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Yeovil 2004 - Retrospective

We were there for all the bands. A fine day out in Somerset - these are our thoughts on Flowers second successive victory, and the performances from the 14 bands on show...

In the great scheme of things, winning the 27th running of the Yeovil Entertainment Contest may not rank up there with a possible National Finals or British Open victory. However, when you start the 2004 contesting year knowing that the minimum requirement for success will be to qualify for both of these contests, the boost to the confidence of starting off with a quality win is immeasurable.

Flowers are such a band, and although it came as no surprise to the packed house audience at the Octagon Theatre here that they were clear and worthy winners, you suspect that come the end of 2004 they will be hoping that this second successive victory won’t have come at the expense of not winning their West of England Regional Championship or even more importantly, going on to qualify for the British Open, as was the case in 2003. Flowers are a very fine band when they play to form – but form as Bill Shankly used to say, is temporary, it’s class that is permanent, and to be fair, 2004 is a year in which Flowers should start to perform successfully at a higher level than Yeovil.

That said, you can only beat who is up against you, and with their unique mix of Philip Harper inspired entertainment, they certainly showed that they were a class above this assembled field. What now Torquay and Blackpool?

Much the same can also be said of Aveley and Newham who for the first time in quite a while played to the form that many believe they should be showing on a more consistent basis. Their second place was also well deserved and clear-cut, and they will also enter their forthcoming Regional Championship and the Grand Shield with renewed confidence of not letting things slip as they did last year. They are another band with undoubted talent, but all too often in the past that certainly hasn’t been enough to make an impression at a higher level. 2004 will see if they have finally got that monkey off their back.

So. Was a very much better Yeovil 2004 confirmation that these two bands will go on and finally make that break into the top echelon of contesting and become consistent contenders for the two biggest prizes on offer in the banding world? We will have to reserve judgement on that, but if they do continue to play like they did here, one, if not both could find themselves booking hotel reservations for Kensington and Birmingham at least.

The overall standard at this year’s Yeovil was certainly a huge improvement on a 12-month ago. Last year we left for home weary and disappointed at what we heard, but this time, although there were moments that were not up to the standard we would have expected, the overall standard of performance was so much better.

The winners were a class act. Theirs was a programme that as usual relied heavily on the skills of the their MD, but he also asked a heck of a lot from his players as well. A wicked percussion opening from “Los Endos” led into an equally rhythmic “G Force - Battle of the Planets” theme tune, and this lifted the expectation levels of the full house audience. Mark Hadlington on euphonium then gave a very classy rendition of “Shenandoah” before they tripped into the type of music they perform best – rhythmic inspired Latin American Salsa in the form of “Salsa No 2”, which was wonderfully executed, and once more featured a top rate percussion team.

Finally an ambitious bit of Mahler no less – this time from his “Titan” which just about came off, before the very neat trick of playing “Hawaii Five O” before the audience had time to draw breath. It was a quality show, presented in quality fashion and gave Dennis Wilby the fairly easy task of placing them two points ahead of Aveley in second place. He told 4BR afterwards that he felt that there were six very good performances on the day, but one of them was quite outstanding indeed. Very few in the audience would have disagreed with him.

Aveley played before them, and up until they took the stage the contest was certainly up for grabs. Earlier in the day there had been some decent shows from many of the bands, but none that had a level of consistency that laid claim to justifying victory and the £2000 top prize. Aveley started off in cracking fashion with a fine rendition of Howard Snell’s “Postcard from Mexico” (complete with sombreros), before an equally fine piece of soprano cornet playing from Andrew Bannister with the old Neil Diamond favourite, “Solitaire”, where he displayed a lovely restrained tone and sense of line. He was a deserved winner of the John Paul Fraser Memorial Trophy and £50 as “Best Soloist” on a day when the stand up playing was of a very high standard.

Next up, another old Snell “classic” – “Tea for Two”, which was a little heavy handed in the ensemble, before “Ayala” (sic) by Jan Magne Forde in which the male band members showed that they were excellent cunning linguists (in the best possible taste of course). A chorus in Swahili (mind you, it could have been Welsh for all we knew) was splendidly sung and rounded off a cracking piece of playing.

The ubiquitous “Irish Blessing” (are there any people left in Ireland left to bless?) was safe enough, before a tremendous ender in the form of the Finale from “Tchaikovsky 4”. It made for a fine conclusion to well prepared 25 minute programme, and gave notice that if they continue to play at this level, 2004 could well be a very successful year. Roll on Stevenage.

The only possible eyebrow raiser came with the announcement that Bodmin under the excellent direction of Major Ian McElligott were placed third. Given the trials and tribulations that this band have been through in the past two years, you cannot be anything but delighted for them. However, for us, and possibly the majority of the audience, it was a surprise. We had them 11th – but then, what do we know! Theirs was a performance moulded by the MD in a restrained and thoughtful manner. It wasn’t perhaps the most exciting playing on the day, but it was clean, neat and tidy. Nothing from the opening “Waltonian” march (played by the band for the third time in a row here), through to “Malaguena”, “Swing Low”, “Trombonology” and Finale from “Gettysburg” suggested overblowing or lack of balance – it was just a little staid. However, where others tried to over compensate and sacrificed quality for excitement, this was one that Dennis Wilby in particular though was the other way around. Bodmin are certainly on the way back, and it is lovely to report that Denzil Stephens, a great euphonium player of the past and a conductor who won here on three occasions was spotted playing second baritone. He hasn’t lost his prize-winning knack has he.

After the top three came a group of performances that varied in quality. Fourth place went to SWT Woodfalls, who once again sounded a good band, plagued by inconsistency brought about by a propensity to try and raise the roof off far too often. Their programme started with too many messy droppings in “Birdland”, before a fine bit of cornet playing by Kevin Darby on “Georgia on My Mind”, a run through Peter Graham’s “Cartoon Music” (which for us never works however well a band plays it – just think of watching Tom and Jerry with the sound off, and you will get what we mean in reverse) and a well shaped “Amazing Grace”. They rounded things off with “Peel Park”, which was a big, bold and a tad too brash. 4th place from the judge and us, but there will be a need to curb the enthusiasm come “Tristan” if they are to make a mark for London.

Fifth spot went to BTM, who we thought were unlucky not to have come higher. We had them comfortably in third place after a well rehearsed programme that showed a full rounded band sound and which had plenty of detail. Theirs was some of the best playing of the day for us. Possibly their weak spot came with their second solo feature, which was a nicely played, but overlong arrangement of “The Prayer of St. Gregory” as a cornet solo. By all accounts St. Gregory was called the “Illuminator”, but if he was some sort of medieval electrician, he certainly took his time. This was as if he was doing the lights for the Blackpool Mile.

That though was the only gripe in a programme that started with a smashing “Lordis Domini” opener and was followed by “Hedwigs Theme”, a snorter of some xylophone tickling by Alan Hathaway on “Hungarian Dance No 5”, the “Prayer of St Gregory” and ended with a smashing “Fugue from Graduation Day” by Philip Sparke. BTM are a band to look out for on this form.

The final top six place went to Camborne Town, who drew the short straw with the number 1 spot, but who laid down a decent marker for everyone to follow. (It was a short straw, what with a 9.30am start). This is another good solid band, but their programme just lacked a bit of substance for us. A super start with Jeff Wayne’s “Eve of the War” led into the soprano solo “Gethsemane” which opened a little nervously but blossomed well into a top class bit of playing from Jeremy Squibb. “The Irish Blessing” was nothing more than OK though, before the variety entertainment act of the day. “Czardas” on four percussion instruments (Xylophone, Marimba, Glock and Vibraphone).

The young man (sorry but we couldn’t get your name) was a real star performer, and was one heck of a player as well. He hopped about like Jordan’s cleavage in the jungle, but it was a tremendous bit of playing. A real find this lad and a career on stage beckons if he fancies it – although we think there is a very promising top rate musician behind the stage act. That led into their finale which was “Shine as the Light”, which didn’t quite live up to its name. 6th from the judge and from us, but the lack of a meatier item in the programme may have cost them.

The places 7th through to 11th were much of a muchness. St Austell claimed 7th place with a performance that tired as it went along. The present is good for the band, but the future is very rosy indeed, as this is a band packed with talented young players who produce a fine rounded (if lightweight, in Championship Section terms) sound.

A neat opener of “Don’t Worry be Happy” led into a bright “Ovation Prelude” before a real brave solo effort from the tiny sop player. This young lady is someone to listen out for in the future, what with a lovely pure tone, but on this occasion she certainly wasn’t helped by an almost funereal tempo chosen by the MD for “On with the Motley”. Even Peter Roberts would have been gasping for breath. That led in “Anything Goes” and then the brave choice of “Spring” by Grieg. An entertaining “Post Horn Gallop” led to a tiring finale from “Tchaikovsky 6”. 10th for us, but 7th from the man in charge – and that’s what counts.

Eighth place went to Bournemouth Concert who gave plenty of variety, but also had plenty of slips. The Janacek Fanfare opener led immediately into “Ritual Fire Dance” which started well but just had those errors detracting. A nervous start to the extremely hard sop solo “Flowerdale” soon turned into a tremendous performance by James Cooper, and they followed this with a neat bit of playing in “Hawaii Five O”. The tiredness crept in though and a disappointing hymn tune “Unsworth” made way for a clippy “Coronation March”. However, they sound a decent Championship Section band, so their First Section attempt in Torquay should see them as one of the favourites. We had them down for 7th place.

Ninth spot went to Freckleton who were drawn number 2. This was a solid rather than sparkling performance, which opened with a good “Waltonian” and musical “Allegretto” from Arnold’s “Scottish Dances”. A good effort in the cornet solo “Chapeacas” (sic) lead into a poor “Here’s that Rainy Day” which lacked balance, and “Cartoon Music” which didn’t come off. After a good start this was a weak middle section to the overall programme, but they turned things around with a rousing finale from “Pineapple Poll”. Lots of good playing, but the middle of the programme cost them for us. We had them 12th.

The other eyebrow raiser was certainly the performance of JAG Mount Charles, who were certainly one of the favourites before the event. They may feel a bit hard done by to come 10th (we had them 5th), but this wasn’t the Mount Charles of Spennymoor 2003 or 2004 or Yeovil 2002. Somehow they never felt totally at ease from the word go. “Trumpet Blues” was untidy and “King Cotton” lacked balance from the middle of the band. “I know though art Mine” again lacked balance, and halfway through we still awaited the band to come to life. They certainly did with a cracking show from Tim Whitehead on “Children of Sanchez” (nice to hear a flugel player comfortable throughout the range of his instrument) and they repeated it with their best playing on the “Finale” from Gettysburg, but it was too late. They have had changes of late, but this was not one of their better days, and they will have to have a close look at themselves before Torquay. There is a very good band here, but at Yeovil they went into hiding somewhat.

Eleventh place went to Redbridge who chose an ambitious programme that never came off as they hoped. Another neat entry onto the stage led into the Eikanger inspired “Tour de Band” which felt uncomfortable and a little too ambitious. A superb piece of trombone playing followed on “Brasilia” before another Eikanger “Art of the States” CD choice, “Me and My Shadow” was again a tad lack lustre. Ray Farr’s arrangement of “Allegretto” from Malcolm Arnold’s “Scottish Dances” was excellent, before a rather prosaic “Jupiter” ended off their effort. They are a better band than this though – and we had them 8th.

Kidlington came home 12th (we had them 13th) with a performance that never quite sparkled. “Strike Up the Band” was a tad flaccid, before a neat effort from the flugel soloist on a piece we think was called “Maria”. Heaton’s “Praise” was OK but their delivery of “Gaelic Blessing” saw them play at their best. “Swing Low” was interesting, and a brave attempt by the soloist before a whip through “Gladiator” which rounded off a decent enough 25 minutes of playing. Not quite in the same league as those above though, but a band which is moving in the right direction.

We felt a touch sorry for Jaguar Coventry, who were placed 13th by Dennis Wilby. We had them down for 9th after a programme that was finely directed and shaped and lots that caught our fancy (but not the judge). A solid opener in the form of “Hora Staccato” was slick and shiny, as was Cole Porter’s “I’ve got you under my Skin” which featured both a fine flugel player and drummer with a sense of swing. Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” was perhaps too much of the same thing and for once didn’t swing as well, before the weak spot for us which was an overlong rendition of “Mid Summer Serenade”, which could have been subtitled “Midsummer Murder on the Ears”. A fine rip through “Gladiator” ended things off with style, but we think that “Serenade” was the killer as they say in the Midsommer TV programme.

Finally Hyde came home 14th, but who in the tragic circumstances that were reported to us would not be concerned at all with the result. Sometimes brass banding isn’t important all and our thoughts are very much with the band. Their performance included “Blenheim Flourishes”, a fine flugel effort on “Misty”, “Trumpets Wild”, “It’s a lovely Day Tomorrow” and finished with “Jubilee Overture.” The result was not important.

So that was that for another year. Unlike 12 months ago this was a contest that featured bands and their MD’s who had really shown good sense in programme planning (Dennis Wilby mentioned the welcome trend on the day to use original brass band compositions) and who all tried something a bit different. Not all of it came off, but that would have been expecting too much!

Congratulations to Christine Buckley and her team from Yeovil Town Band for another superbly run contest, well done to Dennis Wilby for getting the result right and the soloists who were first rate. Flowers were the deserved champions for a second year in a row, but as we said, come Xmas will they be looking back on 2004 fondly? Aveley have also got a lot to prove in the next few months, whilst Bodmin will be chock full of renewed confidence. Who says this result won’t matter?

Iwan Fox
Copyright 4BR

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