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2004 Midlands Regional Championships - Retrospective

The Championship Section:
Sunday 7th March

Adjudicator: Barry Thompson
Test Piece: Tristan Encounters - Martin Ellerby

With the general mêlée settling down at the end of the Third Section results, many stayed in the hall to listen to the first bands in the Championship Section – Travelsphere Holidays and Desford. In truth, following their performances, the hall remained rather thinly occupied for the rest of the section, and even when Ransome took the stage for the final performance of the day, the mood remained pretty flat despite the increase in numbers in anticipation of the results. It was a strangely lack lustre atmosphere for the top section contest.

Much expectation could be felt around the old Town Hall as, with a hard and somewhat straight pointed approach, Travelsphere took the stage first and began their account of the Ellerby test-piece ‘Tristan Encounters’. They had an absolute stinker of a result last year off the number 1 draw when they ended up last but one in the prize list, so they might have thought that by drawing number one again that the Gods were against them once more. Not so. They definitely had polish in their playing and in the main they delivered some precise phrasing.

David Stowell conducted an incisive and dramatic reading in which the players, particularly in the horn section, gave their utmost and achieved real sensitivity in the more lyrical transfigurations to take the top prize. In truth though, together with every band on the day, they did leave the door open for someone to step in and really steal the show.

Taking the stage whilst the hall was still buoyant in numbers, Desford gave the most dynamically contrasting account that searched for both the colour and vitality in the work. The Eb bass cadenza particularly drew the attention and overall they made the music more boisterous than vulgar going for a hat trick of wins. However, as with many other performances on the day there were a number of untidy and hesitant moments that must have proved costly returning only a mid-placed 7th.

Keith Leonard took Derwent in their first venture in the Championship Section and took this powerfully concentrated work with emotional thrust. Whilst the ensemble did not always have pinpoint precision in a 10th place finish they did try hard to communicate warmth in the interpretation, particularly in the final transfiguration, and throughout the principal cornet anchored the performance very well indeed.

Kibworth too gained promotion back to the Championship Section this year and their performance was crisp and vigorous, incorporating well-integrated tutti passages. Unfortunately the solo and delicate sections didn’t quite convince, but that said, the soprano cornet certainly gave 110%. John Berryman gave the music lots of space but the band just didn’t bring off those intoxicatingly seductive sounds he was trying to encourage; and this perhaps led to the 11th placing. The band, for this listener, certainly brought out the characteristic Wagnerian chord sounds in the writing.

Band five of thirteen, and from opening to finale Steve Bastable had the Staffordshire Band, as they say, at the end of his stick. Well in his case, more correctly the end of his fingers. He brought to the band a reading of the score that had sympathy as well as power and brilliance; drawing out the romantic warmth in the tender writing; taking a notch off the volume to release the inner detail of the more fierce fortissimos, to lead the band to the runners up spot. If ever a conductor captured a prize for a bandthis was a clear example - but then the band did have to deliver his vision to gain that place for qualification for the Albert Hall later this year.

Next was proof of the difficult and uncompromising score delivered by Martin Ellerby. Half way through the section, and at draw number six were the City of Coventry Band. This piece really challenged them. They did draw out some lively and sharply pointed playing - especially in the trombone writing - but the score found too many rough edges in their playing. Their performance was not seriously flawed, more troubled in its timing and dramatic layout. Twelfth place was their reward.

Moving into the second half of the draw, in their traditional blue uniforms, Glossop Band were once more passionately committed at this contest. Jim Cant looked for expressiveness with bold direction, but unfortunately the playing was just a little off the mark overall. Only in the final transfigurations did the band really capture the magic quality with full intensity of the writing. The basses produced some wonderful sounds but a few too many blemishes and loose moments early on were quite evident. They came 13th in the final results.

Stan Lippeatt, synonymous with the Thoresby Band, sat just a few rows from the stage as his old band took the platform. John Hudson’s refined and obviously affectionate reading had an almost meditative feeling at times. There was some delightful and stylish playing but on the whole we were left slightly wanting. They did produce some glowing sounds as the music unfolded and we felt that they were perhaps a little unlucky to finish in the lower third (9th).

The hall filled up a little around draw number nine, but for Thoresby Colliery UK Coal & John Hudson substitute Newstead Welfare & Duncan Beckley, and it will give you an idea of the similarities between the two bands and final placing (8th)! A superb 3rd place last year was thoroughly well deserved but they were not quite as irrepressible on this occasion.

Mike Fowles looked for refined playing from the Ratby Cooperative Band who carried the playing forward as the 10th band on stage. In a warm and well-detailed interpretation, this performance was again a match for most on the day: Being, in the main, satisfying and full of purpose in a well-paced reading. Fifth place was a nice return overall where once more, the soprano cornet playing had a particular sheen about it.

The sound of the Woolley Pritchard Sovereign Band was quite bright and often had quite a strong top end. Trevor Jones seemed to look for the tear-laden qualities in the music and it could perhaps have come unstuck in choice of tempo with some adjudicators perhaps not fancying the most red-blooded reading of the day. The later draw worked in their favour as their style found favour with the adjudicator on this occasion, and netted a nice 3rd place.

The penultimate number in the draw - Jaguar (Coventry) - started like the proverbial **** off a shovel. It would be fair to say this was a very dramatic reading that could not be criticised for not being anything other than extrovert in any of the faster sections. It fell a little short of being a great performance, as the slower sections lost a little in not exploring the music deeply enough. The solo horn was solid as a rock all through though! A good result of 6th for the team at Jaguar who continued a pretty consistent record here the Regional Championships.

The Ransome Band under Russell Gray claimed a superb 2nd place at the 2000 National Finals and that winning duo was reunited again on Sunday. They took a reading in which the MD certainly wore his heart on his sleeve and his interpretation really sustained the long lines in the slower transfigurations with well-measured speeds throughout. This was a highly effective performance in which the lower band, particularly Bass Trombone and Eb Bass excelled. They gained a 4th place but it was very close to capturing that old magic and almost one of the qualifying places.

Before Philip Morris presented the prizes, adjudicator Barry Thompson gave a brief but thoughtful summation. He told the audience that he thought the standard of playing was quite high and particularly singling out the cadenza playing for its quality.

In our predictions we looked to Desford to pull off the top award with Ransome claiming the second qualification spot. On this occasion neither will be making the trip to Kensington later this year. Travelsphere were our 3rd place prediction and took the top prize with Staffordshire - who we thought may be in the top six - finishing 2nd.

Well done to Travelsphere though – after a couple of years when the Gods of the draw have certainly been against them, they showed that they had both the character and the skill to beat off the competition – all off another number 1 draw. 2004 is an important year for the band and it couldn’t have got off to a better start.

John James

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