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All England Masters 2002:

A retrospective look at the days events

Character. It’s fair to say that some people have character in spades whilst other people don’t - and it’s also fair to say that some bands have it oozing out of their pores whilst others are as dry as a bone. Put to the test, and only those who have it as an integral part of their make up are able to draw on it as a reservoir of strength and use it to succeed in whatever they do: On the evidence of Sunday at the All England Masters, Russell Gray and his Fodens Band have a shed full of the stuff.

The National Finals win in 1999 seemed to herald the final coming of age for a band that had for too long had been the bridesmaid of the banding world at major competitions, but following that first major triumph since they won at the Masters in 1995 the band suffered more disappointments at the “majors” than even Tim Henman could manage. Great performances and even greater let downs - Fodens seemed to be cursed with bad luck. Add to this the loss of their sponsorship and a number of leading players leaving for pastures new, the character of the band from Sandbach was being tested to the full. 2002 and the appointment of Russell Gray however has seen Fodens return back to their very best of form – this is the “new” Fodens, and by heck, they are one hell of a band.

The 2002 All England Masters will be seen as a contest that was in fact a two horse race. Williams Fairey and Fodens were a veritable street ahead of the other 18 bands – in many cases a street, housing estate and small town ahead, and when it came down to the nitty gritty it was quite an easy choice for the three wise men of Eric Crees, James Scott and David Read to make. The others turned up, and in some notable cases put up a strongish challenge, but in truth the two bands from the North West were in a league of their own.

The early mark of the day was made very early indeed, as Sellers International under Philip McCann once again showed that they are now a band to reckon with. Even a spooky feedback blowout on the compere’s microphone didn’t put them off their stride and they set a worthy marker with a performance that really had it’s moments – especially Kirsty Abbott’s off stage solo which wasn’t really bettered all day. 4th place was a fine achievement and confirmed the progress made since the Scotsman has returned to the fold. By the way – you should have seen the face of the Sellers representative at the draw when he picked out the dreaded number 1 ball – it was as if he had picked a dog turd from a lucky bag. He shouldn’t have worried though – where there’s muck there’s brass and if the band carry on playing like this he won’t have to wash his hands ever again. Sellers are back in business.

This was followed by DUT Yorkshire Imperial who although they gave a decent show, didn’t quite do enough with the music and paid the price for being a bit too bland to come home any higher than 16th. Their performance was mirrored by so many bands on the day and may go some way to explaining some of the differences in the placings between the individual adjudicators for many bands. Imps got 18th, 13th and 11th whilst others got something approaching the same, but to be fair it was so difficult to separate so many performances that failed to capture the imagination. Too loud, too fast and too many basic errors especially in the playing of the semi quaver motifs in the solo lines condemned many to the obscurity of the midfield and below.

The test piece itself didn’t give much for the bands to get their teeth into either and in our opinion “Atlantic” was not the greatest work from the pen of Philip Wilby. It had its moments – the Nocturne second movement certainly tested the flugel horn, soprano and euphonium but the opening was uninspired stuff and the reprise of the Finale had the feel of a bit of “cut and paste” about it. We have been used to so much from Philip Wilby in the past, but this was, to use a metaphorical term no QE2 cruise liner on the Atlantic – more a Stenna Line Irish ferry on its way to Cork – even the picture on the score itself was of a fishing trawler – it seemed apt.

Brighouse and Rastrick made the biggest mark for use out of the first seven or so bands that had been drawn to play in the first pre draw segment and under the new baton of Peter Bassano they gave for us a very detailed musical performance that stood out from what went immediately before and after. Not overblown and with the added pleasure of seeing the cornet section in traditional Whit Friday walkouts and the odd sight of the second baritone playing the opening few bars with his instrument in the French horn position. They should be disappointed with 8th place though and even though we heard the odd rumour of Mr Bassano’s demise, we for one would like to see him again.

After this came Rolls Royce (Coventry), Hepworth and SWT Woodfalls and all three gave decent enough showings without ever coming close to making more than the slightest of marks on the contest as a whole. 19th, 18th and 15th were fair returns, although Woodfalls could have come a bit higher if James Scott had given them a couple of places higher than the 20th he did.

Travelsphere Holidays took the stage under the baton of Brian Grant and gave a fine account of themselves. They tried to observe the dynamic markings throughout – sometimes with a few causalities in the quieter stuff and there was a lot of fine detailed playing especially on the solo trombone. For us it lacked a bit of flow in the second movement and we thought that would cost them, but the reprise was excellent and the judges all noted the way in which they maintained the pace and style. 3rd place was a bit of a surprise to many, but the judges all thought it was a performance of real merit and that what counts doesn’t it? 3rd, 4th and 4th was a consistency that others would have loved to achieve. We had them down for 6th before the results, so 3rd wasn’t too much of a surprise. Well done to all concerned.

That was the first third of the contest over and we had Brighouse well ahead with Travelsphere Holidays close behind – shows how much we know doesn’t it?

The second part of the pre draw saw bands 8 – 13 and a line up of Ransome, Besses, Leyland, Fodens, Thoresby and Rothwell. It was also hoped that the hall would fill up a bit too, as for the first part it was never really more than two thirds capacity (one of the possible draw backs of the pre draw system as many bandsmen who now know their approximate draw 24 hours in advance are not on site and therefore don’t go into the hall to listen).

Ransome put in a fair old show for us, which caught our fancy a bit even though they did have the odd uneasy moments. It was a bit rough in places but we still thought it would make the prize list and 10th spot may have been a place or two too low. 9th, 8th and 15th showed two out of the three judges quite liked them as well so we weren’t in too bad company.

Besses O’ th’ Barn also put in an account of much merit, although for us it nearly came a complete cropper in the second movement where the nerves got the better of some of the solo players. Still, the outer movements were very good, but it was odd to see the difference in the markings given by the judges – they were really in two minds about this one. 13th from Eric Crees seemed about right for us, but David Read had them as high as 3rd and James Scott had them as low as 19th. It was a musical approach and at times brave, but there were far too many basic errors for it to score highly for us. Strange how some performances can make different impressions on the judges though isn’t it?

Leyland and James Gourlay gave too much of a curates egg to make a higher mark than their eventual 7th place, although 15th from David Read seemed a bit harsh for us and 4th from Eric a tad too high – 7th was about right. It had some lovely moments, especially in the reprise but overall it wasn’t Leyland on the very best of form and they got what they deserved we think.

Now to Fodens at the halfway mark of a contest that up until then hadn’t really took off - and as one of the judges confided to us later seemed to be in need of a top class performance to beat the very first band on. Fodens started superbly and never let up from there on in with Russell Gray giving the music a rhythmic pulse and allowing the detail to come through - especially in the bass line where the inspired use of “mushroom” mutes (straight fibre mutes with a skirt of felt to further deaden the sound) meant that the semi quaver detail was clearly heard each time it appeared in the low register.

Helen Fox was also the best flugel of the day with a lovely performance in the second movement that set the tone for the rest of the band to follow. Although there were one or two clips elsewhere it never detracted and by the time the reprise had been overcome, there was no doubt that this was the leader by a good distance from anything else. Russell Gary has been an inspired choice to take the band and he has certainly brought style and a renewed vigour to their playing and with the experienced core players of Alan Wycherly, Glyn Williams, Helen Fox, Phil Green and Mark Wilkinson playing superbly under him they are as strong a band as any in the country. This was a performance of real distinction.

Thoresby Colliery followed Fodens on and although they gave a safe performance, it was another that was rather uninspired and 17th place was their reward. 15th, 16th and 12th showed that the three judges were much of the same mind, but on another day they could have been placed higher.

Rothwell suffered the same problems as well and once again there was plenty of decent playing but nothing that could set it apart from the other midfield bands. Safe and definitely not sorry and once again the judges found difficulty in agreeing exactly how good or bad it was with a final trio of marks that read 17th, 12th and 7th. See what we mean?

And so it came to the final third of the contest with the bands predrawn in the segment from 14 - 20. These bands may have had the good fortune of not playing early in the day, but once more there were too many that fell foul of basic errors and a tendency to play too loud and too fast in an effort to create excitement from the music.

JAG Mount Charles did just that and it was a performance that had much to merit but little to set it apart from those around it. It had its moments, but it also had a deal of unease in some of the solo lines in the slow movement so they had to be content with 14th place overall with a set of markings of 12th, 19th and 10th that once more found the judges in two minds to whether it was good, average or poor. 14th seemed about right though.

Flowers certainly enjoy Cambridge and for the second year in a row they gave a fine account of themselves to come home 5th. It was solid and uncomplicated stuff with some excellent solo playing especially from the flugel horn and euphonium - who stood in the middle of the band to give projection to the difficult solo in the middle movement. It had lots of detail, but for us it was just a bit on the hard side in too many places, and that may have cost them a chance of coming even higher. It once again however showed that on their day, Flowers are a top class outfit and the judges agreed by placing them 7th, 5th and 6th.

Williams Fairey next up with Frank Renton looking in determined mood as he strode onto the stage. It started brilliantly and some of the technical work was breathtaking in its clarity. Renton gave the music a pulse that never wavered and by the end of the first movement the audience was spellbound. The second movement was just as good with Kevin Crockford outstanding on soprano. He has been much maligned over the years as being just a player who can pump it out, but here he displayed superb delicacy and sweetness of tone - it was top class playing. Morgan Griffiths also confirmed that he was far and away the best euphonium player on the day as well with a performance of the difficult solo passage in the second movement that was quite awesome - the tone and control as he climbed to the pp top D wasn’t matched anywhere and he followed this with beautifully executed pp semi quavers that reeked of class. He was the deserved winner of the 4BR “Outstanding Instrumentalist” prize and took home our nice cup, a little replica and 100. Well done and well deserved. Fairey finished in exciting style and for us it just pipped Fodens, but the judges are the ones that really matter and they were in favour of their rivals this time by the narrowest margin of just one place. On such matters are titles won and lost.

Aveley and Newham had the difficult task of following them on stage and once again they performed well without ever doing enough to suggest them challenging for the prizes. They do have some fine individual players and the overall ensemble sound was well balanced, but like so many it just needed that bit extra on the day. 9th place though was an excellent achievement given the limited amount of rehearsal time they had on the piece - although once again there was a difference in what the three judges thought and they were placed 5th, 10th and 16th. They are getting there though.

And so to the European Champions Yorkshire Building Society, who were hoping to add the All England title to the one they won in such thrilling fashion in Brussels just a couple of weeks previous. It started superbly and by the end of the first movement they seemed to be set to take the contest by the scruff of the neck. The slow movement however found them out a bit and there were a number of uncharacteristic individual errors that detracted from the overall picture. Against nearly all the other bands, it wouldn’t have mattered, but up against what had been performed by Fodens and Fairey’s it meant that 2002 wasn’t going to be their year, and even though it ended well, you sensed that Dr. King knew as he left the stage that it wasn’t going to be a repeat a third title. 6th place however was a bit harsh for us - we had them 3rd, but two of the judges had them outside the top six so they must have felt they didn’t give even a prize-winning performance.

Fishburn and Ever Ready were the last two bands on stage, with Fishburn having to borrow the second horn player from YBS due to the unfortunate illness of their own player. Graham O’Connor tried his best - as did the players but they found it hard going in a choppy sea and had to be content with last place on their debut. They should hopefully do better next year though. Ever Ready under Ray Farr started well and seemed to be on course to repeat their 7th place of last year, but the middle movement took too many causalities and they dropped back into the midfield morass of bands that the judges found so hard to separate. 13th wasn’t too bad, but it could on another day have been higher or lower - as was the case with many others it would seem.

With that the contest was over in pretty sharp fashion, with a turn around of bands of about three an hour meaning that the Tomra Band had the opportunity to play for a bit longer than was initially anticipated. They weren’t too bad as well and it must be said they did like entertaining the crowd by leaving their seats at any opportunity. It was a pleasant way to spend the time waiting for the results though.

When the big moment came, the organisers made sure it was swift and very professional - although it would have been nice to hear what the judges thought of the day’s proceedings. Lyndon Baglin, the great euphonium player of yesteryear gave a warm and affectionate speech about his friend and “All England Masters Dedicated Service” award winner Derek Garside that was reciprocated with heartfelt and modest thanks by the great man himself. It was a lovely moment and deserved recognition to a fine player and even finer man.

Morgan Griffiths took the 4BR award for his superb performance with Williams Fairey and then it came to the final results of the day, with a shock wave rippling through the auditorium when YBS were called as sixth. Flowers took a fine fifth place and Sellers International an even better fourth - off number 1, that is a top class bit of work.

The final three saw Travelsphere Holidays and their delighted representative take third place, which meant that one of the three big boys of Brighouse, Fodens or Fairey were going to be out of the frame. In the end there was a bit of a sigh around the hall as Williams Fairey were announced as second, but there was almost unanimous applause when Fodens were announced as the 2002 “All England Masters Champions” - the fifth time they had now won the title here in Cambridge.

It ended a fine days contesting at Cambridge once more and overall we thoroughly enjoyed it. The piece wasn’t perhaps the greatest test ever, but it tested nonetheless, whilst the contest still has the feel of being three mini contests in one - the bottom five performances on the day weren’t really up to scratch for a variety of reasons and there are a swath of bands of around the same standard that make the contest in need at times of a real inspired performance to set it alight. Perhaps a few less bands would do the trick?

Still, the 14th All England Masters was another success and continues to set the pace for others to follow. If only the bands can put the pressure on to get the winners invited to the European as English Champions it would make it just about perfect.

The Judges Remarks:
We are grateful to the Fodens Band who have allowed us to reprint the judges remarks for their winning performance.

David Read:

Excellent start - good accel. Don’t get too brassy - I hear all the parts - the music unfolds. 90 - Fine solo horn. 108 - trom very good and parts fit all the time as they should. I can hear the waves crashing against the rocks.

Part2: Excellently played flugel and as we progress. Euph articulation just 254/255 tentative - you took the mark. Wonderful sounds by all parts. Sop - so much space. Off stage cornet - lovely sound.

Finale: Again a fine start - fine bass trombone. The sea is rough enough. A fine sounding band - well directed throughout.

James Scott:

You manage the solemn element well and build to convincing Allegro where there is dynamic control. Solo lines are all secure and well shaped. Excellent “power” sounds at Bars 124 - 159. The tempo in Allegro Pesante enables great clarity and definition.

Nocturne: Opens with such well shaped flugel playing. Slight intonation problem at bar 221 between 1st horn and 2nd trombone. The later solo lines from all soloists are very musical and the accompanying ensemble work is matching the soloists. Excellent cornet close.

The reprise from 305 works as in the opening with fine clarity and musical purpose to follow. A performance of distinction.

Eric Crees:

Well controlled and mysterious opening but far too fast and too loud too early. 64 - 71 good. Well done troms. Good rhythmic bite - rather raw trombone solo but very tight overall. Well controlled flugel solo - warm but flowing. Trom 2 a bit sloppy at 222 - well controlled movement. 238 could have been more magical. I liked the recit style of euph solo. Carefully accompanied, shame about slip at end. Sop a touch too hesitant. 237 mf a touch too big perhaps. Fine 3rd cornet solo except very end.

Built far too quickly again but with character. A brilliant pui moso. Real virtuosity here but I’m not too sure about huge pause before last note.

Obviously a very good band, but I would have preferred a slightly more foot off the throttle approach. It is possible to observe tempi and be exciting. Nevertheless - well done.

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