2004 West of Enlgand Regional Championships -
The Championship Section:
Sunday 28th March
Adjudicator: William Relton
Test Piece: Tristan Encounters - Martin Ellerby
When Howard Wilkinson was the manager of the Sunderland Football
Club in the Premiership, he once memorably, but unfortunately for
him, uncomprehendingly described the fact that his team hadn’t
won a game in living memory as, “We are trying to rid ourselves
of the monkey on our backs.”
JAG Mount Charles were beginning to know what he meant, for coming
into the 2004 West of England Championships they must have felt
like Charlton Heston in “Planet of the Apes”. For all
their undoubted talent, quality MD’s and confidence built
of playing well against some of the best bands in the country, they
didn’t have a single victory here to call their own. They
were being weighed down by a bleeding musical Orang-utan.
Cometh the hour though, cometh the man, and in this case it was
Dr. Nicholas Childs - and after directing a performance of rare
quality of “Tristan Encounters” there was little doubt
that the Cornish band had finally rid themselves of their Simian
bogeyman. This was a performance out of the very top drawer.
Band Chairman, Derek Thomas was obviously delighted when we spoke
to him after the results and he had just got off the phone with
the Welshman. “We knew this was going to be an important contest
for the band”, he said. “Nick Childs brought a real
sense of determination and self belief to the band, and I think
we responded in kind. This has been too long overdue and we have
finally shown that we have a band here that can be strong contenders
at the Finals. We can’t wait.”
The Black Dyke MD had just informed Derek that he too was delighted
for the band, and thanked them for the effort they had put in. He
was disappointed that he couldn’t stay to celebrate with them
all, but he perhaps knew that he may not have been in a fit state
to make it home on Monday morning. The celebrations were in full
swing before the doors of the Riviera Centre in Torquay had even
The contest itself, for 4BR, was something of a Curates egg, and
we were more than a little surprised at the comments made by the
genial adjudicator William Relton prior to the results. He said
that he was “…so encouraged and elevated by the standard
of playing here. “Tristan Encounters” was “…one
of the most difficult test pieces of the last 20 or 30 years, but
I was so encouraged by the standard of playing here. The high marks
reflected the high standard of performances, and I salute the performers
and their partners for all their hard work and sacrifices.”
High marks indeed; but perhaps Bill is getting sentimental, or
just plain crafty. Torquay can be a very nice place at this time
of year and perhaps he would like to come back in twelve months
time. Points in themselves are meaningless, but they can also be
used as relevant measures, so giving a fine winning performance
198 points is one thing – giving the top seven bands 190 points
or more is something else.
The West of England Championship Section was a decent contest –
nothing more, nothing less. The winners and runners up gave two
very fine performances, whilst one other gave a rendition that was
worthy of a qualification place – after that it was pretty
much run of the mill with a bottom four that varied from the unlucky
to the sub standard. It made it no better or no worse than just
about any other Area contest this year – perhaps Bill Relton
knew it, but was too much of a gentleman to say so.
JAG Mount Charles took to the stage as the second band on. Lydmet
Lydney had opened proceedings with a performance under
the direction of Steve Sykes that to be honest about it was not
up to Championship Section standard. It would be wrong to blame
the players – they all tried their hearts out, but you can
put a bit of blame at the MD’s door on this occasion. Perhaps
Steve Sykes knew he was up against it, but gave the band no chance
at all with tempos that were beyond them in the quicker transfigurations
and no flexibility in the slower ones to encourage some confidence
building when the chance arose. Lydney found it a very tough experience
That led to JAG Mount Charles, and right from
the detailed and controlled opening section you felt this was going
to be a good ‘un. It carried all the way through and the performance
was enhanced greatly by the best percussion section of the day –
used by the MD to enhance the colour as well as produce the effects
required. The soloists at Transfiguration 12 all had decent
days, with Shaun Thomas on euph the pick, whilst the flow in the
slower sections had a real musicality. The quicker stuff was quite
excellent before a super build to the finish. Our only quibble was
the last note – a ludicrous minim length after they had played
the last but one bar in the quick manner the composer intended.
It was a minor quibble to a quite outstanding rendition.
After that marker came a series of decent enough performances from
Bodmin, City of Bristol, Yeovil and St Austell that all had their
moments but never set the pulse racing.
Bodmin were very poor – and all that confidence
that they had won back after the Yeovil contest was dissipated after
a muddled opening which lacked clarity. Ben Godfrey of YBS fame
appeared on soprano cornet, and gave a fine account as the musical
tide of mediocrity engulfed the band. He was the only soprano player
on the day to play the opening cadenza of Transfiguration 12
correctly and with style (the standard of soprano playing wasn’t
too grand all day – nearly all of them blasted away on the
loud stuff and came croppers when asked to play quietly and sweetly)
and he even doubled the solo cornet entry as well. John Berryman
gave the music time and space, but the fragility of too many of
the soloists finally unravelled the ensemble playing. William Relton
was very harsh and gave them last place – we had them 8th.
City of Bristol played well above themselves though.
A competent showing under the direction of Andrew Jones that was
based on a “no frills” approach that served them well.
Nothing too exciting, nothing too much wrong – it never touched
the musical nerves, but the approach was never meant to do that.
It was a performance that emphasised their strengths and at times
neatly hid the obvious weaknesses. Others should have taken note.
7th from Bill – 6th for us.
Yeovil and Ian McElligott once again nearly pulled
off the shock result here. Twelve months ago they came third and
they repeated the feat this time again – although for us we
had them in 7th place. The MD though knows how to tickle the fancy
of the man in the box ; it was a clean and neatly packaged performance
that for us just lacked expression and was a touch regimental in
tempos – it lacked flow in places. However, there wasn’t
anything really wrong in technical terms and the solo horn and 2nd
euph played their cadenzas in superb fashion. It didn’t do
it for us, but it certainly did it for Bill (and that’s what
counts) and he gave them 195 points and yet another podium place.
We enjoyed St. Austell’s performance under
the baton of David Loukes, but it could have benefited from a more
sympathetic approach from the MD to the tempos. The fast stuff was
perhaps too fast whilst the slow stuff was perhaps too fast too.
It was exciting to start, but it became scrappy as it went along
and whilst the young team of soloists did OK, they would have surely
benefited if they had been given a bit more time in which to express
themselves. The slips mounted up and although they had a fine close
those tempos may just have cost them a higher place. 5th from Bill
and 4th for us.
To Camborne then. Frank Renton and his charges
were certainly determined to retain their title (and become the
first band here to do so since 1996), and it was perhaps that determination
which at times became aggression that cost them. It was an excellent
musical reading from the MD – broad sweeping lines and maximum
use of the percussive effects, whilst their Transfiguration
12 was the only one on the day that sounded as if it really
did have rubato – perhaps even libero. The soloists ranged
from the OK to the superb (the solo horn was something else), whilst
a special mention must go the rep player whose little interjections
throughout the piece were moments of refined class. It became a
bit frenetic towards the end and the aggression became hard sounding,
but it had a true composers finish. There is a really good band
here if their can tame their testosterone levels, and even though
they didn’t do enough to retain their title, a fourth consecutive
Finals appearance was well deserved.
That really just left Flowers and SWT Woodfalls – and Flowers
just left themselves with too much to do. The week before
the contest was a band secretary’s nightmare – three
basses lost in almost Lady Bracknell comedic fashion and then the
horrendously unlucky loss of perhaps their best player on flugel
on the Friday night before the contest. Julia Telling’s back
problem was so acute she was unable to play (we all wish her well
and a speedy recovery), so the band’s rep player bravely stepped
into the breach.
You could almost imagine the scene – any volunteer please
step forward – cue eight other cornet players taking one step
You sensed all was not right as the MD took to the stage with a
score (a rare sight indeed for Philip Harper), and from the word
go it was a performance that lacked cohesive confidence –
a usual hallmark of the band. The first major flugel entry was subbed
out to the solo horn and from then on it was all hands to the pumps.
The ship didn’t sink – and there were still plenty of
fine moments and sections, but all along it had that uncomfortable
feeling of potential disaster. That it didn’t was a credit
to the players (and the brave man on the flugel) and the MD who
drove them to the end, but it was the poorest performance we have
heard from the band here for many a year. No complaints from them
as they were announced in 6th place – we had the 5th. They
will recover though.
SWT Woodfalls could count themselves a little unlucky
not to have come in the top three at least and possibly have nicked
a qualification place if they had played to the top of their form.
Steve Bastable really turned on the musical taps and the piece had
a lovely sense of flow. The weaknesses lay in some of the more prominent
solo lines though, and time and time again expensive blips and blobs
just scratched and dented the musical picture. Perhaps what cost
them was an unconvincing Transfiguration 12 – only
half of the soloists did themselves real justice, and so by the
time a quite excellent finish had rounded things off you knew those
little errors were docking points. We had them 3rd, Bill Relton
had them 4th.
That left Hyde and Test Valley to round off the contest and both
did enough to suggest that although they were never going to challenge
for the prizes they more than held their own against the opposition.
Both performances were of Championship standard, but both felt a
little desperate and unconvincing in too many places.
Hyde started well, but the opening section was
littered with little blips and blobs. Peter Wise chose careful tempi
that at times sounded a little pedantic, but he made sure his strengths
were seen and heard and the weaknesses in the ensemble covered as
best they could. It never quite captured the vibrancy required but
the soloists put in brave efforts and it all came together at the
end with a big bold finish. 10th for us – 9th from the man
in the box.
Finally, Test Valley Brass under Ian Holmes, and
another performance that met the standard but gave us nothing more
or less. It started well enough, but the pick ups in the solo lines
were played as semi quavers and not triplets throughout (they were
not the only culprits on the day though). The tempi were well chosen
and the playing was commendably clear of slips for the first half
of the piece. It all got a little too tired towards the end, but
the soloists performed admirably and it was a decent showing on
their debut. 9th for us but 8th for Bill Relton – they will
be stronger band next year though for sure.
So that was that then for the West, and for the 2004 Regional Championships
of Great Britain. Bill Relton was witty and generous – perhaps
over generous with the praise and the marks, but he did round off
a fine weekend of contesting here. The event is very well managed
and run, the facilities are good (best food at a contest venue in
the UK) and there is a sense that the region is producing some fine
bands. JAG Mount Chalres and Camborne will make the trip to London,
and on this form (although it will be interesting to see what conductors
they team up with at the Finals) they should do well at the Albert
“God Damn You – you finally done it”
cried old Chuck Heston at the end of the Ape epic, and perhaps many
of the JAG Mount Charles players cried something of the same (in
a slightly different accent and with a few more choice expletives
perhaps) - but for the right reasons this time at the end of the
2004 Championship Section contest. JAG Mount Charles it seems have
finally rid themselves of their contesting chimpanzee syndrome.