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2004 North of England Regional Championships - Retrospective

Second Section:
21st March

Test Piece: Kaleidoscope – Philip Sparke
Adjudicator: Ray Farr

There may have been only the eight bands for Ray Farr to cast his expert ear over in the Second Section, (Lanchester and Barnard Castle had withdrawn), but it was still a good quality contest for the smallish audience at the Dolphin Centre to enjoy.

The differences between the bands were not to great and all of the competitors for us at 4BR (and Mr Farr it seemed) made the most of their resources in tackling Philip Sparke’s set work, “Kaleidoscope”. This may not have been the most technically difficult of the test pieces on the weekend, and perhaps it could have been comfortably played by many of the Third Section bands here (there was a perhaps a good case in retrospect for the Second and Third Section test pieces to have been switched around), but there was still enough about the piece to make comparison between the bands.

The contest itself broke into three mini blocks. The winners and runners up played 2 and 3; the third and fourth placed bands played 7 and 8 and the sixth and seventh bands played 5 and 4. Only Flimby Saxhorn off number 1 perhaps found the piece the most difficult, but they too were not disgraced in coming eight and last off the number 1 draw.

Flimby’s performance had a lot of merit – the opening sections seemed well handled, but it was the Waltz of Variation 3 and the slow ballad of Variation 4 that caused them the most difficulty. The nasty little solo cornet part that featured the leaps from F to Bb was well handled, but the tuning at times from the top end of the band was more than a little out in places. Still, in other areas it would have fared possibly better.

Ellington Colliery were on next, and even though they wee making their debut after promotion from the Third Section, they didn’t seem to have any nerves at all. Nice to see a smiling MD as well, as this surely gave the players a little boost of confidence as they prepared to play. This was neat and tidy playing from the word go, with a well rounded bass sound and a trombone section that was spot on in tune. Lots of nice individual playing from the likes of the solo cornet and soprano were a feature and come the end there was little doubt this was the marker to beat. So it proved and they can look forward to the trip to Harrogate with confidence – they are a fine band in the making.

Felling took to the stage right behind Ellington, and although they had a couple of nasty little blips and blobs, theirs for us was the most musical performance of the day. It was also the most consistent as well (blobs apart) and we had them down to pip Ellington - although there were no qualms at all with the final result from Ray Farr – just personal preference for us. All the sections had the right style and flow (something not all of the bands had) and it was a quality rendition. Second place and the other qualification place was well deserved.

It was also very hard to pick for us between the next two bands on stage as well. Cockerton Prize Sliver just didn’t have the depth of sound or the technical assurance of the two previous performances and in comparison they may have seemed a little lightweight and fragile. However, it was still a quality show – net ensemble playing at times just let down by unforced errors. The MD worked hard but it fell away towards the end when they started to get tired. Not bad, but we think their time may come.

Wansbeck Ashington just about played to form for us – they came in 6th when we tipped them pre contest for 5th. It was another performance that had merit – again the sound and tuning was good and the five variations were all well handled. It was those unforced errors again and again that robbed them though – some from nerves and some from a little over exuberance.

Spennymoor started as if they were really going to make a mark on the contest for – it was big and bold, but the tuning was a little suspect and it started to grate a little as it went along. Duncan Beckley produced a super reading of the score – lots of time and a real sense of the Waltz in Variation 3, but it was that tuning that hurt. The last movement just run out of steam for us, but there was plenty there to work on for the future and in John Burdon on euphonium they had a class euphonium player who took the best instrumentalist trophy with a stylish performance from start to finish. .

Houghton Brass really put in a tremendous effort to try and pip the top two bands and get a qualification place for Harrogate, but in the end they perhaps tried a bit too hard. They certainly had the sound – a powerful sound at that at times and it just needed a little bit more finesse in places (especially in the ballad Variation 4). Lots of quality playing at the louder dynamics but things were not as comfortable when the dynamic marking was reduced.

That just left GT Group Peterlee – our pre match favourites for the title. Again, lots to commend with a powerful performance, but in such a small field it is very easy to make an almost immediate comparison to the bands that just played a few places before you as their performances are still fresh in the mind. Both Ellington and Felling were a good length ahead, and Houghton just had that extra bit of oomph about then when it was needed. This had its moments all right but just lacked that bit of control that the three bands above them had.

A short contest then and Ray Farr didn’t have to sweat too much over his decision. The numbers may have been low – and we hope both the bands that withdrew will make it back next year – but it was a good quality contest nonetheless. The two bands who made it to the Finals should do well.

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