2004 Spring Festival - Retrospective - Senior Trophy


John James gives his own retrospective view on the Senior Trophy and wonders if he was the only one who got things wrong.

Reading the retrospective articles appearing in the band press over the last week, be it in Brass Band World, British Bandsman or even our own 4BR reflections on the European Championships, and then our own editorial on the Spring Festival itself, made me consider a number of issues that this year's Senior Trophy highlighted.

Namely these would be the test piece selection, the order of events, the number of bands, the results and adjudication and the audience. But before you think that this retrospective is to be an on-bloc criticism you couldn't be further from the truth. No, this article is aimed to be a sincere and reflective retrospective review of a very serious contest.

Featuring bands, with the exception of one, who feature in our top 200 rankings they had without exception put in hours of work into the preparation of the test piece. This made for performances in the very top of layer of the banding pyramid. The test piece was a challenge that I would suggest could be a test for any band.

Some bands would find the technical challenges less troublesome but then they would find the subtle nuisances in John Golland's writing a challenge. And so it proved in this contest.

The difficulty was in the size and length of the piece. The off-stage team worked tirelessly and to them much credit - from officials Dave Atkinson and Warren Coates to Ray Payne Percussion Services, they did they're very best to push the contest along. But at well over the usual 15 minutes in length and a fair rack of percussion, the size of the work meant at just over 2 bands to the hour this was a marathon.

In regard to the running order for the day, perhaps in hindsight the Senior Trophy could have been the first contest to get underway but at 7 hours this set everyone a challenge and I would reckon that besides the adjudicators this 4BR correspondent was one of the few individuals who never missed a band.

I'm only human and I make no excuses for the fact that at band 14, I thought to myself, "Bloody Hell  - another five bands!" Not that I didn't enjoy listening, just that I'm a brass band anorak, has a very understanding wife and is someone lucky enough to get the opportunity to put his thoughts in writing.

But if I thought that then I'm sure others would move away or as reflected in the band press to which I referred 'pick and choose' who they listened to. I think that this was reflected in the coming and goings in the audience numbers during the day.

Nineteen bands for this piece was a session and a half and I defer you to the well-documented arguments about ideal contest format and size, to take this one further.

The band press commented on the results of the European lower places quite a bit in their columns this week and I could waste words here comparing and contrasting my thoughts with those of the adjudicators. I've done that before now but on this occasion I'm not going to get into that round of discussion. Suffice to say that of the bands that finished outside of the frame I took some nice memories home from the performances of Pemberton Old Wigan, Mossley and BHK (UK) Horden.

I'm absolutely sure, (and I know) adjudicators Derek Broadbent and Ian Brownbill are way too professional and much more skilled than I to have even had a thought like "bloody hell another five bands to go!"   - however they must be congratulated for their earnest deliberations at this contest.

The piece itself was a real test, although it was as piece of music that really didn't quite capture the hearts and minds of the players and the audience if the reactions we heard in the bars afterwards was anything to go by.  It seemed it was one of those pieces that bands never quite get to grips with - not enough to really test, not enough memorable tunes to make it sound interesting, not enough for every section to get its teeth into. The outcome was about 15 performances that never quite came to life.

That couldn't be said for the bands that came high in the prize list though. These were performances from bands that had decided that even though they may not have enjoyed the fare put in front of them on their music stands, still felt they had to give things a good go to make a good job of it.

That was the difference we think in the performances of Staffordshire under the baton of John Hinckley who gave a real "what it says on the tin" performance that had so much to merit it. Dobcross did much the same, but for us it was the likes of Pemberton and Mossley and Horden who had that bit extra for us. Perhaps we were hoping for more from others, but it was these that left an impression in our thoughts. Still, it was long day.

Staffordshire are a fine band in the making though and played with a confidence born out of their recent tremendous result at the Midlands Regional Championships.  Dobcross are another band that certainly doesn't lack for confidence and it shone through with their performance under Denis Hadfield. The same also went for Unison Kinneil who gave a performance at the tail end of the contest that marked itself out - perhaps not for us, but certainly for the judges. It proved to be Allan Ramsey's swan song, but it was a fine way to go out. Knottingley took the final qualification place on offer under Kevin Belcher with a show that really had its moments, but once more didn't quite tickle my fancy.

That was it for me though - I had different thoughts to the men in the box. The difference of course is that their opinion is the one that counts - mine is a just a honest appreciation. Finally with regard to the audience, just one plea, please remember to talk quieter when close to the adjudicators box and turn mobile phones off. Both incidences cropped up on more than one occasion during this contest.

The emergency vehicle wailing sirens that affected two bands were unavoidable and are an issue related to the city centre and insulation of the building but I think that this trophy once more highlighted issues that seem to be at the forefront of contest discussion at the moment.

John James


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