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2003 Butlins Mineworkers Championship

Skyline Resort , Skegness
29th/30th November

4BR Retrospective
Our man Malcolm Wood was at Butlins for the weekend and gives his report on what seemed to be a great occassion.

The words of Butlins’ Resort Director, Chris Baron said it all on Saturday evening prior to the announcement of the results of Sections 1 to 4. ‘The Mineworker’s Festival will be staged once again in 2004, meaning that the traditions of this competition continues.’ It was perhaps the most welcome announcement of a fine weekend of banding.

Butlins in effect have a USP (Unique Selling Point) from a banding perspective. The opportunity to have competitions in different venues, whilst having everybody on site at the same time is something for them to build on for the future. The weekend itself was an overwhelming success and this was just the starting point. Butlins are used to catering for various tastes but this was the first time they had held a fully fledged brass band competition and the one thing they are determined not to do is be one hit wonders.

Over the course of the weekend, the hosts had invested the best part of £50,000 to cover entertainment that ranged from Keith Harris & Orville the Duck, Tony Fisher, The Blues Brothers, Bucks Fizz, and Versatile Brass, and within that fifty grand, almost seventeen was allotted for prize money (including that £5k top prize in the Championship Section). Next year, the intention is to build on this event, and there is no reason why they can’t, and hopefully the prize money will be equalled if not improved.

The traditions of the Mineworker’s Festival will continue with affiliated mining bands having first refusal to compete. Their after, the contest will be ‘opened up’ to any other band that wants to compete in any of the sections, meaning that bands like Black Dyke, Fairey’s, Fodens, Leyland & YBS can enter if they so wish in the Championship Section. (Grimethorpe will no doubt attend next year having had a clash of dates that stopped the attendance) The complex can accommodate eight thousand people, giving ninety bands (yes ninety) in principle the chance to compete over the weekend. The accommodation is fine and you have everything you need on site, and no real need to stay outside. (As some bands found to their cost this time around)

Many bands dug deep to find the funds to attend and were rewarded for their efforts. Should next year the cost again be around £35 per person, it is more than acceptable. Band members become residents for the entire time they are on site, and get the benefits. With regards to the people that were complaining about having to pay £12 per day to enter the complex, because they stayed off site, yes, the organisers understand your concerns, but they are a business and are entitled to ask those who chose alternative accommodation to pay.

A solution could be to have people on site as a condition of entry, hence removing the problem (probably a legal loophole that stops it somewhere though). Should Steve Walker’s band (Skegness Town) want to enter that would seem pointless of course, but as they act as stewards, they are on the site, but most other bands will travel for at least one night. In addition, for those that attended for the day, an incentive to come in for both days might not be a good idea, perhaps full price one day, half price the next?

The organisers also made the announcement that they will do everything they can to ensure the event does not clash with Brass in Concert, The Scottish Open (and various other events) to gave everybody the chance to participate. The dates as yet are being finalised, and news is expected shortly. The date for 2004 is going to be important though. If November is chosen, the calendar has Spennymoor on the 21st, The Scottish Open a week later, and thought needs to be given, to give the bands decent preparation on the test pieces.

It is not beyond the possibility that the contest may move into early December, which bands might not be so keen on as Christmas approaches. Remember though, that Butlins have a full schedule of events which mean finding the most suitable weekend initially might not suit everybody.

Butlins and NEMBBA are now actively encouraging dialogue and feedback on what the participants thought of the weekend. Taking into consideration that all concerned did so much in such a short space of time, things appeared to run smoothly. The major negative was that from the outset, fifty-eight bands committed, and this dropped to forty-two. Clash of dates, cost implications of attending, amongst the reasons for non-attendance. For those that did not attend, talk to those who did, and see what they have to say (not just us here at 4BR).

A final thought on the dialogue and feedback - it has to be constructive, and to be fair, any criticism’s should only be minor, but if you have some, help by offering a solution. NEMBBA will have done everything possible to advise Butlins of what was needed, and hopefully nothing was overlooked, but if something was not to your liking, then communicate it, and hopefully it can be taken on board. Steve Walker knows it was cold in The Reds Theatre and hopefully should the same theatre be used next year, something can be done to make it comfortable for everybody. Those involved do look at 4BR (and other banding media) and the dialogue should create one objective: a Win:Win scenario making sure organisers and bands are happy, otherwise not much point having it.

So what about the competitions, the music, and the decisions that were made? Sadly for you the reader, 4BR will not be releasing our lottery numbers, as our predictions did not quite go as we thought. We were right with the winners in the first and second sections, and the odd placing elsewhere, but we will try and do better next time. The selected judges were asked for thoughts on suitable test pieces. With men of the calibre of Alan Hope, John Maines, Dr Roy Newsome, David Read and Barry Thompson, it was no surprise that the selection were pieces full of good music that really tested the bands.

Timeless classics such as “Judges of the Secret Court”, and “Rhapsody in Brass”, two Peter Graham pieces (“Dimensions” and “The Haslemere Suite”) and Philip Sparke’s “Tryptych For Brass Band”, all had plenty within them to give conductors and players food for thought prior to the event - and so it proved. The entertainment contest also worked - it just needs more bands, which would obviously mean an earlier start time, but that is something we are used too. With having large numbers on site, it is an incentive for people to stay instead of heading home, and it should be included if possible next year.

Championship Section

Sadly only five bands ended up competing, but nevertheless it was not all about the test piece. Split over two days, the winners were chosen for their performance of Belioz’s music, and their entertainment programme the following day. In effect, solid performances in both areas would bare fruit at the end and so it proved.

Desford under Garry Cutt proved unstoppable and judges Dr Roy Newsome, David Read & Barry Thompson, had no doubts over the two days that they merited the first prize of £5,000. Their test piece performance was real class, with principal cornet David Smith and soprano player, Martin Britt in great form. “Judges” tests sop players to the full, and no one got away without the odd blip. Desford’s performance had a strong opening, some lovely phrasing, and they did not falter on stamina which the Berlioz music always demands.

Desford won the own choice and followed this up the following day by winning the entertainment contest with a programme that maximised every ounce of quality within the band. An ensemble of players were on stage, at the beginning of “Four French Renaissance Dances” by Michael Pretorius, with other players being scattered in and around the stage. The sound was strong and precise, and you knew that what Desford would produce throughout their programme would be full of real quality. “I’ll Walk with God” featured the lovely euphonium playing of Mike Kilroy, and Mike was featured as soloist in “Be My Love” which sadly did not convince the judges to give him the solo prize.

Strauss’s “Freikugen Polka” (loosely translated as the “three shooters”) was top notch playing, and music featured by Evelyn Glennie, entitled “Robin Harry” featured a strong percussion performance on xylophone and vibraphone. Desford closed with a corker of a performance of ”A Manchester Tale”. Arranged by Andrew Duncan and used by Grimethorpe at Brass in Concert in the past, it’s a typical Duncan composition. Plenty of lyrical stuff, followed by volatile, aggressive sounds, but Desford pulled it off superbly. It was not the end of the contest when Desford played, but they had done enough to take the title.

It is a weekend Garry Cutt will not forget either. Working with Desford on the run-up to Skegness, he conducted the Midlanders on the Saturday morning, then took charge of a three-hour rehearsal for the entertainment contest on the Sunday. After that, a drive to Sheffield, where Garry conducted Grimethorpe, bringing the curtain down on his twelve-year association with the band. The concert featured a number of pieces close to Garry’s heart, and was described as ‘emotional’ for band and conductor alike, before he then made the journey back to Skegness, and conducted Desford on the Sunday morning. It is ironic the way things worked out. Grimethorpe have been associated with the Mineworker’s Festival, and Garry Cutt has been involved in some memorable performances with the band. It was perhaps meant to be that he should be the man directing the band who took Grimethorpe’s title.

Carlton Main were the only other band to produce a solid performance in the set work, and the will be pleased to have come second overall. Their entertainment programme though lacked that killer touch to give Desford a serious run for their money, and despite an impressive “Folk Festival” to open with, and some nice euphonium playing of “Pantomine” by Ian Wright, their programme did not come off for them. Kirsty Abbott on cornet did produce one of the most divine moments of the whole day with her playing in the Irving Berlin hit, “It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow”, but as the “Symphonic Dances” from West Side Story came to a close, they perhaps knew that their programme was not as clean and tight as it could (and should) have been.

Thoresby Colliery, under Major Ian McElligott produced a purposeful performance in the set work which had moments of real quality, but slips which meant they came third in that section were redeemed with a solid and convincing entertainment programme which gave them second in that section, and third overall. Commencing with a “Ceremonial Fanfare” by James Curnow, the band moved into some music by Tchaikovsky, before euphonium player David Belshaw took home the soloist award for a terrific rendition of “Fatherland”. It really was a performance that was very lyrical, some nice phrasing, and left no one in any doubt, that David had taken the award with real aplomb.

James Horner’s, “For the love of a Princess” was followed by Ian Raynor’s “Sea Breezes” which features a trio of cornet players, and other members of the band wearing silly hats, and having fun. Strong in the music department, and with a touch of humour - just what the contest was looking for. Thoresbury finished the whole event with “Pines of Rome”, and will have gone home pleased with their efforts, and will almost certainly return in 2004 for another crack.

The most disappointing performance over the whole weekend came from Ever Ready under Ray Farr. They came fourth overall, and will no doubt have been kicking themselves on the journey home. “Judges of the Secret Court”, just did not happen for them, and they rarely got into second gear. Too many errors cost them dear, and it was a surprise, as many expected better. On the Sunday, the band took the award for the most entertaining programme with a reprise of the programme they played up in Spennymoor two weeks early. Whilst overall it was entertaining, the music making was not as strong or precise as it had been at Brass in Concert.

An up-tempo “Saber Dance”, “A Short Ride in a Fast Machine”, “Jeg Elske Deg” (translated means, I love you), and the Finale from “Enigma Variations” just did not come off. The reason they took home the entertainment prize was for stage presence in “Saber Dance” and Ray Farr’s “Post Horn Pandemonium”, which featured Bryan Tait and the comical, David Reed, causing mayhem with his playing of the post horn. Your eyes had to be everywhere as all kinds was going on, and it was the highlight of their programme, and they got third in the entertainment section and fourth overall.

Newstead Welfare under Duncan Beckley will have also gone up home disappointed that they did not give a better all round show than they did, but please folks, don’t get too down about it.

Coming last in both sections was unfortunate, but the band perhaps knew in their hearts that it would be a tough one to crack to win with some quality opposition. Along with Ever Ready, “Judges of the Secret Court” lacked the conviction and quality that the men in the box (it was a table protected by a curtain in reality) were looking for. They also commenced their entertainment programme with “Four French Renaissance Dances”, followed by “Autumn Leaves” as a flugel solo. Sousa’s march, “The Thunderer” had a very hard and aggressive sound to it, although music from Ralph Vaughan Williams restored peacefulness with his “49th Parallel”.

Who remembers a good few years ago at the Granada Boy a flugel player playing into Syd Wood’s bass for “Loves Old Sweet Song”? Well, Newstead had four cornets playing into the bells of the basses in a Sandy Smith arrangement of music called “Recuerdos De La Alhambra” (sounds a like the name of a Real Madrid football player to me), but translated it means “Memories of a Thousand Moons” and the effect worked well. Newstead concluded their programme with the “Fugue” from Philip Sparke’s “Graduation Day”.

Initially only four prizes were to be awarded in the Championship Section, but with only five bands competing, the organisers made sure everybody went back with something in their pocket - a tremendous gesture. John Maines was the compere for the Sunday morning event, and as usual, was informative, and kept things ticking along at a good pace.

First Section

David Read had no problem in selecting the winning performance of “Rhapsody in Brass”, by Sir Dean Goffin. BHK (UK) Limited Horden Colliery under Wilf Beddell, have had a cracking year, and their performance was competent, extremely confident, and with good tempos.

Throughout the three movements, many bands suffered in numerous ways. The combinations of not having three good movements together proved costly. It was a case of the first movement not being right, and the last two working or some other variable, but you kept your fingers crossed that a good performance would arrive somewhere, and it did with BHK and they were worthy and very clear winners indeed.
It was surprising, considering it was the first section, how many bands suffered from tuning problems. Pontardulais Town who came second was the only band out of the first five who did not suffer too much. Granted, the hall was cold, which did not help, but nevertheless, too many bands had off days and it was not until Gresley Old Hall (drawn seven) took the stage followed by Riddings Band (and then BHK) that we had a contest with a bit of bite. In the end, though, BHK, pulled out the stops, and their performance was such, that if they had been drawn earlier, they still would have taken the title and £875 back home.

Second Section

The adjudication of Philip Sparke’s three movement, “Triptych for Brass Band” was in the capable hands of John Maines. Once again, a number of bands struggled with one, if not two of the movements. The first movement has metronome markings of 168+ and a number of the bands were not up to speed. The second slower movement, caused problems for everybody, and John had too wait till the last band took to the stage, Snibston & Desford before finding that winning performance.

Again, their second movement was not perfect, but they came closest to what John Maines was looking for, and the Midlanders went back home with £750.00 and the title. Hopkins Blidworth and Felling Brass battled it out for second and third respectively with Strata Brass coming a creditable fourth. John Maines should be applauded as well for voicing his concern at the number of sharp intakes of breath when players made mistakes. Nobody goes onto a contest (or concert) stage intending to make a mistake, and it should be remembered that everybody is human, but there is no need for anyone to react like people in Centre Stage did.

Third Section

Dimensions are all about a measurement of extent in a single direction - either length, breadth or thickness. (What are we talking about here? Editor) Adjudicator Alan Hope, said the top four were four good bands that stood out. With his beloved Newcastle United dropping a couple of points earlier in the day, Alan was lifted by these performances and he emphasised the need for the music to be extracted and played as a whole, just as the composer intended. Drawn number two, Dearham, under Michael Condron produced a winning performance that had plenty of light, shade and space. Shirland Welfare Training might be a young band, but just like Dobcross Youth in the North of England, they are a very capable outfit, and rightly deserved their runners up spot. Third place went to Whitwell Brass, and the fourth place was taken Wansbeck’s Ashington Colliery. 4BR gave Lochgelly Brass the kiss of death, by predicting them as winners, and they had a day to forget coming ninth – sorry folks. One of the most impressive things about all of the lower sections, was the enthusiasm that they created within the performances they produced. It did not matter that they might not win, it was the taking part, and the contest exposure, and the experience achieved from it, which will stand them in a good stead.

Fourth Section

Only seven bands did battle, but nevertheless, this was a thoroughly enjoyable contest. Peter Graham’s piece, “The Haslemere Suite” is written in four movements. The first is in the style of a march, the second is entitled Beside the Way, it is again up-tempo, with the third movement bringing a religious feel, in the style of a hymn tune, but the march style comes back again in the final movement. The piece is widely acknowledged as one of the finest test pieces ever written for the fourth section and was used at the Regionals in 2000.

No band got away unscathed, and everybody seemed to struggle in the first couple of bars before the march tempo and tune came in. Kirkby Colliery Welfare took the title and £500 home with them for a performance that had just about everything right. It was confident, controlled, with plenty of nice phrasing. The third movement really stood out in this performance, with some lovely melodic sounds from within the band, not hard or harsh, but bringing out the religious feel that the composer intended. The runners up spot went to the band drawn number one, Dinnington Colliery, conducted by YBS Bass Trombonist, Toby Bannan. On another day, this performance would have won, but without doubt, you can see in Toby’s conducting style, that having been under the guidance of David King and Garry Cutt (to name just two) that he has learned an awful lot and that was evident in his band’s performance.

Dinnington were confident and seemed very much at ease, and the music came easy to them. Third place went to Grange Moor Brass. Based in Last of the Summer Wine country, under Matthew Roebuck, a confident performance was produced with the odd glitch that denied them a higher placing. Fourth place went to Thurcroft Welfare who were drawn number two, but just did not have some of the tightness in their playing that was evident in Dinnington’s or Grange Moor. Mention must be given to Cresswell Colliery Welfare and MD, Adrian Wood. One of the oldest names in banding, they have had numerous successes down the years, but rebuilt itself in 2002 and is now aiming to get back to former glories. The mineworker’s competition was their first contest since rebuilding. They should not have gone home despondent by any means, as they were going for the experience, and it will have been invaluable.

Alas that was that, the first Mineworker’s Festival under a new name, and at a different venue. Congratulations should go to Chris Baron, Steve Walker and all the Butlin’s staff for making everybody welcome, and by investing an awful lot of money into a venture they wanted to succeed. Brian Eggleshaw and his team within NEMBBA deserve credit for the foresight in finding a way for the contest to carry on, and that also includes Stan Lippeatt, who is not only part of NEMBBA but Advisor for the competition.

The ex-Grimey stalwart spoke with the kind of passion that those who started the whole thing off in the 1950’s would be proud off today. The determination that part of British Heritage will not die, and the organisers should be congratulated for having the foresight to realise for things to continue long term, a few changes do have to be made. Traditionalists might not be that keen, but you have to move with the times, and see what happens. Whatever 2004 may bring, if its anything like this year, it’s an event well worth making the effort to compete and attend.


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