2005 Spring Festival - Grand Shield - Introduction and dodgy predictions


22 quality bands line up to test their luck and fortune on Philip Wilby's 'Masquerade', but which one do we think will leave the Winter Gardens as Shakepsear said, with the last laugh?

The British Open has all the glamour and the glory, the history and the fame. Win the Open and your name will forever by remembered up there with the likes of Black Dyke, YBS and Fodens. It doesn't matter if you won it 100 years ago as did Irwell Springs and never won it again, your name is in the record books for all eternity.

The Grand Shield on the other hand.

Forget the glamour and the glory, the history (although it is a great old contest) and even the fleeting fame: This is a contest about one thing and one thing only – getting to the British Open itself.  Who remembers the winners of exactly 50 years ago, Markham Main, or the winners of 1960, Haigh Prize, or even 10 years ago? (It was YBS)

It is also why the Grand Shield is the hardest contest to win in the banding world, and the one that in many ways will mean the most to those who have been successful here.     

This year will be no exception either, with a line up of 22 quality bands that should provide a contest of rare intensity, ambition and even desperation. There are bands here with great pasts, bands with exciting futures, bands with unbridled passion and bands with talent to spare. All though want just the one thing – a qualification spot for Symphony Hall.   That is why, winning here is not the be all and end  all of the contest, for the celebrations of the qualifiers is sometimes even greater than that of the winners themselves, whilst the disappointment of the bands just missing out is perhaps greater than that felt at any other contest.

Last year the Kibworth band came 4th and missed the British Open by a point – the same Kibworth band that plays in the First Section in the Midlands, and with respect, this year failed to even qualify for the Lower Section National Finals in Harrogate. What a story that would have been last year if they had made it to the Open. It is the very essence of contesting, distilled into a mixture that can be tasted only by the very smallest number of bands, and it is what makes the Grand Shield the brilliant contest it is.

On the day, any one of the 22 bands here can win, and any one of them can get to the Open as well by qualifying. And we do mean any of the 22 bands.

This year throws up a whole gamut of bands from around the country who will travel to Blackpool with high hopes of making it to Birmingham come September. They will of course have to overcome the challenge of an amazingly difficult test piece in the form of Philip Wilby's ‘Masquerade', but then winning the Grand National means you have to jump ‘Beechers Brook' doesn't it?

Of the bands on show there are Regional Champions in the shape of Leyland from the North West, and Redbridge from London and the Southern Counties, qualifiers for the Albert Hall in BTM and Cwmaman from Wales, and Aveley and Newham in London, who also happen to be the Yeovil Champions. The Ransome Band are the Mineworkers Champions and the Ashton under Lyne band has just won the Tameside Contest. Hepworth are the Scottish Open Champions.

All these and we haven't begun to mention the likes of BT, Beaumaris, Besses, Carlton Main…

So who do we think will come out on top this year?

First of all, it will not just be the one or two bands with the best euphonium players, although having a player who can command the awesome euphonium cadenza that forms the showstopper minute or so of the piece, will help a great deal.

No, the winners will be the band who can combine the technical brilliance to the elegant lyricism of the music whilst still having the stamina to keep control of the dynamics, the balance, the tone and the tempo all the way to the end. In fact, it will take a damn fine band in anyone's book to combine all that lot together - and whomever does do it will deserve to take the famous shield back home with them.

That then just changes the picture for us to whom we think can take the top places, as this is a piece that only the very best of the bands here can overcome.

Of those, some familiar names do jump out as having the personnel and the MD to make the most of their luck, so do not be surprised if the names of Leyland, Mount Charles, Hepworth, Flowers, Cwmaman, Travelsphere, Ransome, Redbridge, Pennine, Aveley and Carlton Main will be seen at the top of the list. That shouldn't preclude us from considering the likes of BT, Beaumaris, Fishburn or many of the others here, but we think the winners and qualifiers should come from that batch.  

For us though we think it could be a scrap for the all important top two places between Hepworth and Leyland with Mount Charles close behind and the remaining places right on their coat tails taken by Ransome, Travelsphere, and Flowers with our dark horse being Cwmaman.

Given what we know about their players and their MD's we just think they will have the edge over the rest – although we could very well be (and usually are) way out come results time.

Good luck to everyone, and give the euph players all the encouragement they can get – they will deserve it this weekend. 

4BR Prediction:

1. Hepworth (Persimmon Homes)
2. Leyland
3. Mount Charles
4. Ransome
5. Travelsphere Holidays
6. Flowers

Dark Horse: Cwmaman Institute


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