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The Ten Most Controversial Brass Band Contest Results since 1990.

We had to think long and hard about this one before we decided to put it on the site. Not that we couldn’t find 10 contests to fill the criteria (we could have really mentioned about 100 contests if you believe the reasons given by bandsmen – usually from losing bands), but what we thought constituted a “controversial result”.

Lets get things straight from the start. We are not saying that there was something crooked going on in any way shape or form at any of these contests, or, that the adjudicators in their own minds eye, didn’t believe they were awarding first prize to the best band on the day. No.

These were the results that got people talking, debating, pulling their hair out and generally questioning their own sanity. Take nothing away from the winners – it’s too late now anyway, but even now (after many years of pub debate, arguments, conspiracy theories and general bewilderment) these particular contests were the ones that created the biggest stir.

1. The National Championships 1992

Grimethorpe’s year. The Tory Government had closed their pit (although it must be said, they had also closed numerous others throughout the coalfields) and Grimethorpe and it’s band were destined it seemed for closure too. The media were out in force (all luvvies, darlings and associated middle class hangers-on) and Desford were on a mission for a fifth win in six years. It seemed everything was against them.

They were brilliant and the result was never in doubt. A performance of sheer guts, talent and determination brought the house down and Grimethorpe were the Champions. They did everything that could possibly be asked of them, yet it possibly achieved very little. Controversial? - You bet.

For a few hours it seemed that the working class cold overcome any tragedy by force of will and the power and beauty of music. It spawned the film, the books, the mushy sentiment and changed absolutely nothing. The pit still closed, the industry went down the pan and the image of the brass band is remembered by the Chardonnay drinking classes of Hampstead through the sepia tinted image created by the film “Brassed Off”. It was the brass band movements ultimate 15 minutes of fame and for all of Grimethorpe’s efforts, it was perhaps the greatest ever Pyrrhic victory.

2. The All England Masters Championship 1998

This was the first year when placings from the three adjudicators replaced the traditional overall mark out of 200, and was hailed as a brave and forward thinking move in deciding clearly who was the best band on the day. The set test was Gregson’s “Dances and Arias” and the three wise men in the box were Mr Crees, Mr Relton and Mr Brand.

Yorkshire Building Society were drawn 20 out of 21 bands and proceeded to give what nearly everyone thought was a quite stunning performance. Two judges thought so as well and gave them 1st place, whilst one didn’t think much of them at all and plonked them down as the 13th best performance of the day. YBS were sunk and found themselves coming 4th behind Leyland, Williams Fairey and the winners, Brighouse and Rastrick, who were placed 3rd, 2nd and 2nd by the judges.

A new system had got off to a shaky start (Mr Brand gave The Ransome Band his 1st place, whilst the two others gave them 20th and 17th), but everyone knew it wouldn’t ever happen again – could it?

3. The British Open Championship 1996

The Open was entering a new era. A brand new venue at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and a “new” arrangement of a classic test piece in Elgar’s “Severn Suite” heralded what was to be an amazing contest. In the box were Bram Gay (who had done the arrangement), James Scott and John Wallace.

Somehow we knew it was going to be a strange one when Black Dyke, the reigning Champions were drawn number 1(the first time in living memory) and gave a tremendous account of the test piece. So did Tredegar, YBS, Williams Fairey, BNFL and Fodens and it was not a surprise when all of them appeared in the prize list from 6th to 2nd. What came next however nearly blew the roof off.

The winning band was the band that played……. Number 22 – The Marple Band. Silence.

Now this was a surprise. The British Open never came back to the Hall and a brass band arrangement has never been used since – until this year. But we all know lightening doesn’t strike twice don’t we?

4. The European Brass Band Championships 1998

Yorkshire Building Society again. For the past two years they had reigned supreme in Europe and 1998 saw them trying to become only the second band after Black Dyke Mills to achieve a hat trick of wins at the contest.

The morning had gone to plan on the set test with a cracking show that gave them 1st spot, two points ahead of their nearest rivals, Brighouse and Rastrick. Drawn 2nd in the afternoon, they choose to play “Blitz” and gave what one member of the audience described as “ a perfect performance”. The Blitz had been delivered, but an unexploded bomb was set to go off a little later.

The three men in the box were Jan de Haan, Hakon Hesthammer and Peter Parkes. The performance didn’t impress them at all, and they delivered their fateful explosion by placing YBS in 8th place out of the 12 on show. YBS came 4th overall and had to wait until 2001 to complete a hat trick. Never had a Blitz done so much damage.

5. Brass In Concert Championship – Spennymoor 1999

The year the music lost out. Entertainment contests are funny things at the best of times, and sometimes we forget that it’s the music that really matters – and in 1999 there was a collective bout of amnesia that resulted in the best band not winning the first prize on offer.

Fodens were on cracking form and gave a performance that won the prizes for “Best Quality of Performance”, “Best Principal Cornet” and “Best Soloist”. They came 2nd – which given what they had already won was a bit of a surprise to say the least as they were clear two point winners of the Music element of the contest.

However, 60 points were on offer for entertainment and given that they gave a show the like of which you only occasionally see at Barnum’s Big Top, to be placed three points behind Grimethorpe, who happened to spend the majority of their performance sat on their backsides in the traditional brass band formation seemed more than a trifle unlucky.

The three entertainment judges had 20 points each to give out and by all accounts one of them decided that they didn’t in any way like what Fodens were doing to entertain her and ranked them on an entertainment par with the latest Spice Girls single. Fodens were doomed – who said good music will always win out.

6. Yorkshire Area Championships 1999

This really was one that set the tongues wagging in Yorkshire. “Blitz” was the test piece and 'By God', all the favourites were bombed out on the day.

Black Dyke were 7th with 182 points, Yorkshire Building Society 6th with 184 points, Hepworth 5th with 186 points, Sellers 4th with 188 points, Rothwell Temperance 3rd with 190 points, Brighouse and Rastrick 2nd with 192 points, and…………. Carlton Main won it with 196 points! A 4 point winning margin at possibly the hardest area contest of them all – 14 points ahead of Black Dyke and 12 ahead of YBS. The result was greeted with the type of silence that accompanies the announcement of the death of the monarch.

Mr Bram Gay, who was the judge on the day knew what he was looking for and gave what he believed to be the right result. This we have no quarrel with at all. However - he has not been back to judge at the Yorkshire Area since.

7. The European Brass Band Championship 1993

This will forever be remembered as the contest no one actually wanted hard enough to win. Brass Band Willebroek conducted by Frans Violet took the crown as Champions of Europe when everyone else somehow contrived to lose it.

The morning set test saw Berner Oberland take top spot from Fodens (Britannia Building Society at the time), Cory, Grimethorpe, Willebroek and Fairey’s. The ultimate winners were 5 points adrift going into the afternoon session where they put up a sterling effort to take 2nd place behind Fairey’s. However, the four bands above them in the morning blew their chances (and we mean blew – for all four of them tried to blow the roof off the hall) and found themselves losing more points than Coventry City could manage in an entire season.

Berner Oberland crashed to 9th and Fodens came 10th, Cory were 4th and Grimethorpe were 3rd in an afternoon of lost chances and blown opportunities. The judges didn’t like the loud stuff and the Brits and the Swiss ended up the losers. If only one of them had given it a bit more thought they would have surely have won the title. Even with all the disasters around them, Willebroek won the crown by the fact they came 5th to Fairey’s 6th in the morning contest.

8. The Grand Shield Contest 1994

It may appear that we feel Yorkshire Building Society have been hard done by in recent years at most contests – but that’s not true. It’s just that they have been involved in some way, in some pretty controversial competitions, and the 1994 Grand Shield was no exception.

YBS had to qualify for the Open as they had dropped out folowing some poor results under their previous name of Hammonds Sauce in the two years prior. Under new sponsorship and conducting team of David King and Nicholas Childs they had set the banding scene alight by winning the Yorkshire Area and beating Black Dyke to boot in the February and they were confident of at least winning a place at that year's Open from a field of good if not great bands around them.

“Spectrum” was the set test and James Watson was in the box with James Langley. YBS were very good in deed but didn’t impress the men in the tent and they came nowhere.

The conspiracy theorists had a field day and feelings did run high in areas of Yorkshire for some time. But that’s contesting for you isn’t it?

9. The European Championships 1992

Sorry to harp on again about the European, but this one had nothing to do with the music, the judges, the players or the conductors. No fights, no arguments – just one hell of a cock up by the Welsh administrators.

The contest was held in Wales at the magnificent St David’s Hall and was a great contest won by a superb couple of performances by Britannia Building Society who took the title ahead of Black Dyke. No problems there. However, no one told the Welsh how to work out the lower placings and the announcement was made that Willebroek were third and three other bands had come fourth! The band that actually came third, Eikanger, and Berner Oberland who actually came fifth didn’t even get a mention.

With faces as red as the Dragon on the flag, the Welsh and Boosey and Hawkes admitted to the mistake, reconstituted the results to give Eikanger 3rd, Willebroek 4th , Berner Oberland 5th and BTM 6th and had to pay out an extra £1000 to boot. Not surprisingly the contest has not been back since.

10. The National Championships 1990

As controversy goes this perhaps isn’t one that will set the pulses racing and will also take a fair bit of remembering. This was the year that Boosey and Hawkes tried out a bit of an experiment and in addition to the three men in the box, also employed an “open” panel comprising Geoffrey Brand, Herbert Moller and Sydney Swancott to give their own result. This result was released some time later.

The title itself was won by CWS Glasgow from Britannia Building Society, Sellers, Leyland, Whitburn and Fairey’s. Most felt it a close run thing and many had Howard Snell and his band down as rather unlucky runners up.

The open panel however threw a real spanner in the works and possibly ended any debate about open adjudication for a considerable time to come when they declared a top six of Leyland, Fairey’s, Black Dyke, Britannia, CWS Glasgow and Whitburn. Close as they say - but no coconut.

The following two years they tried again and only once (in 1992 and Grimethorpe’s famous victory) did the two panels tally as to the winners –everything else didn’t come close. It has never been tried again.

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