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The Lower Section National Finals 2002

Post match analysis: Fourth section

Wide-eyed and bushy tailed – well the 4BR team were when we got to the hall at 8.00am on Saturday morning. Not to sure we were come 1.00am the next day when we trudged away from the Riviera Centre - but looking back, we certainly enjoyed all the performances from the bands in the Fourth Section.

This was a joy last year in Preston and Torquay once more didn’t disappoint with the bands thoroughly enjoying the test piece and the audience enjoying the music – great tunes and plenty of technical difficulties to sort the men from the boys. Saying that though, most bands had at least a quarter of their players of school age, with some youngsters no higher than an Eb bass in height!!

The standard of playing was excellent – with many of the MD’s making sure they took sensible approaches to both the dynamics and tempo. However, we must say that nearly all the MD’s didn’t take the opportunity of listening to a Welsh Male Voice Choir actually singing the songs that were highlighted – especially in Suo Gan – the quiet lullaby movement.

Many misread the rhythm so that the lullaby became jerky in character, whilst some couldn’t tell with the obvious phrase markings were. That was disappointing and led to some fine technical playing, which had little or no musical content. One or two bands also thought the music had to be sung ala Tom Jones – loud! Welsh lullabies are more Charlotte Church you know.

The winners however were a class apart. St. Dennis are a famous band with a famous past, and last year they came close to victory here at the Finals. This time they were not to be denied and played out of their skins. The direction from Brain Minear was first rate and his players performed with poise and no little class. They were clear winners and deservedly took home the top prize back to Cornwall. On this showing they will be strong contenders in the Third Section next year, and for a band with such heritage, the future looks very rosy indeed – the late Eddie Williams would be a very proud man.

Second place went to Wardle and District Anderson Brass, conducted in fine style by Phil Shaw – another man who has played and won at the very highest levels, and who brought a very well thought out, sensible no nonsense reading of the test piece. It just had the odd moments of unease and the dynamic level was a touch on the loud side, but they ran the winners very close and in Phil Shaw they have a conductor of skill and talent. Some old granny started clapping at the end of the second movement – so they had plenty of support, but on this occasion they should be well pleased with becoming runners up, especially after they took the stage after the winners had played immediately before them. The comparison between the two was obvious and they didn’t fall short by much.

Third place was taken by Hayle Town, who were directed by Derek Johnson. This was a fine performance as well, with solid direction from the MD and clean and detailed playing from his charges. It had plenty to commend it – perhaps just a bit light in depth of sound in comparison to the two above them, but still fine stuff. Well done to one and all.

Timperley came fourth with and clean and confident performance that was musically controlled throughout and at times very stylish. It was quality playing and much credit should go to the MD, Graham Hetherington who kept a cool hand on the tiller and let the music flow. Again, it was a bit light in tonal depth but nowadays that isn’t too bad a thing and the band got just reward.

Fifth place went to the Welsh band Conway Town under the direction of Keith Jones, who set the early marker off the number 2 draw with a well directed show that was perhaps the most musically accurate of the day. The tunes had a sense of style born out of understanding of the words – something that is inbred in the Welsh it seems and it paid dividends.

The final placing announced off the stage went to Wem Jubilee, who came to the contest as one of the favourites, played with lots of confidence and plenty of brio, but didn’t quite catch the ears of the judges. It was good stuff – a little on the loud side maybe, but good stuff nevertheless.

Below this came some pretty good shows from just about everyone, with Porthaethy Menai Bridge taking 7th place with a solid performance and the unlucky (for us) Lochgelly from Scotland coming home 8th. Theirs was one of the most musically controlled performances of the whole weekend for us, and one of the best directed, but they didn’t quite do anything for the judges – a real pity.

Below this was a whole group of bands that all performed with merit and plenty of style and verve – it was just that they made too many individual errors for their performances to come any higher up the league tables. Plenty of good young talented players on show though and even though they made the odd blip or blob, so many of them played without the merest hint of nerves! Lets hope they keep their enthusiasm for banding as they grow older – there are far too many distractions elsewhere to tempt them!

It would be hard to criticise the bands that filled the lower places on the day – they had all come through the hard qualification process and many put in performances of note, but the brass band contest can be a cruel mistress and most fell to problems of intonation, balance and quality of overall tone. Still – plenty to work on for many of the MD’s.

St. Dennis were therefore deserved winners and will wear the banner and title with pride. This hopefully is the start of the long road back – a road that less than 25 years ago saw them take a top six place at the National Finals in the Championship Section at the Royal Albert Hall – now wouldn’t that be nice to look forward to?

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