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Post Match Analysis:
London & Southern Counties Regional Championships 2002

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

Competing Bands:

1. Redbridge Brass (M. White): 12 194
2. Aveley and Newham (N. Taken): 1 192
3. City of Oxford (N. Taken): 11 191
4. Soham Comrades (P. Filby): 10 190
5. Alliance Brass (B. Ellin): 4 187
6. First City Brass (J. Wise): 5 185
7. Kidlington Concert Brass (C. Underwood): 6 183
8. Clacton on Sea Cooperative (M. White): 7 181
9. Bedford Town (G. Bennett): 2 179
10. Regent Brass (G. Wyatt): 3 176
11. Staines Brass (M. White): 9 175
12. Hatfields of Colchester (T. Davey): 8 174

Top two qualify

There have been many an unkind word said about the standard of playing of the bands from London and the Southern Counties at the National Finals, but one thing is for certain, they do put on a very exciting contest with plenty of enthusiasm and no little quality. Come the straight fight with the big boys they may suffer, but to be fair, the overall standard wasn’t as bad as many thought and although there were a few performances that sounded out of their depth, the vast majority made a good stab at Whitsun Wakes and the winners and runners up were very decent performances indeed.

So this is how we felt they went.

As they have not played outside the first two for a year, Aveley and Newham were probably hoping for a kinder draw, but it was not to be. This was the fifth time in as many contests that they had drawn either number one or two, but they certainly sounded undaunted and they set the standard for the day with a classy and commanding performance just marred by blemishes in some of the solo lines. For us, their duet was the best of the day and Mr. Scott may have had this in mind when he awarded them the Stephen Howard memorial prize for best cornet. 2nd place was probably a fair result. They set the marker early doors and it very nearly paid off.

Next up were Bedford Town. Their performance was not without merit but they suffered in comparison with Aveley as they had neither the size nor quality of sound, and much of the technical work went by in an unclear haze. 9th place lifted them out of the bottom few, but as ever, a different draw might have meant a different result.

There was little to choose between Bedford and Regent Brass, who followed them on. For us, they never really brought the piece to life. The adjudicator put them in 10th place – we might have had the two the other way round, and both of them were perhaps a little unlucky to be pushed down and down the field as the day went on as they both displayed qualities that were missing in later performances. Perhaps it was because they had too high a marker to be used as comparison in Aveley, but both suffered a little more than we thought they should have.

Alliance Brass’s performance was eagerly awaited but in our view the students/college leavers’ band failed to live up to expectations. There were some impressive moments in the faster technical sections, but the sound, particularly in the middle band, was unbalanced and thin. This impression was not assisted by very slow tempi in all the slower sections which served to expose intonation and articulation problems. 5th place seemed generous to us but is a very creditable showing for a band performing at this level for the first time. Their euphonium player (we think he’s Richard Brown, ex-Royal Academy) took a solo prize and sounded a class act.

We thought when they started that this was going to be First City’s day: with competent players all round the stand, new principal cornet David Geoghan and sly old fox Jerry Wise at the helm they were due a good one. The opening was assured, with just a few minor intonation problems, and the fast sections were competently managed. The principal cornet played one of the repiano solos, but he’s in good company – and we were interested to see the modern take – baseball rather than flat cap - on that old trick, the flugel impression. The duet was beautifully shaped and the band seemed to be growing in stature as the performance went on. Then the soprano stumbled in her cadenza and this seemed to affect the baritone and from then on the band never recovered and sounded tired and disinterested for the recapitulation of the opening theme and the close. 6th place was probably a bit harsh but who knows what might have happened had they not let themselves be so badly affected by individual errors.

Next up were Kidlington, last year’s qualifiers from this region. They caused some consternation when one of their front row cornet players picked up another instrument to play the soprano solo, but we are told that the rules of this contest do in fact permit players to play more than one instrument. An enthusiastic response from the crowd may have led them to expect better than 7th place, but we have to say that on this showing we never thought they were going to repeat last year’s success.

Clacton-on-Sea were the first of Melvin White’s three bands of the day to appear. Their performance was well-shaped and stylish, with sensible tempi selected and good attempts made at dynamic contrast, and there was some praiseworthy solo playing (was that Mr. Drury, ex of Black Dyke and Sun Life fame on repiano?) but they struggled in the more technical sections and lacked ultimate weight of sound.

Hatfields of Colchester made a brave attempt at a difficult piece but in common with all the outfits here today none of the soloists got away unscathed, and some really struggled. They did not really make the grade today and we couldn’t argue with their 12th place.

Staines were Melvin White’s second band of the day but despite his best efforts they did not ever take the piece by the scruff of the neck. Although good efforts were made to capture the changing moods of the piece the sound was tentative and unconfident. They will be disappointed with 11th place but once again we couldn’t really argue with it.

Soham may feel they were a little unlucky not to take the 3rd spot, but as they played back to back with the band that did come third, Mr. Scott must be taken to have made a proper comparison. Their performance was a talking point amongst many in the hall - they played with confidence and style and their corner men were safe, although not blemish-free. Soprano David Notley impressed us again as he did at Pontins in the autumn. One to watch, we think.

City of Oxford were Nigel Taken’s second band of the day, and as you would expect this was a tidy and well-controlled performance which made the most of the band’s strengths. All the soloists played well, with the flugel playing particularly noteworthy. Not the biggest sound in the world, and some bluffing we think in the faster passages, but they did enough to earn 3rd place in this company.

Redbridge took the stage to a full hall and an excitable audience who had to be treated to one of Melvin White’s hard stares before they would pipe down. There were a number of individual splits and slips in the opening but the band soon settled and after the early muted playing was navigated this performance just grew and grew in stature. The fast passages were rhythmic, all the soloists played well, particularly flugel and band manager Alan Roberts, and the music came to a convincing and exciting close. For our money this was the most complete performance of the day and a deserving winner.

So that was the best of London and the Southern Counties had to offer and the adjudicator, Mr Scott gave a few telling remarks off the stage to the very voluble audience. It was when he talked of the music needing to be more than just a series of separate sections, that you sensed that Redbridge were the band that he would have more in mind for the winners enclosure, rather than Aveley, as there was a distinct difference in musical approach between the two.

In the end, it went to Redbridge and gave the band their first win at the contest since 1997 and their first return to the Albert Hall since then. They were worthy winners and with Aveley they were definitely the two best bands on the day by more than a little margin. Both have shown that they can win on their own patch (a little like that well known London football team, “The Gunners”) but come the Finals and up against the exotic talents of the other regional qualifiers, it could well be a different test of character all together. You cannot deny though that they fully deserve to be there.

© 4BarsRest

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