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The alternative - tougue in cheek - look the London and Southern Counties Regional:

There's a new band around to put the frighteners on the London Region's top bands. Shockingly, 4BarsRest has heard that a number of bands were spreading malicious rumours of Welshness (spellchecker = Hellishness!) in an attempt to have the imposters removed from the contest. However, the allegations have been strenuously denied by the newcomers, passports have been checked and Alliance Brass will be taking their place in the Championship Section line-up in Stevenage on March 17th.

4BarsRest has contacted Lewis Edney, Band Manager of Alliance Brass, who insisted that, in the words of the old song, "I'd rather be run over than be Welsh". Suspicious name though, for someone who claims to come from Preston.

Lewis agreed to speak to 4BarsRest (in his very plausible Manchester Accent) as long as we never again print libelous, cheap, childish, irresponsible nonsense such as;

" ………. the newly formed London students' band (don't know what they are called I'm afraid). I believe that this band are due to compete in the first section but I had heard from an unreliable source that they had already gone belly up. I must say I am only surprised they lasted so long. I mean, what are the chances of twenty-eight music students all getting up on a weekend morning. Let alone having time to find their student railcards, retrieve their charity shop DJ from a vomit-filled carrier bag, iron a shirt (ha), text message each other to find out where they are meant to be and why, set the video for the Eastenders Omnibus, realise there are no expenses, smoke a joint and fall asleep for 18 hours. It's not going to happen is it?"

This appeared in our London Area preview last year. We, of course, promised never to refer to such a piece of cheap journalism again and assured him that the writer responsible had since moved on to a job as Press Officer in the Department of Transport. We do, as promised, unreservedly apologize for suggesting that you watch Eastenders.
And how wrong could we have been with our prejudiced attitude to the new boys. Perhaps they were spurred on by our unkind words as they went on to become one of the few success stories from the region in the past six months.
Alliance Brass were formed just 18 months ago as the brainchild of Lewis and his friend Ben Ellin who is the band's musical director, no doubt after a heavy night running around London with traffic cones on their heads. The concept was to create a contesting band from scratch, made up of players currently attending one of the four major London Music Colleges or who had left one of these colleges within the last few years.

Recruitment began in earnest, despite his protestations. Tactics were not always ethical ("of course you'd enjoy playing second baritone, it's a lovely, sonorous instrument and you get to play the tune all the time") as they signed up a group of talented players. The band's first outing was to record a demo which they rehearsed and recorded in one day. The next challenge was the 2001 Area Contest. Only five or six of the players signed were from a brass band background and the Area Committee followed the precedent set with First City Brass a few years back by grading the new band in the first section. The problem for Lewis was getting the band together to rehearse. He was dealing with busy people. Some of them actually do "gigs" for money. But despite having just five rehearsals in which to prepare the test piece, Alliance romped home, winning a well-deserved first place with their debut public performance. Using a couple of concerts in London and Southend to hone their skills the band enjoyed a "full on" few weeks in the build up to the Finals in Preston culminating in a joint concert the night before the contest with Smithills Band where M.D. Ben used to play when a lad. The following day a strong performance earned them second place, just behind Stocksbridge

After a year that has seen his dream come to fruition, band manager Lewis was understandably upbeat about Alliance's chances on taking the big step up to the championship section this year. Despite missing the Major's son and founder member of the band, Chris Parkes, for this contest he feels that the band have the soloists required to deal with the challenge of Whitsun Wakes.

"We'll miss Chris because his playing is "something else" (man!), says Lewis. "We've got Dave Hilton on principal cornet and Bill Cooper on soprano (both ex Redbridge Brass), Richard Brown on euphonium, Rob Tooley leading a top class trombone section (says Bass trombonist, Lewis), Ed Pascall on flugel and Richard Balsom on Eb Bass (recently of Redbridge Brass). These may not be well known names in the banding world but could that be about to change?

Lewis is clear about the band's ambition. "We will be trying to win the contest and think that if we play to our potential we can win it. We start rehearsing on 2nd March and will have two quite intensive weeks with a few guest conductors booked to take some of the rehearsals."

No surprises in the bands Lewis sees as the main rivals to Alliance's chances of victory. He lists Aveley and Newham, Redbridge and First City Brass, the three bands who have dominated the contest in recent years. It remains to be seen whether Alliance have, to borrow an appropriate motor racing term, the brass balls for it on the day but their progress so far would suggest that they do and could cause a real upset.

So what of London's three top ranked bands? At last year's contest, Aveley and Newham took first prize with Kidlington coming through the field to pip Redbridge and First City for the second qualifying spot. Aveley and Newham are aiming for a hat-trick of titles, a feat not achieved since Hanwell Band managed it in the 1970s. However, the last year has not lived up to expectations for the band based on the "Essex Riviera". Wins at Yeovil and the Area brought the promise of great things to come in 2001 but a disappointing 19th place at the Masters was followed by 5th place on the band's return to the Grand Shield, a creditable 12th at the Albert Hall and more disappointment at Pontins with 4th place. A dismal run of early draws has not helped Aveley. In their last four contests the band have drawn number 1 at both the Finals and Yeovil and played number 2 at the Shield and Pontins. "Our draws have been pants" moans band secretary Dave Lewis.

On the bright side, Aveley go into this years contest with a settled band and the same talented team of soloists that has performed consistently well in recent years. The band's Musical Director, Nigel Taken, knows where the priorities lie for the year ahead. " I want to win the hat-trick of Area victories and I want the band to qualify for the British Open this year," I am certain he would say if asked.

4BarsRest has shown great faith in Aveley over the year, tipping them for success at the Shield and Pontins only to be let down. Could it be that London's top outfit of the last four years are over the hill, as their average age creeps dangerously close to forty? Desperate to reverse this trend, the band has signed fourteen year old cornet player James Edgar who will make his debut with the band at Stevenage and mutton-chopped Chairman Derek Morris (83) has agreed to lie about his age.

A few miles along the A12 it has been a year of glory for Redbridge Brass since just missing out on the qualifying for the finals in Stevenage last year. Under the expansive baton of Melvin White, the band swept the board at the Southend Entertainment Contest in the summer and followed this up with wins at Folkestone and Reading Contests. Their reward for a successful year is an invite to the Senior Trophy later in the year where they should start as one of the favourites.

It would appear that the band are in their best form for years and will be striving for the top spot on 17th March. The solicitor of a close friend of an insider at Redbridge has confirmed exclusively to 4BarsRest that diminutive Band Manager and flugelist Alan Roberts has been practicing at altitude in a bid to reach top C.

The other main player at the top end of the section since bursting onto the scene in 1997 in a blaze of technicolour is Jeremy Wise's West London outfit First City Brass. Having qualified for the Albert Hall in 1999 and 2000 (and coming 12th and 9th) they missed out last year due to a disappointing show that left them out of the prizes at the Area. Things didn't improve much as the contesting year progressed. Thirteenth at the Grand Shield and fourth at Reading will both have been less than they would have hoped for, as will 11th at Yeovil last month but the band did achieve a respectable 14th place at last year's Masters which was enough to keep their place in the field for 2002. First City will certainly have been given a boost by the signing of David Geoghan (ex of Black Dyke) on principal cornet. David was on the end chair at Marple before moving to London to study trumpet at the royal Academy and is the current principal cornet of the NYBBGB. We can only wonder how Alliance Brass missed out on this signing but he is sure to be a big asset for First City. Last year also saw the return to the band, on solo euphonium, of Paul Baker, who has gained a fine reputation over the years as Matt's brother. There's no doubting that the band will be up for the contest and aiming for the top spot. With plenty of good players around the stand, the vastly experienced Mr Wise at the helm and, for a diminishing number of them, the Lord on their side, they will certainly be in with a shout.

By the formbook, that should be the top four in a field of twelve. Of the rest of the section, City of Oxford have been regulars amongst the top four or five at the contest in recent years but must throw off an irritating habit of being disqualified if they are to really make an impact. Regent Brass have kept a fairly low profile with just an eighth place at Reading since a solid mid-table result at last year's Area. A precarious position in the ranking table means a good result will be needed if they are to avoid the drop. Soham Comrades will be boosted by some good results over the last year including a seventh at Pontins and will be hoping to improve on three years of finishing halfway down the field. Soham have been invited along with Redbridge to the Senior Trophy in recognition of their achievements in recent years. John Berryman has been helping out MD Paul Filby with their preparations and the word from the bandroom is that they are having a lot of fun with Whitsun Wakes. They feel that the piece seems to suit the band and that a good band sound plus strong soloists, including David Notley (sop), Sarah Minchin (baritone), Steven Gilbey (flugel) plus a husband and wife team (Nigel and Sally Bramley) on principal cornet and bumper up should add up to a good show on the day.

Kidlington put on a creditable show at the finals in October and will be hoping to earn a return trip to South Kensington this year. Clacton-on-Sea Co-operative Band have been reliable performers in this contest over the years and will be banking on their soloists to lift them up the field this time around. At least there can be no doubt that MD Melvin White will know the score as the winner of this years "eggs in baskets" prize with three bands in the section (Staines and Redbridge being the other two). Bedford Town, Hatfields of Colchester and Staines Brass are largely untested at this level and look likely to join the relegation dogfight along with Regent unless one or more of them have something up their sleeve.

In the First Section it's hard to see past KM Gillingham, who finished third last year and are regular prize winners in contest in the southeast and principal cornet Elaine Williams can be counted on to add a touch of class. Matthews Concert Brass will look to bounce straight back to the top section and Welwyn Garden are regulars at local contests and earned fifth place in the Championship Section at last years Folkestone Contest. Look out for Friary Guildford, Egham and newly promoted Tilbury under the baton of Brass Band World's pin-up boy Rob Nunnery.
The second section is easy to predict. Stonesfield Silver and Wantage Silver 'A' were second and third in this section last year and narrowly missed out on promotion. To those two add the risings stars, Becontree Brass who can boast star performers Chris Storey (principal cornet), Paul Hicks (solo euph) and John Hurrell (second baritone), amongst others. Also back demoted Northfleet with their "best bass section ever" plus Barbara King on top chair. Don't rule out Brosely Brass as, with Ralph Tatum on soprano, anything could happen.

In the third section we go with a hunch on East London Brass (nothing to do with Cynthia Payne, disappointingly), under the ebullient baton of Alex Caldon and featuring star trombonist Jayne Murrill.

It takes a brave man to pick a winner in the London Area fourth section. The field is of Grand National proportions and many of the runners only emerge from their stables once a year. We will go with Ware Brass to better last year's third place following some successful contesting throughout the year. If each-way bets were allowed we'd go for last year's winners Sandhurst Silver and Charles Church Camberley.

The good news for the twenty-nine competing bands is that thanks to the work of the London and Southern Counties Regional Committee, there are four qualifying places up for grabs this year. Contest controller, David Hobbs, informed 4BarsRest that the Regional Committee was delighted that their proposal to the managers of the national contest had been accepted. In addition to the extra qualifier in the fourth section, it was also agreed that the region's large first section warranted an additional third qualifying spot for the finals.

And the palm trees are lovely in Torquay in late summer.

© 4BarsRest

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