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2003 Yorkshire Regional Championships

Retrospective review:
Championship Section

St George's Hall,
Sunday 2nd March 2003

Sunday evening in the “Rendezvous” bar deep in the bowels of St. George’s Hall was a bit like being in the Bradford Institution for the Terminally Beaten, Battered and Bewildered.

After one and half days of fairly non controversial contesting, the Yorkshire Area had come up with a result in the Championship Section that had quite simply upset an apple cart the size of the QE2. Not since Bram Gay had bowled a googly of a result in 1999, had the good people of Bradford witnessed such a phenomenon, but 2003 will surely live long in the memory as a result that took some explaining. Those who remained in the bar seemed incapable of describing what they had just witnessed – and we aren’t talking about it being due to the amount of alcohol that had been consumed either.

Being beaten by a decision is one thing, being battered into defeat is another, but being bewildered is something else. It was as if everyone in the “Rendezvous” bar was suffering from some sort of contesting Alzheimer’s disease. They were there in body, but their minds were incapable of understanding the reality of the situation that had just unfolded. There was some understanding that Brighouse had deservedly won, but then the shutters of comprehension had come down and everything just didn’t make any sense at all. Spooky ain’t the word for it – it was like a scene from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”- some laughing, some just staring into space. Everyone with a bewildered look about them in fact.

The omens were there at the start though, with a draw that that raised more than one set of eyebrows. Black Dyke were given the shortest straw (how short they didn’t know at the time) with YBS set to follow them directly after at number 2 and Grimethorpe at 4. Many thought the contest would be over and done with after just a quarter of the bands had played. Brighouse had been given number 13 – lucky for some, unlucky for others, but it was a fair assumption on most peoples behalf that the winners and qualifiers were going to be found in those four bands. How wrong they were.

Black Dyke had the luxury of knowing that they had pre qualified for the London Finals, but with a hat trick of wins up for grabs, they certainly weren’t going to rest on their laurels, and they set about giving a very, very powerful performance of “Prague”. It wasn’t vintage Dyke – too many individual errors were noticeable, but the quality of the sound of the band and the way in which Nicholas Childs set a vivid musical picture was enough for many in the audience to have them down as a real contender. The man in the box though was not impressed – no sir’ee, he wasn’t impressed at all.

YBS and David King up next, and once more, it wasn’t a vintage performance from the band. The top cornets in particular had more slips than Winoder Ryder, but again, the overall picture was thrillingly drawn by the MD. It was different from Dyke, more symphonic than the more traditional approach of the Queensbury outfit, and it left a more satisfying impression at its conclusion. The two heavyweights had approached the test piece in different ways, (YBS for instance had the percussion team coming to the front of the stage to emphasise their contribution at the beginning and end) but both had given very compelling performances. For us, YBS had the edge – the approach seemed much more in sympathy with the musical idea the composer had intended and had the right textures and colours to make “Prague” come to life. Again though, the man in the box didn’t really think so.

Carlton Main and William Rushworth have just come through a 12 month where their very survival was under threat, but the band gave a competent account of themselves that showed that the foundations for future better times are well and truly set in place. They set up with the sop in the Principal Cornet’s chair and the flugel where the sop usually sits, and although it didn’t make a difference to the overall sound, it did make those particular lines sound more clearly than others. There were a few moments when the ensemble was loose, but overall it was a performance that had its merits. The music may not have suited them on this occasion, but we had the feeling they will be making a mark elsewhere this year.

The fourth band on were many peoples favourites, especially as James Gourlay had an intimate knowledge of the score (the piece is actually dedicated to him). Once more this was not quite vintage Grimey, but it was a very compelling performance and benefited from the MD given the music time to breath. The players responded with a detailed account especially in the middle two movements that captured the essence of the piece, but it was scrappy to start and end and even though it wasn’t a winner, it was for us, really up there.

So that was four out of the way and our list had been drawn. YBS and Grimey were a length or two ahead of Black Dyke with Carlton Main bringing up the rear. Most in the audience would possibly have thought the same.

After that came Pennine at number 5 with a performance that was well rehearsed but didn’t have balance in the ensemble. The complex patterns found in the first and fourth movements were heard, but the solo lines never quite came off and the band tired towards the end. It was a worthy show though and once more proved that this is a band that is maturing into an ensemble of note.

Drighlington didn’t seem to enjoy “Prague” at all though and as hard as Colin Hardy tried the performance never came to life. The middle movements seemed stilted and there was a terrible start to the fourth movement when a cornet player came in half a beat too early. That movement caught them out again towards the end and as a result they couldn’t really complain at their final position in the results table. They are a better band than they sounded on Sunday.

Yorkshire Imps took the stage and set out with a powerful rendition that impressed many in the audience and us included. Both the solo cornet and trombone played their solos standing up facing the audience and it worked, with Nick Hudson in particular giving a masterclass in trombone playing that was worth the entry fee alone. He was the worthy winner of the inaugural Eddie Noble award for the Best Instrumentalist. The band were very good as well, although the final decision to get the cornets to leave their seats and form two fanfare groups each side of the band was a mistake for us as the compact sound of the band fell away at the climax of the piece. Still it was a very good show.

After Hepworth it gave us the chance to assess the field at the halfway point. Hepworth themselves gave a decent show, but the band sound was light at the beginning (something Goff Richards didn’t want, as he said in his remarks) and so they couldn’t really impress. The band also seemed to be “over directed” by the MD, Mark Bentham who’s individual style with the baton got in the way too many times to let the music flow. He had certainly done his homework, but sometimes less is more and on this occasion the direction from the middle too often stopped the overall musical picture developing freely.

So 8 bands gone and we were clear with our opinion. YBS and Grimey still out in front, with Dyke and Yorkshire Imps forming a close brace behind. After that we had Pennine, followed by Carlton Main, Hepworth and finally Drighlington. The second half though was full of surprises.

Rothwell and Sellers were the next to take the stage, and both gave very solid, unpretentious performances that benefited from clear direction from the men in the middle.

Rothwell started powerfully, but the quaver patterns didn’t quite shine through. It was very compact though and a fine band sound was apparent. The sop though nearly committed hara-kiri at the end of the first movement when he gave it 110%, hit a superb top Bb and nearly fainted into the arms of the rep player! He recovered superbly though and went on to give a top class display. Sometimes a bit of care is needed (the top Bb was only marked ff), but he certainly earned his pint in the bar afterwards. The inner movements were well handled and there was a big finish, but overall it didn’t quite have the verve of the others we thought and even though Mr Richards had them 4th at the end of the day, we had them down for 7th.

Sellers also started powerfully – very powerfully in fact, and with the basses sitting where the troms usual find themselves and the troms vice versa, it gave the band a very robust opening. They carried it on throughout and there was some super work on the euph from Mark Bousie and a fourth movement that once more started powerfully and never let up to the final chord. It wasn’t subtle, but it was very effective and Goff gave them 3rd. We had them 6th.

Skelmanthorpe and Marsden were 11 and 12 and gave contrasting performances. Skelmanthorpe went for a big bold and sometimes over brash approach, which found favour with the judge, but didn’t really impress us. The detail was missing in both the first and fourth movements and although they played well in the middle sections you were left with an impression that it was mechanical rather than musical. We had them 12th, Goff had them 7th.

Marsden struggled from the start, mainly as they tried to compete with the other bands by trying to play as loud as possible. When they toned things down they produced a lovely balanced sound and had a fine trom player to boot. When the leash came off though it was overblown and messy and by the end it sounded tired and harsh. 14th from Goff and 14th from us.

At this point many felt the contest was over and done with, but Brighouse took to the stage and gave a superbly musical reading of Judith Bingham’s work that won just about everyone over. Ian McElligott has been a real find for Brighouse and has brought a real sense of style and restrained brilliance to the band. They can still whack it out as they did many a year ago, but now they have a beautiful rounded sound and the ability to play quiet dynamics with balance and quality. It was the middle movements in particular that shone, and the end of the third movement where the final chord dies away marked niente was quite superb. The soloists were excellent, with Alan Morrison giving the treacherous solo in the first movement a sense of relaxed jazz style that eluded just about everyone else on the day, whilst Stephen Miles was top notch on the euph.

It was the direction and reading of the MD that was the most impressive feature though, and throughout Ian McElligott allowed the music to flow. Little features such as the rising and falling of the chords in the third movement created a sense of atmosphere that was missing in just about everyone else’s performance, and it was a very, very worthy winner. First for Goff, first for us, and first for just about everyone in the hall.

That left just the two bands to come and it must be said, that a section of 15 bands at this level is 5 bands too many. The final result will of course blow our theory into touch, but we think there are a number of bands in Yorkshire who could and should be in the First Section. It won’t happen though will it.

It won’t happen because one of the bands that came up from the 1st Section last year now proceeded to come runners up here. Asda Stocksbridge gave a decent show for us, but to be truthful never raised a single thought in our (or just about anyone’s mind) that they had just given a performance that was worthy of second place.

It may sound unfair, and although nothing much went wrong, it was a rather bland and uninteresting performance of “Prague”. The first movement was OK – nothing more, as were the two middle movements. Nothing went wrong as such, but nothing sparkled or caught the ear as others had done. Perhaps it was because it was rather bland that Goff Richards liked it, but for us it was a very middle of the road performance. The final movement was their best though and it was a committed approach that did make you sit up and listen. However, after the last note we thought OK and nothing more. How wrong we were. Well done to the band though – and two fingers up to us, but we had them 11th in the final shake down. It shows how much we know.

Finally, after a long, long day Lindley took the stage as the last band on and gave a performance that once more sounded mechanical rather than musical. Again nothing much wrong, but just like too many others on the day the detail was lost in the effort to play very loud, and the subtlety (and there was subtlety there, even though it was hard to find for many) never came over. 13th for us, but 8th for Goff.

With the contest over then we took the opportunity to see what our final listings would look like, and see whether out pre match predictions were accurate. We had gone prior to the contest for a top six of YBS, Dyke, Grimey, Brighouse, Yorkshire Imps and Sellers, with Pennine as our dark horse. Post contest completion that had been amended to Brighouse, YBS, Grimethorpe, Dyke, Imps and Sellers, with Rothwell as our dark horse. The tension was mounting.

The indefatigable Peggy Tomlinson had run the contest splendidly all weekend and she took the opportunity to ensure that Ray Sykes from Carlton Main was honoured for his sterling work with the band over 50 years. It was well deserved.

Goff Richards then took the opportunity to explain what he was looking for, and within a few sentences there was a palpable sense that an upset may be on the cards. Those who had listened to all 15 performances (and there were a few of us) sensed that when he described that he was looking for certain specifics to have been met. The flugel part at bar 13 for instance, or the sense of marcato, driven start that needed conviction were just two. He also informed the audience that the piece certainly wasn’t a “feel good” bit of writing (oh so many knew the feeling afterwards) and that for him it was an interesting choice. He applauded all the bands soloists, but the telling remark was the use of the word “conviction”. Some felt that Goff himself should have been convicted for his decision, but when we spoke to him afterwards he was certain that he had made the right choice and felt that too many bands hadn’t really given him that sense of conviction in the belief of the music that he was looking for.

What you have to remember is that bands have only got to impress the one person in the hall on the day – not the audience, not your supporters and certainly not the people in the bar. The man in the box is the only one that counts.

As the results were announced, the sense of bewilderment rose and by the time it came to the qualifiers for London nobody quite knew what was coming. Two to go and Dyke, Brighouse and Imps were not yet out of the bag, whilst Sellers were hoping that Dyke were going to come in the top two so that could qualify by coming third. In the end though it was Asda Stocksbridge and then Brighouse. One surprise and one near certainty. Within minutes though the news was out, and with Dyke coming 13th the bewilderment level rose to epidemic proportions.

Those who blamed the music were barking up the wrong tree – Brighouse had shown how the piece could sound, but there was still a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Many may think that by being out in the open, we were biased towards the “name bands”, but on this occasion, we don’t think we were in the slightest. The quality of the best bands was there for everyone to hear – it was possibly their interpretations that cost them – some very dearly indeed.

Still, we stick by our opinion and we have said what we think. Goff Richards was also very sure he had it right as well. We just wish he could have seen the faces on the bandsmen and women in the “Rendezvous” bar after the results.

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