All England Masters
A retrospective look at the days events
Character. Its fair to say that some people have character
in spades whilst other people dont - and its 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
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
comperes microphone didnt put them off their stride
and they set a worthy marker with a performance that really had
its moments especially Kirsty Abbotts off stage
solo which wasnt 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 shouldnt have worried though
where theres muck theres brass and if the band
carry on playing like this he wont 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, didnt 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 didnt 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 Bassanos 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 doesnt 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 wasnt 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 doesnt 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 dont 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 werent 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 isnt 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 wasnt 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
hadnt 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
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 wasnt 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
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 wouldnt have
mattered, but up against what had been performed by Fodens and Faireys
it meant that 2002 wasnt going to be their year, and even
though it ended well, you sensed that Dr. King knew as he left the
stage that it wasnt 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 didnt 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 OConnor 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 wasnt 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 werent 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 days 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
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
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
It ended a fine days contesting at Cambridge once more and overall
we thoroughly enjoyed it. The piece wasnt 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 werent 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.
Excellent start - good accel. Dont 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.
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.
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 Im 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.