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2002 London and Southern Counties Regional Championship

4BR trawl many past results to bring you this preview and therefore we occasionally make mistakes. If you do spot one, then please email us the correct information and we'll amend the article as soon as possible.

If you thought brass banding was a particularly northern pastime, think again. 85 bands (the largest entry with the Midlands) converge on the drearily named Stevenage Arts and Leisure Centre for a weekend of banding that puts many other regions to shame.

The Fourth Section in particular has an amazing 29 entries for adjudicator John Maines to listen to (he'll deserve a medal after that) and shows that the grass roots of banding in and around the capital are flourishing. The other lower sections also have very healthy entry lists, whilst the top section sees 12 of the best attempting to book their tickets for the short ride into Kensington.

The conundrum of the London Area though is that even though there are plenty of bands, the overall standard is possibly the weakest of all the Regional Championships, and this has been seen over the years in the lack of national success at all levels. This may be a little unfair, but at Championship level you have to go back to 1923 for the only occasion that the "Big One" has found a home south of the Watford Gap and the wins at national level in the lower sections are just as rare, with Brent in the 4th section in 1997 and Fairlop in the 3rd in 1995 the last.

However, 2001 has seen a resurgence of sorts and the lower section national finals saw Alliance Brass come runners up in the First Section and Ware Brass coming 3rd in the Fourth Section. The top flight contains plenty of talent and there are one or two bands on the cusp of being consistent challengers - only they aren't that consistent and both Aveley and Newham and First City have flattered to deceive in recent times. Still, plenty of bands to show that London doesn't just have the one "Marathon". It's going to be a long one.

Championship Section:

Stevenage Arts and Leisure Centre
Sunday March 17th
Adjudicator: James Scott
Commences: After 1st Section Prizes

Competing Bands: Alliance Brass (B. Ellin): Aveley and Newham (N. Taken): Bedford Town (J. Berryman): City of Oxford (N. Taken): Clacton on Sea Cooperative (M. White): First City Brass (J. Wise): Hatfields of Colchester (T. Davey): Kidlington Concert Brass (C. Underwood): Redbridge Brass (M. White): Regent Brass (G. Wyatt): Soham Comrades (P. Filby): Staines Brass (M. White)

Here’s a quick quiz question for you all. When was the last time a London band got in the top 6 places at the Royal Albert Hall in the Championship Section Finals? It was a little way back when mullet hairstyles were all the rage and Everton actually had a half decent football team. 1989 it was, and Newham were the band that came 5th while Hendon were close behind in 7th. Not a dicky bird since 

That in essence is the problem with banding at the top level in and around the capital. There is an undoubted pool of talented players and some very good bands, but they seem unable to translate their form of Stevenage year on year to the contest platforms of Blackpool, Prestatyn and Cambridge. Both Aveley and First City Brass are more than capable of giving top class performances (and it must be said that they were 7th and 9th respectively at London in 2000) but it is the lack of consistency when they perform nationally that is their Achilles heel.

No band at the Open, out of it at the Nationals, off the pace last year at the Masters (although First City were a good 14th), disappointing at the Grand Shield and Prestatyn and down the field at Yeovil in January. It doesn’t sound good when you look at it like that, but 2001 was a let down.

The two heavyweights are more middleweights nationally, but are more than capable of doing really well if they can hold their nerve, whilst the likes of City of Oxford, Redbridge, Kidlington etc will have to up their game if they are to make a mark away from the metropolis.  There is plenty of commitment, endeavour and spirit in London banding, lets hope 2002 sees plenty of good results as well.

Aveley and Newham are the reigning champions and will come to the contest hoping to secure a hat trick of wins. The most solid looking of the bands in the capital they have a good stock of quality players around the stand and are capably led by Nigel Taken. On their day they can challenge the best, but they sometimes have the consistency of a blancmange in a paper bag and flatter to deceive more times than Mata Hari. This is cruel we know, but they are so bloody frustrating.

They won in style here last year and it looked as if they were going to make the breakthrough at the top level, but they came 5th at the Grand Shield and 4th at Pontins (when they were the best band by far on paper) and slumped to 19th at the Masters, 12th at London and 9th a few weeks ago in Yeovil. They have all the tools on paper except perhaps the belief that they are actually as good as we say they are.

Kidlington Concert Brass were the surprise package of the contest here last year when they secured the runners up spot and a trip to the National Finals at the Royal Albert Hall. They were 20th there, which wasn’t a surprise, but they showed plenty of mettle and no little skill and talent on a very difficult set test. Since then they have been rather quiet on the contesting scene, but they will be determined to do well here again (and they have a decent record) and show that 2001 wasn’t a flash in the pan. Plenty of talent around the stand and a very good MD at the front

City of Oxford seem to be the perennial bridesmaid of the London Regional contest (they were even dumped after coming 2nd in 1998 for a technicality) and they will be keen to improve on their two consecutive 3rd places of the last two years and finally get to the alter in Kensington. Nigel Taken has done really well with the band over the years (although he wasn’t at the helm when they came 12th at the Senior Cup) and they will be hoping to secure a finals spot this time around. They were 5th at Reading last year, so it appears the closer they perform to the capital the better they do

Redbridge Brass last won the title in 1997 and in the past few years they have just been off the pace a little and have come 6th in 2000 and 4th last year. Even in the qualifying years of ’97 and ’98 they went to the Albert Hall and came last on both occasions, so they will be hoping for better things if they do well this time. Melvin White leads the band well and on their day they can upset a good field and are more than capable of winning here as their wins at Folkestone and Reading showed. Plenty of talent in the band, but they too seem to lose form the further away from the capital they go, and they could only come 10th at Yeovil a few weeks back. Could it be a return to the glory of ’97 and ’98?

First City Brass are led by the experienced and talented Jeremy Wise and they will be keen to put behind them the horror show of last year when the wheels came off after just a few bars and they slumped to 5th place. That was a major let down for a band that was starting to make a mark on the contesting stage and they went on to secure 13th at the Grand Shield, 14th at Wychavon, 14th at the Masters (which was a fine return), 4th at Reading and 11th recently at Yeovil.

They have the players (including the very fine David Geogehan on top man) but seem to be fragile in the temperament stakes at times. They can do well – as the Masters showed, and they have enough about them to return to the top of class here if things start well. A repeat of the win in 1999 then?

Regent Brass were 6th last year under the baton of Philip Littlemore and this year return with a new conductor at the helm. They gained promotion to the top section on the back of two consecutive runners up spots in the first section in 1998 and ‘99 and came a creditable 8th in 2000. They were 8th at the Reading contest, but will be hoping for a least a repeat performance of 2001.

Soham Comrades are one of our favourite bands at 4BR and they will come to the contest after another fairly good year in the contesting field that saw them come 7th here last year and followed that up with 3rd place at Folkestone and 7th at Pontins. They are more than capable of pushing for a podium place at least and each time we have heard them they have come across as a well rounded and balanced band that that is sensibly directed and plays to it’s strengths. They gained promotion to the top flight on the back of a 6th and 3rd placing in 1997 and 1998 in the first section and have since then come 7th, 5th and 7th again. Could be the dark horse.

Bedford Town Band will be led by the experienced John Berryman and he will surely bring his experience to bear with them. John has been conducting as well as ever of late and has done wonders with Kibworth in the Midlands, so don’t be surprised if Bedford take a few scalps of note. They were 8th last year in their first outing back in the top flight and they have a fine record at the contest in the past few years, with successive wins in the third and second sections in 1999 and 2000.

Clacton on Sea were 9th last year and have Melvin White at the helm again. They were 10th at the Reading contest and have shown over the years here that they are more than capable of holding their own. Three times in the past five years they have secured 4th place (’97, 98 and 2000) and they were 6th in 1999. They will hope to show that last year’s fall was just a temporary blip in the form 

Alliance Brass and Ben Ellis approach the contest as reigning first section champions and as a band that were runners up at the National Finals in Preston where they gave a superb account of themselves (resplendent in black DJ’s). That performance from the band made up of students and friends at the Guildhall of Music and Drama had real quality about it, and although they have been somewhat quiet on the contesting front since, they certainly have the talent around the stands to do well here. They could well be strong contenders.

Staines Brass will be the third outfit to be conducted by Melvin White (where does he have the time to fit in all the last minute rehearsals?) and they will be coming to the contest as runners up from the first section behind Alliance Brass. That second spot last year sent them to the national finals at Preston where they came 14th so they may find the step up in class a little much this time around. They were also 10th at Folkestone and will be hoping that they do not suffer the same fate as 1999 when they were 13th here and were relegated.

Hatfields of Colchester are one of the two new boys here this year, although they have been here before and were 10th in the top section in 1998 and relegated. They come to the contest after three years in the first section where they stabilised themselves and came 6th, 3rd and 7th last year to gain the return ticket, and they did come 3rd at the East Anglia contest last year. However, the step in class is large and they may find it a bit of a struggle here this time around. They have a good core of players and could take a few notable scalps.

The Bands:

Alliance Brass
4BR Ranking: none
Last Year: 1st 1st Section
Last Five Years: Did not compete until 2001; 1st 1st Section 2001

Not a lot to go on in the form book for Alliance here, but on their one outing they won, so you can’t get better than that can you? Is this the start of a band to challenge the heavyweights of Aveley and First City?

Aveley and Newham
4BR Ranking: 22
Last Year: 1st
Last Five Years: 2nd 1997; 1st 1998; 3rd 1999; 1st 2000; 1st 2001

Fine record year over the years, with only the 3rd place of 1999 as the only time they have failed to qualify in the past five years.

All out for the hat trick in 2002, it could well be another success. Whether they can translate that to the stage at the Royal Albert Hall we’ll have to wait and see. 7th place at the contest in 2000 has been their best return since they got together with Newham, but they are capable of repeating that bands successes of 185 and 1986 if they hit top form. The ones to beat we think.

Bedford Town
4BR Ranking: none
Last Year: 8th
Last Five Years: 1997 not known; 5th 1st Section 1998; 1st 2nd Section 1999; 1st 1st Section 2000; 8th 2001

A consistent of achievement here for Bedford in the past four years, with the double wins of 1999 and 2000 the highlight. 8th last year was a solid showing and they will be keen to do even better this time around.

City of Oxford
4BR Ranking: none
Last Year: 3rd
Last Five Years: 1st 1st Section 1997; 2nd 1998; 5th 1999; 3rd 2000; 3rd 2001

The “so very nearly band” of the Region, Oxford and Nigel Taken will be hell bent on securing a finals spot after two years in which they have narrowly missed out. A technicality robbed them of a place in Kensington in 1998, but they could well be booking in for B&B this time with a little bit of luck.

Clacton on Sea Cooperative
4BR Ranking: none
Last Year: 9th
Last Five Years: 4th 1997; 4th 1998; 6th 1999; 4th 2000; 9th 2001

Clacton are one of the most consistent bands at the contest with three 4th spots and a 6th in the past five years. 9th last time out was a bit of a let down though and they will be keen to at least have a repeat showing of those years of ’97, ’98 and 2000.

First City Brass
4BR Ranking: 48
Last Year: 5th
Last Five Years: 1997 not known; 7th 1998; 1st 1999; 2nd 2000; 5th 2001

The disasters of 2001 here are hopefully behind the band and they will be keen to regain a finals place as they did with style in both 1999 when they won and 2000 when they were runners up. Can perform very well indeed on their day and have come 9th at the Albert Hall itself, but they will have to overcome the tendency to self destruct if they are to repeat their win of 1999.

Hatfields of Colchester
4BR Ranking: none
Last Year: 7th 1st Section
Last Five Years: 1997 not known; 10th 1998; 6th 1st Section 1999; 3rd 1st Section 2000; 7th 1st Section 2001

The jump up a league can be too big for many bands, and Hatfields will be hoping that they can at least hold their own this time around.  Solid enough in the first section, but the last time they were here they came 10th. A repeat may be on the cards.

 Kidlington Concert Brass
4BR Ranking: none
Last Year: 2nd
Last Five Years: 6th 1997; 6th 1998; 4th 1999; 9th 2000; 2nd 2001

Second last year was a fine achievement, and the band certainly has the players and MD to do it again given half a chance. People will be wary of them and the expectation level has been set higher this year to ensure that they can’t be called a flash in the pan band.

A solid record over the past five years though shows that they should do well.

Redbridge Brass
4BR Ranking: none
Last Year: 4th
Last Five Years: 1st 1997; 3rd 1998; 2nd 1999; 6th 2000; 4th 2001

On paper they can mix it with the best and are more than capable of winning this contest as they did last time in 1997. Since then though it has been a series of near misses and 4th place was a fair return last year. Could well improve though this time out and get a qualification spot.

Regent Brass
4BR Ranking: none
Last Year: 6th
Last Five Years: 1997 not known; 2nd 1st Section 1998; 2nd 1st Section 1999; 8th 2000; 6th 2001

 6th last year was a fine return and the band that did so well in the lower section will be keen to repeat that performance. If they can, they will have done well.

Soham Comrades
4BR Ranking: none
Last Year: 7th
Last Five Years: 6th 1st Section 1997; 3rd 1st Section 1998; 7th 1999; 5th 2000; 7th 2001

 The steady lads and lasses of Soham will be hoping that the last three years have provided them with the foundation to springboard a challenge this year for a qualification spot. Solid and unpretentious, they could well do it.

Staines Brass
4BR Ranking: none
Last Year: 2nd 1st Section
Last Five Years: 1997 not known; 1998 not known; 13th 1999; 2nd 1st Section 2000; 2nd 1st Section 2001

Staines move up a class this year and will be hoping to make their mark. A good solid record though and one that showed that they can do well on the contesting stage under pressure. That pressure is magnified in the top flight though and they will hope to secure a safe midfield place this time around.

2001 Result: 

Aveley and Newham
Kidlington Concert
City of Oxford
First City Brass
Regent Brass

4BR Prediction: 

Aveley and Newham
First City Brass
City of Oxford
Alliance Brass
Kidlington Concert

Dark Horse: Soham Comrades 

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