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National Finals 2002:
Championship Section

In retrospect:
Fairey Magic wins the day


Morgan Griffiths and Ian Porthouse

Class told in the end. In one of the most exciting contests of recent years, Williams Fairey under the baton of Allan Withington took the title of Champion Band of Great Britain 2002, with a performance of Philip Wilby’s “Masquerade” that was simply brilliant in it’s execution and portrayal. On a day when there were perhaps four perfomances that could justifiably lay claim to have been worthy of winning the title, the Stockport based band just had that extra bit of consummate control and panache to register their 8th win in total at the Royal Albert Hall and their first win here since 1993. Theirs was a breathtaking win.

Behind them came a group of bands that must have felt that they could have done no more in their attempts to be crowned champions, and for us at 4BR, the performances of BAYV Cory, YBS and especially Fodens Richardson will live in the memory banks for a long time to come. Not that they came home in the order we thought though...

Our team was split over the result – as was the Hall by the sounds of the moans and groans that emanated from the auditorium when Fodens were announced as coming fourth. We felt it was a going to be between either Williams Fairey or Fodens Richardson with BAYV Cory and YBS in very close attendance. There were also mentions for Black Dyke and Brighouse and Rastrick, but it was the two North West representatives who really just poked their chests out far enough at the finishing tape to battle it out for the ultimate honour.

Not so the judges and they went for Williams Fairey, with BAYV Cory runners up, Black Dyke third and Fodens Richardson fourth. Behind them came the two performances from Brighouse and Rastrick and YBS. It was a top six that just about everyone in the hall would have agreed with – but to misquote Eric Morecombe with Andre Previn, “not necessarily in the right order”. It capped a quite brilliant day of brass band contesting with a further touch of controversy for the supporters and fans to chew over as they made their way back to their hotels and down to the Queen’s Mews for a pint of London Pride.

The day started in cracking fashion with Brighouse and Rastrick giving a blistering show off the number one draw that was full of quality right from the word go. No more Major who? Ian McElligott has got the boys from Briggus playing with a maturity and sense of composure that was last heard in the very best of days under Allan Withington, and his easy eloquent direction brought out the best in his players. Theirs was as good a number one performance you could have asked for and we thought it was the marker for the day. 5th place was a superb achievement and we hope the band takes the opportunity to keep this partnership together – it could well prosper into something very special.

SWT Woodfalls and EYMS had the cruel luck to be drawn numbers two and three and although both gave as good as they could, they were a class or two below the opener and as the day went on their performances were relegated to the bottom of the field. Both had their moments, but overall they found the music a very hard baptism and perhaps just beyond them on this occasion. They are good bands, but too many basic individual errors at this level costs dearly and 18th and 20th respectively were an accurate return on the day. They will return back home the stronger for the experience though.

And so to Black Dyke. Just when they may have thought that the curse of the early draw was behind them, their man at the draw plucked out the number 4 from the old onion bag. You can bet he didn’t enjoy going back to the bus to tell the band the bad news. In the event they put in a very fine performance indeed, just marred by one too many little individual errors that detracted from the overall picture. The quiet playing though was superb and the last section was at times technically stupefying, but the little blips and blobs were costly in the extreme. We had them down as sixth behind Brighouse, but the judges placed them third – a fine and honourable defence of their crown, but not enough to retain it.

Unlike the Open, when there seemed to be a massed evacuation every time a “non named” band came to play, the hall remained refreshingly half to two thirds full for the “lesser lights” throughout the day - although it must be said, the hall was never full at any point. The years when stories could be told of the old hall being full to bursting are now just stories, for in 2002 (and for the past few years at least) the contest has not sold out (whatever the promoters may say). The test piece certainly helped, but there is still a disturbing trend of reducing numbers.

Still, both Besses O’ th’ Barn and Leyland gave worthy accounts of themselves, although both would be perhaps a touch disappointed with their overall final placings. Besses were safe, but never really felt as if they were in complete control of the piece. Lynda Nicholson once more gave her band the chance to shine in the right places, and for the most part it came off. This is a young band that has made plenty of progress in 2002 and so they should be well pleased by their efforts. Leyland will go back home a little more deflated as Garry Cutt gave a no nonsense reading and the players responded in kind. Perhaps a bit flat overall, but it did give the audience the chance to appreciate the talents of Riki McDonnell, who picked up the well-deserved award of International Euphonium Player of the Year 2002. This is a fine player and one who has been a great ambassador for his country over the years, so we hope he enjoys the accolade.

Camborne followed and found the work a bit hard going if truth be told right from the start. It never got going, although the euph did a sterling job. The dynamic contrasts were lacking for us and possibly the judges and they had to be content with 19th place – the same as last year.

Ever Ready and Ray Farr brought things up to scratch though and even though there plenty of little errors that cost them in places, the overall picture was well constructed and Ray Farr kept a tight rein on things from start to finish. They were tired at the end after a fair old work out and 9th place was a fine return for their efforts. They seem a band moving on an upward curve.

Eight down then, and for us, Brighouse were leading the field from the number one spot with Black Dyke a very close second. That all changed with BAYV Cory though. Robert Childs and his band built a hugely impressive edifice of a performance – one that had just the tiniest of cracks in the superstructure, but whose foundations had the stamp of authoritative class about them. David Childs stood in front of the band to deliver a cadenza of virtuoso aplomb and the last section of playing was at times breathtaking. If the performance did have an Achilles heel it was at the beginning when a few individual errors smeared an almost perfect musical picture. It was impressive stuff – a superb performance as we noted at the time, and one that reminded ourselves that as we mentioned in our preview would - only be beaten by the very winners, if at all – and so it proved.

Aveley and Newham had the difficult task of following the Welsh band on stage, but put in a real solid account of the set work that impressed the judges and us. Nothing too spectacular, but nothing too out of place meant 12th spot and further evidence that on their day this is a band that can more than hold it’s own in top class company. If only they can get it together to qualify for the British Open we could possibly see them flourish further.

Much was expected of Grimethorpe Colliery, but once more they flattered to deceive and had to be content with 7th place – just out of the prize list. Unlike at the Open, James Gourlay set out the bands musical stall in straightforward fashion and up until the euph solo they seemed on course for a top six finish at least. However, the decision to split the euph solo cost them heavily – it never sounded comfortable at all and robbed the band of the good work that went on before and after. David Read mentioned afterwards that the judges knew too well which bands opted for the two euph strategy and although he didn’t say it necessarily penalised bands, you had the sense that it did mean a few points knocked off the final score. That was perhaps Grimey’s undoing this time around.

Seindorf Beaumaris was next on stage and played as well as anyone could have expected of them. 17th place for the North Wales band may seem a poor result on paper, but theirs was a brave performance of the set work that although tested the band to the limit and a touch beyond, was never out of place amongst this level of company, and they did themselves proud. They will be a band to watch out for in 2003. Desford meanwhile gave perhaps their best performance at a “Major” for many a year – full of broad sounds, fine individual playing and some masterful direction from Peter Parkes. He knows this piece well and it showed as he coaxed some exciting playing from the Midlanders from start to finish. 8th place was a fine return – lets hope it will signal the return to the bigger stage for the band in 2003 and beyond.

Williams Fairey have had their fair share of disappointments and close shaves over the years at the Nationals, but right from the start of their performance you sensed there was something special brewing. The percussion was perhaps a tad heavy in places, but the overall picture created by Allan Withington reeked of a swagger and panache. Morgan Griffiths confirmed that he is currently the best euph player on a contest stage with a cadenza section that was superlative, whilst Ian Porthouse revelled in the cornet solo. The rest of the band played to the same level and by the end the hairs on the back of your neck were standing on end. Where as BAYV Cory had built a musical Canary Wharf, Faireys built the equivalent of the Sydney Opera House – both mighty impressive constructions, but only one of them is truly beautiful. It split us in the 4BR box and possibly the audience – but it was a performance of rare quality and in the end it just pipped the Welsh band to the title.

The London Regional champions followed Williams Fairey onto the stage, and just like Aveley before them the prospect of trying to live up to a great preceding show didn’t faze them at all. Solid and uncomplicated in style and delivery, Redbridge Brass and Melvin White showed that it was wrong of many to write off their chances of doing well against top notch opposition as they came home 11th. This was a fine show, but they will have to do it again and again to really convince people that this wasn’t just a good “one off”. That may sound harsh, but the talent is certainly there for them to do it.

Kirkintilloch took the stage in the now familiar “flat V” formation favoured by Frank Renton, and although the band worked hard at the style and dynamics they could count themselves a touch unlucky to end up 14th. Nothing went too wrong, but the sound of the band seems unbalanced due to the formation and at times the cornets were strident in tone and this detracted. Still, further proof that the Scots are a band to watch out for.

And so to Yorkshire Building Society and David King. They have never won here and 2002 was to prove once more that it is not a happy hunting ground for the European Champions, as they had to be content with 6th place. It seemed to be going so well and the trombone playing was perhaps the best of the day, whilst David King brought out little gems of individual motifs that hadn’t been heard in any other performance. However, the decision to move the easy baritone part onto the horn was too obvious, even using a mute the size of a small child. Perhaps once you can get away with it, but twice was pushing things and the judges must surely have noticed the difference in the timbre and penalised them. Why there was a need to do it, we may never know, but it proved an expensive choice and added to some muted sop work that wasn’t marked may have lost the band valuable points. Added to this was the decision to break the last part of the euph solo into two – with the 2nd euph playing a blinder in coming in on the top notes of the leaps. It was brilliant playing, but once more the use of the mute was too obvious to ignore. The band ended things with a staggering finish and we thought this may have been one to catch the judges ears – it did, but those little decisions perhaps were their undoing. We had them 4th, but the judges had them 6th – roll on next year.

Travelsphere Holidays had performed below expectations at the Open and were determined to do well here, but once more they found themselves way down the list. Perhaps the safe and steady approach which never really lighted up the piece as others had done cost them, as they gave a performance that was clean and tidy, but lacked the bit of risk taking that was well within their capabilities. 16th rounded off a miserable couple of contests – they are so much a better band that the results of the Open and here suggest, so they can possibly write this one off to “one of those days”.

Whitburn have been playing well of late and many thought they could well feature highly here, but in the end they just seemed to run out of steam when they needed it most and they came home 10th when it could well have been a touch higher. Philip McCann once more brought clarity to the reading of the score and the players echoed his direction, but just when you thought they were going to break out and go for the kill, they seemed satisfied at their efforts and slightly drew back into their shell. 10th place was a good return once more and 2003 should see them get closer to the top bands if they can just believe in themselves a bit more.

That was it then so we thought – just Fodens Richardson to go, and just when you thought the judges couldn’t be troubled Bram Tovey set off an Exocet of a performance that literally brought the house down.

For us, it was the most complete performance we heard all day – and that was saying something given the amazing shows put on by both Williams Fairey and BAVY Cory. Those however were brass band performances of the very highest class, whilst this seemed like 25 piece orchestral brass ensemble playing out of their skins. Whereas both Fairey’s and Cory played the piece as a Philip Wilby work with a nod to Verdi, Fodens played it as a Verdi work with a nod and a wink in the opposite direction.

It meant that the effects never sounded as stand alone features but as integral parts of the unfolding plot, whilst the humour of the music was always bubbling away under the surface. The players performed in the style as well and Glyn Williams in particular seemed as if he had almost metamorphosed into Falstaff himself in the cadenza – it was showpiece stuff and at the end the whole of the auditorium surely felt they had heard the winner. Different, yes, breathtaking, yes, the winner, no……..

How they eventually came 4th only the judges will know. Perhaps they punished some slight tuning problems in the quieter sections, or the way in which Bram Tovey added extra dramatic touches? It was beyond us – and fourth place was very, very harsh indeed. The Gods are not shining on Bram and Fodens, whilst Russell Gray and the band are blessed – some things in life just don’t make sense do they?

With that it was all over – a contest of amazing ups and downs and four performances that stood out in class from the others on a day when the cream really did rise to the top. Steve Sykes entertained well before we got down to the nitty gritty and the results.

Shiela Tracy then proceeded to make a mockery of the whole proceedings with one of the crassest bits of compere work it has been our misfortune to ever listen to. We applaud the decision for the adjudicators to explain themselves, but why or why did this woman reduce it to something akin to a third rate panto act by goading the audience into a “will they, won’t they” routine. It made your teeth curl in embarrassment and who ever made the decision to ask her to do it should be taken outside and whipped to within an inch of their lives.

David Read spoke eloquently and effectively – as he always does, but he too must have cringed with the crassness of the introduction. His remarks also highlighted that the judges knew who had taken the risks and those who had taken the easy way out, and he noted that the four or five bands that really made the piece come to life where the ones who painted the musical picture the best and took time to make a note of the snippets of libretto that marked the score.

With that it was the moment of truth and a minor groan or two as YBS were given 6th place. Applause for Brighouse and their well-deserved 5th spot before gasps of disbelief as Fodens Richardson were announced as 4th. Black Dyke’s 3rd place almost went unnoticed before a further sharp intake of breath as BAYV Cory were placed second. With that, Shiela Tracy mustered up as much excitement as can be found in an old peoples home on a Thursday night and announced Williams Fairey as the winners – a decision that was greeted well, although not with universal cheers as the band seemed to be missing from the hall at the moment of truth and Allan Withington had already gone home to look after his son who was ill.

It was a rather downbeat ending to one of the most memorable contests for many a year, and one that will have brass band lovers arguing about the result for many a year to come. The good was brilliant (the performances from the top bands), but the bad was still as bad as only a band contest could be (the execrable compere, the prize money – still £2000 after twenty years for the winners, and the price of the so called study scores which at £6.00 a piece were a rip off in anyones money).

It did make for a memorable days contest though – and perhaps that was just enough to make you come back for more next year. Williams Fairey are the Champions – and winners on “Masquerade” for the third time (counting the Open of 1993 and the European of 1994 when they took the title playing the work as their “Own Choice”) but the 2002 Nationals will live in the memory banks for a long time to come for much more than just their brilliant win – and that is surely how it should be.

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The Heaton Collection -  Available with 4BR shopping