2005 Butlins Mineworkers Championships - Retrospective: Second Section


John James was there to listen to all the bands in the Second Section try to get to grips with Bruce Fraser's Verona Lights and try and make an impression on John Maines in the process. This is what he thought.

Carlton Brass: Receiving their prize
Carlton Brass: Receiving their prize

This contest proved to be a most entertaining event, with a test piece that was most enjoyable to listen to and yet had traps-a-plenty to catch out the unwary bands. The impression from the playing was that the bands had enjoyed rehearsing ‘Verona Lights' and that had resulted in a high overall standard of playing. It would probably be fair to say that almost all the bands gave the faster music a real good crack but as is the case quite often at this level, the softer playing really separated the bands out.

Unlike most test pieces that call on solo work as one of the fundamental building blocks to test players Bruce Fraser chose to substitute this with quartets. This very interesting diversion gave the piece a unique structure and it was interesting to hear how the bands coped with this clever piece of writing. With fewer quartet contests in today's movement this music posed a different set problems for the players in delivering the appropriate phrasing and balance. Most tried hard to master the intricacies, but many just failed to do it.

The music was inspired by a trip to the opera in Verona by the composer, and it was played in one continuous movement. The opening was marked feroce=160 and there then followed a moderato=120, both being dominated by strong percussive and rhythmic arguments. This music was trying to convey circling wildfire lightening, the dramatic thunder that delayed the start of the performance and the different lights of the city of Verona.

An andante=80 carried the music forward that both featured those quartet passages and a warm ensemble bridge that recalled the calm moments when the audience sat with lit candles awaiting the start of the opera. With a return to the opening argument tempo primo=160 the music unfolded and introduced a section utilising Italian operatic references through an allegro=120. With the piece capturing the excitement of the occasion it drew to its conclusion with the tempo primo=160 dramatically drawing the music to an electrify conclusion. It was to prove a very stern test.

The section actually began with a calm moment itself as the bulb lighting the adjudicators box decided its time was spent and it left John Maines in darkness, but help was on hand and the Butlins support staff having been summoned and repairs complete the Frickley South Elmsall Band directed by Robert Morton resplendent in their red uniforms got the contest underway.

It didn't take long for the first mobile phone to interrupt the musical flow but fortunately it didn't seem to distract the band unduly.

The musical picture painted by the band did suffer a little from some tuning problems and clips in the solo lines but the performance certainly grew in strength as it progressed and drew to an exciting conclusion. Within the andante the MD, whilst holding his baton between his teeth, conveyed with wide arm movements the style he wanted to draw from the band and it was evident from here that this was going to be a most interesting contest. Player of the day for the band, with appropriate Italian-like black hair, was the solo trombone who played with tremendous conviction and style.

Stamford Brass directed by Gary Wyatt were in a group with a number of bands who overcame unsettled opening musical statements to grow in confidence and positive performance as the piece unfolded. The bass section obviously came to Skegness with a determination and produced a clean and confident role with the 1st Eb bass being the star of their show.

Third in the draw Yiewsey and West Drayton Band directed by Christopher Cole suffered, as did many of the bands on the day, in maintaining consistent quality note production in the quicker passages and were also guilty of some loose phrasing in important quartet work. It was these elements which probably resulted in their final placing but the soprano cornet gave 110%, and was their deserved player of the day.

As a borrowed player the Yiewsley soprano took the stage again to help the GT Group Peterlee Band under Barry Holden. Again the purposeful delivery that concluded their performance wasn't quite matched in the earlier musical interludes although through the andante the solo euphonium had time to demonstrate his skill taking our consideration player of the day.

A good sized audience remained to listen to the section as Wansbeck Ashington Colliery Band under Nigel Steadman carried the contest forward. An untidy start with some problems in crucial moments probably proved costly however their principal cornet gave an impeccable performance being not only their player of the day but probably our soloist of the section.

The percussion section, in their glittery grey waistcoats, was spectacularly offset against the deep blue uniforms of the brass section for The Wigston Band conducted by Gary Sleath. A steady and clean opening with good balance and detail set the scene for a strongly contested performance and a good ending concluded in our view a fine show with a particularly fine helping hand from the flugel horn who was our player of the day.

Hopkins Blidworth and Geoff Hawley delivered a performance that had a mix of both enjoyable playing but other less satisfactory unbalanced edges. A tempo primo that was lightening fast gave little opportunity for the detail to be audible and perhaps pointed towards their resulting position which was still a rewarding 3rd with 185pts. With a simple yet direct style the flugel player was their player of the day and it capped them coming third and winning £500 into the bargain. .

Following a short comfort break, Ynshir (Stacks of Tiles) under the baton of Alan MacDonald took the contest on to band 8th in the draw. The performance was somewhat unsettled with the band having a day when the balance and detail just seemed to elude them, but with his pony tail neatly well anchored the soprano cornet gave a most creditable performance to take our player of the day selection.

Betteshanger Welfare and Trevor Attwoods produced a performance with plenty of detail but also with some loose moments being compensated by some well-balanced work. This decent show was complimented by some sterling work by the players in their percussion section.

If Shirland Welfare Training Band and Marie Smith have to look to the piece for the moments that cost them a higher placing then the intonation and uncharacteristic edginess in the andante and a fly-away final tempo primo may have been them. They gave an account which thoroughly deserved the runners-up place with 186pts and the £800 prize money and with the solo horn capturing the ear and our player of the day nomination and with a tremendous percussion section pushing things along brilliantly. Some great little players here for sure.  

Taking the first prize of £1200, Carlton Brass and Tony Wilson produced a highly creditable performance with clear and confident musical lines. With their player of the day in the solo cornet chair leading the line with positive and confident manner the band truly deserved their reward and continued their tremendous run of form of late.

If the Lewis Merthyr Band and Lyndon Price look for the reason for a couple of points dropped, it may have been found in some intonation problems encountered by the cornets within their performance. The tempo primo was taken with some license but there was a nice balance in the quartet work and bright playing when called for in the score - but still a rewarding 4th with 184pts in the final analysis. The blonde percussion player placed at the centre of the percussion team was a rose between two thorns but it was the flugel player who captured the ear to take the player for the day.

With a performance that steadily got better as it progressed, early unsettled moments gave way to some most lyrical laying in the andante and ensuing quicker sections. Those early problems could have been the factor that lay behind Sandhurst Silver and Roger Burke finishing outside the silverware but the bass section worked hard for the band and were our stand out players in the performance.

With a strong overall performance the Stanley Newmarket Colliery Band under Mark Wardle also had their weaker moments in the opening third of the test piece. Some nice ensemble sounds played with confidence made for interesting listening but with a nice tone and warm approach to the music the flugel gained our player of the day nomination. She was their stand out player but proudest dad of the day award for this section must go to Ray Payne, who supplies the percussion services, as his 9 year old son Matthew made his contest debut on timpani and played like a chip off the old block.

With all the performances safely out of the way 4BR spoke to John Maines after the results, and he revealed that he felt that the overall standard was good, with the top three bands in particular standing out. He also felt that it was the quartets that held the key to success on the piece and that many bands hadn't quite managed to maintain the correct balance between the sections for this to come off as they should have, and how he would have liked.

Still, the winners and prize winners were very good indeed and will move to the Regional Championships with high hopes off making it a double and booking a place at Harrogate later in the year.

John James


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