National Championships 2004 - Harrogate - Our Dodgy Predictions


4BR has made its scientifically proved, state of the art predictions of who we think is going to win in Harrogate on the weekend. Not even the jockey Keiran Fallon could pick more winners than us could he?

The Finals wouldn't be the Finals would they, without everyone having a guess on who is going to win the top prizes?

4BR is of course no different to any other pint in hand pub based know it all, and therefore we have cast our expert eye (what expert eye we hear you cry!) over the proceedings and tried to make sense of the disparate talents from all over the UK that have worked their socks off to try and become Champion Bands of Great Britain.

As usual we have taken a great deal of time weighing up the talents on show (honestly we have) and made our usual intelligent and thoughtful choices. We of course apologise in advance to those bands who now believe their chances have been crocked by us tipping them to do well. Given our track record we don't think we may end up in the dock with Kieran Fallon and the rest of the horse racing boys though. If we do get them all right though, 4BR promises to buy the biggest round of drinks in Harrogate for anyone who can catch us in the bar. (What would be the odds on that eh?)

Good luck then to everyone.

First Section:

As we have said previously, winning the First Section title hasn't been a passport to unlimited success in the Championship Section for those bands who have triumphed here since 1992.

In fact, two of the bands no longer exist as such, whilst a couple of the others have experienced periods of real hardship since taking the title. For most, becoming the First Section Champion Band of Great Britain is the high water mark of their contesting lives. Winning here is a fine achievement of course, but translating that into further progress and continued success in the top section is an even better accomplishment. 

The last couple of winners here have done well though. Staffordshire, the Champions of 2002 find themselves at the National Finals in London in October, whilst last year's winners, BHK (UK) Horden only just missed out themselves. Looking at the line up this year, the omens could be good for whoever leaves the International Conference Centre as Champions.

And who will that be?

First and foremost the winners will be well deserved victors as they will have to overcome a fine set work by Rodney Newton which on its day would be a stern test for the top tier of bands in the Championship Section.  No band really stands out as favourites, but some of the 17 competitors will surely fancy their chances more than others. As always there is a fair sprinkling of experienced MD's to bolster some bands chances, whilst all the bands have star players who would grace any top championship outfit. It may therefore be a combination of the two that could be the secret weapon in gaining success.

Some contenders though have caught our eye, and we think could feature strongly. In no particular order we like the look of Parc and Dare from Wales, Newtongrange from Scotland, VBS Poynton and Pemberton Old from the North West, Drighlington from Yorkshire and Bournemouth Concert from the West of England. All played very well at the Regional Championships and you got the feeling that they wouldn't be out of place in the top section.

The good news for the brass band lover is that just about every area will be sending at least one very strong outfit to try and claim the top prize, so don't be surprised if many of the others we haven't mentioned here come in the frame.   

We won't hedge our bets though and we'll plumb for a top six in this order.

1. Newtongrange
2. Parc and Dare
3. Bournemouth Concert
4. Pemberton Old
5. Drighlington
6. VBS Poynton

Dark Horse: Hatfield Coal Power

Second Section:

The Second Section is one of the hardest competitions to guess the winners of. Last year for instance, Hatfield Coal Power from Yorkshire took the title in fine style, but the top six contained bands from five different regions and we think the same could well happen again.

All 17 bands here have more than a fighting chance of leaving with the Championship title under their belt and all of them will be making the trip to Harrogate full of confidence we are sure. Only one will be declared Champion Band of Great Britain on Sunday though, so 16 others will suffer a mixture of elation and misery depending on how well they thought they may have done prior to the results.

All face a stern test in the form of Michael Ball's "Chaucer's Tunes", a little gem of a piece that has more than enough about it to sort out the men from the boys. Those who capture the essence of the wit of the piece (based on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales) should do well, so those MD's who have done a bit of nocturnal reading may be rewarded. It isn't the most technically demanding work ever, but there are some nasty "clenched bum" moments for all the soloists.

Lord Byron thought Chaucer to be "…obscene and contemptible; he owes his celebrity merely to his antiquity", whilst Alexander Pope thought more of him, "…a master of manners and of description and the first tale -teller in the true enlivened, natural way."

Whatever. The fact is that the book takes some reading and understanding, whilst Michael Ball's score is open and transparent and certainly not obscene! It will still take some understanding from even the most experienced MD here though. With that in mind who will win then?

Once more each of the regions sends strong contenders, but a few of hem stand out for us as the bands who could well challenge for the title. In no particular order we can pick out Wire Brass from the North West, Otterbourne from the West of England, YBS Concert from Yorkshire, Raunds Temperance from the Midlands, Barnsley Building Society from Yorkshire, Stourport on Severn from the West of England and Old Hall from the North West. They are not alone though and the likes of Kilmarnock and Barrhead Burgh from Scotland and Ellington from the North East and St. Albans from London and the Southern Counties will also be strong competitors.

If we do get our prediction completely right though it will be a bit of a miracle, but we will plumb for a top six in this order.

1. Otterbourne
2. Barrhead Burgh
3. Old Hall Brass
4. Wire Brass
5. St. Albans
6. YBS Concert

Dark Horse: Stourport on Severn

Third Section:

If you thought the Second Section was hard to predict, then take a look at the Third! What makes the contest so hard to pin point is not just that there are a whole bundle of bands all more than capable of winning and winning well here, but that the difference in standard between them is also next to nothing.

In fact, there are any number of bands here who could well make an impression in the Second Section given the chance, and that reflects one of the problems of this Section nationally as a whole. Whereas there is now something of a gulf appearing between the Championship and the First, and a marked difference between the First and the Second, the gap between the Second and the Third both in terms of technique and the basics of musicality is nowhere as near as pronounced.

If the Championship Section represents the pretty face of the body politic of banding and the First Section the well developed chest, then the Second and Third make up a well fed, slightly corpulent midriff, in need of a bit of well tuned exercise and toning up maybe, but still bought and paid for through musical enjoyment. The Fourth Section is of course the legs on which we stand - if we lose them we are all on our arses! The Third Section is invariably that one that is full with bands on the up, bands on the down, bands holding their own and bands fearing for their lives - the whole gamut of contesting life in microcosm. Thankfully though, the bands that have made it to Harrogate just about all fall into the first of those parts, and so we have a lot to look forward to.

So then, what of the bands who have made it here, tackling Darrol Barry's pit inspired "Diamond Heritage".  First and foremost they should enjoy the work, which takes its inspiration from the North Wales pit disaster of 1934 in Gresford which 266 miners died. The subject matter may be rather sombre and gruesome, but then again, if you have ever been down a pit, it isn't a place that you could say would fill you with great feelings of joy.  Modern mining techniques may have made the industry safer and more productive (not that Mrs Thatcher cared a toss about it), but in the years before the National Coal Board came into existence it was an industry that claimed the lives of literally thousands of men (and in may cases women and children) a year.  Gresford claimed 266 whilst countless others were lost throughout the length and breadth of the UK coalfields, including the worst of the lot when 434 miners were killed at Senghenydd in 1913. Darrol Barry's fine work pays suitable homage to those who spent their lives in terrible working conditions digging out those "Black Diamonds".

So who will the Third Section Champions be then?

Last year saw the North West claim the top two spots with Diggle and Hoover Bolton heading the prize table, whilst the Midlands, Wales and London provided the others in the top six. Three of those bands are back again this year and we think they could well be the bands to beat, with Hoover and Chris Wormald, the revitalised St. Dennis and the experienced Brian Minear and Sandhurst and Roger Burke likely to feature very strongly.

Amongst the others to look out for are Boarshurst Silver and the slim line Jonathon Webster, Lockwood and the experienced John Roberts and the lads and lasses from the West Mercia Constabulary under the guidance of Steve Pritchard Jones. Others who will fancy their chances are surely Marie Smith and her wonderful bunch of talented youngsters at Shirland Welfare Training and the likes of Stamford Brass under Garry Wyatt. The Scots and the Welsh cannot be discounted either with St. David's Brass (strangely from Scotland rather than Wales), Newtown Silver and Jedforest and Alan Fernie all I with a fine shout. Keep an eye out for United 200 Brass as well.

So, who is it to be for us?

1. Hoover (Bolton)
2. St. Dennis
3. Boarshurst Silver
4. Sandhurst
5. Shirland Welfare Training
6. Stamford Brass

Dark Horse: West Mercia Constabulary

Fourth Section:

The most enjoyable competition of the whole weekend, and not just because its full of tremendously enthusiastic young (and gifted) players and supporters. Over the last few years the organisers have chosen some great pieces for the bands to perform, and this year is no exception. Add that to the great atmosphere and you get a real treat, and we think this year's contest will be a little cracker.

The Four Noble Truths by Philip Sparke is a tremendous test for the players and the MD's alike and follows on from the enjoyable works of the last couple of years such as Malcolm Arnold's Attleborough Suite in 2001, A Cambrian Suite by Michael Ball in 2002 and last year's Call of the Sea by Eric Ball.  It's full of the composer's musical traits of clever rhythms and broad well shaped tunes and will take some playing. It will certainly extend the bands to the full, but won't test them for testing sake, as can all too often be the case in the higher sections. 

Last year the top prize went to the youthful Wardle and District Anderson Brass, whilst the top six prizes featured bands from five different regions. It could well be the same again this year.

Just three of last years contenders are back this time; Bratton from the West of England who came 17th, Grange Moor Brass from Yorkshire who came 3rd and Ogmore Valley Silver from Wales who came 8th. All three will want to improve on their placing of last year, but Grange Moor in particular could be making the short trip to Harrogate with hopes of claiming the top prize.

They will be challenged strongly by bands from all corners of the UK, with the other Welsh representatives and Regional Champions, Radyr and Morganstown a band with a proud history one to look out for under the baton of Gareth Hann and the up and coming Pemberton Old B from the North West another short price tip for success and to emulate Wardle last year.

Another famous old name, Newhall from the Midlands will be determined to start the climb back to the halcyon days when they were regulars at both the British Open and National Finals in London and will be joined by fellow Midlanders Rushden Windmill, whilst Pillowell Silver, Bratton and A.W. Parker (Drybrook) from the West of England had to battle through a qualification process that had 21 bands trying to make the trip to Harrogate.

The Celtic nations are well represented with Scotland sending two strong contenders in the form of Dunfermline and Newland Concert Brass who will be hoping to become the first winners here since Gorton Silver won back in 1990 and Wales also sending Ogmore Valley and Goodwick Brass. London sends up Fulham Brass, Potters Bar and their 2004 Champions Waterbeach Brass all of which could make a mark, whilst the North of England has Billingham Silver and the lads and lasses of Durham Constabulary.

Not to be outdone, the White Rose County also sends Gawthorpe, whilst the Red Rose sends Standish and Uppermill to boost their representation.

So after we have covered everyone in the field, who will it be for us to unlock the secrets of the Buddha and find enlightenment and the top prize into the bargain? Well, these are our choices:

1. Grange Moor
2. Radyr and Morganstown
3. Pemberton Old B
4. Dunfermline
5. Uppermill
6. Pillowell

Dark Horses: Rushden Windmill


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