinson)
The third of the North East's bands and the one in the real rich vein of form. Confounded the bookies with a super win at this year's Area where Ian Robinson put together a very classy performance. Improving and maturing slowly, but very capable of competing for one of the top spots, they have a good solid team of soloists and a very good man at the helm which could bring reward. A "light" sounding band, which may explain why they ended bottom of the pile at last year's National, but "Epic" could suit their neat and tidy style and they should improve on 1999's 14th place. Possibles.

First City Brass. (J. Wise)
If ever a band wanted to forget the Areas then these are the boys. They were awful and still came 4th in a very weak field that they should have dominated. Jeremy Wise continues to impress with them however and like fellow London band Aveley, they have greatly improved over the past two years. The Nationals saw a good quality performance and 9th and they came 4th at Yeovil this year, which should have heralded further success at the Area. Should put this behind them though and will be keen to improve on last years 16th place at this contest. Possibles.

Kirkintilloch. (A. Ramsey)
The most experienced of the two Scottish bands on show have the undoubted ability and players to win the contest, and with Frank Renton at the helm they could well have been very much in with a chance. However, Mr Renton is elsewhere and they return with less flamboyant but solid Alan Ramsey at the helm. 6th in 1995 is their best here in the 1990's and they could only manage 10th last year. 5th at the Areas this year was a little disappointing so they will be hell bent on achieving a good result. Well worth listening to. Possibles.

Mount Charles. (B. Hurdley)
The 1999 Pontins Champions have found life a little more difficult of late, with their defence in November 2000 resulting in 4th place, Yeovil seeing them get 5th and the Area's seeing another solid if rather unspectacular 5th. The Grand Shield last year saw another mid table place (8th) so we can't help but feel that 2001 may see a repeat of the same. Bryan Hurdley is a top class band trainer who took Flowers Band to this title in 1998 so he knows what it takes, but this time out he may find that a top ten place may the best thing on offer. Outsiders.

Point of Ayr. ( Alan Lawton )
At the end of 2000 this was a band that appeared to have no future, after they were forced to withdraw from the National Finals in London. Time has been kind to them and the central core of talented soloists remained to make a very impressive mark at this year's Regional Championships in Wales where they took 2nd place and qualified for the Finals again. On their day they are a very capable band indeed and have an impressive record at the contest that includes 2nd in 1993, 3rd in 1997 and 6th in 1998, 8th in 1999, but only 18th last year. Thomas Wyss is back on top form also and he has just as good a record here as well with a 3rd, 4th and 5th to his name. Could be in at the death given a bit of luck. Possibles.

Rolls Royce Coventry. (D. Lea)
The runners-up here in 1999 on "Comedy Overture", return back to the fray after finding life swimming with the big fish a little too much for them. Two years at the Open saw them come 22nd and 16th last year, but it wasn't enough to survive - a fate that does tend to happen to many qualifiers from the contest. A very capable and solid band well directed by Dave Lea, they have stumbled a little of late and came a poor 7th at the Areas. The test piece may suit them again this year, but we feel the Midlanders could be set for a few years in the qualifying pool with the smaller fry before a return to the shark infested waters of the Open return again. Outsiders.

Rothwell Temperance. (D. Roberts)
The reigning Pontins Champions are a band that could really make a mark at the contest this year. With a line-up that includes some as many old heads as young ones Dave Roberts band has made solid and durable progress over the past year or more. A talented team of corner men should provide the foundation for a strong performance. However, they came a disappointing 8th at this year's Yorkshire Area where many had tipped them to be the dark horses so confidence may be a bit shaky. Last year saw them gain 7th place here so they will be keen to improve. Contenders.

Sellers International. (A. Exley)
A band that has tasted success at the very highest level in the past ten years find itself somewhat mysteriously scrabbling around in the qualifiers for the Open after two years in Birmingham that saw them slump to 17th and 18th and get relegated to the Shield in 2000. 13th here last year was another slump, but hard work and a return to form of both players and conductor saw 6th at Spennymoor amongst top class bands. The Areas were a disaster however and last place was undeserved for a performance of real merit off the number one spot in Yorkshire. Could be there or there about and are certainly due a bit of good luck. Contenders.

Stalybridge Old. (D. Hirst)
A young band that has made remarkable progress over the last few years and one that is doing well in an area such as the North West where stronger and more famous bands tend to pick off the talent. Jim Cant took the band to Pontins in November that saw them come 6th off the number 1 draw in a large field and the Areas saw them come a solid if unspectacular 8th under David Hirst. They did win the Rochdale Contest in January ahead of some good bands. They were last in the Open in 1993, but have a good record of achievement here with 6th place in 1996, 4th in 1992 and 6th again in 1991. David Hirst is a quality band trainer and the piece should suit them more than "Jazz" so a better result may be on the cards. Outsiders.

Thornton's Brass. (S. Shimwell)
A quietly achieving band from the Midlands, Thornton's have a decent record at nearly every contest they attend without ever quite doing enough to suggest they will push for a top place. The last two years here have seen 10th and 11th placings, whilst the Area this year saw them come 8th. Will never perhaps put the fear of God into the opposition, but will go about their business with a solid and gritty determination and a sesnsible approach from Stephen Shimwell. Possibly the same placing on the cards again. Outsiders.

Unison Kinneil. (TBA)
The second Scottish band to make the trip south of the border will also be determined to put in a strong challenge. The Regional Championships saw a rather undistinguished 8th place under the baton of John Hinckley, especially in view of their excellent 2nd place of the previous year and brave showing at the Albert Hall where they came 18th. Good solid corner men all round should see them give a performance worth listening to, although we feel they may not be able to do enough to trouble the bands at the top of the list. Outsiders.

Wingates. (B. Grant)
The 1996 winners on "Variations on a Ninth" have gone through a few variations of their own since Nicholas Childs took them to the title then. Two years in the Open were not notable with last place in 1998 sealing their fate back to the qualifiers. Recovery has been less swift however but possibly more permanent this time, with James Gourlay taking the band to 6th place last year and Brian Grant taking them to runners-up spot at Pontins and to a solid 7th at this year's Area in the North West. On their day can be a contender at any level (2nd on Jazz at the Masters for instance in 1997), they have in Brian Grant a very accomplished conductor and a good set of cornermen more than capable of getting them back into the Open - again. Contenders.

Last Years Top 6. (No points awarded)

1.Todmorden Old. (D. Hadfield)
2.Glossop Old. (B. Grant)
3.Besses o' th' Barn. (G. Pritchard)
4.BTM. (G. Pritchard)
5.Ashton-under-Lyne. (M. Evans)
6.Wingates. (J. Gourlay)

4BarsRest Prediction for 2001

1.Ever Ready
3.Besses o' th' Barn
4.Sellers International
5.Rothwell Temperance
6.Aveley and Newham

Dark Horse: Point of Ayr

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