Yeovil Entertainment Contest 2003 –
It is often that 4BR leaves a brass band contest feeling disappointed,
but the long journey home to South Wales from the Octogon Theatre
in Yeovil on the weekend was such an occasion.
We’ll come out and say it straight away –
the overall standard of playing that was on show at the 26th running
of one of the best run contests in the calendar ranged from the
very good to the downright awful. Many people would say that isn’t
that the case with any banding competition, but Yeovil is an entertainment
contest for bands with supposed genuine pretensions of competing
at the highest level. On the evidence of Saturday, only two of the
nine bands reached that standard, whilst the other seven performed
to varying lowering degrees of mediocrity. It was a huge let down.
The Flowers Band were worthy winners, but even they have played
better and lost, rather than won as they did here, whilst JAG Mount
Charles showed glimpses of their talent, but couldn’t quite
round off their programme in the same manner or quality in which
they started. These two however were a veritable street –
no, a veritable housing estate of streets ahead of the rest and
it came as no surprise that David Read didn’t really have
too much of a problem putting them first and second.
Our most experienced judge also made some very perceptive remarks
at the end of the contest as well. Not only did he reveal that he
felt for this type of contest that he was in favour of “Open”
adjudication, but remarked clearly that regardless of the contest
there were always certain basic requirements and criteria that every
band should strive to meet. These he said were, balance, tunefulness
and if the music was meant to be exciting or emotional, it should
sound as such. His remarks were as always diplomatically presented
and he did stress that he was in general a “closed”
man, but for this contest he felt it would benefit if the judge
could see as well as hear what was going on in the attempt to entertain.
It is also interesting to note that the bands themselves voted
for closed adjudication at this years contest, so why on earth did
they spend so much time with the visual aspects of their performances
in detriment to the actual playing is beyond us. What Mr Read would
have made of some of the antics we can only guess at.
We don’t know exactly how many of the competing MD’s
were in the audience to hear David Read, but it is a fair bet you
could have counted them on the fingers on a hand of a T. Rex. He
stated a simple home truth about playing that encapsulated the evidence
on the day that the majority of MD’s had either forgotten
about or couldn’t have cared less about. Some of the stuff
we had to endure (and that is the right word for it) was simply
unacceptable at this level and the MD’s themselves should
shoulder the blame. It seems presentation and not the standard of
the playing was uppermost in the minds (and ears) of the MD’s
in Yeovil, and it made for some pretty uncomfortable listening.
A couple of years ago after the Brass in Concert Contest at Spennymoor
had started to experience the excessive presentations of “pantomime”
programmes, Roy Newsome was brought in to steer bands back to more
well thought out musically intelligent entertainment programmes.
It has worked to a great extent and the last few years have seen
bands balance their offerings with new music, top class soloists
and less frenetic visuals, whilst the actual standard of playing
has been maintained and even improved. It seems the message has
yet to filter its way down to the bands on show at Yeovil this year,
and it wouldn’t have come as a shock to have had Cannon and
Ball tap dancing at the front of the stage to some of the offerings
put on in the name of entertainment from many of the bands.
Not one band on the day made a genuine effort to include a quiet
piece in their programmes – all had a go at some form of jazz,
funk, Latin American, but not one really trusted themselves to entertain
with a display of restrained, balanced, rounded traditional brass
band playing. The evidence suggested that none of them could really
do it, so perhaps the bands were playing to their strengths, but
it is a very sad state of affairs that none really bothered to even
It is also a pity for the organisers as well. Yeovil has been going
strong for 26 years and is without doubt one of the best run contests
you will ever go to. The bar and the cafeteria are well stocked,
the middle of town is just a stone throw away and the staff and
volunteers make every effort to ensure both the audience and especially
the bands are well looked after. Bands are given a pre draw, each
has a volunteer to “look after” them when they arrive,
a rehearsal facility is provided, the percussion is unloaded from
the bus onto a van and taken to the back of the hall, reloaded back
after the performance and nothing is too much trouble to ensure
they are treated well. Christine Buckley and her fellow members
of the Yeovil Town Band should be given medals for what they do,
so it is a little sad to report that only nine bands made it to
the starting rostrum this year, although they are more than confident
that the field will be increased next year to around 12 bands at
least. They deserve the support from quality bands as well, as the
top prize is a very nice £1500 and they do run things very
The day started off with SWT Woodfalls not on
the best of form under Jonathan Camps and although they came third
it will tell you more about the standard of the other bands rather
then themselves that they picked up a rostrum place and £600.
They opened untidily with a jazzed “Stars and Stripes”
that featured some neat and nonchalant sop playing before their
featured horn soloist was swamped by the band in the finale from
the Mendelssohn horn concerto. Given that it was difficult to hear
the playing it was even more odd to see the soloist seemingly having
an on/off natter to a member of the audience in the front row throughout
the piece! A mono dynamic rendition of “Preludium” followed
before we got the first of the pantomime acts of the day, when the
MD reprised his Noel Coward “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”
impersonation. Re runs don’t work as well a second time and
so it proved here as most of the audience had seen and heard it
when Mr Camps did it with Bodmin in 2000, so it fell a little flat.
“Shine as the Light” finished things off scrappily to
an overall performance that was well below par for a more than capable
band. It set the tone for most that was to follow.
Redbridge and Melvin White up next (although he
was absent for the opening number entitled “The Chicken”).
This is another very solid and capable band who decided to throw
out all their quality that had seen them come 11th at the National
and replace it with harsh, brash and frankly untuneful playing throughout
their performance. The opener was awful – a neat enough arrangement,
but played with a rigidity of style that was totally at odds with
the music and with choreography that saw the players “dancing”
if that is the right word as if they had a broom stick stuck up
their shirts. The cameo jazz features off the sop, cornet and trom
were limp (ever seen a jazz trumpet player with a lyre and music?)
and it set the tone for the rest of a pretty uninspired programme.
A messy march “True North” followed before the ubiquitous
Harry Potter and “Hedwig’s Theme” which lacked
precision and style and had little or no atmosphere. The cornet
soloist put in a brave effort with “Lairg Muir” from
Hymn of the Highlands, before they finished off with a very average
rendition of the Highlands Finale, “Dundonnell”. Fourth
place was their reward, but this was a band that didn’t do
themselves justice at all.
Much had been expected of JAG Mount Charles and
Richard Evans and they started off in super fashion with a rendition
of “Imperial Echoes” that had balance and dynamic control,
but had a few moments of unease in the sop line and a rit come rall
come allargando before the final restrain that may have just upset
an old guardsman like David Read in the box. It was certainly showy
That was followed by Shaun Thomas giving a worthy winning soloist
performance of Howard Snell’s arrangement of “Gypsy
Airs” – a very different type of solo that made others
on the day sound very dated. Not quite vintage Thomas but still
more than good enough to stamp his class, whilst the band once more
had a few little moments of unease. More panto next and “A
Hunting Scene” that was slickly done and presented, even if
again the playing wasn’t 100%. The audience loved it though
and for once the visual effects didn’t spoil things –
“Here’s that Rainy Day” was short and sweet and
neatly done before the band gave a somewhat frenetic account of
the finale from Hymn of the Highlands. Better than Redbridge for
sure, but it lacked finesse and became a bit of a brash blow to
end. Still, they were well ahead of the field, even if they hadn’t
really performed to the very best of their ability.
BTM we felt a bit sorry for. They came 8th but
we had them down for 4th, so it was most probably down to their
programme rather than their playing that cost them. A slightly untidy
antiphonal opener in the form of “Intrada” was followed
by a fine display of old fashioned euph paying from Mark Hutcherson
on “Endearing Young Charms”. Here is a player who can
perform this in his sleep but on this occasion it just lacked a
bit of oomph and tempo. It was good, but we’ve heard this
player really wow an audience.
Then things got a bit odd. Tom Jones’ “Sex Bomb”
with lots of choreography was slick but never really had the testosterone
levels peaking dangerously (especially in an audience were the average
age of the women was a touch towards the Saga Holiday bracket) and
they followed this with “Mr Bojangles” which was in
the same musical style and mood. As a result neither piece made
the impression that it could have.
The finale came from “Gettysburg” and suffered from
over enthusiastic drummers at the front of the stage obliterating
some very loud playing from the band. It was an end to a programme
that promised much but needed possibly a bit more variety and that
was its downfall. BTM have played better for sure, but they didn’t
deserve 8th for us.
Bodmin were runners up here last year and started
well enough with a repeat of their opener of a twelve month ago
in the shape of “The Waltonian”. There was balance and
style and things seemed to be looking good, before the wheels started
to rock and finally came off as the programme went along.
The second horn player to perform the Mendelssohn put in a good
effort, but it was a rushed and insecure performance from both soloist
and band and never came off. The style was a bit too pecked and
some off the ensemble work was way out in places. In addition he
also had the lowest hung trousers we ever seen on a man (do blokes
wear braces anymore we ask?) but they remained in place to the end.
“A Country Scene” by Goff Richards followed, which was
a piece that shouldn’t really have seen the light of day at
this level. The performance was insipid and nervous to say the least
and ended with the tuning more than slightly awry. It wasn’t
a good bit of playing.
The same could be said of “Opus 1” which was played
at breakneck speed and held together only by some good kit playing
before they finished with a ropey performance of “The Little
Russian”. Bodmin are clearly in the rebuilding process, but
playing like this won’t have helped their confidence. To come
6th was an achievement.
With Aveley having dropped out (how they wish they could have turned
up) there was a welcome break in proceedings before the next four
bands took to the stage. We managed to speak to some banding personalities
and all were disappointed at what they had heard so far and were
astounded at the lack of basic ensemble quality. More was to follow
Kidlington played to their strengths and left
any pretensions about fun and games to others. Catherine Underwood
chose a sensible programme, but one that never really sparkled.
“Amazonia” and “Rainforest” from “Windows
of the World” opened things up in fair fashion, but the overall
band sound was a little light and lacked depth, whilst the percussion
in the latter movement seemed to be way out and gave it a real feel
The bands two euphonium players performed “Brilliante”
way below par next – a real struggle before a scrappy and
unconvincing version of “Rhythm and Blues” which was
saved by some very neat trombone playing. The overall standard of
ensemble playing though was poor. “Autumn Leaves” gave
the trom player another chance to shine, which he did, but the band
once more lacked the sense of style to help things along. Finally
“Gaelforce” and the bands best playing - although it
became ever more scrappy and frenetic towards the end and finished
an overall performance that wasn’t really up to the mark for
this level. They are another band who are capable of playing so
much better than this but 7th place will surely have put a smile
on their faces.
Flowers took their time to set up, and it was well
worth the wait given what had gone on before. A fine opener in the
shape of “The Cossack” showed their class and woke up
the audience from their boredom induced slumber.
“A Celtic Promise” from the pen of MD Philip Harper
was next and featured a solo horn backed by the flugel and two other
horns in a staggered formation. It just about worked, although the
music meandered somewhat for us and the balance between the different
lines wasn’t clear (although we suspect that may have been
more to do with the standing arrangements on stage). It just lacked
that touch of atmosphere that would possibly have come if the dynamic
level from the band had been more sympathetic. Not quite quiet and
tranquil enough possibly.
Next though, the stuff that Flowers do so well, and ripping arrangement
of a Cuban “Salsa Parkosa” which was very upbeat and
had the right style and feel. The soloists weren’t altogether
convincing in places (and we could do without the band applauding
their own efforts) but this was as slick as you like, very professionally
choreographed and with excellent percussion. It was the highlight
of the day playing wise and a class above anything else that we
Then something a bit strange. Philip Harper’s arrangement
of Rimsky Korsakov’s famous “Czar Sultan” was
an excellent piece of work and brought out some really fine playing
from soloists and ensemble, but was overshadowed by some simply
ludicrous puppet animation that added absolutely nothing to the
piece. We are talking the type of animation you see at the pantomime
where people dressed in all black against a black backdrop hold
up mannequins and cut outs and walk and dance across a stage –
you know, a bit like “Fingerbobs” on the telly all those
years ago. Great in a panto, but due to there being no narrative
line to explain what and why they were there it was simply pointless
and faintly embarrassing.
The intro from the compere told us little so we were left with
a bloke holding up a cut out of what looked like Peter Beardsley
whilst being accosted by a swan. A bobbing ship which looked like
Captain Pugwash’s Black Pig and something that resembled a
jelly fish also made an appearance whilst the famous “Flight
of the Bumble Bee” interlude was marked by the kit player
messing about with a laser pen on the backdrop. It made your teeth
Thankfully, the playing more than made up for the awful visuals
with some excellent ensemble playing and solo work from sop, cornet
and euph. Flowers sounded like the class band they are and it provided
a fine playing finisher to a programme that had its moments of real
high quality. With the MD taking the applause they struck up “The
Muppets” which ended things off nicely and a bit differently.
Flowers had gone through their whole gamut of visual tricks but
thankfully for us (and the judge who was of course unaware of the
choreography) their playing was in a different league. Winners deservedly,
but we wish they would concentrate on the stuff they really do well.
We wait with anticipation for their appearances at the Grand Shield
and Regionals this year.
Bournemouth Concert put in a decent effort under
Lt Col Chris Davis, that even though never quite had enough about
it to suggest anything other than a midfield final placing, did
have a lot to merit, especially in the programme choices.
“The Waltonian” was a touch pedestrian but this was
followed by some fine flugel playing in “My Ain Folk”.
Just the odd query for us about the sense of style (it sounded like
triplet rhythms in places) and the band swamped a little as well,
but it was neat and nicely performed. This led to an untidy “Russian
Sailor’s Dance” before a real highlight of the day with
“I Know Thou Art Mine” by Leonard Ballantine. A brave
choice and well played, it didn’t quite capture the ears of
the audience but it was very well done nonetheless.
We though then that Bournemouth could be pressing for a place in
the top three, but blew their chances with a very poor run out of
the finale from Shostokovich’s 5th Symphony which was overlong,
overblown and sounded untidy and tired towards the end. It was a
big blow, but the band wasn’t quite up to doing it justice
and it fell away to a rather feeble ending. Some real fine sop playing
therefore went unrewarded. Overall though, a band that played as
well as it could on the day, with some brave choices of repertoire.
5th place was well deserved.
Finally, the Welsh band Parc and Dare and a return
to the contest for the first time since 1995. They came last on
the day, which again was a touch unlucky perhaps, but they could
only have themselves to blame for a picking a programme that never
really had enough substance (8 individual items is too much in a
25 minute programme).
They opened with “Liberty Fanfare” which was well handled
before they let themselves down with a poor account of the JJ Richards
march “Mechlanberg”. The tuba soloists played very well
in “Tuba Tapestry” but the ensemble playing was inflexible
and was ragged and too heavy. The two movements from Philip Wilby’s
“A little Light Music” were awful. “The Lady of
the Fountain” just didn’t sound comfortable at all and
never went anywhere musically for us, whilst the triangle feature
on “Cardiff Bay Ice Creams” was something of nothing
– with plenty of the nothing. However well the lad on the
triangle played, it was swamped by the band.
Finally, three movements from “Aspects of Adiemus”
which were sleep inducing in their boredom. Nothing wrong with the
playing – in fact this was the bands best pieces, but the
arrangements do not suit a brass band at all as there is no colour
to the music. Bands can’t do this type of music well at all,
and so it proved with Parc and Dare as they finished off the contest
in the way in which it began – untidily. It was a pity for
the band as they have improved greatly over the past year or so,
but this was a programme that didn’t suit them at all and
last place was their reward.
So that was it then. You may totally disagree with what we have
said about the standard of playing at the contest this year and
you can let us know by writing to us, but we stick by our opinion.
This was a contest that was hugely disappointing in playing terms.
The good bands came out on top – just as they should, but
they didn’t have to play too far above themselves to do so.
The rest were on the day not up the mark and for what ever reason
they will have to improve a great deal if they will have any chance
of winning prizes on their travels during 2003.