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European Championships 2002:
First Section Review:

Date Posted: 09.05.02

The First Section of the European Championships has now been going for nine years, but after listening to this year’s contest on the Friday at the Palais des Beaux Arts, it surely the time now for the organisers to reappraise it’s position.

Brass Band Nord Pas de Calais were the deserved winners, but the contest as a whole was immensely disappointing and the standard of performances was, with the exception of the winners, poor to say the least.

The EBBA must be congratulated for trying so hard in developing brass banding in countries where there is no cultural tradition of it, but doing this in the way it has now done since 1994 has not really developed things any further than they were then. A quite radical reappraisal is needed to make the contest a success.

The contest for instance saw the French band win with ease and to be truthful they were a class apart from the rest by some distance. They gave a powerful rendition of Jan van der Roost’s set work, “Excalibur” and followed this with a pretty good effort of “A London Overture” by Philip Sparke as well. There was no doubt that they were clear winners.

As for the rest though. Arklow Silver came home second and gave a fair account of the set work and a brave reading of “Tam O’ Shanter’s Ride” to follow, but in truth they were a league below the winners and in terms of UK banding they sounded like a a decent second section band. Well done though for their 2nd place.

Third were Berga Brass Band from Sweden, who were OK as such against this standard of bands but in UK terms would have been a good third section band. They played the set work with character and gave a decent run out to “A Malvern Suite” by Philip Sparke as well, but there was nothing there to indicate that they would be pushing for further honours or representation in the top section in the immediate or long-term future.

Fourth was Mannheim Young Brass Ensemble – who sounded as their title indicated, as brass ensemble rather than brass band. Plenty of effort and some nice touches in the set work, but they didn’t get to grips with Robert Redhead’s “Corpus Christi” at all and made it sound a characterless piece of writing. Still, there were a young band and there is hope that they could improve further by the experience.

Finally, the Italian band Novedrate Brass Band and two performances of the set work and own choice that were brave and committed if nothing else. The experience will hopefully give them the incentive to continue to develop as a brass band, but you had the feeling that it is the development as a brass ensemble that occasionally plays brass band works that will ultimately come of them.

So well done to the French – they are a very decent band indeed and could have played in the Championship Section as well, but we will have to wait and see if that occurs for Bergen in 2003. As for the rest?

Perhaps the time has now come to make the First Section contest here, something approaching the UEFA Cup in football and open it up to bands from the likes of England, Scotland, Wales, Norway etc who compete in their own countries First Sections, and who would use the contest as a stepping stone for further competitive development rather than just an opportunity to perform in a contest as such.

Why not have the National winners of the First Sections from those countries to compete in the contest with the winners moving into the Championship Section the following year? The so called “developing bands” could also still be involved, but at least the contest would have more meaning and there would be a recognisable progression to the contest as a whole which surely wouldn’t dilute the opportunity to encourage brass banding in those countries we hope to see develop over the next decade or so. The contest needs it.

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