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West Lothian Challenge:

4BR gives a preview of the contest which has just started north of the border plus a review of the first leg of the contest which saw victory go to Whitburn.


West Lothian Festival of Brass - 8th, 15th & 29th June 2003.

Howden Park Centre - Livingston.

Following the success of last year's Jubilee Festival of Brass, West Lothian Council again demonstrate their support for the brass band movement in Scotland by presenting the Festival of Brass contest in the Mews Theatre at Howden Park Centre over three Sunday evenings in June.

The contest is in a knockout format, with the two semi-final winners meeting head-to-head in the final on 29th June. Bands each perform a 30 minute programme in the semi and 45 minutes in the final, with separate prizes being awarded for the best performance of an overture, best soloist and best small ensemble piece over the whole series. In excess of £3,500 in prize money will be spread over all the competing bands.

Adjudicators this year are Roy Newsome (semi-finals), Malcolm Brownbill (final) and Brian Allen (other awards).

This Sunday (8th) sees Broxburn Public (4BR Ranking - 75) take on Unison Kinneil and Whitburn, with Michael Marzella's band enjoying one of their most successful spells for many years. Their 5th place at the Scottish Championships in March seen them defeat local rivals Whitburn for the first time in 37 years at that contest. Since then they have come 3rd at the Northern Counties Contest and 7th at Carnegie, which will have disappointed them slightly in light of their success at Falkirk. Last year they fell at the first hurdle when Kingdom Brass narrowly defeated them but they will
enter the contest with optimism despite the arduous task they face in qualifying for the final.

Unison Kinneil (4BR Ranking - 39) are the form horse North of the Border just now. Since their 1st round defeat to Whitburn last year they have won the Land O' Burns contest at Troon, the Whitburn Contest and Carnegie (all
entertainment contests). In addition they have a 3rd prize at the Scottish Championships and a slightly disappointing Senior Trophy 10th placing from a performance that won many plaudits. Allan Ramsay has instilled great confidence in Kinneil recently and when you look at the above record it is easy to see how. They will be difficult to beat in this type of contest and don't be too surprised to see them progressing to the final.

Whitburn (4BR Ranking - 12) are without a contest win since this event last year when they produced a scintillating performance under Phillip McCann to defeat Kingdom Brass in a one-sided final. Since then they've been 10th at the British Open, 10th at the National Championships and a very disappointing 6th at the Scottish Championships. This time they have employed former Whitburn player and renowned Tuba Soloist / Composer Andrew Duncan to direct their performance, so an interesting programme is most likely. They will have, however, to reproduce some of their form of 12 months ago if they are to proceed to the final.

4BR prediction - Heads it's Whitburn - Tails it's Kinneil!

On Sunday 15th, Bo'ness and Carriden (4BR Ranking - 73) are up against Kingdom Brass and Kirkintilloch in what should be a slightly easier to predict semi-final. Bo'ness had been on a gradual slide until recently but are now buoyant in the light of their 5th place in the Senior Trophy and 4th at the Scottish Championships under former Euphonium star Ian Davey. They will be keen to reproduce this type of form in Livingston, where they make their debut in the event, and may just have enough up their sleeves to make life difficult for the other bands on the night.

Kingdom Brass (4BR Ranking - 59) made it to the final last year and will have learnt well from the experience. This time they have Archie Hutchison conducting and with his imaginative programme planning, he could be just the man to lead them on a successful mission in this type of event. Their 7th place at the Scottish Championships was a disappointment on the back of two consecutive 4th places there, as was their 13th at the Senior Cup, but they returned to form with 3rd at Carnegie recently and may just have a chance to progress if they can reproduce this next Sunday.

Kirkintilloch (4BR Ranking - 15) start as favourites to make the final and with Russell Gray conducting them for the first time, we fully expect them to get there. They performed a terrific concert programme in the same venue in February and recent form of 2nd in the Scottish Championships and 8th in the European Championships in Bergen added to their mid table placings at Birmingham, London and Spennymoor last year demonstrate that this band of few changes has acquired immense experience in recent years. One or two personnel changes for this one won't make too much overall difference and they may even have started practising their final programme.

West Lothian Festival of Brass - 2nd Semi-final.

Sunday 15th June.
Howden Park Centre.

The second semi-final of the 2003 West Lothian Festival of Brass took place in the Mews Theatre at Howden Park Centre on Sunday evening 15th June. Bo'ness & Carriden, Kingdom Brass and Kirkintilloch were competing for the right to meet last week's winners Whitburn in the final on 29th June of what is turning out to be a very exciting competition.

Bo'ness & Carriden (Ian Davey) opened the evening with a confident performance of Clive Barraclough's march Simoraine which was followed by Shostakovich's Festive Overture. The conductor took this slightly slower than the traditional tempo, but the band found difficulty with the fanfare rhythms and many of the semi-quaver passages, so this technically difficult overture claimed it's second victim of the series. Scott Cameron's euphonium solo, the Holy Well by Peter Graham, was successfully negotiated and the cornet / trombone feature, Brazil, followed by Here's That Rainy Day, lightened the proceedings somewhat. Their closing piece, Barbarian Horde from the film Gladiator (arr. Sandy Smith), sounded well rehearsed and was possibly their strongest on the night, but 3rd place with 82 points was a
fair return for Bo'ness, who are emerging from a recent difficult spell with plenty to be optimistic about.

Last year's finalists Kingdom Brass started with the Overture to Yeomen of the Guard by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Conductor Archie Hutchison captured the Grandiose style perfectly but much of the detail in the cornet triplets near the top seemed to get lost, even in the dry acoustic of the Mews Theatre.
Horn Soloist Stuart McKenzie was comfortable with the technical challenge of Handel's Hornpipe in their attempt on the best soloist award and The Gael, although slightly overpowering dynamically in places, was again handled well
by band and conductor. Laura McConnell's flugel solo in The Girl With the Flaxen Hair was very tasteful in what was one of the musical highlights of the evening and Malcolm Arnold's Padstow Lifeboat featured some superb soprano cornet playing in the trio from Dave Riddell. Cossack Fire Dance by
Peter Graham received an energetic treatment from the band and soloists and James Curnow's excellent Psalm of Praise completed an entertaining and well presented programme which despite intermittent intonation problems and a lack of rhythmic clarity in places still had plenty to commend it. 86 points from Roy Newsome was fair and they had given themselves a chance of making the final.

Kirkintilloch and Russell Gray adopted big band formation for their opener, Birdland, which never seemed to really settle rhythmically although their were some fantastic sounds on display. Still in big band mode, their trombone quartet next gave us Tom Brevik's arrangement of It's All right With Me which was indeed, All right. Suppe's overture The Beautiful Galathea opened confidently but suffered slightly in some of it's more delicate corners whilst the Elegy from John Ireland's Downland Suite possibly needed more time for the band and soloists to display their undoubted musicality. Malcolm Arnold's 2nd Scottish Dance featured Scott Morrice 'Molto Inebrioso' on Bass Trombone and Andrew McLean's performance of Frode Rydland's euphonium solo arrangement of Reverend Archie Beaton was their contribution to the solo contest. Kirkie's finisher was the Infernal Dance and Final Hymn from Stravinsky's Firebird and other than a small 'moment' in the link passage, it was quite safely negotiated. It was a good overall performance from a fine band but they will know that a few doors were left open on this particular night and that better will be required in the final. 88 points from Roy and no-one was arguing with him.

In his final statement, Roy Newsome commented that all 3 bands had played with some inconsistency on the night but that Kirkintilloch's higher overall standard of ensemble playing had carried them through to the final.

45 minutes each way of Kirkintilloch v Whitburn on 29th June is almost sold out already and should be an absolute cracker. Extra time and penalties anyone?

West Lothian Challenge Contest 1st Round.

Howden Park Centre - Livingston

8th June 2003

Following the success of last year's Jubilee Challenge, West Lothian Council have expanded the contest this year to include 6 of Scotland's leading bands, competing over two semi-finals, with the winners competing in the final on 29th June.

The first round was held on Sunday night before a capacity audience in the intimate atmosphere of the Mews Theatre with adjudicator Roy Newsome assisted by Brian Allen, who will pick the best soloist, small ensemble piece and overture over the entire series.

First on were Broxburn Public, conducted by Michael Marzella, who are currently enjoying one of their most successful spells in recent years. Their 5th place at the recent Scottish Championships has given them added confidence and their programme which included Rossini's Barber of Seville Overture, Langford's Rhapsody for Trombone (soloist Mark Bell), Bugler's Holiday and Shine as the Light reached a number of high points which Roy Newsome had no trouble identifying in his summing up. There were, however, a few difficult moments, notably in the overture and their 3rd place on the night against two more experienced bands was absolutely correct.

Unison Kinneil's performance undoubtedly put the event on a higher plane in terms of performance with Allan Ramsay's band opening with Olympic Fanfare and Theme, followed by Shostakovich's Festive Overture. Once again the overture
proved to be the Achilles Heel but they recovered extremely well and soloists Hugh Foster (Cornet) and Paul Drury (Tuba) displayed great quality of tone and technique, ably complemented by the Flugel / Trombone sextet in You are the Sunshine of My Life, arranged by Sandy Smith. Goff Richards arrangement of Bill Bailey and Peter Graham's Gaelforce completed their programme which was extremely well received by the audience, many of which may have believed that they had already heard the winning performance on the night.

Whitburn have had a lean time this year. Their relatively disastrous 6th place at the Scottish Championships was their worst for 36 years and nothing less than a great recovery was going to be good enough for them to proceed to the final after Kinneil's excellent performance. In the event they proved that they were more than up to the task under former Whitburn player Andrew Duncan.

Entry of the Gladiators was convincingly delivered and was followed by the horn trio Here, There and Everywhere (Lennon / McCartney arr. Sandy Smith), which featured father and son team of Iain and 13 year old Michael Fleming and the 'Grandad' of the section Alex Vidler. Wilfred Heaton's Tocatta was the purists choice of the evening and Whitburn almost carried off this challenging piece, which has no safety net in the central slow section, to perfection. The premiere of two movements of Andrew Duncan's Hebridean Suite followed and James Chamberlain's wonderful portrayal of Frank Sinatra in I've Got You Under My Skin almost brought the house down. They finished with a powerful performance of
Peterloo Overture by Malcolm Arnold, arranged by the conductor.

Roy Newsome's final comments paid tribute to the contributions of all three bands and gave an in depth explanation of his decision which included aspects of presentation, programme choice and level of performance. In the end he had 'no hesitation' in awarding Whitburn the place in the final and a 9 point victory over Unison Kinneil in 2nd place.

This Sunday (15th) sees Kirkintilloch (Russell Gray) take on Kingdom Brass (Archie Hutchison) and Bo'ness and Carriden (Ian Davey) for a place against Whitburn in the final on 29th June.



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