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 2003 European Championships

 26 April-4 May 2003

Past, Present and Future?

4BR looks forward to Bergen by looking at the past, the present and only then giving the famous dodgy prediction of the future.

2003 sees the European Championships make their third visit to Norway and in particular to the Greig Hall in Bergen. The first time was in 1989 when Eikanger Bjorsvik Musikklag so memorably retained their title in their home country, whilst the hall held an equally memorable contest in 1996 when Yorkshire Building Society Band won what was to become the first of their 6 (to date) titles. Sometimes though things in life travel in a circle, so what will Bergen 2003 have in store for us? The best way to look at this is by casting a backward glance over the contest from its birth 26 years ago in 1978 and see how far it has come.

The European Championships could have so easily been a still born creation, but thanks to the support of Boosey and Hawkes and from the active participation of the fledgling European contestants the contest overcame its early teething problems to grow into a robust (if at times a little hard to understand) European citizen. The “Englishness” of the contest has now been truly replaced by a “European” outlook – much more sophisticated and cultured if truth be told than either the British Open or National Finals, and therefore much the better for it.

That 1978 contest featured 13 bands, but was in reality a British brass band contest in all but name. The next few years may have been the same, but there was a genuine breakthrough in 1981 when three of the top five places were taken by European ensembles. Not winners, but mighty close and the gauntlet had well and truly been thrown down – the Brits were starting to look over their shoulders.

The 1980’s proved to be the decade when European banding came of age. Each time the contest went away from these shores – to Kekrade in 1983, Copenhagen in 1985 and Lucerne in 1988, the evidence was there that not only were the contests themselves so well run, but that the performances of the bands from mainland Europe were getting as close to being as good if not better than the British representatives. Kerkrade saw Soli Deo Gloria become runners up, whilst two others came in the top six, whilst by Lucerne the time had come for victory.

Eikanger and Howard Snell won in style and just when the critics started to carp about it being a “one off” they went and did it again in Bergen in 1989. That was the turning point for European banding – once may be seen as lucky, twice is seen as being class and Eikanger at the time were a very classy band indeed.

The 1990’s saw the contest become a real contest with the winning performances from the likes of Black Dyke, Fodens and Williams Fairey having to be quite brilliant to beat off the determined and talented challenge of Willebroek, Eikanger, Limburg, Manger and and Midden Brabant. These were bands who could mix it with the very best and whilst Willebroek’s win at Plymouth had a touch of good fortune about it, the way in which they and the other European bands took the fight to the Brits during the decade was admirable to say the least.

Today the contest is a true test of the very best bands in Europe – even if the qualification process from the British in particular is a little hard to fathom. What is needed is for the contest to remain a great showcase for what brass bands do best, and that can only be done if the best bands are performing against one another. Perhaps the time has come for a banding equivalent of a Champions League?

So what of Bergen 2003?

11 bands line up – and 11 fine bands they are too. The British are here in strength – although Williams Fairey’s decision was a set back and not the fault of the EBBA at all - and BAYV Cory, Kirkintilloch, Brighouse and Rastrick and the defending champions Yorkshire Building Society will provide exceptionally stern opposition for the European contenders to beat if they are to claim the title for the fourth time. Can they do it?

Why not. Willebroek showed once more in 2002 that they can play as well as anyone on their day and Manger and Fribourg have enough class to push all the way to the finishing line. However, the European does mirror life and the circle may have finally closed on YBS. A new era may be about to start and so that’s why we opt for BAYV Cory to take the title. Over the past three years or so they have become the band to beat at all the major contests – the European included, and we think the time has come for them to finally put the last ghost of their glorious past to rest and take their second European title – 23 years after their first.

If they can beat YBS then they will do it, but if they slip from the very highest standard the title will once more go to Yorkshire – although whether it will reside in the YBS or Brighouse trophy cabinet we will have to wait and see. As for Brighouse? If they can produce the goods like they did in Bradford then they too will be almost impossible to beat, whilst YBS can be guaranteed to sweat blood and exude breathtaking class in their title defence. It will for us by a straight fight between the three of them.

Willebroek though could well upset our odds and they will provide the toughest opposition, whilst Fribourg and Manger will feature highly. Scotland will put in a strong challenge in the shape of Kirkintilloch and Frank Renton whilst Krohnengen won’t be there for the ride for sure. That doesn’t really leave a poor band does it and Brass Band Normandie, Brass Band Groeningen and Lyngby-Taarbaek will put up good shows that could well push their way into the prize list.

As we have said though – the contest has come full circle in terms of Norway and Bergen. It started with Eikanger in 1989 – then YBS took over in 1996 – now can BAYV Cory take over? By the time the contest comes back to the this fantastic hall sometime towards the next decade could we be reporting on Welsh era of dominance possibly coming to an end? For that to occur they will have to start by winning here and beating a truly great champion from Yorkshire. It should make for a stunning contest.

4BR Prediction:

1. BAYV Cory
2. Yorkshire Building Society
3. Brighouse and Rastrick
4. Manger Musikklag
5. BB Willebroek
6. BB. Fribourg

Dark Horse: Kirkintilloch

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