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2004 North of England Regional Championships - Retrospective

First Section

Saturday 21st March
Test Piece:
Coventry Variations – Bramwell Tovey
John Maines

John Maines was the man tasked with separating the small field of seven Bands competing for two prized invitations to Harrogate.

In his summing up before the announcement of the results, John was keen to point out that he is no stranger to Coventry Variations, having spent several weeks working it up for another regional contest. He therefore had the benefit of being able to “sit back, listen and write his comments without having his head buried in the score.”

He advised the audience, and band representatives (each of whom went away with a commemorative Pennant for the Bandroom as a memento of the 21st running of the Championships at the Dolphin Centre) that he picked up on two major points from the seven performances. These were Tuning/Intonation and Overblowing. John also commented on the technical demands of the excellent ‘Coventry Variations’. Each band’s performance had its good points, but the piece had a large number of stumbling blocks and these showed up in varying numbers throughout the contest.

The competition got underway at 12.45 pm, a full 15 minutes earlier than scheduled, and congratulations must be offered to the organisers for their efficient management of the day.

First band up was Easington Colliery, under the experienced direction of David Hirst. This band, for us, set the standard for the day with a well-balanced opening section. Overall their performance was neat and tidy, with some excellent bass sounds and good percussion work throughout. The soloists all played well, and the final movement rounded off a solid performance. We had them at least one place higher that their final 4th placing, but the dreaded number 1 draw may have had a hand in this.

Second onto the stage were Pride Valley, who gave a performance that was to eventually gain them 5th place. The opening section was well balanced and showed off some good sounds, although it was not always 100% together in places. The bass section shone at times and there were some lovely flugel moments, but it lacked a bit of forward momentum and we felt there were one or two hiccups in the tricky Variation VI. A good overall performance though, but a few too many slips and moments of bad intonation.

Barrow Shipyard were up next and they got off to a great start. A superb reading of the opening Hymn section was well balanced and showed off the band’s bass section to the full. We liked the tempo set by John Durrant, and the band coped well with it. Trombones, for our taste, were just a little energetic in places but the band was showing confidence from its recent outings and sailed through Variation VI.

The music flowed well throughout the solo sections and only the odd minor slip caused any distractions. All the soloists performed well, but especially the euph and sop. An excellent performance with good contributions from the percussion section throughout, although like the trombones they got a bit excited once or twice! A well deserved second place, an invitation to Harrogate and the John Hallums trophy for best percussion section.

The midway point already, and Langbaurgh Brass took to the stage. After a well controlled opening section, Tim Oldroyd established quite a bright tempo. This was generally well played but there were a few sections that rocked. The soloists all made valuable contributions, but beneath them the accompaniments were not always 100% secure. Some moments of bad intonation and a suspicion of tiredness beginning to affect the cornet section towards the end distracted from what was, overall a well-shaped reading.

Next band on, Greggs Bakery, started off very well indeed. The opening had a nice shape and there were good dynamic contrasts. The initial stately tempo worked well and gave the bass end plenty of opportunity to shine. All the technical passages in the cornet section were crisp and precise. The solo passages were again well shaped and accompanied by some good band sounds. As we moved into the latter sections of the work though, there were some intonation problems appearing between sections and we felt the reprise of the opening Hymn was a little hesitant. Overall a good performance that just lost its edge slightly towards the end and was awarded 3rd place.

York Railway Institute were appearing back in this section for the first time since 1988, and they put in a performance they will look to build on over the coming months. There were some very neat and controlled sections in the early variations, but some nervous entries from the soloists and patchy intonation problems will have cost them a few points.

The last band to take the stage was Kirkbymoorside. Following a secure and well shaped opening, they set off on the variations at a good tempo that allowed all the quaver detail to be heard. All the soloists performed well with just one or two minor clips. Throughout the piece there were some excellent contributions from the Euphonium and Baritone section. There was good sectional cornet work in the build up to the final Hymn, and this was one of the sections that showed off the band’s sound to the full. There were some excellent contributions from the percussion section too, even if the bass drum was a little on the heavy side on times. A well controlled finish brought the band first place, 191 points, an invitation to Harrogate and the Bob Dales Memorial trophy for best Bass Section.

In the ‘pre-match’ analysis, we had a top 4 of
1. Barrow Shipyard
2. Gregg’s Bakery
3. Langbaurgh
4. Kirkbymoorside

So… 3 out of 4 correct. But none in the right order !

Congratulations to Kirkbymoorside and Barrow Shipyard, who go on to represent the North of England in Harrogate. On this form they should do well, but overall the standard here wasn’t as good as we expected it would be. The lack of numbers is also a concern, although it is hard to see what could be done to improve this – the bands in the section below don’t seem to be capable of making the leap up just yet, whilst two of the bands above dropped out. Some head scratching is needed if things are to strengthen in the future.

Rob Westacott.

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