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Nationals 2001: The Cory Double – The National Championships 2000

Who would have thought it? It had taken 148 years for a Welsh band to win the British Open title and 74 years up to 1974 for one to win the National Championships, but within two months last year, the Buy As You View Cory Band won the one and did the other for a fifth time.

The historic victory in Birmingham in the September had filled the band with a sense of purpose that many felt was not misplaced, as they were always going to be one of the favourites to win the National, due to their capacity to play loudly with a rounded sound – the prerequisites for success at the Royal Albert Hall. All they needed was a good draw and a little bit of luck.

Saturday, October 21st revealed both the nature of the opposition, the judges and a test piece of quite immense technical challenges.

The opposition was not quite as strong as the field in Birmingham as the traditional route through the qualifying heats around Britain had culled more than a fair share bands – and some such as Black Dyke would surely have been contenders. Still it was a pretty strong field with plenty of rivals more than capable of winning the top prize.

The judges were a trio of the tried and tested in the shape of David Read, William Relton and John Wallace, so there was little concern that a “dud” result could be on the cards, whilst the set test was a new composition by Peter Graham entitled “Harrison’s Dream”.

The piece had been universally welcomed by both players and conductors and featured passages of technical complexity combined with quieter reflective moments that made the piece a real “tour de force”. In addition, it featured a section that had nearly all members of the band take up small chimes of various sizes to imitate the chiming of the timepiece that the music tried to picture. This was a story about the sea, and as the day went on it became almost an analogy of the events that unfolded.

The draw revealed nothing more than we always knew – that some bands would be happier than others. Cory had got 12, YBS a fine 17, Brighouse an even better 18, Fodens 15, Travelsphere 10 and Grimethorpe the dreaded number 2. The honour of kicking off proceedings went to the Scottish and CWS (Glasgow).

CWS had booked Nicholas Childs to lead the assault and the new man at Black Dyke brought an immense sense of style and drama to a real marker of a show. With Roger Webster on solo cornet for a last outing before he too went on a return ticket to Dyke the band gave an exceptional account and found themselves as the leading contenders for over a third of the contest. 191 points off number one was a superb effort.

Next up Grimethorpe and with Garry Cutt at the tiller they were a band that had just come third at the Open and was on something of a crest of a wave. Unfortunately they got snagged on the reef and partial sunk to a very poor 10th place. It could and should have been so much better. Ever Ready were also a band that had high hopes, but the thought of a number three draw had already scupperred them before they even took to the stage and a performance that never rose above three knots saw them sink into the midfield of the crowded Armada and they came 13th.

Flowers took to the waves next with Captain Richard Evans at the helm, but his was a bravura performance in the midst of a ship that was fatally holed below the plimsoll line and they limped back into the safety of a home port in 16th place. The crowd must have thought that the overall standard wasn’t brilliant when Fishburn gave an error riddled performance that had adjudicator John Wallace remark that someone should have shot the percussionists. It wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t that good either and they found themselves at the bottom of Davey Jones Locker in last place, next to the corpse of Point of Ayr band who had withdrawn before the contest.

First City Brass came on stage resplendent in multi coloured shirts and determined to show that London bands could compete with everyone else given half a chance. Jeremy Wise used years of experience to play to his bands strengths without ever over committing themselves and they got just reward for a safe bit of navigation through the treacherous waters to come a well deserved 9th. Unison Kinneil however were blown out of the water like the General Belgrano and sunk somewhat without trace in a sea full of flotsam and jetsam. Last but one was a fair reflection of a disappointing performance.

So with a third of the contest gone, CWS (Glasgow) were comfortably ahead of the field – and by a considerable margin in the judge’s ears. The audience was somewhat dumbfounded by the performances of many of the bands and had yet to hear a real show that they could consider worthy of the title. Glasgow were good, but surely it was a performance that could be beaten?

Ransomes came to the contest on a bit of a downer to say the least. The Open had seen them give a poor performance that ultimately led to them losing their coveted place at the contest for 2001, so they approached the Nationals with the attitude to show people that they were a fine band. This they jolly well did. It may have helped that they played after the judges had heard a series of pretty poor shows, but in retrospect it was a very fine reading and a very dramatic performance of musical note. The use of large long bells, partial submerged in buckets of water which were raised and lowered when hit gave an eerie sense to the musical picture of a sea full of drowning men and Russell Gray gave the music time and space to be heard in the bellowing dynamics of the Royal Albert Hall. It was a thoroughly fine performance that merited a high mark.

Surely Williams Fairey would be even better, especially as they were smarting after a performance at the Open that should and could have been so much better than its fourth placing. This time however the performance never lived up to it’s brilliant start and the playing was riddled with more holes and leaks than boat full of Chinese refugees on the High Sea. It signaled the end of James Gourlay’s captaincy of the good ship Fairey and they slunk to a disappointing 8th place.

Travelsphere under Melvin White were also a band that got stuck in it’s moorings before it could set sail onto calmer waters and the band was literally “all at sea” for far too long at the beginning before they recovered their sea legs to come in 12th. It was a pretty uncomfortable voyage for players and conductor alike and led to the Captain having to lose his stripes and command.

Desford and the most experienced Captain in the form of Admiral Peter Parkes also found choppy seas early on and started to take on water straight from the start. It was sounding pretty uncomfortable until the Major (sorry – Admiral) steered them to the relative safety of 11th place. Both Desford and Travelsphere could have expected better when they first set off, but in the end both were glad they didn’t sink like a brick like some less fortunate travellers.

BAYV Cory took the stage with a sense of purpose (and if any of them had been listening to any other performances, with a real sense that they could play all of them off the stage without a problem). Within a minute it was obvious the hull of the good ship Cory was made of reinforced steel as the demanding semi quaver opening was rattled off with style and clarity - It was like hearing a machine gun go off. With the first technical part safely tucked away in the hold, they performed to a level that no other band until then was capable and the performance was notable for the lack of splits and blobs and a real sense of movement. There wasn’t a weak spot in sight and the Robert Childs led his ship at full steam into an ending that was exciting as it was powerful. It was no surprise that this was the performance to beat.

Tredegar had the hard task of following them on and they too gave a performance of real musical merit and technical sparkle. It shipped a bit of water in the quieter movements and a few of the sailors had a bit of a wobble, but overall it was a voyage that confirmed excellent seaworthiness. 5th place was a fine return and confirmed that the band had recovered from losing many of their crew to their fellow rivals earlier in the year.

Bodmin set sail straight afterwards and although they had their moments they never really got to grips with the music and struggled through to land in 15th place. Gareth Pritchard however was a model of good sense and many of the players performed well, but the band as a whole lacked enough steam in the boilers to really make a mark.

Bramwell Tovey was the man who had the opportunity to give Fodens Courtois their second win in three years and for many in the audience he gave a musical reading that was stunning. There were moments of unease in some of the solo lines at times, but the overall picture was simply breathtaking and it was only the small blips and blobs that robbed them of victory. Against the performance of BAYV Cory it was as different as the Cutty Sark against the SS Great Britain. Fodens had the beauty and grace but Cory had the power and fortitude. The latter won the day.

Leyland came and went like a ghost ship lost in the Bermuda Triangle – a veritable Marie Celeste of a performance that had the structure of something fine but lacked the able body of seamen that could have manned a real forthright challenge. They came a distant 14th.

There were now just three bands remaining and two were of the dreadnought capacity to sink Cory’s possible triumphant Ark Royal. Yorkshire Building Society were the European and Masters Champions, but had been stung in defeat at the Open where they came 6th off an early number 3 draw. David King shored up the rigging and set sail, but within moments of hitting the high seas his crew had come a cropper and his ship listed from port to starboard with unease. The harder they tried the more water they shipped and although they corrected course the mistakes made where calamitous and they couldn’t recover. Somehow you felt the conductor knew it and he left the stage at a hornpipe tempo to find his changes blown away in the storm. 17th was unfair, but it didn’t really matter. His band didn’t do enough to win.

Brighouse and Rastrick had got the draw they wanted and had proved in the past three years that on their day (and in the past three years the third weekend in October nearly always contained their day) they were unbeatable. Perhaps that sense pervaded their performance, as they played with a sense of abandonment that left them with too much to make up in the last third of the piece. They too had lost their chance and fourth place was a place higher than in reality they deserved.

Aveley took the stage as last band on the day, but the major prizes had already been decided. Cory it seemed could not be defeated and like a stately galleon they had ridden over the storms and heavy swells without losing a man or shedding a sail. Aveley played very well and had their moments, which pleased both the audience and the men in the box to come a well-deserved 7th place, but by the end of their show people were already filling in their choices for the top six prizes.

The judges had plenty of work to do, so BAYV Cory took the stage again to perform a mini concert that featured David Childs on euphonium, whilst his father twirled his baton with one eye and mind on the possibility of becoming the first Welshman to win the twin titles in one year.

A few short speeches later and the prizes were announced. Polite applause met the announcement of CWS (Glasgow) in 6th as many people still thought it was a performance of real merit from number one, whilst an appreciative cheer or two met Tredegar and 5th place. The top four and automatic invites came to Brighouse in 4th, which surprised many and 3rd went to Foden’s, who were the most musical of the day, but who had too many holes in the hull to take the ultimate prize.

Now the last two. Cory, YBS, Fairey and Leyland were still to be announced, so many thought at least two of the heavyweights would miss out. Second place with 196 points went to band number 8……… Ransomes. There was a hush and then the murmur of chatter and discussion as people comprehended a bit of a shock. Not that it wasn’t deserved they thought, but second?

So the Champion Band of Great Britain in the Millennium Year was….. Band number…. 12 – the Buy As You View Cory Band. Pandemonium in the Hall and a Welsh band as Double Champions. Just three months previous, who would have thought it? The so-called name bands of England were left like a Pearl Harbour of sunken hopes and aspirations as YBS came 17th, Fairey’s 8th and Grimethorpe 10th. Buy As You View Cory were the National Champions and masters of the high sea.

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