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2004 Yorkshire Regional Championships - Retrospective

First Section

Saturday 6th March
Test Piece:
Coventry Variations – Bramwell Tovey
Philip Sparke

Ten bands did battle in the First Section and to quote judge Roy Sparkes on Saturday, ‘We had some good playing today, and everyone had a good stab at it’

Coventry Variations is a cracker of a test piece and it really did test all the bands on show. The bands that did very well conquered the opening trio between cornet, flugel and bass trombone, and pulled off the difficult variations seven and eight without too many problems.

Yorkshire’s contributors to the finals in Harrogate in September will be Hatfield Coal Power and Drighlington - both of whom put in performances of real merit. Hatfield and Graham O’Connor drew number two and they set the benchmark. Above anything else, the playing was clean, tight, and pretty secure. The most important thing though was that Graham O’Connor allowed the music time to breathe, and afterwards he commented to 4BR ‘Once I knew Roy Sparkes was in the box, I told the band that we would give the music space and that is what we have done, ‘This is an unbelievable result after Dundee’

Prior to Hatfield taking the stage, it was Hade Edge who got the contest up and running. Simon Wood’s band was awarded fifth place overall, which they will be a touch disappointed with, as they played very well. The opening was nice and subtle and the MD was happy for the music to speak, but Hade Edge were not the only band that would suffer in Variation VI where the overriding theme has various time signature changes. All bands suffered here and it was a shame for Hade because they could (and perhaps should) have finished higher, but more often than not, drawing number one practically rules you out of the contest, even though it does give you the chance to set the standard.

Kippax and Ian Colley followed Hatfield onto stage and for the second year running at the areas, just had a day they will want to forget. The band never looked like they were enjoying the piece, which was a real shame. Plenty of uncertainty around the stand and they did find Variations six, seven and eight, difficult. It was not a bad performance, as no band put a bad one in, it just needed that bite to give it the impact needed. The band will just want to forget the day and move on to the next contest.

A real plus for all bands at Yorkshire is that they received a copy of a CD of there own performance, and regardless of what section they were in, this is a useful exercise that the bands will benefit from. For those that did struggle, it is an opportunity to listen and learn.

In our pre-contest build up, we had Marsden Silver as a good bet for fourth place, and in fact, they were drawn number four. It never really had the sparkle of Hade Edge and Hatfield, but it was confident and precise without going over the top. The solo playing was good, and the performance had that feel of a good First Section band without the cutting edge that Hatfield (and later Drighlington) brought to their performances.

Bram Tovey’s music requires a lot of stamina from within the band, and a number of bands did find it tough going, particularly at the end of the piece - and we had plenty of red cheeks on display. Once such band was Stannington, who never really got to grips with music and the acoustic of the hall. St George’s is a fine hall, but when a band plays loud, it can sound very loud, and not many bands took this into consideration. The hall was only about half full during the First Section, so the sound reverberated more than on the Sunday night. Stannington’s performance started off OK, but it never really materialised into anything that would make its mark on the day. Some loose playing, and they suffered with the dynamics, and the final variation suffered from over blowing.

United Co-operatives Yorkshire was 4BR’s favourites to win, and six was a belting draw for them. A chance to put give Roy Sparkes something to think about in the box, and yes, indeed, the performance had moments of real quality, with some good lyrical playing, and an MD that was getting what was required from within the band. United Co-op did the tough variations really well, but again, they suffered from slips, and with a little more care, could have qualified. Finishing fourth will be a disappointment to them, but they will take the positives away and aim to make an impact at the next contest.

In the past four years, Holme Silver has been placed with two sixth positions and two eighths. For 2004, they ended up with seventh place. As with other bands, too many variations cost them dear, and they were another band that didn’t tune into to the acoustic of the hall. It might sound OK in the rehearsal room, but the contest stage is always a different kettle of fish. At times some of the playing was too forceful, and too loud, and sadly it lost them points. The good parts of the performance were overshadowed by the bad ones and seventh is a place that the band can’t really grumble at.

2002 area winners, Wakefield Metropolitan was another band who had a bad day at the office and will want to forget Bradford as quickly as possible. The MD was looking to bring an awful lot of music out of the band, but the players sounded uncomfortable on the piece. Some bands enjoy music such as Coventry Variations, but not Wakefield, they just never sounded at ease at all, and at times some of the variations were like pulling the spoon through treacle. They finished ninth overall.

Norman Law is an experienced campaigner and knows how to get that winning performance. Conducting Old Silkstone, the band was having a crack in the First Section after being promoted last year. This was a quality performance that would push Hatfield, and it did. The early trio was beautifully controlled and the MD did what 4BR had been waiting for, someone to take account of the dynamics in the score in relation to the hall acoustic and this worked for them. The sound was controlled and although they did not duck out of the fortissimo’s they just used common sense. They coped with the tricky variations, seven and eight and although they didn’t come out unscathed - but it was a good all round show, and a pleasure to listen too. The band can consider themselves a touch unfortunate to miss out on Harrogate, but third is a great result having just come up a section.

With the withdrawal of Horbury Victoria, it was left to Drighlington and Philip Shaw to bring the contest to a close, and they grabbed the chance of a spot at the finals with both hands.

Philip Shaw knows how to get a good performance out of a band, and he got it from Drighlington. As with Norman Law, the MD was switched on and used common sense, making sure the fortissimos were not overdone at all. The start was subtle with a good
sound and the performance was nicely shaped and Phil Shaw brought the best out from the band. It wasn’t without its slips, but it was composed enough, and extremely musical. The variations didn’t upset the band at all, and they saw the difficult ones as a real challenge, and they rose to it.

Come results time, you expected the band to be in the frame and they were. Second is a terrific result and they deserve praise, and this result with them confidence for the remainder of the year.

This was a really good competition and if the other regions are just as good, some tight competition will be had, but the music will be the real winner. The day belonged to Hatfield Coal and Graham O’Connor, and its anyone’s guess what the band might do in Harrogate come September, but if they play like they did in Bradford, they will certainly be in with a shout.

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