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2004 North West Regional Championships

First Section - Retrospective
Saturday 14th March

Test Piece: Coventry Variations – Bramwell Tovey
Colin Hardy

To be truthful Coventry Variations is a piece to test Championship Section bands never mind those in the First Section. After Bram Tovey and Fodens Richardson recently “premiered” the composition in its revised form at the Festival of Brass, it was quite clear from the start that it would be a hugely demanding, but enjoyable test, and in the opening of the piece it puts immense pressure on solo cornet, flugel horn and bass trombone in particular. If not balanced, the performance gets off to an uncertain start, but if it was balanced and darkly opaque it set bands up to impress. In addition there was the Variations VII and VIII, which were sure-fire areas that would sort the bands out - and so it proved.

After 3 hours playing it was Pemberton Old Wigan JJB who took first place, followed closely by Vernon Building Society Poynton in 2nd place. The adjudicator said at the draw it was excellent music and was looking forward to hearing the performances, and we doubt if there was anyone in the large audience who would have disagreed. Both bands can look forward to doing well in Harrogate if they repeat this form.

Blackburn and Darwen opened the contest and despite some intonation problems early on they made a decent show of the piece. It could have been more exiting at times but the soloists’s gave a good account of themselves and 6th place was fair enough by us. Bollington followed and after a fair start some mis -pitching was evident but the playing was well shaped with some good trombone playing at times. 9th place was a little low for us - but what do we know.

Band No3, Pemberton Old then gave a performance of high quality and they captured the mood of the music from the word go. Good tight sounds and good ensemble was a feature of this performance, apart from the odd clip, and with some nice solo cornet playing they gave a performance even at this early stage would take some beating. As it turned out 1st place was the decision, one in which we and the vast majority of the audience agreed with in full without a doubt.

Following on were Mossley, and they too gave a very good account of themselves with some fine playing. There was plenty of contrast in this playing and 3rd place we felt was right. Maxilead Metals Tyldesley are a band which on its day is capable of a very good performance and as our dark horse they put in a performance of merit which got them in the frame in 5th place. Only poor tuning in VIII spoilt what could have been an even higher placing.

As we waited for band No 6 to begin their performance it was nice to cast a look round the Opera House and see such a large sized audience. The test piece was a winner if audience participation was anything to go by and there warm applause for every band was most welcome. Roberts Bakery gave a showing which after a decent opening just fell away with some poor intonation and the tempo’s at times were a little over the top. The overall playing lacked conviction, although the solo cornet had a fine day. Their 10th place was the right decision for us.

Stalybridge Old are a band who are rebuilding at the moment but in our opinion they gave a decent show and could count themselves unlucky not to have been placed slightly higher as the music had a nice feel to it; but once again like a few before them, tuning reared its ugly head and it robbed this performance greatly .We were impressed though with the bass trombone playing - the best of the day for us when there were some good young and old practitioners on view.

Moston and Beswick were one of our tips to get in the frame, but to be honest their performance never sounded like it was about to challenge the top 6. We liked the euphonium player’s style but overall this was a poor musical performance and 11th place was the right one for us too. We are sure the band can play better - just a poor day at the office.

Poulton-Le-Fylde were next on and after a insecure opening they went on to give a very decent performance. The playing was at times full of energy but not enough care was taken over the links to the movements and that scrappiness just cost them - but 7th place was a decent effort.

Band No 10, Vernon Building Society Poynton gave for us a really well controlled showing and under the very experienced Alan Lawton fully deserved their 2nd place. The opening was nicely balanced and they made some excellent dynamics all through the performance. A couple of moments of poor intonation could have been costly but they overcame this to give a performance that was a pleasure to hear. United Norwest Co-op Milnrow ended the contest with a performance which at times threatened the top two, but it just lacked that little bit extra to make the difference, although we liked the soloist’s and the overall shape was good - 4th place was one we thought fair.

In his remarks about the playing Colin Hardy praised the percussion sections and also felt the slow movements were the ones that sorted the bands out, but overall he had enjoyed the playing of all the bands on show. Speaking to 4BR afterwards Colin told us that the winning band had never let the music get out of control and had kept good strict tempo’s throughout the performance. It was a fine rendition of a very difficult work for this level of banding.

For ourselves we enjoyed the playing in what had been a good contest. The only downside for us had been the lack of contrast in quite a few performances, but the winners and runners up deserved their trip to the finals where they should be strong contenders for the biggest prize. Congratulations to all the bands though for the hard work which had gone into their performances – all had plenty to enjoy and showed once more why the north West is such a strong area at this level.

David Tinker

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