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National Finals: Return to Preston. Post match analysis of sections 1, 2, 3 & 4

What a knackering weekend! From Saltash Town at 10.00am on Saturday morning to Mossley on Sunday night, we listened to all 68 bands on show (as did Alan Jenkins of Brass Band World who was great company all weekend) and to be truthful we just about enjoyed every performance.

Our backsides had taken on the same shape as the seats and at times the will to live had been put under more than a bit of pressure, but it was still a good two days of banding. Preston Guild Hall for one is a pretty good venue for a brass band contest.

The Fourth Section:
The Fourth Section was a delight, even though our pre contest predictions were as far out as some of the tuning problems a few of the bands encountered. We went for a top six of Carlton Brass, Pemberton Old, Bearpark and Esh, Clifton and Lightcliffe, Arbroath Instrumental and Swinton, with Nelson Brass our dark horses. At the end of the day, they managed to come, 6th, 14th, 8th, 10th, 16th, 15th and 9th respectively, so it showed how much we knew. It didn’t matter though, for the 4th Section was a great advertisement for all that’s good in the banding world.

A great test piece that challenged the bands and was great to listen to was a bonus and the overall standard of playing was very good indeed. The tuning was a bit suspect in many bands and far too many flugel horns were as flat as a pancake but these were small quibbles.

The winners were superb – a very young band so well directed. It was balanced, in tune and not overblown (many bands in the higher sections should have come and listened and learnt) and the other prize winners all had much to commend. There were some real star players in just about every band, and even though some struggled, all of the bands should take credit. As for the volume of the support at the results – it was deafening and quite brilliant.

Derek Broadbent and Phillip McCann in particular gave thoughtful and detailed remarks and did a sterling job. Shirland Welfare Training and their fine MD were declared winners off a number 3 draw and deserved all the plaudits – but then, so did all the bands.

The Third Section:
Section 3 started just about as soon as the top prize in the 4th Section was announced and this was another section that had much to commend. The techniques of the bands were stretched by a good testpiece, but far too many bands and MD’s for that matter decided to try and blow their way to the title.

The bands at this level have generally mastered the basics, but far too many fell foul of overblowing, rushed tempos and bad tuning. Our pre contest predictions were a top six of Langbaurgh Brass, Manx Concert, Beaumaris “B”, Armthorpe Elmfield, Horbury Victoria, Raunds Temperance and dark horses Clydebank Burgh. We didn’t do too bad and they came 4th, 10th, 14th, 9th, 2nd, 3rd and 12th respectively.

Geoff Whitham and Richard Evans were very clear at the contests end of what they had looked for in the performances and although they joked about some of the problems that they heard, they certainly weren’t laughing at the bands, but with them.

The winners were good value for the title, as were top six who just about picked themselves. The test piece had stretched everyone and each of the three sections that made it up tested different players and more importantly, their abilities to play in tune and with balance and style. The top six also had MD’s who stuck quite closely to what the composer wanted in terms of speed, but the bands that suffered did so mainly because their conductors appeared to think they could do all the basics and more besides with their foot on the accelerator pedal.

Lancashire Life Morecombe had a very fine young team of soloists who played out of their skins, and although they overblew a bit it was enough to tip them the title from a very good performance from Horbury Victoria and Raunds Temperance. It was a good end to a very long first day for us.

The Second Section:
Sunday started off with the Second Section and started off with the winning band playing off the number 1 spot. Ammanford Town were conducted by Jim Davies, who knows a thing or two about winning National titles, and he took the unusual risk of asking his solo cornet player to stand and face the audience and play his tricky cornet solo without music. It didn’t quite come off and we certainly made the mistake of writing off their chances as we thought we saw a bit of a disaster. Well done Jim and band.

We had plumbed for a top six and a dark horse of Westoe, Dobcross, Bendix Kingswood, Hade Edge, Poulton-le-Fylde, Livingstone Brass and Royal Oakeley and we really put the mockers on them all, with them coming 11th, 7th, 12th, 5th, 13th, 8th and 16th. Sorry!

The overall standard wasn’t as high as we expected and far too many bands just blew for the sake of it. Dynamics and tuning were also a major problem and for bands of this calibre it was a real disappointment to hear time and time again. We’ve got to blame the MD’s for this and not the players – these are two of the basics of good band playing, but many of the conductors concentrated on effect and volume and not on style and music and they came a cropper.

The other prize winners were also pretty good value and the top three were a level above the rest. Both City of Bristol and Towcester Studio benefited from intelligent direction from the middle.

Mr Broadbent and Mr McCann again emphasised what they had looked out for and the Scotsman in particular impressed again with his obvious good knowledge of the score and it’s salient points – a man to watch out for in the box at higher things we think.

So well done Ammanford, but back to drawing board for far too many of the bands on show.

The First Section:
And so to the First Section – the section of the Premiership hopefuls and wannabee’s. This really was a curate’s egg of a contest with the good being very good and the bad being very bad indeed.

Another fine choice of test piece had many MD's deciding that all that it needed was heavy foot on the accelerator pedal and a deaf ear to the dynamics. Some also felt that tuning was an optional extra – we know tuning is a relative thing, but some performances were as far away in relative tuning terms as a long lost aunty living in Borneo.

Our pre contest prediction was pretty good (for us anyway) with our top six made up of Stocksbridge, Pennine, Mossley, Kibworth, Harrogate, Beaumaris and dark horses Bo’ness. In the end they came 1st, 4th, 7th, 5th, 16th, 3rd and 9th so we were pretty pleased with ourselves.

It wasn’t until Pennine played that we really heard a performance that wouldn’t have disgraced the Championship Section and for us they were the band to beat, but Stocksbridge were very good and had lots of quality in their performance that signalled that they won’t struggle higher up.

Alliance Brass also benefited form a very intelligent reading of the score and a safety first approach that scored well. Although we didn’t quite have them as high as second, they certainly won first place in the phoar! stakes for the lads in the audience.

Seindorf Beaumaris had the biggest sound of the day and were muscular and direct in their approach – a bit too much for us, but it really did make you sit up and take notice and they too sounded a well drilled band. They will continue to improve as well.

We thought Pennine Brass were the best on the day and they can count themselves more than a tad unfortunate to come fourth, as can Kibworth under John Berryman who came fifth. This was the most musical performance of the day and the one that benefited most from their MD. It had so much good sense and musical shape to it, and only fell down for us on the number of clips.

Johnstone Silver and Mossley just had too many clips and slips to really have come any higher, but both were performances of merit and they should take considerable heart from their outing.

As for the rest? Well. From places 8 to 12 the bands just suffered too much from overblowing and tempo problems that led to untidiness and a struggle to maintain clear detail, whilst the bottom four (and we are being generous here) had a bad day at the office. Some MD’s should consider the purchase of a metronome as an essential rather than optional tool for their musical advancement.

So the weekend ended with the prizes being fairly well spread out with winners from Yorkshire, Wales, North West and Midlands. The whole weekend was very well run and thanks from us to the organisers who gave us the results without the usual interrogation, and who gave the bands a venue that was worthy of the occasion.

Thanks also to the supporters who made the thing come alive and the barman at the hotel who kept us in beer well into the following morning. We look forward to seeing and hearing you in Torquay next year.

© 4BarsRest

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