2004 European Championships - Introduction and dodgy predictions


4BR starts its coverage of the 27th European Brass Band Championships with a look at the fair city of Glasgow and then a look at who we think may come out on top on the weekend itself.

The 27th European Brass Band Championships will take place in the great old city of Glasgow; a city with a very proud heritage and an equally exciting future it seems. For those of you on your first visit to Glasgow, it is best to come with an open mind for in the past 15 years or more a once dark and somewhat decaying metropolis has been transformed. Today Glasgow is one of Europe's most exciting urban landscapes.

The city itself was originally called Cathures and it wasn't until St. Ninian came riding into town around 380AD (AD doesn't mean After Devolution that came in 1999) that things started to look up. By 543AD, a chappie called St. Kentigern had made his mark and the old town became known as Glasgow, meaning "Dear Green Place". He later became known as St. Mungo (although there was no mention in the records of Mary or Midge those of a certain television age will know what we mean). In 1450 the old place became a Royal Burgh and its famous University was established a year later.

Today it is home to over 600,000 hardy souls who can boast a city that has 72 Parks, 32 Libraries, 11 Municipal Museums and 4 professional football teams. Everyone knows of Celtic and Rangers, but there is also the lesser known talents of Partick Thistle and Queens Park. Strangely for such a footballing hotbed it also boasts 42 cricket clubs. Football though is the religion of the masses here, and anyone who has been fortunate (or unfortunate as the case may be) to go to a Rangers/Celtic match will attest that it is the nearest thing to tribal warfare that you will ever get in your life.

On a slightly higher cultural level Glasgow also boasts some of the best architectural buildings in the UK, including the modern and slightly surreal "Armadillo" Conference Centre designed by Sir Norman Foster, the Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed street School Museum and Gallery of Modern Art. There is also the famous Burrell Collection and the Museum of Transport to cater for those anorak types who get a kick out of that sort of thing.

Glasgow used to be one heck of a rough old place, and to be fair there are still many areas around the city that you shouldn't go alone on Saturday night, but since 1990 when it became the European City of Culture and in 1999 when it was awarded the title of UK City of Architecture and Design it has become a fantastic place to visit and enjoy. Make sure you get to some of the brilliant pubs dotted around the city centre the atmosphere is great (and last year at the Scottish Open 4BR managed to get a pint off John Hartson of Celtic fame) and visitors are made very welcome.

1990 was also the year in which the Royal Concert Hall was opened, and it is here between Sunday 25th April and Sunday 2nd May that the 27th European Brass Band Championships will be played out. It may not quite have the visceral intensity of the Gers versus the Bhoys at Ibrox Park but it will be as keenly fought out for sure.

It will all start on Thursday with an evening concert by the West Lothian Schools Brass Band and by the time the Farewell Concert takes place on Sunday with BAYV Cory and Scottish Co-op a great week of brass banding should have been enjoyed by everyone.

So who will win then?

The First Section Contest should prove great fun a fine set work and a real eclectic mix and match of Own Choice selections programmes from the competing bands. The European Solo Contest should also be a fine event (although the UK line up of contenders has been a disappointment), whilst there are a lot of fringe events to tickle the fancy of just about everyone.

The biggie though is the Championship Contest and that should have everyone on the edge of his or her seats. There is a great line up of talent and anyone of seven bands really have a good chance of becoming European Champions. Can YBS be toppled? Who knows, but it will be great listening to them all try, won't it?

4BR Prediction:

Yorkshire Building Society are the reigning champions and will be trying to make it an unprecedented six victories in a row - and who would bet against them doing it? No band in the history of the event has a record to surpass the outfit who's previous claim to European fame before 1996 was that in their former guise of Hammonds Sauce, their sponsors used to awarded one of the most quirky trophies ever presented in the history of the brass band movement. YBS are now the most successful band in the history of the contest, and their appetite for further contesting success seems undiminished. Can they be beaten then? It will take some extraordinary effort to deny them.

Last year was perhaps the closest they have ever come since they first took the first of their five consecutive titles in 1999. BAYV Cory will be many peoples short-priced bet to win their second European title and they are perhaps the strongest challengers in the field to stop the YBS hegemony continuing for a sixth year. BAYV Cory are an immensely strong and talented outfit, backed with tremendous sponsorship and a determination to win the one prize in the banding world that has eluded them since Dr. Robert Childs took over the helm in 2000. (The Masters of course is off limits for now) If they play to the form they showed in Bergen they could very well do it. 1980 was a long time ago, but you sense perhaps this could well be their year.

The double National Champions, Fairey FP (Music) will also mount a very strong challenge for the title and make it a second success a decade after their only triumph in Montreux in 1994. There have been all sorts of whisperings and rumours about the band in recent months, but you can be sure if they take to the stage, then they take to it to win. They certainly have the playing personnel, and after the "non appearance" last year they will travel determined to make their mark once more and show that they are not "Double Champions" for nothing.

Scottish Co-op have come close before 2nd place in 1997 and after a few lean years they have returned back to the kind of form that will make them one of the favourites to do well and possibly become the first Scottish band to win the title. On home ground, with strong support and a hard core of very talented players they could well shine very brightly indeed. Dr. Nicholas Childs is a man on a mission and this is a combination that could very well make it a home win.

The strongest challenge for the title from the European continent should come from Brass Band Willebroek who a twelve-month ago gave both YBS and BAYV Cory the fright of their lives in Bergen. There, the Belgian Champions were very, very good indeed perhaps a touch too clinically good at times, but they are a superbly drilled band under the direction of Frans Violet. If things go well again they too could be strong contenders and they are also looking for a second title 1993 was a long time ago and they are determined not to be seen as a "one off" surprise champions.

It has also been a long time since a Norwegian band have taken the title Eikanger's double occurred in 1988 and 1989, so can a rejuvenated and brilliantly exciting Stavanger take the title back across the North Sea? With the vibrant talent of Steve Bastable at the helm they will be a band to listen out for, and they are in top class form of late as well. If the new partnership clicks then look out they certainly have the sound, technique and talent to win but the question may be whether they have the self belief to go with it? No Professor King at the helm this time, but somehow you sense that may not hold them back. Has their time finally arrived?

Brass Band De Waldsang should also put up a strong showing, but they may find it hard to improve on their three consecutive fifth places they have achieved on their last three outings at the contest. They did come third here in 1990, but that was a different era altogether. A top six place may be the best they can hope for against this heavyweight field.

The same also goes for Brass Band Gothenburg from Sweden on this their fifth appearance at the event. They came 6th in 2000 in Birmingham (and had the most glamorously dressed female players ever seen at a brass band contest) but we think they will be more than pleased if they repeat that feat this time. The field this year is very much stronger than at Symphony Hall four years ago though.

That leaves the trio of Brass Band BML Lucerne from Switzerland, Brass Band Normandie from France and First Old Boys SeaCat from Northern Ireland. Lucerne last appeared in 1996 when they came 7th under the baton of Allan Withington and they are a very decent band for sure winning the Swiss National Championships against a strong field showed their class, but this is a real step up again and we think they may have to be content with a scrap for a top six place at best. Brass Band Normandie showed plenty of potential last year in Bergen and we are sure they will have made further startling improvement but they still have a way to go to really challenge against this level of contesting. First Old Boys return for the first time since 2000 when they came 11th, so they will be determined to take at least a couple of scalps. It would be great if they could.

So who are we tipping?

We think 2004 could well see new Champions - and we think those Champions could well come from Wales. No band will be better prepared than BAYV Cory, no band will have had better support from their sponsors either, and we think after coming so close twelve months ago in Bergen they will just up their game to take the title. It will be a titanic battle though and if they do win they will have to beat YBS they will be hell bent on winning again and if they are to be beaten it will be by one heck of a band.

We also think it will be a close run thing for the other places as well our predicting heads tell us that it could well be just a couple of points separating the top four bands on the day. With that in mind we go for Scottish Co-op to come in third and Fairey FP (Music) fourth. Willebroek should come in fifth hard on their heels and the last top six place could well be Stavanger's. Our dark horse is Brass Band De Waldsang.

There. You heard it first on 4BR!

4BR Prediction:

1. BAYV Cory
2. Yorkshire Building Society
3. Scottish Co-op
4. Fairey FP (Music)
5. Brass Band Willebroek
6. Stavanger

Dark Horse: Brass Band De Waldsang


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