National Championships 2004 - Harrogate - Introduction


Harrogate Conference Centre, Harrogate, Yorkshire, 11-12 September 2004.

> Fourth Section: Saturday 11 September
> Third Section: Sunday 12 September
> Second Section: Sunday 12 September
> First Section: Saturday 11 September

Other articles:
> Dodgy predictions
> Adjudicators
> Test piece reviews

Harrogate Conference CentreThe North Yorkshire town of Harrogate may not be the most vibrantly youthful place in the World, but the traditional spa centre in the valley of the River Nidd, favoured by those of a more mature outlook in life will be a welcoming host for the 2004 Lower Sectional National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain.

There are more tea rooms, cream buns and well thumbed copies of the Daily Mail here amongst the 66,000 or so population than perhaps anywhere else on the globe, but in amongst the twin sets and pearls, Lilly of the Valley bath salts and Harvey Nick's handbags, the annual jamboree that is the Lower Section Finals will take place at the towns impressive International Conference Centre.

The post contest nightlife may not quite set the pulse racing for the younger elements amongst the bands, but there should be enough attractions to keep even the most determined "thrill seekers" happy – Saturday night in down town Manchester it ain't though for sure, but if you like to wander around expensive shops, visit the odd cathedral or castle or even look at 50 acres of strange rock formations then Harrogate is a quite splendid place to spend a weekend.  Honestly.  

The last time the contest was held here was in 1998 and after a few years on the road it returns to what could see it become its permanent home for the foreseeable future.   It has all the right facilities in the right place, and although the acoustics won't be as good as the superb Caird Hall in Dundee last year, it shouldn't be too lively as to destroy the abilities of the best bands to show their class.

The lessons of the long tedious hours in Torquay in 2002 were well learnt last year by the organisers and with the excellent team team of helpers and officials from the BFBB, this year working in partnership with Kapitol Promotions are sure to make things run smoothly – and to time.   

Things kick off on Saturday morning at 9.30am with the Fourth Section Finals, adjudicated by the experienced Alan Hope and the evergreen Frank Renton, which promises to be an interesting combination in the box.

Alan Hope has spent many a long hour in various tents around the country at this level, whilst in a somewhat distant former incarnation one F. Renton led Guildford Silver to the Fourth Section National title way back in 1965!

With a cracking set work in the form of Philip Sparke's "The Four Noble Truths" it should turn out to be the usually event full of fun and games in the music making department and the best set of supporters you can find anywhere.

There is no event in the banding calendar quite like the Fourth Section Finals where supporters of rival bands really do enjoy and appreciate the efforts of all the competitors and where you get the chance to hear the talented youngsters of the future.

 Results time sees the hall full to the brim and everyone from the tea lady to the adjudicators getting a warm reception and generous applause. The joy on the faces of the prize winners is something to behold.

The First Section Finals close the first day (a change from previous years) and this gives the chance to hear 17 bands with the pretensions (real or otherwise) of claiming glory and taking the final step to the rarefied atmosphere of Premiership banding.

Since its inception in 1992 though, not one of the 12 winners has really gone on and made a mark of note in the Championship Section, so will this year's winner buck the trend and bridge what seems to be the ever widening gap between the two sections successfully?

There is plenty of quality on show and a smashing test awaits them in the form of Rodney Newton's excellent "King of Elfland's Daughter" which should test the individual players, ensemble and MD to the max.

The bands will also have to impress two wily old foxes in the box too, with Tony Swainson from Scotland and Richard Evans from (well just about anywhere really he pleases) two tough judges. Don't be led into a false sense of lightheartedness with "Tricky Dicky" – here is the man who really has seen it, done it and worn the tee shirt and can tell the difference between a good ‘un and a bad ‘un with his eyes closed.

Those who think they will impress by sheer volume alone will get a rude awakening for sure. Tony Swainson too is a man with plenty of experience in the top strata of banding and is a very accomplished musician – he will also take some impressing.

Sunday morning sees the Third Section bands take their bow and who will have to get to grips with Darroll Barry's gritty "Diamond Heritage" – a work that has all the usual Barry hallmarks of vibrancy and rhythmic pulse and should sort out the miners from the colliers as they used to say in the pits of South Wales (and there is a big difference as any collier will tell you).

The popular John Maines and the thoughtful Derek Broadbent are in the box and it will be interesting to hear their comments at the end of proceedings. Derek Broadbent has an almost forensic ability to dissect test pieces, and his comments from the stage are amongst the most well informed and pertinent you will come across.

He gives praise where praise is due, but he also pinpoints the deficiencies as well. He does not suffer musical fools gladly, so those who have done the detailed work and preparation should find reward, whilst those who haven't and try to camouflage by weight of sound will have a rude awakening.

Finally, the Second Section should prove to be perhaps the most interesting contest of the whole weekend, with a raft of bands getting to grips with Michael Ball's "Chaucer's Tunes". For anyone who has had to read Chaucer as part of their English Literature exams over the years will know that the old boy was a wry old cove – a bit of a lad if you know what we mean.

He certainly knew his way around the odd maiden or three and just like his Canterbury Tales, the music here is full of wit and musical promiscuity. Chaucer takes a bit of getting used to when you first read it, but it rewards you the more you get into the beautifully crafted stories - and the same goes for Michael Ball's fine score.

We doubt if Michael has led the same colourful life as the old boy himself, but the music hits just the right chord and will prove a wonderful test for the bands and their MDs. We wonder how many of them have been to the local library to pick up the book though – this contest could tell us a lot about their nocturnal reading habits of late.

The two men in the box for this one have plenty of experience to their names, with Colin Hardy and C. Brian Buckley, veterans of judging at this level. Both know the score (in both senses of the word) and will know which bands can play the piece and which bands can actually perform it. It should prove to be an interesting finale to the weekend.

Good luck to all the bands, and 4BR will be there all weekend providing our usual mix of comment, live coverage and opinion to keep you all entertained.

Who will win though? We will reveal our dodgy predictions on Thursday night for all the sections – we don't won't to be accused of placing the kiss of death on any of the bands too early do we (especially with our track record), so wait till then and all will be revealed. 

For those bands who have yet to send us their details for our pre contest coverage, you still have a day or two to do it. Thanks to those who took the trouble to help us out, it was greatly appreciated.

We hope to see you all there and we hope you log into the site throughout the weekend to capture some of the atmosphere. Harrogate won't know what's hit it.


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