2005 Regionals: West of England - Introduction


There are more important things in life than brass banding for sure, and this weekend will be the poorer for losing one of its finest exponents.

There are occasions when brass band contesting should be put in its real context.

When the bands from throughout the region meet in Torquay this weekend they will do so in spirit of friendship and rivalry. Those who win will be delighted of course, whilst those who do not will leave disappointed. Some will even be distraught.

Given that this Friday will have seen the funeral of the fine euphonium player, teacher, father and husband to a wife and young family, Shaun Thomas, it really doesn't matter how well the winners accept victory, or the losers defeat: It's rather unimportant really. 

Here was a young man robbed of the chance to see his children grow up, for him and his wife to enjoy the glories of the family and for him as an individual to enjoy the opportunity of passing on his skills and enthusiasm for the love of music to future generations. Thirty-four is no age at all. Banding is the poorer for losing him, whilst his family is left to wonder what could have been. Winning or losing a brass band contest just doesn't come anywhere near it. Let's us hope everyone remembers that not just in Torquay but throughout the regions this weekend.
It will be a much sadder occasion this weekend in Torquay, but in many ways this is the ideal occasion to remember what is so good about the brass banding community. Fellow players will meet and laugh, drink a pint or three, discuss and remember, argue and even hug and make up. Just how it should be, even in such times as these.

The West of England is still a fine weekend of banding, with a sense that there is a renewed appetite for banding in the region. The likes of Shaun Thomas have been responsible for much of this with their almost evangelical zeal to bringing the gospel of brass band playing to a new generation of youngsters who are now beginning to really make their mark here. The lower sections, and the Fourth Section in particular are full with little tots no bigger than a Cornish pasty playing away like veterans. It is a joy to behold.

The more serious end of the business is of course to be found in the Championship Section, and even here there are now real signs that West of England banding is starting to make a real impression on a wider stage.

There is still no band from the region at the British Open, but at the National Finals last year, the two representatives, Mount Charles and Camborne produced the best set of results (7th and 9th) since 1992. Not quite enough to produce a third qualification place as yet, but still a real boost nonetheless, and the bands from here will surely head for Blackpool and the Grand Shield and also the English International Masters with high hopes of making further inroads.

The Championship Contest itself should be one to remember if all the favourites play to form and it could be a real humdinger as at least four bands of quality try to claim one of the two qualification places up for grabs. It says much for the intense rivalry here that it is now nearly ten years since a band (Sun Life) were able to retain their title. 

Who will it be then?  You will have to read our predictions to find that one out, but you can be assured it will be a fine old contest with, the spirit of Shaun Thomas not far from many of the players minds here, as he was a former player with at least three of the competing bands, and a friend to very nearly all of the players here as well.

The First Section bands will have an enjoyable test piece to play and whoever gets through will certainly deserve the trip to Harrogate. However, the bands at this level at present are not really making much of a mark when it comes to the Finals themselves, with last year's representatives coming back home with a 9th and 14th place respectively to their names. There has been a trio of 3rd places in recent times, but no victory since the First Section was set up in 1992. It has been a bit of desert in fact, although there could be signs that things may be changing if, ever so slowly. 

The Second Section is much worse we are afraid when it comes to the Finals, although once more, there are signs that the bands here have upped the ante in recent years, and there are now a number of very promising bands on the contesting horizon.

Just the two podium finishes since 1998 isn't the greatest record in the world and last year's representatives came back with their tail somewhat between their legs after coming 13th and 14th respectively. However, there are just those signs here as well that the good times may well just be around the corner with the resurgence of the likes of St. Dennis and St. Keverne to name but two. 

The Third Section offers much more hope, with the representatives from the region continuing to do well come Finals time. In the last eight years in fact, at least one band from here has gone on to come in the top six places at the Finals including one winner in 1999, one third place in 2000 and a fantastic runners up spot for the St. Dennis band last year in Harrogate. That investment in youth, which has been so visible in the success of Youth bands from the county has started to make a mark with the senior bands at this level, and that is something to be very proud.

Finally, the Fourth Section; and this is where the work of people such as the late Shaun Thomas is now coming to a brilliant fruition. Bands here are full to the brim with young musical talent, and it has been through the investment in schools and bands from the Cornish Music Service, for which Shaun was an integral member that this has certainly occurred. 

If you are to go and listen to any contest this weekend, make sure you take the time to listen to the bands at this level, and marvel at the ability of the youngest players on show. They have been well taught, and are the stars of the future.

And if you don't believe us, then look at the results the bands from here get when they go to the Finals. Since 1998 they have come back home with three winners pennants, two seconds, two thirds and a fourth, whilst last year, no less than four bands from the region were at the Finals in Harrogate.

It may take a little while longer for that investment to pay off at the very top level here, but believe us when we say that in a few years, the West of England could well become one of the most successful brass banding areas in the country.

Shaun Thomas played an integral role in laying those seeds. In the next twenty years it will all come good, and it will have made a fine young man very proud indeed.


2016   2015   2014   2013   2012
2011   2010   2009   2008   2007
2006   2005   2004 (1)   2004 (2)   2003
2002   2001