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2004 North of Eengland Regional Championships - Retrospective

The Championship Section:
Sunday 21st March

Adjudicator: David Read
Test Piece: Tristan Encounters - Martin Ellerby

Nine bands were to eventually do battle following the withdrawals of Westoe STCHT, and Gateshead Brass for the North East Championship Section title. David Read was the very experienced man in the box, and he was making his first return trip to the Dolphin centre since 1994. That year, the victory went to Ever Ready, and ten years later, but under a slightly different name, Ever Ready once again showed themselves to be the premier band in the North East.

The first band on stage was to be Cottingham and they got away to a good start with some neat semiquaver passages in the Euphonium, Cornet and Bass sections. However, they never really built on this good start and although there were some nice individual touches from the soloists, particularly the soprano, the overall effect was marred by some loose and scrappy playing. It meant that they couldn’t quite maintain the form of the past couple of years and they had to be content with 8th place.

Next up were Nestle Rowntree who started off very confidently and set a good tempo. The early variations were reasonably well played, but there was not enough made of the dynamic contrasts. Transfiguarion VII demonstrated some good solo lines and the horn section shone through at times, but overall the remainder of the performance was marred by general looseness, suspect triplet rhythms and not enough attention to the quieter dynamics. 7th place was their reward, and it was about right for us as well.

Fishburn under the direction of Graham O‘Connor were next on stage. This was the first real marker of the day, and they got off to a cracking start. The running semiquaver passages in Cornets, Euphs and Basses were all heard clearly. Some excellent horn sounds in Transfiguration V made a good link into VI which set off at a good pace, but not too quick that it spoilt the detail. One or two moments of loose rhythm in Transfiguration VIII, but the ppp in Transfiguration IX was well mastered.

Throughout the quasi cadenza Transfiguration XII, all the soloists shone through, but there were odd moments when the accompaniments were not always 100% together. Transfiguration XIV started too loud for our liking but gradually built up to a nice ending that was possibly pulled back just a touch too much. Overall though a good quality performance, and one that certainly deserved 3rd place. David Read also awarded them the Colin Fraser Memorial Trophy for best soprano and the Tim Holmes Memorial Trophy for best principal cornet.

The next band to take the stage was BHK (UK) Horden under the vastly experienced Major Peter Parkes and the 2003 First Section Champions certainly proved they were not out of their depth. Their rendition of the Theme and 14 Transfigurations was generally well controlled and there were some good effects and dynamic contrasts. For us though there were just a few too many splits and unforced errors and there was a suspicion of some tiredness creeping in towards the ending, which affected the intonation. Overall a solid 4th position and a good platform to build from – Horden are a band to look out for in the next few years here.

Chester-le-Street took the stage as Band Number 5 but after a confident opening and good prelude, their performance faltered. There were a number of occasions where one could hear the quality of the band, and the soloists in particular, but this was outweighed by too much untidiness and not enough control over the quieter dynamics.

Harrogate, under the direction of David Lancaster, were the next band on and they made a good impression in the prelude and opening variations. The solos were all nicely shaped and played well, although there was a risk of them being overpowered by some over-enthusiastic accompaniments – particularly on the back row cornet bench. This we thought, was one of the steadiest readings of the day in terms of tempo, but it did allow the detail of the quick stuff to come through. For us though, there wasn’t enough made of the quieter dynamics and this may have cost them a point or two.

On stage next were the Reg Vardy (Ever Ready) Band who were aiming to take their 27th title and make a hat-trick of victories here. Under the direction of Ray Farr (fresh from his adjudicating duties in the Second Section earlier) they immediately seized everybody’s attention with a prelude that was full of fire and commitment. Some very neat duet work between Brian Tait and Jo Winspear in Transfiguration II before the band sped off again into Transfiguration III.

The band really showed their quality of sound in these next variations and the horn section in particular featured well in Transfiguration V. Through Transfiguration VII and VIII there was a sense of motion and the soloists were all on top form. There was just the slightest of intonation problems in the ppp passage at IX but all the parts were balanced.

Transfigurations X & XI were excellent with just the right amount of ‘Wildness & Exaggeration’! All the soloists again made light work of XII and this set the band up for the final transfigurations. These were completed in style, with excellent dynamic contrasts. There was a small pull back on the last bar – but it was not overdone. A fine performance, with some excellent percussion work throughout, earning them 1st place, 193 points and the Doug Cairns Trophy for best Bass Section. (Alongside the obvious invite to the Royal Albert Hall !). Ever Ready seemed to be nigh on impregnable at this contest once more.

The penultimate band onto the stage was Broughtons’ Brass and they had the unenviable task of playing between the ultimate winners and runners up of this contest. They gave a good account of the prelude and opening transfiguration, but after this it was fairly loose. The euphonium and horn sections showed off some nice sounds, but at the end of the day there were too many slip ups and too much loose playing to gain any more points than their eventual total.

So, the last band took to the stage - EYMS under the direction of Gareth Pritchard. Could they do enough to knock Ever Ready off their current top spot? The opening was very good. Strong to the point of forceful, but the music flowed. In Transfiguration I there was some excellent semiquaver work by the front row and the Bass Section. Transfiguration III set off at a steadier tempo, but this allowed all the detail through clearly. By now we and the audience knew that we were witnessing a very musical interpretation of “Tristan Encounters”, although there were sections that had a few too many clips and splits. EYMS must surely take the award for the quietest ppp passage in Transfiguration IX. It was barely audible in places !! My only criticism of this is that we struggled to pick out some of the back row lines at this volume.

The soloists all put on a good show through XII, there were just the odd few bars where the glock wasn’t clearly audible. Some excellent trombone work in the final transfiguration led the band to a good finish, although for use the last bar was pulled back a bit too much – the composer wouldn’t have liked it! A fine overall performance though, and certainly deserving of their 2nd place, the invitation to the finals and the inaugural Dolphin Centre Trophy for best percussion.

Then it was over too David Read now for his summing up of the contest.

He advised the large audience that this was his third Regional adjudication of 2004, and it was the most difficult of the three. It was an excellent test piece with solo lines for most players and plenty of scope for conductors to add their own interpretation. The piece is built around severe mood swings, and David advised that not all bands were able to cope with the more aggressive music.

Although the cadenza style Transfiguration XII was only added to the piece to test the soloists to the full, the most important task was to get the overall shape of the music right and not be concerned over the few small slips.

David described three performances that stood out from the rest. The winning band had loads of drive and more than sufficient technique to cope with the demands of the piece. His difficulty came in separating the 2nd and 3rd placed bands. But in the end, EYMS gave a very musical performance, which although it did contain a few splits gave them the edge over Fishburn who lacked some of the energy of Ever Ready and some of the nuances of EYMS.

Our pre-match predictions were :-
1 Reg Vardy (Ever Ready)
2 Fishburn
4 BHK (UK) Horden

So we are very pleased to have picked all 4 bands, if not necessarily in the same order. Meanwhile, Ever Ready and EYMS will travel South to the Albert Hall for the second year in a row, and whilst they will both possibly
have to up their form to challenge for the top prizes there, they are not too far off the pace. Ever Ready may be near omnipotent here, but their 27th win was certainly no stroll in the park – both EYMS and Fishburn pushed them very close. Banding here is alive and well and kicking the backsides it seems of the best bands in the land.

Rob Westacott.

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