2005 Action Medical Research Championships - Restrospective: Youth Championships


4BR was at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, and were entertained royally by some fabulous playing and some equally fabulous entertainment. Everyone was winner - and that was what it was all about.

Rochdale Youth Band
Rochdale Youth Band

It may be a bit of an old cliché, but whilst Rochdale Borough Youth Band and Eric Landon were crowned the 2005 Champions, every single person that took part during the day was a winner.

Banding being as it is, the usual prizes and accolades were given out, but the commitment from everybody involved from players, conductors and the numerous amounts of people who help in various ways to make the day successful reinforces the point that the nobody really loses at all.  Yes, its great to win and take home the plaudits, but the sheer enjoyment of those on stage was a real joy to behold.  The question was asked at the end as well; ‘Where were the mass media today seeing what the youth of today can really do instead of knocking them all the time?'

This event is one of the premier youth music events in the UK and was celebrating its 21st birthday.  Throughout those years, over 10,000 musicians have competed and in due course raised over £100,000 for Action Medical Research.  Gary Walczak and his team continue to do a superb job bringing this event together and events such as this deserve coverage away from the banding media – we wonder though, how much will they get?

The contest itself was a real cracker with some fabulous playing. So much so, that with those that came in the prizes, you had to remind yourself that they were actually youth bands. The thought processes that go into the programmes are highly commendable and presentation throughout the day was better than many of the premier bands in the movement, with costumes, the use of projection screens depicting images relating to the music, dancers and vocalists; these bands really do put so much into it, that they can't be praised enough.

The judges for the day were Colin Hardy and John Maines and you have to feel sorry for Colin, because he was the only one who wasn't allowed to see the bands themselves only listen. 

Ok, Colin was listening to the music and judging best sections and soloists, whilst John was looking at entertainment, deportment and overall presentation, and the marks were added together to achieve an order of merit - but if the Besson National Youth Championships have had ‘open adjudication' so why not this one?  All bands work hard and have a compere, but when you hear ‘…and please welcome the conductor on stage of band number four', it does seem a touch impersonal.  It works at Brass in Concert where bands and players are announced, and there seems no reason why it shouldn't happen at this event.

In between the post contest pre announcement of results, everyone was treated to a jazz band who were excellent, but add on to that the various speeches then results, and a good hour had passed, and in hindsight, (particularly for those who had long coach journeys and that were not on half term) it might have been better to not have had such a lengthy break.

Speaking on stage, Colin and John were very happy with their conclusions.  John spoke about his ‘…tremendous day with so many great performances.  Every band had something within it and remembered that entertainment must have good playing'.  In addition, John also flagged up the point to conductors to think about what they are wearing on stage in relation to the band's attire – ‘visual presentation is important', he said.

Colin made the point that ‘…consistency is the key, and that was certainly the case at the top end', whilst also praising no really bad playing and commendation to all the percussionists during the day.

It was Rochdale Borough Youth though that really did deserve to take home the title.  The band really went for it, but performed its programme standing up, with all the music on lyres, and no sign of the conductor until the final item.  In terms of entertainment they were four clear points from Poynton and this was the key to the band's success.  In the past, the band has done a circus routine and taken on Peter Graham's ‘Windows of the World'.  One of the secrets of their success is the bands determination to continually improve as musicians and individuals. There are not many bands that would have the courage to do a programme standing from start-to-finish, let alone do it without an MD in front of them (for the most part) as well.  The fact that they pulled it off, speaks volumes.

Speaking to 4BR afterwards, Eric Landon paid tribute to the people who support him.  ‘I can't do it all, but those who have made waistcoats, helped in choreography, everybody behind the scenes, they all deserve recognition'. The thought that goes into planning the programme was he said, ‘a continuous process that never really stops.  I am always thinking of ideas in my head'.   In addition, Eric cited the recent concerts with YBS Band;  ‘They (the players) know how good YBS are, they've listened to them, but to sit on a stage and play amongst them, not only gives them something to aspire too, but is invaluable experience.' 

The opening ‘Breezin Down Broadway' just hit you between the eyes before ‘Seventy Six Trombones' brought the trombone section yet another award as the ‘Players who contributed most to a bands Performance'.  Next up was ‘Summertime', featuring one of the fine soprano players of the day, Michael Golding.  ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly' was linked into ‘Duelin' Xylos' featuring the two Mills brothers, Matthew and Nathan, before ‘Stars and Stripes Forever' and the appearance of the MD in ‘Pasadena' complete with vocalist.  Whilst the band came fourth on music on the day, the overall presentation and discipline on stage, coupled with fine playing was enough to give them the title. It was exceptional entertainment.

Poynton Youth and Andy Hirst was a band that made a huge impression and thoroughly deserved second place with the bass section being chosen as the best on the day.  As with Rochdale, the programme was an example of how adventurous they could be, as they performed Professor Peter Graham's ‘Cry of the Celts', complete with dancers and fiddle. 

This performance had quality run right through it in music, presentation and entertainment.  The horn soloist in ‘Suil A Ruin' was outstanding with a lovely warm sound and projection and the choreography was very precise and tastefully done.  Come the conclusion of ‘Lord of the Dance', it was evident that this would be a performance that would be tough to beat and the tuning from within the band was excellent.  Throughout the earlier bands who'd played, tuning was an issue, but Poynton really did set the standard and but for Rochdale, would have taken the title back to Cheshire.

Beaumaris Youth Band

Defending champions, Beaumaris were drawn last to play and once again were another band that left you thinking; ‘Is this really a youth band?'  Musically they were the best of the day by a long way, with the horn section being voted ‘best horns' - but it was their entertainment, placing of fourth that cost them retaining their title, and hence, they finished third overall.

The theme from ‘The Muppets' was slick and very professional as was ‘On with the Motley' performed by the best soprano of the day (and arguably the best instrumentalist as well) Graham Bushell.  This was followed by a Barrie Gott composition ‘Up Yonder' followed by ‘Crimond' and rounded off with music from the film ‘The Lion King'.

Wardle High Intermediate (Lee Rigg) complete with headmistress, decided upon a history and cultural lesson through music for their challenge.  A combination of fifth in music and third in entertainment brought them fourth place overall in a programme that had an American influence.  The opening ‘Olympic Fanfare & Theme' by John Williams set the tone for the whole performance that also included ‘Breezin Down Broadway', ‘My Way' (complete with vocal soloist) and ‘Stars and Stripes Forever' complete with sousaphones, and plenty of razzamatazz.  The reward of ‘Most Entertaining Item' was certainly well deserved.

Youth Brass 2000 (Chris Jeans) were placed fifth and put up another fine show.  They opened up a powerful account of music from ‘Carmia Burana' closely followed by a selection from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean'. (just missing Jonny Depp with his amazingly odd accent)

The high spot of the band's programme was Tracey Colston's horn playing in ‘The Lark in the Clear Air'.  Within the opening bars, it was clear that this was someone with plenty of talent with a lovely warm sound and great projection and no one was surprised that Tracey was announced as the ‘Outstanding Soloist of the Day'.

Sousa's march ‘The Liberty Bell' followed and was rounded off with ‘Highland Cathedral' complete with bagpipes.  The end of the programme wasn't as strong as it could have been, but the band's smartness and disciplined approach gave them the Deportment prize.

A cruel twist of fait overshadowed Abraham Darby's attempt to win the title.  Soprano player, Melanie Wile was in the opening stages of her performance of ‘Pokarekare Ana' when she fell on stage.  Wayne Rushton was full of praise for all the support the staff that took care of the young lady and for the band that composed themselves and carried on with the rest of its programme that included ‘Hello Dolly' and music from ‘Spiderman'.  The opening ‘Mexican Holiday' and ‘I Will Follow Him' were well executed as well and although the band was placed sixth, it just didn't seem to matter.  Sadly Mel will require some dental work as a result of her fall, but hopefully she will be back playing with the band as soon as possible. 

Dobcross Youth and Nick Payne utilised a number of visual effects including flags from different countries to guide the audience through its programme.  ‘2001 Space Odyssey', ‘Chanson D'Amor', the ‘Can-Can', music from the ‘Lion King' and the ‘Japanese Slumber Song',  - but it was an inconsistent performance. 

The compere made a slight slip when announcing Langford's ‘Rule Britannia' as a return to ‘England' instead of Great Britain, but the performance of the popular tune was one of the highlights of the bands programme.

Houghton Area Youth's programme featured music from ‘Grease' a ‘Fantasy on American Spirituals' and the march ‘Imperial Echoes'.  The highlight though was Sinatra's ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning' performed on by the band's principal trombonist, Helen Douthwaite, who produced a beautiful warm sound.

Boarshurst Youth Band
Boarshurst Youth Band

Boarshurst and Dean Redfurn featured a programme of music from Brassed Off.  The compere invited you into his living room (television, table, chair all on stage) to watch (or in our case, listen) to pieces from the movie.   ‘Clog Dance', ‘Danny Boy' (complete with miners' hats) were both featured as was the opening track ‘Death or Glory'; a performance that gave the band the prize for the ‘Best Performance of a March' on the day.

Enderby Youth were acknowledged on the day as the ‘Most Promising Band' in a programme that included ‘Marche Lorraine', ‘The Girl with the Flaxen Hair', ‘Chason D'Amor' music from ‘Les Miserables'.  There is plenty of talent here and their time will surely come.

Oldham Music Centre and Tees Valley Youth didn't have the greatest days and were placed eleventh and twelfth respectively.  Both had early draws, and the highlights of Oldham's programme were the xylophone solo ‘Helter Skelter' and music from the film ‘Backdraft' whilst Tees Valley were strong in ‘The Water of Tyne' and featured their euphonium player in 'Midnight Euphonium'.

Finally Sellers International Youth and Mark Bousie who were making their debut in this competition.  Before hand the MD was looking forward to discovering how his troops performed and they gave a very good account of themselves.  The theme from the ‘Muppets', ‘Nessum Dorma' , ‘Death or Glory', ‘Hymn to the Fallen', ‘Everybody needs Somebody' and music from ‘Backdraft', -  the programme had moments of quality throughout. 

Mark's happiness with the playing after coming off stage turned to disappointment, when he discovered they had gone over time and subsequently was penalised twelve points (six in both sections).  Had those points not been lost then they band would have come eighth in the music section, tenth on entertainment and equal ninth overall.  However it wasn't meant to be and whilst Mark fully accepted responsibility for going over time couldn't have asked more from his players on the day.

The day though belonged to Rochdale Borough Youth Band and Eric Landon who had the courage of their convictions to do something different.  This is a band that worth watching and listening too, and they will be proud to hold the title of the Action Medical Research Youth Brass Band Champions of Great Britain for 2005.

Dave Tinker & Malcolm Wood


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