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2004 North West Regional Championships

Fourth Section - Retrospective
Sunday 14th March

Test Piece: Partita – Edward Gregson
Adjudicator: Maurice Priestley

Nineteen bands did battle over Partita in a contest that had three performances worthy of representing the North West in September at the National Finals. The first three bands on stage in Standish, Pemberton Old Wigan ‘B’ and Valley Brass (Haydock) set the standard for everyone else to follow. In the end though, the contest was as wide open as Manchester United’s defence has been in recent weeks, and it was only as the last band came off stage (Uppermill) that you had a good feeling who should be in the frame.

The standard of playing wasn’t the best overall as Edward Gregson’s music proved a hard test for many of the challengers. Only a handful of bands actually started the piece together in the two minute Intrada; Principal Cornet players had a tough time in their solo passages in the opening of the Chorale, and when it came to the Variations, this was where those that did well, scored heavily. The final ‘March’ caused problems as well, but adjudicator Maurice Priesley, gave the nod for qualifying to Pemberton, Uppermill and Standish for the three places up for grabs.

Standish got the worst draw possible, but really grabbed the opportunity to set the standard that would certainly take some removing out of the frame. The conventional piece had a good strong start with the bass section together and in tune. From here, the MD built a nice performance where the players were allowed the freedom to play without fear, and the end of the first movement finished firmly. The Chorale was nicely controlled and the cornet player took the solo part in a steady manner that was nice and clear. The variations started off well and continued throughout. Not every band on the day came out of the section unscathed, but with the final ‘March’ section here was excellent and gave the contest a very interesting start.

Pemberton took to the floor and were not bothered at all what they had heard off stage. The band played in an assertive confident manner, and produced a performance that had just a few flaws within it. The opening had quality throughout with good basses a lovely euphonium and a sense of security about it. Peter Ashley looked relaxed, happy, and was in control. The Chorale section was once again tight and together with a calm, relaxed feel to it. The principal cornet tackled the solo passage without too much fuss, and as with Standish, it was evident that it would be another performance hard to remove from the comfort zone of a top four finish. The variations were good with tempos taken sensibly, and the band expressed itself through the music. Once again, the march was together and the band produced a tight sound. It was certainly more secure than Standish was, but whether it would remain at number one, only time would tell.

Valley Brass (Haydock) can consider themselves unlucky to have finished eighth overall. A young band with the bulk of its players aged around 12-14, ex Wingates soprano player David Chadwick crafted a real good show out of his young troops. In a smaller field, this was certainly a top four show, but with another sixteen bands to perform, scope for movement. The first movement was firm and tight, but it was the Chorale and variations that probably cost them. The Chorale was nice, but the in the variations, a few uncertain moments were costly. In the final march section the band seemed more at ease with the music. Haydock is a young band, and experience in a competition such as the areas is good. Ones to keep an eye on for the future.

After the first three bands, the standard certainly dropped for a while. Rivington (drawn four), Tarleton (five) and Tottington (six) struggled with the music. Rivington did the best out of the three, finishing tenth, whereas Tarleton & Tottington, had many uncomfortable moments. Some intonation problems coupled with rhythmic slackness proved too much, and they were probably glad to get off stage, get in the bar, and forget the experience.

St John’s (Mossley) had ex CWS Manchester man, Stephen Corbett directing them and it started with promise. The Intrada wasn’t as solid as others earlier, but the band didn’t seem phased by any mistakes. The Chorale/Variations section though was the downfall. The Principal Cornet solo was a real test for many players and some wanted to get it over and done with. Mossley’s player was OK and steady, but the variations never happened for them. Variation one wasn’t as smooth as it could have been and the tempos in later variations never came to fruition. It was a real shame as the performance had started off with potential. By the time the March movement was done and dusted, you knew it would figure outside the top six, and in the end, eleventh was Maurice Priestley’s decision.

When Douglas Town and Gordon Higginbottom took to the stage, they gave the judge plenty of food for thought. Mr Higginbottom was relaxed but assertive in his interpretation of the piece and the band responded to having such a knowledgeable banding figure in front of them. The opening was bright, with some nice basses, and nothing with rushed, the sound being clear. Douglas lost out (for us) on qualifying in the middle movement. The Chorale was nice and smooth, but the Variations were not as together as they could have been. The MD wanted more than perhaps the band could give him and it was a real shame. Everybody seemed happier with the final movement, and seventh is probably a placing they went home disappointed with. If the middle section had been better, they would have challenged the top three - but it just wasn’t to be.

Barnton came down a section and really struggled to get to grips with the piece. The Northwich-based band suffered with too many intonation and tempo problems to really make an impact on the day. Add to that, Carrbrook Brass, under Jim Hunter, who sounded really uncomfortable with the whole test piece. Tuning, rhythms, and the solo playing were causing many bands problems, but the Stalybridge-based band suffered more than most. The band hasn’t competed at the area for a couple of years, and the result wouldn’t have been what they’d hoped for. Better luck next time.

The half waypoint then and Pemberton Old still in front with Standish, Valley Brass and Douglas the only serious contenders so far for second, third and fourth, respectively.

Besses Boys’ will be really disappointed to have finished ninth. Drawn eleventh and first band on after a comfort break for the judge; they sounded initially as though they were going to stake their case for qualifying. Once again though, they were another band to become undone in the middle movement. The tempos weren’t as precise as needed, and add a bit of untunefulness around the stand over movements two and three, and it spoilt a potentially prize winning show.

Parr (Richardson Ltd) St Helens had the MC of The British Open, Robert Kerwick fronting their challenge for Harrogate. The band never really got to grips with the music to be fair and too much uncertainty within the ensemble was their downfall, and having come tenth in 2003, they will be really disappointed to have gone as low as seventeenth.

Dobcross Band is renowned for its strength in depth and the senior band now challenges strongly in the Championship Section. Underneath them some fine musicians have emerged, and as with all youth bands, the personnel changes with players going to different bands, as well as leaving for challenges such as University. Ted Griffiths has done a great job and the Dobcross Youth Band 2003 put a terrific performance in to secure sixth place. In reality, they will be annoyed they didn’t come higher, but this is such a young band with plenty of potential. The young girl on Principal Cornet has a lovely tone and she led the band very well. This band was careful and kept it as simple as it could be. 4BR had them as dark horses, and but it had a few more slips than Pemberton, Standish and Valley Brass, and if they had been more secure in parts, they could have been going to Harrogate. The overall standard of playing was good and the band coped with the tempos, but it was those tiny slips though that proved costly.

Hesketh, Farndon and Greenfield were the next three bands on, and for us, that qualification door was still open, but they all missed that opening by quite a margin. Hesketh have been on the up, and having come eighth last year, will have been annoyed to have gone back to twelfth where they finished in 2002. You sensed after the performance that the band thought they had played better than they had. Too many slips, intonation problems were costly, and they never sounded comfortable with the music. Farndon picked up the wooden spoon, and having only competed once in the past four years (2002) it showed to be honest. As with bands such as Carrbrook, they have to take the small positives and use them for the future.

Greenfield under Dave Chapman will be disappointed not to have built on 2003. Relegated in 2002, the band never really got going and at times, it sounded hard going for them. But for the performance of other bands, they certainly could have come lower down than thirteenth.

Friezland missed out on Harrogate by a whisker. The band has been devastated by the loss of its player, Dr Richard Stevens, but put on one heck of a show. Without a doubt, it was an emotional performance for everybody involved, and they really did play well. Lana understood the music, and the band was at ease. If they carried on as they did early on, then it would take something decent to move them from out of the qualification prizes. It was tight, effective, tuneful, and the rhythms in the variations movement were as precise as anyone had heard for a while. Any slips were minimal, and didn’t detract too much. For us, this pipped Standish in the overall frame, but Maurice Priestley decided otherwise, and had them in fourth.

Eaton, Farnworth & Walkden got themselves into the top five, but just didn’t have the impact of Pemberton and Standish, and Friezland to get the nod for Harrogate.
It was a really good all round show with some good playing, minimal slips and nice work from the MD.

Eighteen gone, and it would have to take something special for Uppermill to remove Pemberton, Standish and Friezland from qualifying. Uppermill’s challenge was led by one of the finest young conductor’s around in Simon Wood, and between them they grabbed qualification with both hands.

It was an absolute cracker. The opening Intrada was sound and secure with some nice basses and good ensemble work. Simon’s control and direction was crisp and clean, and it was bringing the best out of the band. The Chorale and Variations was another well-constructed and performed movement. Slips were minimal and didn’t detract. The tempos were sensible, and the band was confident. In the march section, they secured a trip to the finals, and were purposeful, and took it in their stride. It was a good show, and for us had sneaked into the top three with ease.

Those that didn’t hear Pemberton thought Uppermill had got first prize, and after five hours of contesting, the usual thank you speeches, and presentations, the results were announced.

A cursory look at our pre-contest predictions had Pemberton as winners with Rivington and Uppermill in second and third respectively. We were quite happy to stick with Pemberton, and had Uppermill and Friezland joining them at the finals.

Dobcross came out sixth, with Eaton a point ahead (175) in fifth. Friezland got fourth spot missing out on Harrogate by a point to Standish (who many didn’t hear at 11.30am). It was either going to be Uppermill or Pemberton for the top two. Simon Wood was happy with the performance when he came off stage, and will be thrilled to have got a qualification spot; the band certainly deserved it. It was Pemberton’s day though and they made it a Pemberton Old ‘double’ with the Senior band qualifying earlier in the day in the First Section.

All three bands will do the North West proud come Saturday 11th September, and if it’s their day, anyone of them could be crowned Fourth Section National Champions

© 4BarsRest

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