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2003 London and Southern Counties Regional Qualifying Championships

Championship Section - Retrospective

21 today. Melvin White has one of the most impressive records of any MD at the Regional contests over the years, and 2003 proved that even after a bout of ill health there is no stopping him adding to his fine record over three decades that has now seen him gain his 21st qualification to the National Finals. He’s certainly got the key of the Royal Albert Hall door for sure, and after this imposing win for Redbridge Brass the odds are certainly shortened on them making it a hat trick next year. At the moment they are the main band in this region – but the real task lies ahead and we will have to wait and see if they will be real contenders when they come up against the bigger and better bands in October.

On this form at Stevenage though they could well push harder than they did last year at the Finals when they came 11th as this was a true Championship winning show, and even though adjudicator Alan Morrison only gave them the title for a second successive year by a point, there was little doubt in the minds of the audience that they were well deserved winners.

By contrast though there was a great deal of debate over second place with many split between the virtues of Alliance Brass conducted by Peter Parkes and Aveley and Newham directed by Nigel Taken. Both put up strong performances with Aveley possibly losing their chance for another trip to the Finals by producing too full and heavy a sound especially in the last movement.

What must also be said is that Alliance Brass put in an excellent performance that owed much to the direction and understanding of Peter Parkes as it did to an super group of individual soloists, who collectively were possibly the best on the day. What is alleged though, is that they were not the best of the day when it came to the behaviour of some of their players and supporters after the results were announced. Reports from a number of sources suggest that loutish behaviour was apparent both in and around the hall and bar areas and in some cases directed to members of staff and other bandsmen and women.

We at 4BR hope that Alliance Brass were not in any way responsible for the alleged actions of some mindless individuals who sources believe may have been associated with the band. It has certainly in the minds of many soured their fine achievement of getting to the finals at their first attempt in the top section.

The top three bands on the day though were a good few lengths ahead of the rest of the field and possibly made Alan Morrison job easier than he expected.

Alliance took the stage as band number 2 after Regent Brass and A. Wyatt started things off with a rather insipid account of “Prague” that never caught the drama and vividness in the outer movements or the necessary atmosphere in the inner ones. 185pts and 5th place was a decent return, but it didn’t really set the marker that was needed. Alliance though meant business right from the start.

Peter Parkes held them together superbly in a detailed opening section which featured some excellent cornet playing whilst the ensemble was almost clinical in it’s approach to the complex patterns that feature so prominently. This led to two inner movements that had flow and atmosphere and an excellent euphonium solo that was justly rewarded with the “Best of the Day” prize. By the time the 4th movement veered towards its climax it was obvious that the Major had caught the essence of the piece and the players had done him proud. It was a fine show indeed and the runner up spot was just reward.

Bands 3, 4 and 5 though were very disappointing indeed and to put it mildly never got to grips technically or musically with the piece at all. In fact all three of City of Oxford, Clacton on Sea and Staines sounded like decent First Section bands a little out of their depth. This may seem a rather nasty thing to say, but truth be told – all three were not up to the mark.

City of Oxford tried manfully but lacked the quality of sound in the outer sections and there was a distinct lack of precision and clarity to the entries and the patterns they were supposed to create. The middle movements lacked atmosphere and were mechanical rather than musical, whilst the solo lines were forced and rather nervous. We have heard them play better, but this was a poor performance and 8th place was spot on for us.

Clacton on Sea were directed by Melvin White, but unlike his direction of Redbridge which was responded to in fine fashion by his players, here there was no musical response at all and it was a question of just playing the notes – hopefully in the right time and place. The outer movements lacked any detail and were just blown into submission whilst the inner sections had a total lack of atmosphere and control. Melvin White just didn’t have the personnel under his command here to make the most of the time and space he gave them and his reading was lost without trace. It may sound harsh, but this wasn’t a Championship level performance. 10th place was bang on the money.

Staines were also directed by an MD who was in truth too good for the band he had in front of him and it was a great pity to see some lovely articulate direction and hear such poor playing. Ian McElliggott may enjoy himself – but this was pretty dire stuff in places and was never a performance that was up to Championship scratch. The error count was huge, the sound of the band hard and strident and they never got close to capturing the essence of the music at all. 11th place was more than justified, but seeing the MD having to direct it after the glory of Bradford was a real shame. He is such a class act.

So with five bands gone 4BR was left rather disappointed to say the least. Alliance for us were 15 points ahead of the next best, and even though they were very good, it was an eminently beatable performance. It seemed as if it was turning into a long day.

Redbridge came to the rescue though and gave a performance that would have held it’s own in any of the Regions we have so far heard. At last there was control and detail in the opening – the flugel at bar 13 could be heard and the complex bell patterns sounded precise and balanced. There was also some super cornet playing that gained the “Best of the Day” cup and a fine lyrical euph in the third. The atmosphere was well caught and by the time of the well-balanced but very loud ending there was little doubt that this was the performance to beat. Not without its errors and at times a touch harsh it was finely directed by Melvin White and justifiably took the title for the second successive year. This is a band on the up.

Soham Comrades followed on stage under P. Filby and they provided the best performance of the “rest” behind the top three. The MD played to his strengths and didn’t go for anything too extravagant. The result was a very tidy and detailed performance that was perhaps a bit “light” in sound compared to the bands above them but was certainly in tune and well rounded – a feature conspicuous by it’s absence in the bands below them. This was an intelligent piece of directing and the players responded and 4th place was fully justified.

Bands 8, 9 and 10 were also nearly as disappointing as the group 4, 5 and 6, but redeemed themselves by being able to show a more expansive dynamic range and were able just about to over come the technical difficulties. The music and the atmosphere though never shone at all.

Welwyn Garden City had a good stab at “Prague” but we had the feeling that they were more than happy to get through the piece rather than make anything substantial of it, and the last movement in particular was a bit of a mess with entries “nodded” in. This was edge of the seat stuff and it lacked any control. They blew for all they were worth though and it grated at the end. The inner movements were mechanical and lacked shape, but the error count was lower than their rivals and 7th place was their reward.

We have heard Kidlington play better than this. MD Catherine Underwood gave the music a flow and space in the middle movements and kept to sensible tempos in the outer ones, but the players never seemed at ease and the piece meandered too often for it to make a mark. The errors started to appear with a monotonous regularity and the balance and quality of sound was lost the further the piece developed. By the end it was overblown and harsh, but it had enough about it to beat the others and come 6th. Elsewhere around the country though and it would have come quite a few places lower.

Bedford never got to grips with the piece from the start and the first movement in particular seemed uncoordinated. The patterns never materialised and the bass end in particular wewas weak which lead to the ensemble sound being ill balanced. The middle movements lacked shape and atmosphere and the players sounded rather unsure of entries, whilst the final movement was messy and overblown. Again we may sound harsh, but this wasn’t up to scratch and 9th place was the result. It was however no better or worse than the two below them or the two above.

That left just the one to play and the pressure was on Aveley to give a performance that would pip either Alliance or Redbridge. The wait to get started didn’t seem to put them off though.

They started with a bold and heavy approach to the opening movement, but all the detail was there and the precision in the complex patterns was clearly heard. Individual errors were evident though and you had the feeling that at least a couple of points were knocked off by the end of the second section which had space and atmosphere but just some blips and blobs in both the ensemble and solo lines. There was some fine euph work in the third, but there was a hint of uncertainty on the sop and solo cornet that detracted from the musical picture. The fourth movement was a cracker though and had plenty of excitement, if at times it was a little overblown, but by the end you sensed that it wasn’t going to be good enough to upset Redbridge at the top of the pile but it would be nip and tuck for second spot. We had them 3rd basically on the error count.

Alan Morrison gave a model address to the audience that covered just about every aspect of the piece and was a welcome change to the usual banalities we sometimes get, and he made the point that it was really between the top three bands he heard. That was right on the mark for us and in the end we think he had the decision spot on – right down the list.

The Championship Section in London is a strange contest in many ways. The top three bands are true Championship bands that would have held their own in any region (not saying they would have qualified in every one mind you) but below that the standard falls away dramatically. The next three in line were up to the mark, but on the evidence we heard on Sunday the bottom five sounded out of their depth and were really good first section bands. That may be harsh as we have said - but it is true.

As for our tips? We had the top three but not in the right order, whilst Soham came one better than we expected and Kidlington were bang on the mark. Five out of the top six then – who says we know nothing about London bands?

London though has now got three bands that can battle it out against each other every year, which will raise standards further and give the two qualifiers for London a real opportunity to force their way into the top ten at the Albert Hall. What is needed is perhaps one more band to come onto the scene and make it a real scrap. First City are lost to us and we don’t know if the two bands from Section 1 will be able to bridge the gap. Lets hope they can do it – it would make for an even more interesting contest in 2004.

With thanks to Paul Jones

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