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2004 London and Southern Counties Regional Championships - Retrospective

The Championship Section:
Sunday 21st March

Adjudicator: Roy Roe
Test Piece: Tristan Encounters - Martin Ellerby

Whilst thinking over the Championship, Third and Fourth Sections at Stevenage on Sunday, a football match report from ‘The Game’, the Times newspaper's Monday football supplement struck a chord.

The report in question happened to be Derby County verses Nottingham Forest and in referring to Forest manager, Joe Kinnear, reporter David McVay borrowed a quotation from the film, ‘Carry on Cleo’ – ‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me’. The line from the film seemed very apt as one thing for sure was that bands in Sunday’s competing sections must have been wondering what they had done to those who chose the test pieces as many of them really struggled to come to terms with the music.

In the Championship Section, Ellerby’s terrific test piece, Tristian Encounters proved a real test, with four bands, Redbridge, Alliance Brass, Aveley & Newham and Friary Guildford (who will have surprised a few) standing out from the rest of the field.

Adjudicator Roy Roe was correct in his summarisation from the stage that there were ‘No poor performances’ on the day, but the standard of performance from the top four downwards, although not poor, proved a stern test which some bands found just too much. At the end of many performances, players walked off stage, perspiring with sweat not just as a result of the warm hall, but because they had well and truly been put through the wringer.

The standard of solo playing on offer was good, but a combination of some over-ambitious MD's asking more than players could give, along with some below-par ensemble playing let many down. That said, the decision to send champions Redbridge and runners-up Alliance Brass as London’s representative’s was one that no-one could disagree with, although for many of the audience, including 4BR, it was John Clark’s band that had the edge and deserved to be the winners.

City of Oxford under Peter Bassano got things up and running from a number one draw, and they had a day that everybody concerned will want to forget as quickly as possible. It had its moments, with some confident solo playing, but some of the transfigurations never happened for them. Finishing twelfth and last will be a real body blow for them after last years disappointing result. For us, we had expected (and predicted) better – fourth in fact, and the band will be looking to bounce back in The Senior Trophy in Blackpool come May.

Ipswich & Norwich Co-op were making their first appearance in the top section since 1996, and they will be chuffed to bits to have finished ninth. The band set themselves up in a slightly different formation. The percussion was formed where the basses normally are, and behind the trombones, and as a result, the bass section was moved a bit more to the left than as you’ll traditionally see it. The back row cornets were positioned where the euphoniums and baritones sit, and flugel with horns sat in the back row cornet seats.

The score has plenty to in it for percussion, and for us, it was a touch loud, and over emphasised at times. If the band had played number one, then it could be argued that Oxford were too quiet in places. Ipswich’s sound was certainly hard and a touch aggresive at times, and they really did battle with the piece. Everybody gave everything, and come the end the players were looking as though they were saying ‘Thank goodness that’s over’. The soloists’ coped well, but at times it was like pulling the spoon through a bowl of treacle - but the hard work paid off for them, and ninth is a real fine result for them.

KM Medway were another band making a return to the top flight, and as with Ipswich, they discovered that the jump up a section is a tough nut to crack. Many of the performances had that feel of ‘much of muchness’ about them, particularly the bottom four of five. KM was certainly not as top-heavy on percussion as Ipswich, but they were another band that struggled to cope with the demands of the music. The tempos didn’t get the contrast required, and hopefully somebody put an arm round the Principal Cornet player afterwards. Nothing went right at all sadly, but everybody has days like that on the contest stage, and all you can do is take it on the chin.

Three down then and everybody still waiting for a performance to make them sit up, and take notice. The next three bands on stage certainly did that all right.

Kidlington must be admired for their consistency. With Catherine Underwood at the helm, this band put on a real good show. For the first time, tempo changes were being adhered too, ensemble playing was tight and the soloists were matching everything everybody else did. The MD was not prepared to take any risks and kept things simple and uncomplicated. The acoustic in the hall is a good one, and this was the first band with MD that were really switched on; the quality of the sound gave the music chance to speak and over-blowing and some over-enthusiastic percussion playing didn’t happen. Too many bands were louder than the required ppp in the muted nine-bar passage transfiguration IX, but Kidlngton had dusters over the tops of instruments, and had it certainly worked for this band. At the end, Roy Roe had them fifth; an improvement on last year, but they can consider themselves unlucky not to have sneaked into the top four slot.

The quirks of the draw had a repeat of the championship section in Wales a week earlier with the favourites to qualify, Redbridge and Alliance Brass, drawn back-to-back.

Redbridge were first on drawn five, and they put in a convincing interpretation that would be hard to shift from the top-two slot. It was extremely tight, very musical, and a really true traditional band sound. Melvin White made it easy for his troops to shine; he was another MD that kept it simple and it paid dividends. The errors were minimal, and not detracting from a quality show as the music was given space and the depth of sound was not lacking. Without doubt, the muted passage (Transfiguration IX) was the best of the day by a country mile, and it was pleasing to hear another MD that paid particular attention to the various tempos and they came off for him and the band. Could it beaten? Of course it could, but it would have to be a good one to move it from number one.

Nobody had long to wait before finding out how good Redbridge were as Alliance Brass under John Clark took to the stage as the contest reached its mid-way point. Whereas Redbridge had a traditional sound, Alliance Brass had more of that classical brass ensemble feel about it. John Clark and the band were so relaxed it was untrue, and the baton-less MD crafted a magnificent performance. The chromatic scales were the best of the day in Transfiguration I, and the exchange between flugel/solo cornet was sublime. At times it was so classical, it had that ‘Wagnerian’ feel about it with John Clark having a real understanding of the composer’s intentions. The band was having a ball, and again, the band used the acoustic of the hall to its advantage. This was another great show, and had a real musical shape that for many of the audience and us at 4BR had the edge over Redbridge. Come results time though, Roy Roe thought differently, and opted for Melvin White’s interpretation.

The Midway point had been reached, and Alliance Brass, Redbridge and Kidlington standing out from the rest of the field. Whether anyone would match them though, only time would tell.

Welwyn Garden City should be thrilled at coming seventh. OK, the performance was not as convincing as Kidlington, Redbridge or Alliance Brass, but it was a good all round show and this band has done extremely well since being promoted. The band came seventh on ‘Prague’ and it was certainly evident was that the band knew it would struggle to win, but knew if they played to its strengths, they would give a very good account of themselves. The MD didn’t ask anything that the band couldn’t do, and some of the ensemble playing was not as tight as it could have been, but it was a competent performance without any fireworks.

Aveley & Newham are always consistent and pushed Redbridge and Alliance Brass close for a trip for to the finals. It was certainly a high quality performance, with plenty of good playing, nice solo work, and the music breathed. Sadly though, it had a few more errors than Redbridge/Alliance Brass and it was those slips that once the results were announced cost them a trip to the Royal Albert Hall. Being drawn eighth, it was set up for them to knock somebody out of the two slots, but they didn’t have quite enough contesting class on the day.

Regent Brass is another band who had a day that they will just want to forget. Sadly, it never really got going for them and they were another band that struggled with the demands of the music. The soloists had an off day, and it had that feel of ‘the sooner we got off the stage the better’ about it.

Friary Guildford Brass and Keith Maxwell coming fourth may have surprised a few, but the band really did produce a corker of a performance. Promoted from the first section, they walked on stage aka Leyland with white jackets and red carnations, and it is no exaggeration to say that this band played as well as the great Lancashire band has done down the years. The jackets were removed on the hot stage, and the performance started off in determined mood, and if it kept going like it started, it could ruffle more than a few feathers when results are announced.

It was good solid playing, and lyrical, with players getting the chance to express themselves. The band certainly enjoyed the music and it didn’t half show. Overall, it wasn’t as musical as the top two, but one terrific reading by the MD and the band responded. This is an ensemble to keep an eye on for the future.

Two bands to go and they were Soham Comrades and Bedford. In the past three years, Soham have had two fourths and a seventh, so being placed sixth overall is consistent. It was another hard working performance with plenty of red faces at the end. Once again, that feeling of the band not being comfortable with the music came across, but they gave 100% commitment and it paid off for them.

Bedford were drawn last and as with Soham, worked there socks off to give a performance. It wasn’t the best, but it was not the worst either. At times, it could have fallen apart, but they kept it together and having come up from the first section in 2000, have always done enough to remain in the championship section and this year, improved on last year’s ninth, by finishing eighth.

So who would it be? Roy Roe summed up and told everybody that he was ‘pleasantly surprised’ by the standard of playing and would inform everybody in Yorkshire. 4BR’s own thoughts were still Alliance Brass, Redbridge and Aveley in that order. The organisers only announce the top four and a few raised eyebrows around as Kidlington got a well-deserved fourth place. Aveley next in third and could anyone remove Alliance Brass and Redbridge? (and based on the judges overall remarks, it was only going to be those two).

For the third year in a row, Redbridge were crowned winners with a two-point cushion. On Saturday 16th October, Redbridge and Alliance Brass make the relatively short trip to SW7, both already knowing that they will probably have there work cut out as they do battle with reigning champions, Faireys and a host of other contenders after that famous trophy. The signs though are that both these bands are getting very much closer to the top of the Nationals pile.

Malcolm Wood

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