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4BarsRest's retrospective look on the All England Masters, 2001.

There just had to be a sting in the tail didn’t there? On a pretty amazing day of contesting, the Masters gave us the equivalent of the Liverpool/Alaves UEFA cup final – lots of skill, talent, brilliant players and drama by the bucketful. Well done Mr Biggs and Mr Franklin – Barnum’s Circus couldn’t have done it any better.

We set out early and came back late, but we managed to fit in as much as we could to try and give you a feel and sense of what was going on at the Corn Exchange. Sorry about the spelling mistakes (the keys on the palmtop are a bit small) but we hope you enjoyed our efforts. And so to the contest…

The predraw that was made give the bands an accurate idea of when they were to play during the day gave us the first bit of drama. The first five bands on were Travelsphere, Fairey’s, Leyland, Sellers and Fodens. Phew!! The three judges – Newsome, Scott and Whitham were certainly going to earn their money early on. And as we had backed four of the five to come in the prizes, our reputation as tipsters was on the line too.

Travelsphere were a huge disappointment and Fairey’s also seemed resigned to their fate somewhat, whilst Leyland gave us a whistle-stop romp through. Sellers were steady but it was Fodens who set their stall out with a cracking performance that owed a lot to Richard Evans and to the musicianship of his players. A few clips yes, but very musically shaped.

In the event, Travelsphere dropped quicker down the charts than the new Spice Girls single and came 18th, whilst Fairey had a mixed response from the judges that ranged from 3rd and 7th from Mr Whitham and Mr Scott to 15th from Roy Newsome. 9th place was the result, but for us it should have been a bit higher. Leyland also suffered for possibly taking it a bit fast and found themselves in 13th place at the end - Unlucky. Sellers found that steadiness was rewarded only by a midfield placing a bit below what we predicted, but Fodens we thought were more than a little unfortunate to end up 4th overall (same points as Carlton Main, but Mr Scott placed them 6th to Carlton’s 4th and so they lost a place and £500 to boot).

After the initial surge, Aveley and Rolls Royce showed why “Pageantry” still has the ability to punish bands severely. Aveley were well off form and 19th was a fair result (so much for us saying they could be in the top ten) and Rolls Royce found it very tough going and confirmed our prediction of a bottom three placing and came last of the bunch.

A third of the contest gone then and it was fairly clear that Fodens were the band to beat. Not only was that good for us (we had predicted a 3rd place), but it was good to see the band back on top form. Rothwell up next and a performance that could have been up in the prizes if it wasn’t for some OTT overblowing. They are going in the right direction though and 11th was about right and a bit better than we thought before hand.

And so to Brighouse. They took the stage like little Ceasers in the purple and gold and proceeded to play like emperors. Big, bold, brilliant is what we said after a performance that had nearly everything. We say nearly, because all three judges thought it good but not the best and awarded them 3rd, 3rd and 2nd, but you can’t take it away from them. Players of the quality of Phillip McCann (who played quite beautifully in the solos in the 2nd movement), Simon Gresswell (who won his third Masters title in a row on bass) and Steve Stuart who was wicked on sop gave them a real stamp of class and authority, which was harnessed quite brilliantly by Alan Withington. It was them or Fodens now.

10, 11 and 12 were Todmorden Old, Mount Charles and Woodfalls and the contest entered a bit of a lull. Tod were possibly undone at the start due to a mobile phone going off in a woman’s handbag (a great stare from Dennis Hadfield put her in her place though!) and never quite recovered and fell away to come 16th, whilst Mount Charles put up a brave showing to come in 17th and put a few bands more than we thought beforehand, below them. Woodfalls found life tough though and 20th was a fair reflection for us.

Ransome and Russell Gray up next and a performance that could have very nearly been right up there if it wasn’t for the niggling minor slips that in the end detracted from a very good reading. 4th, 8th and 12th from the judges seemed to reflect that it was a “nearly” show that could have had greater reward than 8th place. They confirmed our “Dark Horse” prediction though. Well-done.

Bodmin also put a well deserved two fingers up at us with a very competent show that made a monkey of us by saying they had used up a lot of luck at the Grand Shield. We thought beforehand they would come in 17th but they really showed us up and took a well-deserved 12th. Good on ’em.

Ever Ready also performed above our expectation and came in 7th after a solid showing that had some very good moments and some less good moments in it. Qualification for the Open and now a good Masters – things are looking good for the band from the northeast – and not before time. And the same goes for First City Brass. Coming 14th may not be a cause for celebration for some bands, but the last two contests have been a bit of a disaster and Jeremy Wise has worked a bit of a minor miracle. Well done to them and Richard Marshall of Grimethorpe who helped out due to illness on solo cornet and was superb. It helped, but so did a good reading and solid performance around the stand.

Carlton Main also upset our predictions in a big way with a performance of real merit – positive, strong and committed. 2nd, 4th and 10th from the judges to give 3rd place and push out Fodens, seemed a bit generous for us, but you couldn’t fault the preparation and motivation that went into the performance. A return to happy days? Yorkshire Imps also gave a very fine showing on the day and it was no surprise to us and the audience that they came a very well deserved 6th place. We said they could make a mark and they certainly did with Roy Newsome who thought they deserved the top prize, which raised a few eyebrows afterwards, especially as the other two had them 9th and 10th. All in all though it was a very good showing.

Besses o’ th’ Barn and Flowers followed and both made good impressions. Besses also confirmed that they are continuing to improve under the baton of Gareth Pritchard and 10th spot was good reward for a quality reading and some detailed playing. In the end they came one place below what we thought – things are looking up. Flowers really made you listen. Philip Harper is a very tall bloke with a very distinctive style to his conducting and interpretation, and the detail that he brought to his reading was evident as Flowers produced three movements of real quality. It was a little bit fragmented for us, but it was classy stuff and 5th place was just reward.

Last band on and the contest was still up for grabs. Not after Yorkshire Building Society. For us, the majority of the audience and two of the adjudicators they were on a different planet. Style, tempo, detail – the performance had it all and apart from the obvious use of the euphonium to play the lower baritone part at the beginning of the second movement it was nigh on perfect. We couldn’t see it being beaten – but then we weren’t in the box were we?

Mr Newsome thought differently and placed them 7th. A bit harsh in anyone’s book really and one place too many for them to make it a hat trick of wins. Right at the death the contest had sprung another surprise and for the second time since 1998 YBS were undone by one judge placing them way below the others. In 1998 they came 1st, 1st and 13th, whilst this time it was 1st, 1st and 7th. Who said contesting was predictable.

Our Overall View

Great day, great test piece – wrong result. Brighouse were very good indeed, but to win the title by not getting one 1st place from the judges shows how hard done by YBS were. (By the way, when Brighouse won in 1998 they were placed 3rd, 2nd and 2nd by the judges, whilst YBS were awarded 1st, 1st and 13th).

Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the system of three judges. Why not increase the number to five and do as they do in ice skating and drop the top and bottom mark to leave the three middle marks. Three is neither too many nor not enough and so suffers when one judge goes a bit wonky. If Mr Newsome was in the box on his own, then YBS wouldn’t even have got a mention off the stage, Brighouse would have been second and the title would have been won by Yorkshire Imps. We are not criticising Mr Newsome, as he has his own opinions and we fully respect them, but the system as it is, is open to wild fluctuations. Perhaps the bands should pay a bit more to get the extra judges or we could revert back to one man in the box?

Whatever, this was the only thing we could take issue with on a day that Biggs and Franklin have made very special indeed. They should be congratulated for the organisation and the way in which everything runs so smoothly. If they could only get the European Brass Band Association to give the winners the invite to the Europeans it would very nearly be perfect. Roll on next year.

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