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2004 Welsh Regional Championships - Retrospective

First Section
Saturday 13th March

Test Piece: Coventry Variations – Bramwell Tovey
Geoffrey Whitham

Sometimes bands with famous pasts are hampered by their heritage. Since winning their last Welsh Championship title in 1989, Parc and Dare had found life in the Championship Section tough going – expectations were perhaps unrealistically high and as a result they found themselves falling farther and farther off the pace at the top level. Finally, in 2003 they were relegated from the Championship Section for the first time in their history.

Where as other bands may have found this to be the last nail in the competitive coffin, Parc and Dare have been revitalised, and under Craig Roberts they produced a winning performance here that had real echoes of their past. This was an experienced and mature band playing with a real sense of confidence and more than a little swagger – it may only be the First Section, but this was the Parc and Dare of old.

On a day when nearly all the bands struggled to over come both the technical and musical challenges set by “Coventry Variations”, Parc and Dare overcame them with an ease and understanding from the MD right down to the percussion team that was well worth their victory.

Geoffrey Whitham described his experience in the box as “painless” and said that there were three good performances here. The winners he said were directed by a MD who knew what he was doing and the ensemble playing had everything that he expected. He was perhaps being kind to some of the bands when he said many a performance was a “curates egg”, but when it came to the winners he perhaps could and should have put them more than the one point clear then he did. There was no one to touch them on the day.

All their soloists performed well, with the ageless Robert Burnett on euphonium and the excellent Robert Samuel on cornet the pick of a fine bunch that included some sweet soprano playing and equally fine flugel playing. Come Harrogate they could be one of the short priced favourites to take the title itself.

Second place went to Wrexham Brass under Wayne Ruston who gave a very secure account of the set work that benefited from a very lucid reading from the MD and some excellent cornet and euphonium work. Their start was perhaps the best of the day, whilst the ensemble (so important in this piece) never became overblown even at the extremes of the dynamic range. It was a very good performance and well worth the runners up place and the trip to Harrogate.

Behind them came a series of performances that never quite had enough about them to make an impression to catch both Parc and Dare and Wrexham. Curates eggs they were indeed.

Penclawdd were placed third (we had them 6th), whilst Pontardulais were 4th (we had them 3rd), Ammanford 5th (we had them 4th) and Rhyl were 6th (we had them 7th). Our choice for 5th place were Abergavenny who were placed joint last – but more of that later.

Penclawdd gave a very committed performance that started so well but became tired and overblown towards the end. There was some fine soprano and cornet work, but the strengths of these players meant that the balance of the band became lopsided as the piece entered its last quarter. Still, they produced a big sound and weren’t too far off making it to Harrogate for a second year in a row. They are moving in the right direction.

Much the same could go for Pontardulais under Mike Faro who started well and seemed to be heading for the Finals, before the stamina gave out in the last third and the piece ran out of steam. Again, when this happened the balance went awry, but it was a decent showing.

Ammanford could count themselves a little unlucky perhaps, as they had a lovely sweet start (the opening trio was played standing in a small group, with a fine solo cornet player throughout). It had the right sense of style, but perhaps lacked the real intensity that the piece required. A good showing though and another band building well.

Ditto Rhyl. Gareth Westwood produced a nicely shaped account from the number 1 draw, that was perhaps a little light in tonal colour in places and just felt a little nervous in the more exposed passages. It didn’t quite have enough about it to push higher up the prize list, but it was a solid show.

After these Rogerstone had its moments under the baton of Ceri Thomas, which featured perhaps the best soprano player on the day (oldies are still the best it seems!) and a core of youngsters from the excellent Greater Gwent Youth Brass Band. The piece had an ebb and flow, but also too many clips and blips - there was plenty to admire though.

Finally two of the more fancied pre match bands who had poor days at the contesting office. Tylorstown Valley Lines are a better band than this, but suffered from an aggressive approach from the MD that didn’t suit them or the music. Their usually fine solo cornet player seemed exhausted by the experience of having to blow for all he was worth from the word go. This was a performance to forget for them.

Finally, Abergavenny under the baton (and no music) of Philip Harper. The band took the stage minus a bass trombone and whilst they borrowed from Parc and Dare, the MD decided to forgo his contribution at the start and give the part to the solo trombone to play. It was a very high-risk strategy that didn’t work at all, and the start was disastrous. Even though some of the playing afterwards was the best of the day, the damage had been done and Geoffrey Whitham is a notoriously hard man to impress if you don’t play well from the word go. Abergavenny didn’t, and paid the harsh penalty.

That was it then and the result wasn’t really in doubt. Parc and Dare were deserved winners and sounded like a good Championship band, whilst Wrexham too had that quality that comes from experience and musical intelligence. Both will represent the Principality with pride and well placed confidence come Harrogate.

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