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 2003 European Championships

 26 April-4 May 2003

Bergen Revisited - YBS and 1996

4BR has a look back to 1996 and the last time the European Championships were held in Bergen. It was a year when a Torstein Aargaard-Nilsen piece was the test piece, Black Dyke were looking to retain their title and a young band representing the Yorkshire Building Society were making their debut…….

European programme from 1996The last time Bergen was the venue for the European Brass Band Championships the contest was in its 19th year and only one band could lay claim to being the dominant force in the contests history. Black Dyke had won the contest 10 times in 18 attempts and were in Norway as reigning champions, ready and primed under the baton of James Watson to make it an eleventh success and continue a run that in the previous year had seen the band win the British Open, National Championships and the Euro crown in Luxembourg. They came to the contest as overwhelming favourites.

Joining them at the Greig Hall on Saturday 4th May were Burgermusik Luzern from Switzerland, Brass Band de Bazuin from Holland, Brass Band du Conservatoire d’Esch-sur-Alzette from Luxembourg, Midden Brabant from Belgium, Laganvale representing Northern Ireland, Manger Musikklag, Tertnes and Stavanger from Norway, Tredegar from Wales and Yorkshire Building Society representing England.

In fact YBS were there due to the fact that in October 1995 they were runners up at the National Finals at the Royal Albert Hall in London to Black Dyke, and so as the Queensbury outfit were already in Bergen as reigning champions and as they were current Great Britain National Champions, YBS were given the invite. How fate moves in mysterious ways eh?

Torstein Aargaard-Nilsen - composer of set work "Seid"The Norwegians had of course organised things with a precision that the Swiss would have been proud of, but had also thrown a real spanner in the works by choosing a test piece from the pen of Torstein Aargaard-Nilsen called “Seid”, which was proving to be an exceptionally difficult test piece to say the least. The rumours around the bars (plenty of talking as the beer was so expensive) and the hall on the day was how the piece was going to sort out the men from the boys, and a few hours later so it proved.

Before the real action began Brass Band Normandie from France had won the 1st Section contest, which had started at 8.30am in the morning (shades of 4th section contests) and so the draw for the European actually took place at 7.00am. Bleary eyed band officials made their way to the contest controllers room to find out their fate and to find out where they would play in both the set work and then the own choice section later that afternoon.

For the reigning champions a split of 7 and 6 was fine, whilst Manger were not too displeased with 2 and 5 and Midden Brabant 6 and 3. In fact all the bands were reasonably happy with their draw – all except Yorkshire Building Society. Poor old Ted Griffiths had pulled not just one number one out of the hat, but had repeated the feat again for the own choice section as well. Once can be described as unlucky - twice seemed bleeding well cursed. It is not recorded what the faces of the band or David King looked like when he told them.

On the stroke of 10.00am they took to the stage and fuelled with nerves and pride, talent and anticipation they produced an absolute stunner of a performance of “Seid” that even off the number one slot was good enough to beat all their rivals. The piece demanded control and technique and with an immensely difficult soft ending some 18 minutes after the piece began it was a huge test of stamina. The young band had responded to David King’s urgings by giving a performance of immense character.

Black Dyke responded later be giving a performance that many in the audience felt pipped YBS but had in fact come second two points behind, whilst Midden Brabant put in a strong show to come 3rd three points further back and Tredegar 4th a point further back again. Tertnes were 5th whilst Manger seemed to have blown their chances by coming home 6th. It was however in reality a straight fight between the two bands from Yorkshire and it set up the afternoon section brilliantly. The test piece had proved immensely difficult and many wondered whether YBS had given it their best shot and that the more experienced boys from Dyke (this was pre female emancipation days in Queensbury) would draw on their abilities and take the title again.

The great imponderable about the European is the choice of the bands to what to play in the Own Choice section of the competition. The following year in 1997 the choice would be limited as bands had to choose from something of a set list of pre war pieces, but on this occasion they had a free hand.

Philip Wilby had emerged as the great new talent in brass writing in the past few years and so it came as no surprise that four of the ten bands had chosen his works, whilst others had plumbed for Peter Graham and Philip Sparke. Given all the great brass bands works available to them the contenders opted for a narrow selection – all showcase pieces designed to emphasis the strengths of the bands rather than the musical content it could be said. To make matters even more interesting, both Black Dyke and YBS had opted for Wilby’s “Revelation” whilst Midden Brabant who were in third place opted for his “Masquerade”. Tredegar in fourth opted for “Montage” as did Tertnes in fifth, whilst Manger went for Philip Sparke’s “Harmony Music”. The choices did not disappoint.

YBS though had the hardest task of all. Off the number 1 draw they had to give a performance that would see off all their challengers, and given the difficulty of the choice they had made, many thought it could prove to be just beyond them. They proved all their doubters wrong.

David King dragged every ounce of inspiration from his lean frame and his players responded in kind. Morgan Griffiths on euphonium in particular was outstanding, but so were his other young colleagues and at the end of the day, the three judges – Pascal Eicher, Nils Eivind Nikolaisen and James scott gave them 96 points. Very good indeed, but certainly beatable and with enough leeway to ensure an overall victory to Black Dyke if they could do it.

Before the Dyke challenge could be mounted there were performances of note from Midden Brabant and Manger, who dragged themselves from the depths to claim third place in this section and to come third overall. Dyke then took the stage.

Their “Revelation” was an immense performance – huge in sound, technique and character, but one that was not quite absolutely perfect. It was damn near though and so the judges gave them 97 points. It wasn’t enough, but the audience at that point didn’t know it.

Tredegar put up a show to come 4th again whilst Tertnes closed the contest off with a performance that saw them grab sixth place. It was results time.

Not quite. The Norwegians made sure that people would be kept waiting by ensuring the results would’t be announced until after the Gala Concert (which was OK) and so it was late in a very long day that that the outcome of the 1996 European Championships was announced.

Tertnes were 6th with 177pts, before the close run mini contest for third place was settled by one point with Tredegar 5th on 183pts, Midden Brabant 4th on the same points but with a higher placing on the set work and Manger 3rd on 184pts. What they would have given to have played better earlier in the morning.

And so to the big one. With 192pts……… Black Dyke. The place seemed to take a collective intake of breath as if they couldn’t quite believe that Dyke had been beaten, but a few seconds later they knew they were, and they knew who by. With 193 points and the European Champions for 1996…. Yorkshire Building Society Band. There was uproar.

YBS had done it for the first time, whilst David King had done it for a third time – twice with Black Dyke no less and so this victory tasted all the sweeter as he had left the Queensbury outfit as a man who hadn’t won the Nationals or Open.

YBS celebrating their win in Bergen's Grieghalle in 1996
YBS celebrating their win in Bergen's Grieghalle in 1996

Black Dyke didn’t return to the contest again until 2002, whilst YBS started their period of dominance at the contest that has now seen them win on six occasions. Bergen 1996 had seen the end of one era and the start of another. Bergen 2003 may well see the story turn full circle. YBS though will be out to ensure history does not repeat itself.

Bergen, 1996

Test Piece:
Seid – Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen

(Set Work) Jappie Dijlstra, Rod Franks, Sverre Stakston
(Own Choice) Pascal Eicher, Nils Eivind Nikolaisen, James Scott

1. Yorkshire Building Society – D. King – 97pts (1st)/96pts (2nd) – 193pts
Draw: 1/1

2. Black Dyke – J. Watson – 95pts (2nd)/97pts (1st) – 192pts
Draw: 7/6

3. Manger Musikklag (Norway) – B. Sagstad – 89pts (6th)/95pts (3rd) – 184pts
(Harmony Music)
Draw: 2/5

4. BB Midden Brabant (Belgium) – B. Wiame – 92pts (3rd)/91pts (5th) – 183pts
Draw: 6/3

5. Tredegar – N. Childs – 91pts (4th)/92pts (4th) – 183pts
Draw: 4/7

6. Tertnes Brass (Norway) – T. Brevik – 90pts (5th)/87pts
(7th) – 177pts
Draw: 8/10

7. Burgermusik Luzern (Switzerland) – A. Withington – 86pts (9th)/90pts (6th) – 176pts
(Harmony Music)
Draw: 3/4

8. BB Conservatoire d’Esch (Luxembourg) – F. Harles – 87pts (8th)/85pts (8th) – 172pts
(Paganini Variations) Draw: 9/2

9. Stavanger (Norway) – G. Cutt – 88pts (7th)/83pts (10th)– 171pts
(Essence of Time)
Draw: 5/9

10. Laganvale (N. Ireland) – J. Kitchen – 84pts (10th)/84pts (9th)– 168pts
Draw: 10/8

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