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2003 All England Masters Championship


It’s a good job there are so many brainy people in Cambridge. For after the results of the 2003 All England Masters Championships were announced last Sunday, you needed a brain the size of the Mekon from the Dan Dare comics to have been able to have worked out who won and why.

The Leyland band conducted by Garry Cutt won because the system made them the champions. There is no point bleating on about whether or not they should have won, or that they didn’t get a single top placing from any of the three independent judges, or that their points total was the highest ever for a winning band under the aggregate points system used here since 1998. All that is pretty irrelevant. Leyland were the winners – plain and simple. However, you did have to have the brain power of Alan Turing and the Bletchley Code breakers to have worked it all out.

The problem was of course that in reality they were not the best band on the Corn Exchange stage last weekend and didn’t to the ears of the vast majority of people who heard the performances (including the judges) from the 21 bands, didn’t give a performance that topped the rest. We at 4BR had them 8th, whilst most people we spoke to before the results had them between 4th and 6th. Once more though – that isn’t the point.

The Masters has always been the one contest that has taken brave bold steps to try and make the traditional format of the brass band contest much more up to date, but perhaps now is the time the make the last change that would please just about everyone – from the players to the paying spectator.

That may well be to copy what now takes place in the Grand Prix motor racing and to have a points differential between the placings, therefore rewarding the bands that come out on top in a graded fashion rather than in just one point increments. That may ensure the best performing band on the day wins, and there were murmurs on the weekend that the bands would like to see something a bit different tried. This is the third time since 1998 that the final result has been seen to be possibly unrepresentative of the performances, but until the change is made, the bands cannot complain that they don’t know what the rules are.

The bands themselves voted for the system that was used at Cambridge (as they did, we subsequently found out, for the immensely complicated way of deciding a tie), and so it matters not that the winners didn’t find favour with any single judge (official or amateur opinion makers such as 4BR) or the majority of the audience in the hall. The system made them the champions, and therefore they are worthy champions, and it is something of a joy to be able to report that the band has won its first major title since 1994 when they were declared British Open Champions.

The latter years of the 1990’s were a struggle for the band as they lost sponsorship, but in the past two years they have really regrouped and have made a mark at the big contests of the year. This was an overdue win for sure and with the release of a brand new CD things are certainly looking up for them. The decision to employ Garry Cutt however cannot be overlooked as something of a masterstroke as once again he showed why he is perhaps one of the very best MD’s in the business. You get what you see with Garry Cutt. Compact, direct, musical and superbly well prepared. Where others go for show, Garry Cutt just happily lets the music do the talking direct from the instructions laid down on the score. How others should follow suit.

The Masters as always was an enjoyable experience once more. There were the usual gripes about the lack of facilities – the trade stands are locked away where next to no one can find them but what happened on the stage of the Corn Exchange more than made up for the problems you encountered trying to buy the latest CD or get some valve oil for your instrument.

The music was a bit of a hoot. Martin Ellerby had donned his tights and codpiece and gave us a Saturday morning pictures test piece with all the colour and excitement of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler. It was all about the medieval knights of old – plenty of men on horses, blood sweat and tears and four – and we really do mean it – four Romances! After a long hard day on the Field of the Cloth of Gold our brave old Knight Templar had to come home to the Missus and perform not once but four times in the space of 12 minutes. It was done in the best possible taste as Kenny Everett used to say, but it didn’t half ask a lot of the bands to keep the stamina going in the loins from start to finish.

The MD’s too had a particularly hard time trying to keep the love scenes interesting, and far too many showed themselves not to be in tune with their feminine side. Given the chance to please themselves rather than the delightful creature that occupied the connubial couch, the MD’s became so self indulgent in the musical foreplay that by the time it came for the serious part of the occasion the good lady (and the judges) had lost interest. Taking your time is one thing, but some of these lads were on a go slow and were rightly penalised for taking too many liberties with the tempos. Creating the right mood for some serious hanky panky is one thing if you only need to do it once, but when it came to the fourth time, you had the feeling that the good lady preferred a book and cup of Horlicks. It robbed many a performance of momentum.

The early performances from the bands drawn in the first segment didn’t really capture the ears of either the audience or the adjudicators, and Glossop Old, Ever Ready, Thoresby and Carlton Main found themselves unable to quite get the mood of the piece both in the battle scenes and in the boudoir. The contest may have started at 12 noon but an early draw is still an early draw and it had to be an outstanding show to have made a mark, and these weren’t.

Glossop Old were safe but lacked colour and the music never came to life. Some one has to be drawn number one and Glossop had the misfortune on this their debut, but it needed more oomph and drive where it mattered and they were rewarded with 20th place – about right. We hope they are back next year though as there were seeds of excitement and talent on show.

Ever Ready went for a more bold approach which had its moments, but for us it was scrappy and never quite linked together as the later bands showed the music could. The score was bitty and very sectionalised but the top bands made the piece flow and so Ever Ready had to return home with 15th place – a couple down from last year. It was about right once more.

Thoresby started well for us and had a cracking middle of the band sound, but once more the piece sounded disjointed and lacked dynamic and expressive colour. It was safe rather than sorry but did contain some cracking flugel playing. 18th place was one more about bang on.

Carlton Main came to the contest fresh from their Grand Shield victory and started in a stately manner that had real detail. Kirsty Abbotts on solo cornet was superb – with a clear true cornet sound and lovely expression whilst MD, William Rushworth once more showed a very musical understanding of the score. The battle scenes let them down though – big time. All the quality was lost and we think this may have cost them, but overall we thought it a performance that deserved higher than 16th.

Flowers were a different class. Where Carlton Main came to Cambridge flushed with success from their day out at Blackpool, Flowers made the trip determined to show that their 7th place there was a real aberration on the judges account. This was a cracking show – full of colour and drama, well paced and with a couple of little moments that really took your breath away. Philip Harper directed with flamboyancy that it must be said occasionally got in the way of the music, but it was a vibrant account that was exciting and at times thrilling. We liked it a lot – and gave them 3rd place whilst the only gripe may have been that at times the MD tried too hard to get that extra little something from the score, where it wasn’t really needed. 5th place though was very well deserved and we think you should look out for them later this year at London.

Now to the eventual winners and a performance from Leyland and Garry Cutt that did what it said on the tin. We have said this of course many a time of Garry Cutt, but it is a formula that does work. Where others sought self-indulgent inspiration, this MD just went about his business by obeying the score and was rewarded for it. It was a strong and powerful account, perhaps needing a touch more finesse in places, but nonetheless it really had classy moments in the battle scenes especially. The tempo never let up and in the end it had something for everyone – especially in the judges minds, and that is what counted. John Berryman had them 2nd, Eric Crees 3rd and David Read 5th – excellent marks from a band playing off number 6 in a 21 band field, and as it happened, enough to secure their third win here and their first since 1992. Garry Cutt was his usual excellent self, but the performance showed that Leyland are back in business and not far off their best. Some grumbled that they didn’t top any of the adjudicators score cards, but they didn’t have too did they?

Jaguar Coventry finished off the first sector with a decent account that found favour especially with Eric Crees who had them 9th compared to 19th and 21st from the other judges and we thought they were nervous to start but got much better as things progressed. We had them in the place they came, but they were not out of their depth and sound a band that is on the up once more.

The second sector contained some big names indeed and many thought that the contest was to be possibly won or lost between the likes of Fairey drawn 9, YBS 11 and Brighouse 14. In the event they weren’t too far out.

Redbridge started things off with a decent account that bolted from the stable door to begin with but settled in to its stride as it went along – it also contained the only hint of jazz of the day (and there was some written in the score). Melvin White directed well but there was hardness in the tone that robbed the more tender moments and there was some lazy playing just when things started to sound really classy. 13th was the result – not bad, but they did sound a band that could have come higher.

Fairey under Allan Withington started off in immense fashion and there was a real feeling that they were here to do the business and show that winning the title here was the important matter for them. It seemed to have been on course as well, but a few real uncomfortable moments in the horns led to the judges perhaps penalising them a tad too harshly for us. We had them 4th but when the scores came in they found themselves 8th with a mix of marks that ranged from 4th to 13th. It was a vibrant account full of panache and style and we thought that it deserved much higher, but at least two of the three in the tents didn’t really like it. They could count themselves unlucky to say the least.

Travelsphere were in need of a pick me up after the Areas, and with the old Major directing things in true widescreen fashion it was a performance that had lots to commend it – although not quite an Oscar winner. 3rd, 8th and 14th from the judges seemed a mixed bag for us and we thought they deserved 5th place from a reading that had style, energy and a return to top class cornet playing of Matt Baker on the end. It needed perhaps a tad more colour in places, but nonetheless it was a compact show and perhaps they too could count themselves a little unfortunate to have elicited three such different responses from the men in the tents.

YBS were for us the winners. It was a big, broad, balanced and at times really beautiful account of the work that had the verve and drive where it mattered and a real sense of understanding how to keep things interesting four times when it came to the love making stakes. David King brought out the detail in the score and was rewarded with superb solo and ensemble playing from his charges – especially Stuart Lingard on solo cornet who was outstanding and a worthy recipient of the 4BarRest award plus £150 for being the best instrumentalist on the day (chosen by David Read). We placed them ahead of the rest up to that point and the majority of the audience we felt thought the same. The judges though were split with Eric Crees penalising the MD for the tempo variances. It seemed harsh, but that is what he felt and so they had to be content with a 1st, 4th and 6th. They couldn’t have played any better for us though.

Rothwell followed on stage and showed that they are now a force to be reckoned with at this level as they produced a bright and breezy account that had lots of character. It didn’t have the weighty feel of men laden with armour – more out for a jog in their medieval tracksuits, but it worked for us and we felt them a little unfortunate to come 12th. A top ten place was well deserved, but again their approach brought vastly different responses from the men in charge – 5th from Eric Crees, 12th from John Berryman and 20th from David Read. It’s a mystery isn’t it?

SWT Woodfalls were also a bit of a mystery to us at least as well. It was a performance that never got going right from the start and by the time they had got to the end it was clear that the band had had a bad day at the contesting office. Nothing came off as they had surely hoped and so they ended up 21st and bottom of the pile. They have played a great deal better than this, but perhaps not a lot worse. It was just one of those days and they unfortunately got what they deserved.

And so to our pre match favourites, Brighouse and Rastrick. This was a performance that nearly came off big style – plenty of broad sweeping lines, lots of detail and a liberal use of the old whip by the MD. It was a different approach, especially in the Romances where it just had that quirky sense of a Frankie Howerd “Oh er Missus!” about it. You could imagine plenty of giggling under the bedclothes. Still it was classy playing and contained the best soprano playing of the day from Alan Hobbins (some player this). It was bright and modern, with a lovely balanced band sound. Just a few too many clips cost them, but once again the evidence is there that this could be the partnership to beat later this year. We had them 6th but the judges had them 4th, so well done.

That left the final sector to play with Sellers, Mount Charles, Ransome, Aveley, Yorkshire Imps, Besses and Fodens to play. The contest was still up for grabs at this point, although many had YBS clearly in front of Flowers, Fairey and Brighouse. There was still more drama to come.

We didn’t like Sellers, but the judges (well one of them anyway) did – so it showed how much we knew! We thought it too brash and hard and the even though it was really thrilling in places the softer moments for us were too “Viagra” induced to really capture the love interest. Eric Crees though thought it the best of the day and placed them 1st, whilst John Berryman had them 11th and David Read 10th. We had them 15th. It is difficult to tell who was right and the approach from Philip McCann seemed right up the Eric Crees street in terms of tempo (his big bug bear of many a performance on the day) and dynamics. The other two felt it was powerful alright but lacked just the degree of control that the music cried out for. We tended to agree with the latter, but it shows what a strange business contesting is doesn’t it and brought the thought to mind that it would have been interesting if all three were in the same tent – who’s opinion would have held sway then?

JAG Mount Charles didn’t for us give of their best and we had them down the list in 17th place but the judges combined to put them 14th ,which may have been about par for the course. Eric Crees certainly liked them (he placed them 7th) but John Berryman thought them the worst of the day in 21st and David Read had them 15th. Another strange mix, but it was big and powerful and the tempos were close to the markings, which was what Eric Crees was certainly looking for. It was one of those performances though that never quite made the mark on your conscience and so a middle of the table placing was in the end about what they deserved.

Ransome then took to the stage and brought a lightness of touch that pleased us but not the judges and they had to be content with 17th place. Eric Crees liked them most in 11th, but the other two though otherwise and they didn’t find much favour with them as they gave them 17th and 19th. We liked the bright breezy feel and they did for us have the best horn section of the day, but they peaked a bit too soon in the bedroom department and by the end sounded a little knackered, so that was may have cost them. A little unlucky.

Aveley ended up 10th overall which was a fine result to a performance for us that was scrappy and beset with poor intonation and too much speed. When it was good though it was very good, but when it was bad – such as the slow and tender moments, it was like treacle. Too much of a curates egg for us and we had them way down the field, but they did enough to impress the men who counted and they came away with a 8th, 16th and 11th to pip some good bands and secure a top ten place for the third year out of the last four.

That left just the three remaining contenders and each gave played to form.

Yorkshire Imperial were bright and steady at the same time – which is a hard thing to bring off and we liked what they were doing as it was clear and controlled and never overblown. We in fact had them 7th which was the same as both John Berryman and David Read, although 12th place from Eric Crees just cost them a higher placing. The Romances were very well handled, although by the third time of asking he seemed to have got a bit bored and it became mechanical rather than romantic. That just took the edge off things and they sounded a touch limp by the time the big ending came. Still it was one we liked for sure and 9th place was a good result .

Besses were the penultimate band on the day and under the baton of Steve Sykes they too gave a very good account of themselves. It was well paced and controlled us (and John Berryman who had them 5th, but not Eric Crees who had them 19th!) but just needed more dynamic colour and texture in the louder moments. By the time the end was in sight they faded and fell way but once more this young band had impressed. 11th overall was well done indeed and they seem to be getting back on course after a disappointing start to the year.

That left Fodens Richardson – and by this time most felt that they were the only band that could possibly deny YBS from taking the title.

This was an electric performance that had the MD close to tears, the composer up on his feet and the audience thinking they had perhaps heard the winning band. It was a real old fashioned brass band performance right from the very top drawer. We say old fashioned because Russell Gray gave it his all and took more than a few liberties in his reading that harked back to the very best romantic playing of the brass bands of yesteryear. At times it just bordered on the self indulgent – even for us, with a few of the pick ups to the romantic sections just drawn a tad too long. It was beautifully crafted and shaped though and had a real sense of purpose and menace in the battle scenes. The euphs were awesome as were the bass end but it just lacked the finesse that YBS brought to the overall musical picture and we thought it not quite enough to pip them to top spot.

It was mighty close though, and like the recent European we felt it may on this occasion have to go down to the tie break judge to decide matters. We gave YBS 1st, 1st and 2nd, whilst we gave Fodens 1st, 2nd and 2nd. It was that close, and although we were right about the tie break judge we were wrong about what overall placing he would decide.

That was it then for another year and all that was left was a concert by Sellers and Leyland (very prophetic it now seems) which featured Lindsay Shilling, and to be honest wasn’t the greatest hour and half of brass band playing we have heard. Both bands sounded knackered – the tuning on a couple of the items was awful to say the least and you felt that they deserved a few pints after a long day rather than a concert that never quite came to life. The choice of items was also something that may need to be looked into again as well as even though they were decently played they were rather boring to say the least – especially the soloist items. People would possibly like a few more lollipops after a long (and hot day in the hall) to satisfy a jaded musical palette.

That left a neat talk with the composer who we think has a rather wicked sense of musical humour and is a bloke we would like to hear more of both as a composer and possibly judge, whilst there was a fine award to Philip McCann for his dedicated service to the banding movement from his old MD at Black Dyke, Peter Parkes. You also had the feeling that there were a few old stories that could be told between those two over a few pints as well.

Then to the results. Sellers picked up 6th place, which came as a bit of a surprise to many in the hall, before Flowers took a very well deserved 5th spot for the third year in a row here. We had them a tad higher but they was no disputing that they more than deserved to come in the prizes once more. Then came Brighouse in 4th - which was about right for just about everyone and then the huge intake of breath as YBS were announced in 3rd place.

Who was it going to be then? Fodens, Fairey? That seemed to be the opinion of most, but there was further drama as Fodens them were announced in second place. The two top choices for the majority had come and gone, and so who was going to be the 2003 All England Masters Champions? With many waiting for the name of the National Champions to be announced, the name of Leyland left the lips of the lovely Joanna Pinnock and wild scenes erupted back stage as the players form Leyland stormed back from packing up their instruments to take the stage with Garry Cutt and be crowned champions.

There were a few scratched heads by now and when the results sheet came out there was further questions asked as the placings from the judges were digested. Leyland had won without actually winning a top place from any of the judges whilst there was the complicated matter of the tie breaker rules to be discussed again and again. As one of the players said to us – “Rules are rules and everyone knew them before they took the stage.” We had to agree and so well done to Leyland for their third win here and the return to the big time of winning at the Majors. They are now back with a real bang.

The Masters had done it again – a great day out, plenty to enjoy and a result that got the tongues wagging. What more could you ask for?


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